Thursday, December 29, 2005

Duke of Earl

So like pretty much every other white piano-playing kid with rock and roll aspirations growing up in suburban New Jersey in the 1980s, I once idolized Billy Joel. Once I had digested everything the Beatles had ever recorded, there was a period (roughly the end of high school through the beginning of my first attempt at college) when I thought he was the shit. I even went to a few of his concerts, thanks mostly to my friend Jeff. For a while Mr. Joel was my number one role model, even though I never saw myself as a singer-songwriter per se.

Tempus fugit, and all that. Saw Mr. Joel on Conan O'Brien a few weeks back. How depressing! Sure, he was older, fatter, balder. But that stuff wasn't an issue for me... pretty much inevitable, you know. However: sad, sad, sad was a story he told about how bored he gets playing all of his hits--playing them to death, to the point where he literally zones out during a performance. (Incidentally, I distinctly remember him relating the similar story to Rolling Stone back in the late 80s--which makes the whole thing even more depressing.)

Cut to commercial. Cut back, and Mr. Joel launches into two relatively obscure gems from his catalogue: "Vienna" and "Everybody Loves You Now." Nice to pull those out and remind us of how consummate his songwriting skills once were. But the performances... good god, pretty much verbatim from the original recordings. Same arrangements, same solos, very little leeway, aside from a few vocal modifications. You would think, being Billy Joel and all, that he could get away with taking a few liberties. Risk losing a few miserable fans who couldn't handle anything new or unusual. But no. Let's continue to live in the past.

No wonder the man is an alcoholic.

One of my favorite lines from a Billy Joel song: "Thought I was the Duke of Earl / When I made it with a red-head girl / in a Cheverolet" (from "Keepin' the Faith"). I recently discovered the "real" Duke of Earl--Gene Chandler, who recorded the tune Joel references in 1962. What a perfect piece of music. The beauty of a Sam Cooke melody, but with a hell of a lot less innocence. Out-swaggers most modern rap tunes, and even features a small two-horn sax "section" (very rare for Doo-Wop).

As I walk through this world
Nothing can stop the Duke of Earl
And you are my girl
And no one can hurt you, oh, no

And when I hold you you'll be my duchess
Duchess of Earl
We'll walk through my dukedom
And a paradise we will share

"Duke of Earl" is sort of naive, lustful, and full of dumb male bravado all at once. Just the sort of thing to prompt artistic risk-taking. I wish Mr. Joel would go back and listen to it again.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A new year, a new label

So you might as well know now... we're not going to release Go-Go with Innova (our label for Angles and Chamber). Instead, we're going with our good friend Phillip Greenlief's label, Evander Music.

Someday I'll explain why. In the meantime, here's a preview of the upcoming release.

Never look back, baby.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A much better W than the one we've got

I'm not ashamed to admit that I like the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslaus." Sometimes I think it's the only carol I care about... though a bitchen arrangement can make all the difference with even some of the cheesier ditties.

The thing about "Wenceslaus," aside from the archetypal "old world" melody, is the lyrical content, which describes a model of compassion and altruism that most kings / queens / politicians / leaders lack. It's simultaneously hopeful (a model for us to live up to) and poignant / depressing (real world evidence suggests that it is extremely rare for people in positions of power to emulate the good king).

The Roches do a surprisingly good version of this tune on their Christmas record from a while back.

That's all I'm going to say about Christmas this year.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Seen at the CMC

Random shots of the group in action last Saturday evening. All courtesy of Rebecca Dulatre-Corbin. (Thanks!)

So we had a good time, I think, and the group may have even been in better form than it was in San Diego. But there was a catch. The audience was a lot smaller; we had maybe 20-25 people, while Dizzy's was, I'm told, a SRO show (possibly because no one was brave enough to sit in the front row.) To me the audience is the whole point of playing live, and so I couldn't help but feel like the small turnout at CMC was a bit of an anticlimax. Especially after a 5-6 hour drive (or an even longer plane ride, in Jill's case).

On the other hand, we got a pretty nice recording, which I'll be making available on the Internet Archive soon. As I said, everyone was in fine form (though I am beginning to get more and more ideas for how to nitpick us into even better shape). BTW, I've got to say it: Dan Schnelle gets the award for being probably the best drummer we've ever had. Holy shit, he seems to be memorizing the music. And Tiner gets the purple heart; he bit his lip pretty badly earlier that same day (bad news for a horn player), but held things together for the performance rather well.

Rosenboom, Walsh, and Richardson all drove back to LA the same night. That's night quite as crazy as Jill's cross-country trek, but it's close. I continue to be astounded at / humbled by the lengths to which people will go to play in this group.

Anyway, after the performance, I got a little bit of a sense of why the show was so poorly-attended (aside from there being precious little parking, and aside from the dearth of media coverage, which is another story). As we were loading our gear into the van, a fight broke out on the next block. T'weren't no scuffle, neither--it was a veritable rumble involving maybe six or seven guys, vehicles smashing into each other, and eventually a set of cop cars blocking off the street. Kinda reminded me of being shot at in Rochester this past June.

Driving home on Sunday, pretty much all of the van denizens fell asleep except me. I love those fleeting "alone" moments on tour--whether driving the van or heading out to Walgreens at 2:30 in the morning because I realized I had forgotten my toothbrush. They give me a chance to get my head on straight, and get whatever perspective I might need for the next task (and believe me, with a group this large there is always a next task).

Anyway I hope to use January to get "Go-Go" out (finally), and then we're not playing again until February 24-5 (we'll be up in Truckee and Carson City). Stay tuned.

Oh yeah, and how could I forget?! RIP Richard Pryor.

Pre-show goofery

Pre-show, CMC, December 10, 2005.

Top pic, L-R: Oliver Newell (bass), Dan Boissy (alto), Phil Rodriguez (trumpet), Brian Walsh (obscured).
Next pic, L-R: Dan Rosenboom (trumpet), Brian Walsh (tenor), Evan Francis (alto).
Next pic, L-R: Damon Zick (soprano), Mike Richardson (obscured), Kris Tiner (obscured), Dan Schnelle (drums).
Bottom pic, L-R: Robert Jacobson (guitar), Oliver Newell (bass), Jilll Knapp (vocals).

I'll have more to say about this show (and more pix to share) after a bit of sleep, but for the time being, I should relate what is perhaps the most amazing coincidence of my life:

Driving home on Sunday, halfway between San Francisco and LA, we stopped into one of the many rest areas on the 5 to get some gas, coffee, grub, whatever. As I'm heading for the john, who do I run into but Rob Waller, of the LA-based alt country supergroup I See Hawks in LA. Rob is also an old friend from our days teaching WRIT-140 in USC's Freshman Comp program. We actually once did a quirky double bill (I See Hawks and IJG) at the Knitting Factory. Anyway, the Hawks were up north this weekend for the same reason we were...

Paul Laques, one of the members of I See Hawks, is also in Double Naught Spy Car, another great unsung LA group (sort of a surf / guitar exotica outift) that also boasts Joe Berardi on drums. Joe plays on the forthcoming IJG release, Industrial Jazz-a-Go-Go.

Small fucking world, ain't it?

Friday, December 09, 2005

If you're going to San Francisco... sure to wear some flowers in your hair. Oh, yeah, and come see the IJG.

Forwarded from Evander Music announcement list, run by our good friend Phillip Greenlief:

Dear Friends,

This weekend I am super excited to present the Industrial Jazz Group – an outstanding entourage of top-drawer players all assembled to realize the compositions of the mad composer Andrew Durkin. Durkin has forged a strong compositional voice that has quite naturally digested the most diverse forms of the popular song, the early 20th century modernist side of the avant-garde, supremely swinging be bop, soulful do-wop, and an hodge-podge array of post-jazz structures that allow his stable of young lions plenty of room to knock about and rough his delightful melodies into a frenzied, lyrical submission.

If you come to one Evander Music concert this year (and you don’t have long to get out and do that if you haven’t already done so!), come down and catch this wildly entertaining large ensemble that pays homage to groups like Sun Ra’s Intergalactic Arkestra, Charles Mingus’ early Atlantic gems, Raymond Scott’s cartoon bands, junior high concert bands, Ellington’s 1960’s masterworks, and the darker, more carnival sides of the legendary American Bandstand. Check out their top-notch compositions, great musicianship and scores of playful energy – what more could you ask for?

Check out the critically acclaimed Industrial Jazz Group, now preparing to release their 4th recording on Innova Records.

See you there!
Phillip Greenlief

Evander Music Presents
The Industrial Jazz Group at CMC

8 PM, Saturday, December 10
@The Community Music Center
544 Capp Street (between 20th & 21st Streets)
San Francisco, CA
Info: (510) 652-7914
Tickets: $15, $10 w/Student ID

* * * * *

One correction: though we do have a new album popping out any day now, it will not be released on Innova. More on that later.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The moron on C-SPAN right now... Rep. Jack Kingston, a pro-war Republican from Georgia. Did I mention he is a moron?

I'm too tired to elaborate. Google "moron," and you'll find out more about him.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me

Well, I managed to keep everyone misinformed of the fact of my natal day until pretty much late in the game on Saturday evening. If it weren't for the fact that Mike Richardson, one of the new trombonists, was also born December 3, I would have gotten away with it. (Sorry all, I seem to be habitually shy and self-effacing when it comes to birthday celebrations. This is not intended as rudeness, it's just kind of the way I am, for better or worse.)

Anyway... the gig was super-hot. White-hot even. We got what I think was our first official encore--by which I mean that once we were done with the second set, the audience wouldn't let us leave, so we had to pull out "The Truth and the Abstract Blues"--as-of-yet unrehearsed with this large version of the group.

We had a damned fine crowd of people. And most of the group finally took the plunge and wore a costume of some sort. And the guys who didn't seemed not like party poopers, but rather "straight men"--so it worked. The picture above (kindly taken by our new friend Jim Romeo) gives you some sense of the cut of our jib, though this was taken after the show, so a few of us (including me) had already dressed down. (From left to right: Jill Knapp, David Moyer, Dan Boissy, Ryan Perez-Daple, me, Oliver Newell, Hayan Charlston, Cory Wright, Mike Richardson, Phil Rodriguez, Dan Schnelle, Robert Jacobson, Kris Tiner, Ron Christian, Kelly Corbin, Dan Rosenboom.)

Musically, it was surprisingly tight. I think it's possible that that was because of the wacky garb--but maybe too we've reached some sort of magic number or critical mass in terms of personnel. There were a few awkward moments, particularly in set two--for my own part, the challenge was not only focusing on the moment in each tune, but also trying to anticipate how we were going to get from tune to tune. Still, I don't think the audience noticed or cared about these little inconsistencies.

BTW, Thursday evening's discussion with Vince Outlaw was a hoot. If you missed it he will be putting up mp3s soon (if he hasn't already).

All in all, a splendid weekend. Jill, who flew 3000 miles to do the show (and who sounded great), took a number of fantastic shots that I will be posting soon. I'm a very lucky motherfucker.