Monday, December 31, 2007

Naked baby photos, no. 1

In the spirit o' year-end house-cleaning (and stock-taking), I offer up this "early" IJG video (made 5 years ago), which I just rediscovered in my vaults. Obviously, we were a kinder, gentler band back then -- those of you expecting the full-on sartorial buffoonery, circus skronk, or sprawling instrumental configuration of our more recent efforts will probably be disappointed. On the other hand, the production values on this thing (courtesy my good friends / long-time-supporters-of-the-group Matt Smith and Sarah Shute (and their friend Charlie Heath)) are much higher than anything I've been able to produce on my own. (Smith/Shute/Heath also edited/directed the final piece, though I have excerpted/pared it a bit here.)

The performance is decent -- especially given the fact that it took place on a Saturday morning (for reasons I don't fully remember). For those of you interested in the history of the early twenty-first century avant jazz scene in LA, the setting is Rocco in LA, which at the time was probably the most interesting venue for new music in the city (proprietor Rocco Somazzi has since had to pick up and move his presenting aspirations to other venues -- nowadays he mainly books at Cafe Metropol).

The tune is the aforementioned "Anger Management Classes," and the audio is a second or third live take in front of a casual audience of maybe ten people (we didn't have any time to mix or edit the recording, so the performance is pretty raw). The band: Evan Francis (alto), Cory Wright (soprano), Kris Tiner (trumpet), Garrett Smith (bone), Drew Hemwall (drums), Aaron Kohen (bass), yours truly (piano). Audio recorded by Michael Kramer.

Quite a serious buncha fellas, eh?

Saturday, December 29, 2007


As a rule I'm not too good at the whole "time off" thing. But I have forced myself (this holiday go-round) to step away from my usual routines (including blogging) for a few days.

I must admit it feels nice, actually getting to, say, read a book or watch a movie again.

I plan to hold on to this little hiatus until the new year. But don't get me wrong -- that doesn't mean I'm not also simultaneously scheming and pondering how the hell we are going to top some of the adventures we had in 2007 (by the way, the fact that I consider 2007 a high point in the life of the IJG is probably pathetic, given that the year's activities didn't bring me anything that even remotely resembled what you might call "material profit"). I'm still working on the problem of festivals and tours and such, but I had to dial it down a little, even if just for a few days (or until the guilt of "inactivity" kicks in).

Anyway, for what it's worth, Christmas week was sure exciting. We had a few "firsts." Thandie's first trip to the Emergency Room -- in an ambulance, no less (she's fine now, though it turned out she had pneumonia). Our first Portland snow (on Christmas day, in fact). And my first Christmas card from the kid. (Evidence below. Though there was a little coaching on the spelling of some of the words, this is entirely in her own hand, and the word "Thandie" was spelled without any assistance whatsoever. May I remind you that she is 3 years old?)

Alright, enough palaver. More news soon.

Happy whatever.

Friday, December 21, 2007

And I thought "avant garde party music" was a niche

Here's a guy who's really taking it to the next level.

Actually, just because we all know how temporal a Craig's List ad can be, let me quote the thing verbatim:

Tuba player looking to join NUBA all-nude tuba band

Very large, hirsuite [sic] male looking to join all-nude tuba band. I've played tuba for 10 years, and I've played in the nude before, so this is a logical progression.

Heavens to Murgatroyd!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Popping the balloon

Better than the original, methinks.

And this one is better than that (the horn transcription of the famous Jimmy Page solo is particularly priceless, as is the "Teddy Bear Picnic" quote at the end).

Don't get me wrong. I dig Led Zeppelin a lot. (As did most white boys growing up in suburban NJ in the 80s.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Two of my favorite (probably unintentional) holiday children's film double-entendres

Are you ready?

1. The Year Without a Santa Claus

The scene: Jingle and Jangle (two of Santa's elves) and Vixen (you know, the reindeer) have traveled to "South-town" (which, if really in the South, is strangely devoid of any black people). They are stopped by a police officer.

OFFICER: I pulled you over for riding a -- riding a -- what's that thing?

JINGLE: This is Vixen.

OFFICER: Riding a Vixen the wrong way down a one-way street.

Hilarity ensues, and etc.

2. Rudolph's Shiny New Year

The scene: Rudolph and his friends have finally rescued Happy, the baby New Year, from the clutches of the evil Eon. But they need to get Happy back to Father Time before the bell that signifies midnight stops ringing.

RUDOLPH: There must be some way to get back to Father Time's
castle before the twelfth bong.

This one turns into a bit of a running gag for the last part of the film. For instance, when Rudolph & Co. finally do make it to the castle (courtesy of Santa Claus), Father Time informs us that they did so "without a bong to spare."

And so say we all. (Well, except for me I guess.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Don't bother me, I'm surfing

Just found this (while looking for something else, of course).

I think my favorite of these questions is this one: "How often do you block out disturbing thoughts about your life with soothing thoughts of the Internet?"

(There are lots of adjectives I would use to describe the Internet, but "soothing" is not one of them.)

And what about the poor schmucks (like me) who work in areas in which (nowadays, at least) "success" seems somewhat dependent on being online much of the time? Are we addicted?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Three days


Daphne was in Omaha this morning. She was actually thinking about doing some Christmas shopping before getting on the plane. Thankfully she decided against it.

Is this the new norm, then? Every few months someone new takes a turn at the whole rampage thing?


Took Daphne and Thandie to hear Nancy King and Glen Moore this evening (so no, we're not only about exposing the kid to the old European music). Even with all the distractions (people milling about in the lobby, people coming and going, people conversing -- none of which was as offensive as I'm making it sound -- this is Portland, after all) there was something undeniably bright and fantastic about the performance.

My friend Tim DuRoche explained to me that King actually started out as a drummer, and you could certainly hear it in her sure-footed time (no mean feat when your only accompaniment is a bass-man). But there was other stuff to love too. Lots and lots of it.


Beautiful things started happening at 9 PM.

Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Killer Shrews, and The Green Slime.

Back to back. Uncut. Commercial-free.

Totally unexpected.

Turner Classic Movies, how I adore you.

As Daphne said when I rolled out of bed on Saturday morning: "No wonder you're so tired!"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My favorite is the yellow pepper trumpet near the end

Hopefully this won't inspire someone to start a meat orchestra in response.

Wait, it's already been done?!

(Sorry, I'm running on fumes at the moment.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Ballbreaker

Sorry, I find this rather hilarious (both the initial argument and the response to it). I know it's not supposed to be. But I'm a degenerate.

Anyway, I thought I was going to have enough Tchaikovsky to make me sick yesterday when I took Thandie to see Portland's own CBA do their version of the Nutcracker (giving Mommy a much-needed afternoon off). If I had been there by myself, that surely would have been the case (though at least this wasn't the Nutcracker on Ice). I still think the show is too long by about twenty minutes (okay, we get it: every freaking toy and piece of candy has got to have its dance!). And yes it was possessed of some of the typical problems of the classical rep.

But there was something about being there with a three-year-old who has never been to a full-on theatrical production before, and who has been growing more and more interested in music and dance (especially over the last year) that made the experience -- forgive the maudlin here -- pretty goddamned touching. (Especially after we spent the morning listening (and dancing!) to fresh-out-of-the-oven near-final mixes from her Dad's group's forthcoming CD (more about that soon). Said CD will be kind of different from Tchaikovsky, you might say.) Several times I caught myself watching her fascination with the thing, and for a moment, I had such a rush of hope and happiness that I almost couldn't stand it. Or something like that.

The production prided itself on using all pre-professional dancers (apparently most academy-based productions will bring in a ringer or two when it's time to put on show like this). That was sort of endearing (at least half of the cast was made up of children not much older than Thandie). What wasn't so endearing was the use of canned music -- a money-saving choice, no doubt. I for one would have preferred (if no big band were available) to have had accompaniment by a wind quintet, say, instead of being occasionally able to hear shuffling ballet slippers over the sound of the recorded orchestra.

But I guess that wouldn't be "classical" enough.

Oh, well. 'Tis the season, mofos!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Breaking the musician's code

How I wish I had time time to write up a decent post on this, which came to my attention via an e-missive sent out by Rob Scheps, who participates in the band in question ("Jazzcode").

Given that participation (Scheps was kind enough to sit in with the IJG last March, but on the whole he has a habit of playing in much more, uh, high class and high profile situations), I know that the level of musicianship on display in this group is most assuredly of an extremely high order.

But as to drummer Carl Stormer's broader project, which distills jazz aesthetics and philosophy (as if such a thing exists in a single "code") into a powerpoint presentation that can be used to teach corporate teams (or armies) to be more productive? Normally I'm the biggest fan of incongruity, but this seems kind of like, well, you know, an insult.

It reminds me a bit of that old Virginia Slims ad (see above) and its double-edged slogan ("You've come a long way, baby"). Translation: "We've finally gotten around to letting you be an equal part of our society... but just so you can buy and consume our cancerous products, bee-yotches!" Sure, it's technically an advancement -- but at the same time somehow it misses the point.

Many times I have absent-mindedly mused that if only more people understood the thought processes behind jazz, or what it means to improvise (you know, so you don't have to stick to your plan after it becomes apparent that your plan is really fucking stupid), then the world would surely become a better place. (This is in fact one of the justifications (excuses?) that crops up every time I doubt the "deeper purpose" of my own commitment to music.)

But to reach the broader culture on these terms? In a suit? Neatly groomed? At a corporate retreat? No thanks.

Of course, any jazz musician who is able to get the music in front of an audience that would not otherwise be inclined to check it out is okay by me. Though I do wonder what percentage of the seminar participants go on to become "jazz fans" (versus the percentage that go on to become more productive workers).

A code is not an incantation. And I suspect that what's missing here (in the presentation, not the music) is the spirit, or magic, of the subject. And if not an outright revolutionary or rebellious or comic mood (you know where my allegiances lie, right?), then at least a willingness to offer a counterpoint to the status quo.

Instead, this (again, the presentation, not the music) seems to be a logical extension of the GQ-ification of jazz that made it into all the magazines in the 80s. Or jazz as Tony Robbins might imagine it.

(Ah, what the fuck do I know? You gotta make your money where you can in this business. But damn if it isn't the principle of the thing, always the principle of the thing that I get hung up on...)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

New acronyms

Proposed, this 25th day of November, in the year of our bored, two thousand and seven:

GOYFAK: "Get off your fat ass, kid." Inspired by this. (Thanks to my dear wife for the link.) I know, I know, there is pedaling involved, but come on!

GOYFAM: "Get off your fat ass, musician." Inspired by this and this. (It's an idea that would certainly solve some of the logistical problems of running a big band... but would the performance be any good?)

IRTFMIIMEALS: "I'd read the fucking manual if it made even a little sense." Inspired by this. (Thanks, Ann Bartow.) I could just as easily have cited any manual that comes with an IKEA product.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mario Music

My lovely wife just sent me this, which she discovered while surfing YouTube with our daughter this morning:

I blogged about XOC's (i.e., Jason Cox's) take on the Mario Bros. music a while back. Just re-visited his site, and there's a lot of new stuff to explore. Can't wait to listen to some of it over pumpkin pie tomorrow...

Water Music

A yoga instructor once told me I had a "beautiful spirit." But I ain't got nothin' on this guy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dinah via Daniel

Speaking of City of Angles, I just discovered this video by IJG alum (and Royal Crown Revue drummer) Daniel Glass, who was our regular drummer back in 2001-2, and who recorded that album with us:

There are many things that this fellow can do well (check out his website for some of them). There are also many ways to swing. But it's not often that you come across someone under 60 who has absorbed the old-school pre-war jazz drumming styles to this extent.

In my opinion, anyway.

I kinda hope Glass starts blogging one of these days -- he's sort of a walking encyclopedia of twentieth-century western drumming.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hat trick

For some reason utterly beyond my comprehension, last week an IJG tune was once again used as bumper music on NPR's Talk of the Nation. By my count, that's the third time this has happened.

All of the tunes used in this way (Nov 7's "Anger Management Classes," and previously "Mwahaha" and "Void When Detached") originally appeared on our second album, City of Angles, released by Innova in 2002.

Wait, was it really 2002? Yeah, I guess it was. To me the album feels older than that, because (in my opinion, anyway) the vibe of the group has changed a great deal in the years since it was made. Some of the basic elements of our "mature sound" (if indeed that's where we're at now) were in place, but on the whole, I think Angles wears its influences a bit too shamelessly.

"Anger" is a perfect example of that, as a matter of fact -- to my ears the "9/8 within 9/4" vibe of the opening groove comes across as more-than-a-little-reminiscent of the "7/8 within 7/4" of Zappa's "Pound for a Brown." That was totally unintentional, I assure you -- but given where my head was at at the time, it's not surprising to me now that Angles is full of these little, uh, "raw" homages.

Once upon a time, "Anger" was also (I now recall) the "big closer" in our live show (a position that it seemed to occupy pretty effectively). But somehow that live excitement didn't translate to the recording studio; I have always felt that the album version was kind of pale in comparison. (As I continue to work on the new record I'm getting a better sense of just how cool a good live recording can be; like Carla Bley, I'm thinking that might be the way to go from now on.)

Anyway, you can still get City of Angles here. Um... I probably haven't done too good a job of selling it just now, but it's a pretty good album, I guess.

* * * * *

I think I need one more Zappa reference for this week's blogging. So here it is:

Neophyte blogger Maria (of Maria's Music) recently posted a critique of the Howard Stern show. The subject was an episode in which Stern (et al) ridiculed the music of some non-mainstream group called called Zs. Apparently Stern receives music for airplay all the time, and the marketing genius behind Zs (that seems to be how they refer to themselves, though the pun hidden in "the Zs" (i.e., "disease") makes the addition of the article very tempting) realized that there was potential for some exposure. (Wish I had thought of that scheme.)

Despite my east coast origins, I've never been a Stern fan -- not because I've ever been offended by anything he has said (perish the thought!) but because most of the time I just don't think he's funny. (I do share his interest in all things prurient, philosophically if not specifically (there's no accounting for taste, ya know) -- but on the whole his act has never appealed to me.)

Anyway, during the first segment Maria links to, after listening to a bit of a Zs tune called "Woodworking" (a quirky, fun, abstract sort of piece without an easily-discernible pulse) one of Stern's on-air entourage (not sure who, since I don't really follow the show) chimes in with the following sage observation:

"That's like shitty Frank Zappa. Zappa would do that like in the middle of songs but he'd do it for like thirty seconds and then get back to music."

Translation: "I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about." Here's why:

I could of course have cited hundreds of other Zappa tunes that tread in (and indeed helped to establish) the same aesthetic terrain as Zs' "Woodworking." Whole Zappa albums even. Most of which are longer than 30 seconds.

In fact, Zappa's appearance on the Steve Allen show, circa 1962, playing the bicycle [I'd've inserted the YouTube clip here if they hadn't deleted it... probably at the estate's request, sadly] seems to presage this Zs moment on Stern. Those who haven't seen the Zappa/Allen clip should know that, like Stern, Allen had a habit of ridiculing artists he didn't understand:

None of this is surprising, I suppose. Re-listening to the Stern clips, I actually found myself laughing from time to time at the depths of the ignorance (Zappa would have called it "dumb all over" (and a little ugly on the side)). But it's funny in a way that should be of concern to anyone who gives a shit about music. For me the question is: are we talking here about ignorance in terms of a lack of specialized knowledge? (That would be frustrating but sort of understandable.) Or is it more of a personality trait / social phenomenon -- a kind of "willful philistinism"?

In other words, is this a problem of the pleasures of the music existing somewhere beyond the "lay ear's" ability to hear them? Does one need to be "in on" the methodology or the theoretical underpinnings in order to appreciate a Zs piece, or a Zappa piece, or a Cage piece, or an Ornette Coleman piece, or anything non-mainstream?

I just don't think so. To my ear, the pleasures of this large category of music ("non-mainstream" is an over-generalization, to be sure) seem, notwithstanding variances in personal taste, to be as plain as day. And I don't think I've come to that conclusion because I have a music degree -- because I don't. When I first got into so-called "avant-garde music," or "jazz," or anything beyond whatever was playing on Top Forty radio, all those years ago, it was because of a sound -- or, to cite Zappa yet again, a certain configuration of "wiggling air molecules." It was only after first liking it that I decided to seek out a better understanding of how it was made. But that knowledge, which came later, was not and is not essential to my enjoyment.

* * * * *


Here is a bit of a transcription of Zappa's appearance on the Stern show, circa 1987 (the year I graduated high school, coincidentally). It's kind of ironic (in light of the above), and funny (in light of Zappa's apparent boredom with the interview). The maestro handles Stern's provincial buffoonery with a measured cool:

STERN: Was [Zappa's son Ahmet] named after [Ahmet Ertegun]?

ZAPPA: Yeah.

STERN: Are you serious?

ZAPPA: Yeah.

QUIVERS: Where else do you get a name like that?

ZAPPA: (laughs) It's a Turkish name.

STERN: Yeah? Well um... I never liked the Turks quite frankly.

ZAPPA: Yeah? Well that's the way it goes.

STERN: The hell with them. I mean, they never did anything for this country did they?

ZAPPA: I don't know, I'll look into it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Large Hiney Vehicle

The latest IJG video is now up:

This is the third pre-release video from our upcoming album. The (Bimhuis) audio is a rough mix (and includes a little audio "tag" not on the album version), and the video is a rough assemblage of clips from the Netherlands, Ohio, and Bakersfield (all recorded in 07). All footage was shot by either myself or Matt Lichtenwalner -- except for the animation, which was taken from a traffic safety film now in the public domain.

As was the case with our earlier videos, my attempts to sync up the performance video and the music (or even to match players with their respective solos) were hopelessly confounded by a comparative dearth of source material. So at some point I gave up trying and decided to just enjoy the resulting discrepancies. But for the record: the bone solo near the end is Wolter Wierbos, and the tenor solo right after that is Katharina Thomsen. (My apologies to them.) Oh yeah, and the spoken word tag is by Mike Richardson, with yours truly on piano.

Maybe someday I'll have the resources to do somethin ' a little more sophistimacated (like a full-on concert film... drool...).

In the meantime, I must leave you with this warning: this video is not safe for work. Unless your work is fucking cool.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rule Lithuania

Came across this article while researching the Vilnius Jazz Festival.

Some of the good bits:

Never mind free and fair elections, independent judiciaries or respect for ethnic minorities, a country can only really be declared democratic if its leaders are big enough to allow the erection of a monument to the late, lamented Frank Zappa.

Teachers at the [Vilnius Art] academy, however, were less keen on the idea, fearing that a memorial to a man still revered for his anti-establishment songs could corrupt the innocent minds of their students.

Zappa himself would no doubt have enjoyed the irony of the [monument dedication] ceremony, which included a stirring performance by the city’s military band, a firework display, and plenty of toasts to 70-year-old local sculptor Konstantinas Bogdanas, a man who was previously better known for his depictions of the likes of Lenin and other communist heroes.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Album update no. 45,362

(Photo by Ting06.)

As you may have surmised by now, the new IJG recording will not "drop" this year. (Boy, do I hate that phraseology, by the way.) This despite my best efforts. Of course, release delays are typical for even a major label effort -- but when your project is indie, snags in the production process may be that much more acute, cuz chances are you're doing almost everything yourself.

Ah well. In our case the issue is twofold. First, "final mixdown" continues to be pushed back because of scheduling conflicts (leaving me more time to tweak and fiddle -- which is fine, but only to a point). And second, as I have gotten deeper into the mixes (thanks to the more or less permanent temptations presented by my paltry excuse for a basement studio), I have revised the, uh, "conceptual core" of the project.

You may recall that I had been referring to this thing as "The Art of the Mix Tape." No more. I did not jettison the title because I no longer like it (who knows, it may still come in handy someday) but because it doesn't really fit the essentially live album that is emerging. The new working title is LEEF (a misappropriation of a Dutch word), for reasons that I'll explain if I actually get to use it (it turns out the Bimhuis folks may want to have some say in what we call the album -- more on that if necessary).

Wait, did I say "several versions"? Yeah, I guess I did. Since I managed to cut the middle man out of the preliminary mixing process, and I don't have to pay someone an hourly fee to "fiddle and tweak," I have the luxury of experimenting with different conglomerations of the material to see what works best. As a result, I still haven't decided if I want this to be a long-ish album (like, over 60 minutes), or a more concise one. And I still haven't decided which tunes to use exactly. And I still haven't decide how live I want it to be. Originally I was planning on using about half of the Bimhuis show, and filling out the rest with studio tracks and "non-live" experiments, plus one or two other segments recorded live elsewhere. But it seems like more bits from Amsterdam keep sneaking in every week. (It's amazing how a decent mix can reveal some magic in performances that I thought were hopelessly flawed.) There are so many possibilities; maybe I'll just have to release 'em all somehow.

Maybe I'm staying so noncommital so late in the process because flexibility seems to be the name of the game these days. I feel the same about the format wars: I'm pretty open to everybody's arguments, and so I'm drawn to releasing a download version of the record for the kids and the iPodders (and a FLAC version for the really hip folks), a CD for the mainstreamers, an LP for the audiophiles, a "director's cut version," some web-only extras, maybe a deluxe DVD-CD pairing that includes higher-quality versions of some of the video currently on YouTube, and so on. Sure, part of me wants to go "exclusively electronic" with the release (bypassing the expensive replication process), but I don't think we're really in a position to do that yet. After all, we're not a huge band, and we need all the audiences we can get. So for now, I think I'm just going to avoid assuming that there will be one definitive version of the record (though I'm sure I'll have my own favorite).

What else? Despite the delays, I'm really excited about this monstrosity. It will be our first release to feature a singer -- and probably the first "official" CD I will ever have made with Ms. Knapp -- Gruel doesn't really count because it was truly DIY, and distributed via CD-R, for crissakes. (I have been making music with this chick for more than 20 years, so it seems crazy that it took so long for us to actually release something spiffy, eh?) This will also be our first recording to feature the IJG pseudo-big-band lineup (15 people), our typical configuration for the last two years.

Oh yeah, and it will also be our first release to hypothetically require a “parental advisory” label for strong language -- assuming I actually cared about such things.

Which I don't. Though I suppose I should elaborate for anyone who hasn't seen our current show. The linguistic offensiveness I'm alluding to has to do with the eminently guttural glory of the word “fuck,” which we employ 1. lyrically, 2. in one of our titles, and 3. in some of the spoken-word segues that will probably fill out the record. None of this will be particularly surprising to those of you who read this blog regularly (lord knows I don’t shy away from obscene language), or, for that matter, for anyone who has even the slightest connection to a culture of musicians. (Certain obscenities are simply part of the day-to-day language of most folks who move in these circles.)

Why the naughty bits, you ask? I guess the word "fuck" reminds me that one of the things that drew me to making music in the first place was the thought of participating in some kind of constructive rebellion. You know, expressing dissatisfaction with a status quo, and trying to point toward something better. (Yeah, music used to have that kind of effect on people. It's easy to forget that when Ornette Coleman first hit the scene, his music alone could provoke fisticuffs.)

Anyway, maybe I'm wrong, but in our jaded culture, the word "fuck" still seems to carry that kind of transgressive (but also funny, and potentially joyful and celebratory) power -- at least, I assume, for most of the audiences that listen to jazz here in the States (e.g., it's hard to imagine someone getting away with deliberately uttering it onstage at Lincoln Center). And that sort of complex transgression is part of what I'm after in my music too.

Why, the word "fuck" is almost as offensive as Janet Jackson's tit -- and much more aesthetically pleasing.

* * * * *

Oh yeah, and here's a picture of a "monster pile" that Thandie drew before breakfast this morning. Happy belated Halloween to all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Monday, November 05, 2007

To hell with conventional wisdom

Cuz what initially seems counterintuitive can often be right.

Take this for example.

An excerpt of the excerpt: "Our review of existing econometric studies suggests that P2P file-sharing tends to decrease music purchasing. However, we find the opposite, namely that P2P filesharing tends to increase rather than decrease music purchasing."

My experience exactly.

Excuses, not results

By the way, I must apologize for being so willy-nilly with the labels on this here blog. Sometimes I use 'em, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I make up new ones where old ones would clearly suffice.

I wish I could say all this was because the writing found here is "beyond category" (to borrow a phrase from Duke Ellington). The sad truth is that I'm just unorganized.

Worthless factoid

Last night I learned that I am one-eighth French.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The straight poop on the latest in morning beverages

I love coffee. But I'm not sure I love it this much.

Where, I wonder, does the inspiration come from? What's the thought process?

"Sure, the coffee I'm drinking right now tastes pretty good. But I bet coffee made from that would be absolutely divine!"

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Well, excuuuuuuse me!

Discovered this in my ongoing attempt to improve the band's global stature in 08. I'll mask the source, though I can tell you it's a booking agency:

Unsolicited Submissions Policy

[Company X] has a policy that neither it nor any of its agents or other employees shall accept or consider any unsolicited material, ideas or suggestions of any nature whatsoever ("Unsolicited Materials"). Accordingly, you may not use this website or information obtained there from to submit Unsolicited Materials to [Company X] via any means (including, without limitation, via mail, fax or e-mail). Should you nevertheless contravene this express prohibition by sending Unsolicited Materials to [Company X], please be advised that the Unsolicited Materials will not be considered by anyone at [Company X], and if possible they will be returned to you with no copies kept. Unsolicited Materials will not be forwarded to or discussed with any third parties.

And then you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Or maybe they're just covering their own asses. But why? From the legal tone of the paragraph, it almost sounds like they could be sued for not accepting someone's application. But that would be ridiculous, no?

More likely they're just overwhelmed, as are most booking agencies these days. Understandable enough -- but in that case won't a simple "Sorry, but we can't accept unsolicited materials" suffice?

What a business.

Anyway, "regular blogging" (whatever that is) will resume "soon" (whatever that is).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

If This Ain't Love

Well, hello there!

Bet you thought I skipped the country, huh?

Actually, I've just been holed up in my basement, madly mixing the new IJG album. More news on that front soon, but in the meantime here's something else:

Beautiful, eh?

Actually, before I go any further, I gotta revise a statement I made in a recent post -- Hounds of Love is just about as good as The Kick Inside.

But now back to the issue at hand: wow, there have been a lot of "neo-soul-divas" coming down the pike over the last few years. Let's see: you've got yer Lauryn Hill, yer Erykah Badu, yer Alicia Keys, yer India.Arie, yer Corrine Bailey Rae, and now, yer Amy Winehouse. That's just off the top of my head.

I think this is great -- much of this music is superior to the stuff that really sells (of the ones I listed, Alicia Keys is the only one who leaves me completely bored -- and she's probably the richest of the bunch). But every time one of these artists breaks, there is a lot of talk about how she is bringing back some long-lost quality of vintage soul / r&b music (or whatever you want to call it). And every time these claims are made, my ears perk up, because, as you know, I, uh, kinda like that old music a lot (especially of the Stax and Muscle Shoals variety).

The above Nicole Willis, who is being similarly marketed, is, as far as I can tell, the first to really live up to the hype. There is something about Willis and her (Finnish!) band (the Soul Investigators) that demonstrates a deep understanding of that music too, right down to the recording techniques. (Mic distortion?! On a commercial record?! That's brave.) The Nina Simone / Irma Thomas / Marvin Gaye vibe certainly doesn't hurt, either.

It's not astonishing music -- it's weirdly familiar, actually -- but it works.

Here's the album in question.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

So bad it's good, part one

You may have missed the Ig Noble awards last week. I missed it too of course, but that didn't stop me from thinking fondly of this wacky event, with which I feel a great deal of simpatico. Check it out: "The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think." One might even say this is what I'm after in music.

This year's ceremony is over, but the site is well worth poking around. Did you know, for example, that you could cure hiccups with a digital rectal massage? (Thank you, Francis M. Fesmire, Majed Odeh, Harry Bassan, and Arie Oliven, for hipping us to this remedy.)

The ceremony is sponsored by the good folks at Improbable Research, who also bring you The Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS), a club "for scientists who have, or believe they have, luxuriant flowing hair." Queen's Brian May, who is also an astronomer, is a member. (I couldn't make this up.)

Oh, and Jill, you might be interested in this: "Every year, the ceremony has a new theme. (The theme pertains to some of the goings-on at the ceremony, though not necessarily to any of the year's prize-winning achievements). This year's theme: CHICKEN."

Monday, October 08, 2007

What a business

Well, this truly hits the spot on a rainy night in Portland (while I print out press kits, fer crissakes).

For my money, Kate Bush was never better than on her first album. And when you mediate a great tune like "Them Heavy People" (no, it's not actually called "Rolling the Ball") by giving it to some Japanese singers, while having Kate herself do a few uber-cheesy dance moves (but not singing -- huh?), you've hit upon something delightfully wacky.

Friday, October 05, 2007

For shame

The RIAA wins its first case.

I wish these fuckers would concentrate on making some music that was actually worth $222,000. Wired has the list from the above suit:

Guns N Roses "Welcome to the Jungle," "November Rain"
Vanessa Williams "Save the Best for Last"
Janet Jackson "Let's Wait Awhile"
Gloria Estefan "Here We Are," "Coming Out of the Heart," "Rhythm is Gonna Get You"
Goo Goo Dolls "Iris"
Journey "Faithfully," "Don't Stop Believing"
Sara McLachlan "Possession," "Building a Mystery"
Aerosmith "Cryin'"
Linkin Park "One Step Closer
Def Leppard "Pour Some Sugar on Me"
Reba McEntire "One Honest Heart"
Bryan Adams "Somebody"
No Doubt "Bathwater," "Hella Good," "Different People"
Sheryl Crow "Run Baby Run"
Richard Marx "Now and Forever"
Destiny's Child "Bills, Bills, Bills"
Green Day "Basket Case"

I might give you a buck for the lot.

Actually, no: I'll pay someone to take it all out of circulation. (Except maybe for "Don't Stop Believing," which has camp value for me).

P2Pnet has some perspective. (Check it out: "the judge in the case ruled that jurors may find copyright infringement liability against somebody solely for sharing files on the internet. The RIAA did not have to prove that others downloaded the files." Just ridiculous.)

What's in a name, really?

So I've plunged headlong into "booking madness mode," querying probably (by now) hundreds of music festivals around the world in the hopes that at least a few of 'em will be willing to take a chance on our "Monsters of Industrial Jazz Road Show" in the summer of 08.

There are two festivals that I hope we get into just for the names alone:

The Hell Music Festival, in (where else?) Hell, Norway. (Come on. How cool would it be to see a piccolo-trumpet-playing-dreadlocked-skull-guy on stage at this one? (Yes, that's the opening line of my pitch.))

The Oliver Cromwell Jazz Festival, in the UK. (Betcha didn't know that this regicidal dictator was a jazz fan.)

The best logo award (so far) probably goes to the Brussels Jazz Marathon. Their "running trumpet guy" (kids, don't try that at home) can be seen in the backdrop of this shot (and also in the bottom left-hand corner):

Anyway, keep your fingers crossed. Please.

* * * * *

[UPDATE: I would love for us to be represented by the A.S.S. Agency almost as much as I would love for us to appear at the Hell Music Festival.]

Monday, October 01, 2007

Notes on / in Ohio

Jardin means "garden," right? So what's with all the bricks?

Now for some random observations on what I can only assume will be the last IJG tour for 07:

Cincinnati (27 September, Jardin)

* I have already indicated that our Midpoint show redeemed (for me, anyway) what would otherwise have been a pretty so-so tour. This was not so much because of the size of the audience (which, to the best of my knowledge, wasn't much more than 40 people -- cozy enough inside our tent, but not exactly a huge crowd). No, what turned things around was the quality of the response. Like the best audiences we've had all year, the Cincinnati folks seemed to instantly understand our schtick. Consequently they did not hold back at all: dancing, lighters, whooping / hollering, and various other forms of audience participation were all to be found in great abundance. For the record: we never got this sort of response in 2006 (or before), and for the life of me I have no idea why.

* I was quite internally-agitated until shortly before our show. There had been many premonitions of doom throughout the day (in fact, I might as well admit that this tour occasioned what I suspect may have been my very first panic attack -- oh joy). Not the least of these was the rumor (uncovered by Jill and Matt) that Jardin's neighbors had previously voiced (and had been able to enforce) concerns about "excessive noise after 11 PM." What time were we supposed to go on? 11:15 PM! Beautiful. (As it turned out we didn't run into any problems.)

* Aside: the festival infrastructure was very professional, though my understanding is that things were run almost entirely by volunteers. Kudos to you, good people of Cincinnati.

* Our writeup in Cincinnati's City Paper: "Naturally, it's neither exactly Industrial nor Jazz, but IJG does take the instrumental and compositional chops (and horns galore) from the latter. And if you take into account that the origins of Industrial music can be traced to Dadaism, noise art and a reaction to 'agricultural' music, well, suddenly it all makes sense. Dig It: Throbbing Gristle meets 'Yakety Sax' at an art opening." (I like this, but what exactly is "agricultural music"?)

* As alluded to in the TWSIS piece, Cincy was the guinea pig for our first experiment with "guerilla marketing" (a tactic we alternately referred to as "jazz terrorism" (Rosenboom) and "jazz streaking" (Pratt)). To wit: a few of the horn players (Rosenboom, Templeton, Rodriguez, and perhaps Francis?) piled into one of our minivans a half hour before our show and played a spontaneous open-door concert, while Ms. Knapp eased the vehicle down one of the festival's main drags, and Mr. Lichtenwalner waved a sign announcing who we were. At the time I had no idea whether this (admittedly obnoxious) strategy would work. Now I can say: it worked. (Note to self: more jazz streaking.) Anyway, here, for the curious, is some footage of the second pass:

* Because of the two days of pent-up anxiety that came with worrying about how things were going to go in Ohio generally, I ended up letting off a lot of steam during the performance at Jardin. I mean a lot of steam. It was a physical experience as much as an emotional or intellectual one -- a little bit like laying into a punching bag for 45 minutes straight.

* Speaking of: I realized after this show that if I could somehow manage to tour the group more regularly, I would probably be in the best shape of my life. It seems like every time I get to the end of a set, I have more or less sweated through whatever clothes I happen to be wearing (what with the jumping and the running and the hopping and such). It's a workout, and, you know, much more fun than getting on a treadmill.

* Various kinds of spontaneous band choreography emerged with this show -- something I consider an extremely high compliment from the musicians. Although I have fantasized about carefully working this sort of thing out ahead of time, usually we barely have time to even practice the actual music. Once in a while I will write in specific gestures as part of an individual chart, but nothing too elaborate. With these shows, however, the band more or less danced as an organism -- not in the sense of everybody always moving as one, but a commitment to (and lack of embarrassment about) the idea that music and body movement simply go together. My favorite moments in this regard were the "visual reverb" (the term is Josh Rutner's) that many of the horn players did behind the bone solo in "Fuck the Muck" (see the clip below), and, in the same tune, a rather over-the-top arm-linked-swaying that accompanied the hymn section at the end.

Columbus (26 September, Rumba Cafe)

* I don't mean to knock Columbus. There are certainly good people and good musicians fighting the good fight there, just as there are in most other places in the world. And I personally thought Honk Wail & Moan (the other big band on the bill) turned in an admirable set. They certainly had a decent turnout (including one couple -- okay, one rather energetic chick and her seemingly along-for-the-ride boyfriend -- who danced their way through about a third of the HWM show). Basically, everyone involved in helping me set up this gig really went out of their way to make us feel at home. So gracias all around.

* Still, it was probably inevitable that things were going to be a little stressful in Columbus. The IJG west coasters were seriously sleep-deprived (we had all taken red-eyes); the group had gotten precious little time to rehearse anything, old or new; we ended up going on pretty damned late (if James Hirschfeld hadn't had some friends in that part of Ohio (almost by accident), we might not have had much of an audience at all); and we were adjusting to the somewhat depressing vibe of the city (which suffers from an "insular urban blight" kind of situation).

* I have already mentioned the emergence of our "Skeletor" character, played (and, honestly, created) by Dan Rosenboom. Talk about channeling one's inner 12-year-old! It's probably safe to assume that most of us in the band have gone through a metal phase at one time or another -- so even though the music we are currently playing is pretty unlike metal in just about every respect, there is something inherently right about having a dreadlocked skull-mask guy along to help play it:

* Let me backtrack. For some time now I have been trying to feature the piccolo trumpet skills of Mr. Rosenboom in a more than peripheral way. With the new stuff, I think I finally managed to come up with a few apposite vehicles for that purpose. The catch was that I asked Rosenboom to create an "evil cowboy" character to go along with one of those tunes ("Boozey McBombalot" -- with a title like that, you can perhaps guess who the "evil cowboy" is supposed to be). This he did with a gusto, and an artistry, that was downright thrilling. (In case I'm not being clear enough: Rosenboom actually played the piccolo trumpet while wearing the skull mask.)

* Apropos of nothing: I'm trying to get to the point, compositionally, where I can reliably make a listener laugh with a single well-placed note.

* Speaking of laughter, here's a 2 AM "golden moment of goofery" at a gas station in Columbus, courtesy of Evan Francis:

* * * * *

So there you go. It's been a really exciting and fun year for the band. Thanks again to everyone involved, especially the musicians. We'll see what we can pull out of the hat for '08. Until then, it's back to the new record for me...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Don't take my word for it

A review of our Midpoint show.

Don't know how long the link will be active, so here's the text:

Industrial Jazz Group -- This thirteen-piece band from Los Angeles, CA, was the highlight of MPMF Day One. Before their set, members of the band drove up Cincinnati's Main Street in a minivan playing songs. Once I walked into the tent were they were performing I was instantly drawn in to the band's entertaining atmosphere. The Industrial Jazz Group consisted of a drummer, a bass player, nine horn players (3 trumpets, 2 soprano saxophones, 1 alto saxophone, 1 tenor saxophone, 1 baritone saxophone, and 1 trombone), a female singer, and a keyboardists who doubled as conductor. The energy level of the band will remain unmatched. The singer spent much of her time dancing through and with the audience. The horn section wore unique headgear - which included a Skeletor mask, a crab hat, a fish hat, and a hot dog hat - and had some choreographed swaying and directional moves. The charts they played were dynamic and fluid. If they toured the country playing for high school students, every student would want to join the school's jazz band. They could save the entire country's educational music program and revive the art of jazz performance. This band exemplifies what a jazz ensemble should be!

Thanks, TWSIS!

More to come...

* * * * *

[UPDATE: Now that Midpoint is over (it ended yesterday), the same good people at The Wheel's Still in Spin have gone so far as to label us the "best band" at this year's festival. That's some kind of coup, I think. Yeowza!]

Friday, September 28, 2007

All the way, baby

Josh Sinton tipped me off to the above phrase when he noticed it on a Waffle House menu a few hours ago (i.e., at some slightly less insane hour of the morning). It seemed apt for some reason.

I'm still in brevity mode, but I'm also stuck in an airport without much to do for a few hours. So I might as well check in with some kinda prattle on the Ohio tour, right?

The hazy, happy synopsis: the show in Columbus was cool, but only moderately so. The show at Midpoint, on the other hand, was fun as all get-out. In fact, I am relieved to report that Midpoint managed to redeem what I had feared was turning into an otherwise mediocre trip. Somehow, despite the lack of sleep, the cramped traveling conditions, the fact that we made very little bread, the general surreality of Ohio, the high percentage of subs, and the presence of new / untested tunes in the set, the group managed to call up a downright ecstatic energy once we took the stage at Jardin. And the audience responded in kind. (We were actually performing in a tent, which was kind of fitting, because the whole vibe turned sort of tent-meeting-ish. But without the religious component.)

I'm fucking relieved. And I'm fucking lucky (don't think I don't know it).

I'll have more to say / post after I can sleep for a day or two.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Road pix

Here's us in Columbus last night...

The details will have to come later. Midpoint awaits.

(Okay, here's one detail. If you look carefully in pic no. 2, you will see that Skeletor has joined the band.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Still pondering the thread over here, I came across this. Doesn't sound to me like they're making fun, despite all the cues to the contrary ("flak-toom, flak-toom, bsssh"? A Foundations quote?!).

Somehow The Bobs (for my money, one of the best acapella groups in history) manage to serve up the whole enchilada of musical expression: love, comedy, drama, social commentary, musical sophistication, etc. They do bitchen covers like this, but they also write and perform their own stuff (which is usually fantastic). And critics and fans seem to love them for it.

Why can't a (probably much better-known) jazz group can't get the same kind of break?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Myself am hell

This came to me through an IJG google alert last week. I don't know what it was that made me actually look at it, but when I did I found it described what for me would be a miserable existence:

I never really became very steeped in music. I grew up on the classic rock my parents listened to, but never had an extensive CD collection nor did I listen to much more than the radio in my car and at work. A few years ago, I became disenchanted with what I was listening to, so I basically started surrounding myself with Christian rock and, tiring of that, eventually silence. I don't refuse to listen to music; usually I just don't even think to put any music on.

What weirds me out more than the de-music-ification itself is that, because of it, the dude becomes more convinced of his right to judge music:

It was only in the last year or so that I have come across these articles and speeches suggesting the spiritual dimension of music. I think the lack of music surrounding me made it easier for me to be objective when critically looking at the music I used to listen to.

Of course you know where this is going. That's right, we're back in Jesus-land (and thus a very narrow definition of "spiritual"). Do a little cursory scrolling and you will soon learn that the "ROOT OF MORAL DECAY TRACED TO HIDDEN EFFECTS OF ROCK AND HEAVY-METAL MUSIC."

Geez Louise: I thought that nonsense died in the eighties.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The problem with cats... that they typically aren't too fond of dogs. Even if you happen to all share the same house.

In my experience, I've found that cats especially don't like any overly-playful, outsized variety of dog.

When one comes into view, panicked tree-climbing often ensues.

Don't worry, he made it back down just fine, but only after five hours (or so) had elapsed.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Jazz: The Music of Un-enjoyment

The improvising-guitarist-who-will-not-be-named had a post last week detailing some of the most horrific gigs he/she/it had ever experienced. Call it coincidence, but fellow blogger Peter Breslin had a similar post that went up at about the same time.

They are both fantastic, funny, agonizing, and all-too-familiar reads. Highly recommended.

I for one hope the jazz blogosphere picks up on this meme in the same way that it picked up on the Bad Plus questionnaire last year. Whether or not that happens, here's a brief list of my own favorite shit gigs (I'm sure if I thought about it I could dig up more). I'm going to skip over the question of my own playing, which I think is always pretty second-rate anyway, and focus mostly on logistical and conceptual problems. And just plain bad luck.

Names have not been changed, because none of the people involved were innocent.

1. Bar band hell.

For a very brief time in the late eighties, I played keyboards in this band. Do I really have to say more? God love 'em, they did what they did really well -- but what they did was not my cup of tea, and I'm not exactly sure how I got roped into playing with them. Every gig sucked, but during one show in particular I actually had the nerve (and the lack of professionalism) to get so pissed that (for the first and hopefully last time in my career) I walked off the stage in the middle of a song -- the band was veering that far from anything that I could recognize as musical interest or integrity.

2. How does this thing work again?

During the first incarnation of the band that would eventually become The Evelyn Situation (circa the early nineties), I started dividing my onstage time between piano and acoustic guitar. Though I had always been a capable amateur guitarist -- with an emphasis on the "amateur" -- by the time I did my first guitar-heavy gig, I still didn't even realize that the strings can sometimes break. (What do you want? I was a pianist, and as such was used to my instrument remaining more or less intact for the duration of a performance.) Imagine my astonishment when, during the course of some maudlin tune or other, a string simply snapped. Duh. I had never changed my strings before. I literally sat there staring at the instrument for a while, more or less at a loss as to what to do next.

3. You want me to wear what?

After I got my jazz mojo together in the late nineties, I joined a "trad jazz" outfit with the unfortunate moniker of Casey Jones and the Engineers. We dressed like, uh, engineers (red bandanas, overalls -- do I have to paint you a freakin' picture?!). Our drummer (who was also the band's manager, and who was also the leader's boyfriend -- so many bad ideas coming together in one place) had a sense of time that could only be described as, uh, recalcitrant.(Wait -- you want the beat to be where? Fuck you! I'm gonna put it over here.) Once the novelty of getting to play "jazz" publicly with a group wore off, every gig pretty much sucked (aesthetically, interpersonally, fiscally...).

4. Unnecessary roughness.

There have only been two times when I have consciously been in the immediate proximity of a firearm because of a gig (both were IJG gigs -- one occurred in Rochester, and one in San Francisco).

Still, neither of those incidents was a violent as a show I did with my favorite of the groups-I-have-played-with-that-were-not-my-own: The Nourishment. The time: near-Halloween, 2000. The place: the California Institute for Abnormalarts (aka CIA). The scene: lead singer Jason Polland was in his cross-dressing phase, and apparently this bothered an inebriated audience member so much that fisticuffs ensued. During the middle of a song. I can't remember for sure, but I think broken bottles were involved. I know poor Jason ended up on his back at one point.

Jason Polland channeling his inner punk rock girl.

Everything happened so fast that none of us on the stage were sure that this wasn't part of the act (things were always a little edgy with this group). And since Jason quickly went back to singing, we finished the set anyway.

It was only afterward that we learned that the confrontation was genuine. Thankfully no one got hurt.

Yes, that's me next to the violin-playing gorilla. I can't explain the bull's eye on his crotch -- something in the camera, I guess.

5. The gig that never was.

Funny that the "worst gig" was one that actually never had a chance to occur. During the IJG's first tour of the east coast (June 2005), we were scheduled to perform at CBGB -- this was the actually the first of the east coast gigs I had booked for what turned out to be a five day tour.

CBGB cancelled less than a week before we were scheduled to play. The email from the booking agent, “dee pop” (if that really was his / her name), had the subject heading “please read - cbgb's gig cancelled,” and went exactly like this:

I'm truly sorry to have to tell you this but the show next wednesday has been cancelled. this is sudden to me and there is nothing i can to do to change it. i am truly sorry for the inconvienence this may cause you guys. dee pop

My first response was even briefer than that:

Hey Dee:
Huh? Why?

Then I thought some more and sent off another email:

Do you have any recommendations for a venue nearby that we might be able to play at on such short notice?

Then the ire started to kick in. Email number three from me:

Also, is the club prepared to do something to compensate all of the people who might unwittingly trek across town (or in from NJ) to see us? This show has been fairly heavily promoted, and there's no way I’m going to be able to get the word out about the cancellation at this late date.

I'm not trying to be a jerk or anything, I know this is not your fault, but the situation is completely ridiculous.

Dee didn’t really respond to any of these questions when he / she wrote back:

club decision and truly out of my hands.

My reply to this cold comfort:

But it doesn't make sense. Again, I know the situation is out of your hands, so I'm not blaming you, but you’re my only contact with the venue. There’s got to be some reason. Is the club closing? Are they hosting a private party in that room? Are they afraid the show wouldn’t cover their expenses?

I probably wouldn’t be as pissed if we weren’t coming in from out of town (pretty fucking far out of town) and I hadn't put so much time into promoting the show. And I'm really concerned about potential fans who are going to take this out on us, assuming it is somehow our fault.

I sent that off, and then, just because I couldn’t shut up, I added:

At the very least, how about if I send you some flyers that the club can give to anyone who shows up to see us? The flyers could offer a discount on our Bloomfield, NJ show two days later.

I would appreciate it.

This whole exchange took place on Thursday, the 9th of June. Dee did take me up on my flyers offer, and attempted to find us an alternate venue (or so he / she claimed), but in the end I never heard more from him / her.

Needless to say I hardly got any sleep that evening. A good amount of promotional energy had gone into getting the word out about the CBGB show, and to have that simply evaporate because of the arbitrary decision of some asshole without a name (note that no one actually claimed responsibility for the cancellation, and no reason was ever given) was irritating, to say the least.

As it turned out the day was saved by Beth, who hooked us up with the guys in (the amazing) Jerseyband, who were in turn kind enough to allow us to join them on their bill at the (now-defunct) C-Note the same evening we would've played CB's. So all was not lost. But for about 48 hours there I was in hell.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A most peculiar paradox

Busy week.

At the top of my radar, of course, have been the various tasks that go along with readying the group for our last trip of 07: a two-day excursion to Ohio (specifically, Columbus and Cincinnati) that comes up at the end of September. Might as well reveal the personnel up front (note that we are picking up more and more NY players, and as such are becoming more and more of a truly "bi-coastal" group -- cool). The trumpets and the rhythm section will be exactly as they were for the Netherlands: Phil Rodriguez, Andre Canniere, Dan Rosenboom, Dan Schnelle, Oliver Newell, Jill Knapp, and yours truly. Other veterans (of the Netherlands tour and other recent trips) will be scattered throughout the group in key positions: Evan Francis on alto, Gavin Templeton on soprano sax, Josh Sinton on bari, Dan Pratt on tenor, and James Hirschfeld on bone. We'll also be picking up a few brand new people: Josh Rutner (an associate of Hirschfeld's, so he must be good) on soprano sax, and Brian Casey on bone (Brian is a composer, and one of the leaders of Honk, Wail, & Moan, the big band we'll be sharing a bill with in Columbus -- more about that in a moment). With any luck, we'll also have another Ohio sub (TBA) on the second tenor book.

Of course we'll be missing some of the old fogeys -- Zick, Tiner, Schenck, Wright, Walsh, etc. -- but that's the nature of this particular beast. I'm pretty confident that each new incarnation of the group has something special to offer -- for whatever reason, we've had good luck lately finding the "right people" for the job.

I'm not sure what to expect from this trip, however. The "pivot gig" is the Midpoint Music Festival in Cincinnati (September 27), which is pretty much a wild card at this point. I mean, I have a sense that it's a relatively large event, but I don't know how it stacks up next to some of the other, better-known indie music festivals (like SXSW or CMJ). One interesting factoid is that Midpoint has something of a "purist" vibe -- they generally eschew nationally-known, "signed" acts (boy, I would have loved to see some of those rejection letters). On the one hand, that's exciting. On the other (let's face it), that could really suck.

But we're going anyway. Chalk it up to my ongoing effort to straddle the chasm between two audiences. To review: on one side, we have the music wonks (also sometimes known as "jazz fans"), who have the finely-tuned ears, the historical knowledge, and the listening breadth to actually be able to make whatever "sense" can be made out of our music. On the other are the "just plain folks" (also sometimes known as the "popular music fans"), who I continually hope might listen to us for the same reasons they would listen to any of the other stuff with which they fill their iPods -- for entertainment, for some sort of emotional connection, for sonic wallpaper at a party, for the things about music that defy linguistic parsing (which, alas, might turn out to be pretty much everything).

In my more idealistic moments, I even hope to encourage these two groups (which I have vastly oversimplified in the preceding descriptions, by the way) to try out each others' listening habits. Just for fun, I guess.

Anyway, Midpoint will be the first time the current version of the group -- you know, the version that emerged once we "found our voice" or whatever -- will do its thing in the context of a large, essentially indie rock event. (Note that I am using the term "indie rock" in the broadest possible sense here. Also note that, as I have mentioned before, we did play SXSW back in 2002, but that seems like centuries ago now, because not only did we have an entirely different rhythm section, but we were a much smaller, much more obviously "jazz-like" band. The current group is a whole different animal. Or vegetable. Or whatever.)

A quick glance at the Midpoint lineup suggests that we are going to be very much in the minority in terms of our stylistic affiliations. Out of (approximately) 230 or so acts, we are among 3 that have been classified as "jazz." Not that we're really jazz, of course... well, I dunno, maybe we are. Anyway, that's some statistic, eh? A little more than 1% of the festival lineup. And, because I have no control over how these things are scheduled, it turns out that all three of the Midpoint "jazz acts" are booked into the same club on the same evening. Thank heavens (perhaps) that the "headliner" at the club that night is a jam band with a seemingly big following -- otherwise who knows if we'd even get a turnout.

The bottom line is that while Midpoint is a great opportunity and I'm glad we're doing it, things could either go really badly (if all the indie rock kids live up to the negative stereotype by refusing to even visit the jazz ghetto) or really well (if we draw attention and interest precisely because we are so very unlike everyone else on the schedule). So there is perhaps a little bit more of a gamble here than even I'm used to.

Ah well. Of course I've been doing the promo thing via the usual media channels (it's the same shit in every city). But I'm thinking that since the words "music festival" in this case are basically code for "indie rock festival," we'll have to do some serious guerilla marketing that afternoon when we hit town. Maybe we can walk through the city "in character" or something. Or perform a stripped-down version of our set on a local street corner. Or dispense hookers and blow.

(Uh, did I really just write that?).

* * * * *

Incidentally, our "warmup gig" (September 26) seems more and more promising -- a triple bill in Columbus with the aforementioned Honk, Wail & Moan and a southern-fried blues-inflected small-tet called The Free Beer 'n' Chicken Coalition (not to be confused with Tiner's former-group-with-a-similarly-hilarious-name, Big Red Peaches Coalition). And speaking of Tiner, the experience of putting this particular trip together sort of reminded me of a point he has been very good at making (with respect to underrated Bakersfield): the idea that lesser-known, under-the-radar towns can have solid scenes too, cuz (gasp) not all the good music in the world is happening in New York or LA. (A similar theme informs this piece on the music scene in Cincy.)

Big thanks to bassist Steve Perakis and keyboardist Linda Dachtyl (both members of HWM, and very busy players on the Columbus scene) for their enthusiasm and help in setting up the Columbus show.

* * * * *

Among the "various tasks" referred to above: I finally finished four new IJG tunes, which with any luck will provide the foundation for a whole new show that I hope to develop over the next year. These will be the first compositions I've introduced to the group in a while, actually -- the last batch ("Howl," "PDX LIX LAX," "Big Ass Truck," and a tune we have since dropped b/c it required an operatic soprano ("You're in Love with My Mother")) initially appeared during our west coast tour of August 2006.

Not that I have been willfully avoiding the question of new material. It's just that, with this band, changes to the show require logistical as well as aesthetic inspiration. In other words, while we benefit from a certain off-the-cuff approach, and while we make extensive use of improvisation (as a means to an end, anyway), at the core we are still a chart-based big band. So before I can introduce new tunes, I have to consider whether it is even practically possible to do so (in terms of necessary prep time, overall difficulty, etc.). Also important is the question of whether upcoming gigs will be occurring in new locations or contexts, and thus likely to draw new audiences, for whom material that we consider "old" is actually completely fresh. (It can sometimes feel unfair to retire a given tune before it has had enough of an "airing.")

On the other hand, if improvisation really is "composition without the benefit of an eraser," then composition is probably improvisation without the benefit of an audience. Which may be why I chomp at the bit to get my stuff out into the world, and why a year is an eternity for me in terms of this issue. In a way, the pieces don't really exist until they have come to life (or death) on a stage.

I dunno, maybe I write too much music. If so, it is not, I assure you, because I have an inflated sense of my own compositional worth. It's more a feeling of urgency that accompanies my daily existence, like somehow if I don't get some writing done before I turn in for the night, it's like I forgot to brush my teeth or something. (I know from years spent in the trenches teaching freshman comp that the problem of writer's block is where you place your anxiety. The writers who get blocked tend to worry about the value of a piece before it even exists. In my case, I try to save that anxiety until afterward, when it doesn't really matter anymore. So I don't get blocked much.)

Honestly, I seem to work best from a contradictory mindset. On the one hand, I have to believe that composition (at least the way I do it) is important enough to be worth a ridiculous amount of my time and energy. But I also have to tell myself that it's a completely frivolous (or at most purely entertaining) enterprise. Otherwise I would be focusing on something other than how the music actually feels and sounds (the notion of "importance," after all, derives from a social context -- and while social context is of course relevant, I wonder if that's where music-as-a-phenomenon really lives, at a deep level). Psyching myself into a sense of happy worthlessness also has the added benefit of encouraging me to take artistic risks, enabling me to casually shrug when something doesn't work, and (when that's the case) giving me the lack of sense to immediately move on to another compositional project with the same gusto.

Basically, I try to treat the whole business as if it is simultaneously the most and the least important thing I could be doing. (Which is not to say that it is actually either.)

We'll see how it goes this time around.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bloodsucking fiends

I couldn't stand the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series when it was on the air. I have a high tolerance for snark, yet Buffy's superabundance of too-cool-for-school dialogue wore thin for me awfully quick. Or mayhap the problem was in the production values. I tend to like my horror and sci-fi old-school, all George Pal and shit.

My wife, of course, remains a big fan, and I'm sure this is yet another area in which she will ultimately be revealed to have much better taste than me.

Until then, I will at least validate her current interest in the comic series spawned by the success of the TV show. It's actually kinda good.