Friday, April 20, 2007

Going forward to get back

I know, I know; not only am I behind on my blogging (and so many other things), but the sequence-of-events component of this thing is starting to read like the fractured chronology of a Faulkner novel. (And speaking of novelists, holy cow am I (still) bummed that Vonnegut is gone. I know he was an old guy and everything, and I know he's probably a lot happier wherever he is now. But he was one of the good guys -- and, by the way, a not-insignificant influence on my own worldview and philosophy. And so on.)

Let me explain: I still have to provide some sort of after-the-fact recap of the recent "return to SoCal" tour. That post is long overdue, and only coming together slowly. So what'll I do in the meantime? Well, why not look ahead and spill the beans on the next batch of stuff in store for the group?

Sure, that makes sense. Let's see. How 'bout starting thisaway:

May 2007, with a little luck, could be a high point in what has already been the best year the group has ever had.

For one thing, we'll be performing in a pretty sweet slot at the Bakersfield Jazz Festival on May 12 (we're the third-from-last act, followed by Matt Wilson (yee-haw!) and Lee "too smooth for school" Ritenour). That will be a milestone in itself -- not because it will be our first festival (a "distinction" which belongs to the Brewery Arts Center Festival in Carson City, NV), but because I'll actually be able to guarantee everyone in the group more than a hundred dollars for a gig (don't worry, I'm not going to delve too far here into the boring woe-is-me behind-the-scenes economics of a postmodern big band). A low three bills probably sounds like a pittance for anyone who deals in trios, quartets, and quintets, but believe me, when it comes to a group this large (playing left-of-center music, no less) it's a real coup. Credit must go to Kris Tiner (who thankfully will be rejoining the group for this gig), at whose gentle insistence Doug Davis -- the very sweet guy who heads up the festival and the jazz department at Cal State Bakersfield) finally got to check us out, first at our Bakersfield gig last August, and a second time at IAJE. I guess we made some sort of impression.

The other upcoming event-of-note is our May trip to the Netherlands. We'll be performing (twice) at the Hague Jazz Festival (May 16 and 18), and also squeezing in a show at the world-famous BimHuis in Amsterdam (May 17). I've been keeping this one on the down-low, partly because I didn't want to jinx it, and partly because I believed for a while that it was all some sort of cruel hoax. The booking originated in our IAJE performance this past January -- that's where I met Ruud Wijkniet, who liked our show well enough that he immediately invited us to play the festival, all-expenses paid. Again, I was more or less very suspicious, but it turns out that Ruud was for real (and, like Doug, very pleasant to work with -- where have these folks been hiding for the last seven years?). Now that our travel arrangements have beeen finalized, I feel it's safe to act as if the trip is really going to happen. Needless to say, I'm (cautiously) psyched.

For those of you who are interested, the bands for these gigs will be as follows. For both, we'll have Dan Schnelle (drums), Oliver Newell (bass), Jill Knapp (vocals), Dan Rosenboom (trumpet), Evan Francis (alto), Cory Wright (soprano), and Brian Walsh (tenor). In Bakersfield, add Stephanie Richards and (of course) Kris Tiner, trumpets; Ian Carroll and Ron Christian (bones); Gavin Templeton, Ben Wendel, and Damon Zick (saxophones). In the Netherlands, the substitutions will be Andre Canniere and Phil Rodriguez (trumpets), Beth Schenck, Katharina Thomsen, and Josh Sinton (saxes), and Wolter Wierbos and James Hirschfeld (bones). That's right, for the Netherlands gigs I'll be borrowing key players (Canniere, Sinton, and Hirschfeld) from my favorite east coast big band, DJA's Secret Society. I'll also be bringing in two heavy hitters from the Dutch scene: one lesser-known (Thomsen), and one pretty goddamm well-known (Wolter Wierbos).

The only problem with all this goodness is: where do we go next? (Ah, well, I'll figure it out when we get there.)

Given that this is an important moment in the life of the band (even if we never get any further), I have been allowing myself an unusual amount of self-analysis as I consider what we've accomplished with the last two incarnations (specifically, the Go-Go era tentet group and the Mix-Tape-era big band). Of course, just because I've been allowing myself to indulge in this sort of intro-speckshun doesn't mean that I don't know in my heart of hearts that any conclusions I draw may be more or less total bullshit. I have always found that I compose best when I don't overthink what I'm doing (not that that's an appropriate strategy for all composers). So what follows will be a very loosey-goosey sketch of what I consider to be the elements of the mature IJG "sound." It's all off the top of my head, without actually going back to listen or think through the repertoire in question. Contradict me if you must!

1. Hearty portions of the basic building blocks of popular music (mostly American popular music, but not exclusively), often tweaked and permutated beyond recognition. What do I mean by the "basic building blocks" (BBBs, I guess) of popular music? Specific riffs, phrases, rhythms, harmonic progressions (and so on) that get used repeatedly in that canon. I'm not talking about broad genre characteristics (like the blues scale, for instance), but rather more specific (though still recurring) things. (See, for instance, the bassline at the beginning of "Doo Wha?", or the repeated rhythm at the beginning of "Bongo Non Troppo" -- these BBBs can be found all over the place in American popular music (in various permutations, of course).)

2. Displacement. As a way of building tension, I like to take intact figures (a portion of a melody, for instance) and set them off, complete, against their originals. This may occur horizontally (in time), usually at some counterintuitive spot (like one beat away), or vertically (creating a parallel harmony). The crucial thing for me is that the listener be able to recognize the displacement -- so I don't try to hide it (thus parallels stay parallel most times).

3. Simple canons, rounds, etc. Canons / rounds are displacement built up in a comparatively fancy way. That's probably how I got here -- though I should also acknowledge the influence of twentieth-century round-master, Moondog.

4. Strong melodies. I started seriously writing music in high school -- a time when I was strongly influence by the Beatles. Is it any wonder that I still give a shit about a beautiful melody when I can squeeze it in? Sometimes this interest yields what I would call "pseudo-folk" melodies like the one that appears in "Bandoleero, part one." Honestly, I don't think my melodies are all that great by classical music standards (they don't usually rise and fall in the traditional way), but I can write catchy music when I put my mind to it. I used to flee from this ("it can't be weird and tuneful at the same time!" I told myself), but now I just throw caution to the winds let the notes fall where they may.

5. Taking simple ideas to their extremes. Why subdivide by eighth notes when you can subdivide by sixteenths? Why change the tempo once when you can change it twice, or three times? And so on.

6. Layering / reverse layering. This is a Mingus-ism (see "Moanin'" on Blues and Roots for perhaps the best example, though my favorite Mingus tune ("Hora Decubitus") does something similar). Start with one instrument, add another, add another, and so on until you have the densest thing you can still hear individual voices in.

7. Long compositions with mutiple disconnected “movements.” I have always been interested in form, but with the current version of the group I seem to be going for sequential, episodic structures as opposed to organic, narrative ones. I'm not trying to tell you a story when I write. Instead, I want to make you aware of how the book is made.

8. Juxtaposition of unlike things. Beautiful melodies cohabitate with noise; genres collide incongruously; endless, seemingly-static vamps cohabitate with rapid change and forward motion (more of a Go Go era thing for me, that last one is a technique borrowed from Zappa); and so on.

9. Naturalistic use of odd time signatures. See the story in this post about people clapping along to the 3/2 section at the end of "Fuck the Muck."

10. Timbral substitution. Take a figure heavily identified with one instrument (such as a boogie woogie piano bassline) and put it in a horn (for instance).

11. Comedy. Been thinking about what I mean by this, and I know I'll have to return to it. I guess I feel most comfortable using the word "comedy" to describe a category of resistance to authority (with the assumption that authority is always corrupt / arbitrary / unkind). More specifically, for me, it's the idea of resistance-from-within (and thus is somewhat incompatible with (and suspicious of) the notion of a pure revolution "from outside"). Oh, and it also has to be funny.

I told you it was loosey-goosey.

* * * * *

Addendum: Just got the sad news. RIP Andrew Hill.

1 comment:

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