Thursday, May 31, 2007

I made another little movie

Good gawd, you would think, like, I had nothing better to do.

Anyway, it's another draft, with the same caveats about compressed video (some details may be totally lost, be forewarned).

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Catching up, part two

(Continued from part one.)

On Thursday (May 17) I woke up on the early side (night-time back pain can be a powerful alarm clock) and immediately set to confirming how we were going to get to Amsterdam (about an hour away from Den Haag) for that evening's gig at the world-famous Bimhuis (and here I must extend gratitude to Wolter Wierbos, whose longstanding connections with this venue are, I am convinced, what got us the gig). The festival folks had informed me that they'd be able to provide us with transportation to Amsterdam, but this seemed almost like too much to hope for, given the distance involved and the fact that our Bimhuis show had nothing to do with our festival shows. Rien, the transportation coordinator (who, incidentally, epitomized that Dutch tendency toward what I can only call "gruff good cheer") had assured me the night before that we'd be able to work it out, as long as I gave him our schedule in advance. We had already discussed departure and return times, but knowing the way these sorts of things can fall apart in a moment's notice, I was still trying to be proactive.

My worries were unwarranted. The vans (driven by Hans and Jo) picked us up (with Josh Sinton now in the mix) at around 1 PM, and we made it to Amsterdam without incident. Actually, once we got there, we did have some trouble finding the venue, but in our travels we got better acquainted with the city, which was nice. Somewhere along the way a third leitmotif of the tour emerged: the question that has haunted me (and flummoxed many an unsuspecting Ministry fan) since the inception of the group: "What exactly is Industrial Jazz"? In this case it came from Hans, I think, and if I have ever fretted about trying explain the group name to a fellow American, in this case the task seemed more daunting because of the cultural differences at hand (even though Hans spoke perfect English). Truth be told, "Industrial Jazz" has had multiple different personal meanings for me, and I have more or less rotated them depending on the interview or conversation. But at this point it's just a term that refers to the music this group makes (as Zappa once said when asked about the goofiness of his titles: "Well, ya gotta call 'em something"). Anyway, I'm no longer interested in definitions per se. I told Hans the group name had to do with chocolate, and we left it at that.

Outside the Bimhuis: stairway to heaven. (L-R: Rosenboom, Schnelle, Schenck, Canniere, Francis.)

We arrived in time for a quick bite before our sound check (at which point I discovered two quirks in Dutch restaurant culture: 1. You never need to wait to be seated. You just sit. 2. It would probably be impossible to have a "power lunch" in Holland. Cuz, like, no one seems to be in a rush to get anywhere). From there we infiltrated the stage.

I have to say, the Bimhuis is a trippy place. The venue itself is ensconced within a larger structure (the MuziekGebouw, itself a performance space for classical music), which sits right on the River IJ. There is a gigantic window behind the stage so that from the audience one can see the city, and more specifically the trains that regularly stop across the street. (For our show these windows were covered by curtains, because I had decided to do a full-on multitrack recording and we were trying to cut down on unnecessary reflections.)

A room with a view: the Bimhuis stage, viewed from the audience, pre-show.

Most of you probably know that the BH moved a few years ago. The original space, where the venue established its world-renown, had actually been receiving noise complaints (sound familiar?). According to Wolter, what the original lacked in high falutin' appearance, it made up for in a more musicianly vibe -- it was, apparently, the place for jazz musicians to hang out in the city. But I don't know; I for one didn't have much to complain about regarding the new incarnation. The entire venue was beautiful and clean. We had a spacious green room, bowls of fruit and candy, plenty of beverages, a few practice / warmup rooms, access to a computer, and a generally comfortable and relaxing environment. Oh, and all this was supported by the freakin' government.

Anyway, we had a team of maybe four or five people to help us with our stage setup, blew through a good soundcheck (though I stupidly neglected to run through "Yo, Jimbo!," our "extra" tune, because I thought we had more than enough material to play), and took a short break before dinner.

There are of course many things to do in Amsterdam (I'll have more to say about some of them by and by), but I ended up playing it pretty low-key in the interim between soundcheck and dinner by heading across the street with Jill and Matt to get a (tiny) cup of coffee at a mysterious place called "11." Here was the schtick, if you must know: the place was a restaurant located on the eleventh floor of an abandoned (condemned, in fact) building. Since the site was scheduled for demolition at some point in the near future, someone (the proprietor of the restaurant? the city itself?!) had given the green light to a general paint-off, and as a result much of the building was decorated in some of the most beautiful (and some of the bleakest) grafitti I have ever seen. (The restaurant itself actually seemed sort of lame in comparison, even though they were clearly trying to extend the artistic vibe to their dining experience.)

"11" graffiti, exhibit A.

"11" graffiti, exhibit B.

Made it back to the venue in time for a kick-ass buffet dinner (this is what we musicians call the "royal treatment") and then general futzing around before the show. Somehow in the process of said futzing, I was jarred out of my pre-gig mellow and drawn irresistably toward a manic burst of music-making that was coming through the theater door (the Bimhuis restaurant is separated from the performance space by a wall). This was the duo of Tatiana Koleva (on marimba and percussion) and Rutger van Otterloo (on saxophone), the first act of the evening. Two things blew me away as I stepped into the theater to get a better hear:

1. Koleva's marimba playing was great, but it was really when she moved over to the drumset and began playing it while simultaneously triggering a whole array of profanity-laced samples (from what source, I dunno), all in the kookiest rhythmic combinations and in extreme tightness with Otterloo, that I had that all-too-rare feeling of not being able to tear myself away from a performance. It was stunning -- and it was all the more successful because, cynic that I am, I generally approach any "art music" involving samples with extreme caution; usually I get the sense that folks who indulge in this sort of thing are trying too hard to convince me of their hipness. But I never once got that "forced" feeling with this duo.

2. There were, uh, people in the audience. Not sold out, but a pretty healthy crowd for a Thursday night after 9 PM (perhaps the turnout was affected by the fact that in the Netherlands, the sun is just setting at 9:30). Phil Rodriguez, who was also drooling over the Koleva/Otterloo performance, remarked that a show like this would bring out maybe ten people in New York, and three people in Los Angeles. Maybe that was a little bit of an exaggeration, but there was an essential truth underneath it, and I consequently stole the observation for some of my between-song-banter later in the evening. In any case, as we (and a few of the other IJG folks) stared incomprehensibly at the numerous couples and friends out for an evening of dinner and crazy music -- well, there was a bit of a kid-in-a-candy-store thing going on. (I'm sure we looked like idiots.)

All of this was a great way to kick off the evening. I must admit that I more or less couldn't focus on the second act (a trio called Spoon 3) -- not sure if it was something inherent in their performance or just that I was anxious to play, but I spent the next hour or so (we were the final act of the evening) pacing, as is my wont, and watching the antics of my fellow Industrials; antics which included a "clash of the titans" moment between a crab, a lobster, and a chicken:

Phil Rodriguez, Katharina Thomsen, and Brian Walsh work out their artistic differences.

The performance itself flew by (we went on at 11 PM). Blah, blah, blah, we got an encore (would've been nice to have rehearsed "Yo Jimbo," n'est-ce pas?), we almost got another encore (but we had nuthin' else to play) -- you can get more of the details at Jill's recap post. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of our portion of the evening (confirmed later when I started working my way through the recording) was the emergence of a unified looseness in the group sound. In the past I have generally aimed for precision when it came to the execution of my written charts. I have tended to shy away from recording the band's live performances, because I was always concerned with things staying as "close to the ink" as possible... and the ink is, well, difficult to execute. But I have never subscribed to the "benevolent dictator" model of the composer-conductor, and I think everyone in the band has known that, and with this show there was a strange transmogrification of the set, in that the majority of the players knew the music well enough to be able to play it as if it were all improvised. In other words, the group as a whole started to develop some of the suppleness -- in terms of well-placed and judicious interpretive liberties that never sacrificed the cohesion of a given piece -- that is usually only possible in a smaller configuration (a quartet or quintet, say). They owned the music -- an exceedingly difficult thing to do in a big band setting. Once again, my hat is off to the cats involved: I am humbled and in awe.

Trusty Hans and Jo picked us up at around 1 AM, and it was back to Den Haag for a little shuteye. And that's the wrap-up for day two. Next: IJG live at the World Forum Convention Center.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I made a little movie

Thandie's comment: "Daddy, you jump really well."

Keep in mind that:

1. This looks much better in a higher resolution, and

2. This is a work-in-progress.

3. Some of this is out-of-sync. So sue me: my source material was fairly limited.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The uproar in Bake-town

As promised, more footage from our shows this month. This one, filmed from the "front row" (if 100+ feet away from the performers can be considered front row) of the Bakersfield Jazz Festival (May 12), was submitted by our friend and ally Mike Williams. Thanks, Mike!

"The dark side of jazz" was a phrase KT and I were throwing around a bit that afternoon. I made him promise to let me use it as an album title someday.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Catching up, part one

What a week.

Hell: what a year. Even if I factor in the less-than-inspiring turnout at our Pacific Northwest gigs this past March, 2007 has been one incredible period for the band so far. So much so that if you had told me, even last December, that we'd be where we are right now, I'd've thought you were loopy or something.

Our Bakersfield appearance of eleven days ago was the perfect continuation of the good vibes established with January's "IJG on Ice" east coast tour (vibes which had already been extended by the late March shows we did in SoCal -- especially our Dizzy's hit, an annual tradition that always yields a good time). The behind-the-scenes machinations here really point to the essential without-which-not of this business: stubborn, single-minded persistence. Getting the group to a place where it can be self-sustaining seems to require a maniacal degree of stick-tuitiveness (what's that definition of insanity again?). At least, in the case of Bakersfield, the madness was not entirely mine -- Kris Tiner (whose new CD, by the way, is absolutely gorgeous) had been trying to get us into that festival for a few years now. Thank [insert the deity of your choice -- or not] that he finally succeeded, and thank (festival director) Doug Davis for taking a chance on our wacky monstrosity, because we broke numerous personal bests with this show: 1. the highest per-person fee I've been able to pay without losing money myself, 2. the biggest audience we have ever had, 3. the first time (I think) we had ever had bona fide dancing by audience members, 4. the first time we have ever had a trailer (all to ourselves), 5. the first time the big band has ever been fed before a show, 6. the most CDs sold at a single show (19), 7. the most CDs I have ever had to sign after a show (I didn't count, but it was a lot). It was quite unbelievable and quite delightful all at once.

Needless to say, it's a fucking shame that Kris and Damon (Zick, one of the other IJG stalwarts), who have both been in the front lines with this group for a long time, and have both weathered some pretty out-and-out shit gigs with us, weren't able to cash in on the fruit of their hard work by joining us for the Netherlands trip. Suffice it to say that both gentlemen had very good reasons for being unable to go abroad, and both know (I hope) that they will be more-than-welcome to make the return trip, should one be offered. Of course, their subs were both able and beautiful players, about whom I shall have more to say by-and-by. All of this is just for the record.

Anyway, last week's journey out to the "low countries" was not without its share of stresses, but not for the reasons I had expected. Daphne and Thandie came along for the tour as well (we had some vague notion of giving Thandie a "character building experience" that none of her toddler buddies could match), and I'll confess that one of my biggest worries getting on the plane was that the little one wouldn't sleep at all during the flight out. Turns out she passed out somewhere over Ohio, and slept, well, like a baby until we got over the North Sea. By then we were flying into the sunrise, and it was the next day. Her folks, in the meanwhile, had fretted the night away, wide awake. Ah, parenthood!

Must be nice.

However, I digress. I learned during a frantic layover in Houston that not one, but two of our esteemed number (Phil Rodriguez and Josh Sinton) had unfortunately missed their flight to Holland earlier that afternoon. Turns out international flights out of JFK are very difficult to make. Kudos to the dudes for not giving up: in the end, Phil was able to get an alternate flight (to Belgium, I think) that got him over in time for Wednesday's gigs. Poor Josh fared less well, but he nevertheless arrived in time for the Bimhuis gig on Thursday. Whew.

Anyway, mine was the next-to-last of the IJG flights to arrive Wednesday morning (May 16), and by early afternoon the entire group (sans Josh) had been shuttled (courtesy our Dutch drivers -- Hans, Jo, and a few others whose names I didn't get (volunteers all, by the way, and a more cheerful bunch you will not find anywhere)) from Schiphol to the hotel in Den Haag, a quaint little number located next to the World Forum Convention Center (the locus of the festival). In addition to Daphne and Thandie, we were accompanied by a few other significant others / auxiliary members of the group: Matt Lichtenwalner, affiliated with Jill; and Kay [sorry Kay, don't know your last name], affiliated with Cory. Both would prove to be of invaluable assistance -- Matt as a videographer and all-around "what can I do to help out?" sort of dude (if this band ever gets somewhere, I can easily see him in a tour manager sort of role), and Kay as a dispenser of CDs and collector of money. I hereby officially thank them both for their help.

A couple of couples: Matt, Jill, Kay, Cory (L-R).

European newbie that I was, I immediately noted a few things about our temporary home-away-from-home: 1. Everyone speaks English to some degree. Even the TV is primarily in English. 2. It is not unusual to find beer in vending machines. Heineken is the beer of choice in said machines. (Okay, so the system isn't perfect.) 3. Everyone smokes. A lot. It's like they don't believe in cancer. 4. The coffee, which is exquisite, comes in very small doses. (And incidentally, I didn't see a single Starbucks the entire time I was in-country.)

Anyway, we made our various introductions (this special international version of the group [personnel here] included west coasters, east coasters, and Europeans) and then set off to our first show, a half-hourish "preview" thing designed to pique people's interest in the festival proper. It was free, it was outdoors (somewhere in the midst of a fun little shopping area of the city), and it was windy as fuck. At one point during the performance I watched in horror as some of Wolter Wierbos's music blew clear across the stage and under the drum kit. Given those conditions, and the fact that we had a few brand-new folks on board, I was genuinely surprised when we made it to the end of the set without any train wrecks.

Now, it's always difficult for me to judge the reaction of any given IJG audience, seeing as how my back is to them most of the time during a show. Of course I was well aware going into this that Europe in general has a fantastical reputation amongst jazz musicians as a fairytale haven of "true jazz lovers." But I have also always wondered how much of that is exaggerated, fed by a level of rejection-by-one's-home-country so telling as to make even the slightest appreciation abroad appear much more significant than it is. I suppose there must be a pretty broad range of experiences out there, but as for the reception we got -- well, it started out great and only got better. This first show had a pretty good crowd going -- it was, after all, outside, and people just got swept up in what we were doing as they were out running errands or whatever. The fact that we didn't scare folks off -- the reaction we probably would have had given a similar public performance situation in the states -- suggests a real difference in the everyday relationship that Dutch people have with the arts. While we have our street fairs, of course, the music is usually that which, by virtue of its commercial viability, most complements the sea of commerce in which it is situated.

Anyway I think with this first show that we succeeded in our goal of charming the people of Den Haag. (And I must say that the preview concept is brilliant, particularly for a festival this young -- it may in part help explain why the thing eventually sold out.) Next we indulged in our first round of Dutch beer, and then everyone piled back into the vans and was driven back to the hotel. This even though we were scheduled to have dinner -- which, we soon learned, was located at the next performance site. (In other words, no sooner did we empty out of the vans then we had to pile back in. And such is how it goes with a large festival like this.)

Site number two was adjacent to one of the many public squares that can be found throughout the city. It was a bit of a bigger stage, a bit windier, with a bit more of an urban vibe. (Like a moron I neglected to write down any of the location addresses (or even pick up a map) while I was in the Netherlands. But I think this area is referred to as the Grote Markt or "Big Market.") There were a few things that were particularly notable about this set -- which was also well-received by a moderately-large crowd. The first notable thing was our MC, whose name I didn't catch, but who is apparently well-known by his countrymen. He announced us in the raspiest, most gruff voice I have ever heard (he sounded sort of like Miles Davis being strangled by Howlin' Wolf, or maybe vice versa). It was quite comical for many of us in the band to hear these strings of spastically-uttered gutteral Dutch words, punctuated by words we recognized, despite the heavy accent (e.g. "[dutch word] - [dutch word] -[dutch word] -[dutch word] -Tuxedo Trouble!", or ""[dutch word] - [dutch word] -[dutch word] -[dutch word] -Industrial Jazz!").

Our mysterious raspy announcer is the guy in the white sport coat. Also visible, left to right: Wolter Wierbos (playing the keyboard), Beth Schenck, James Hirschfeld, and Dan Schnelle (getting all meta on our asses by taking a picture of me taking a picture).

The other notable thing about this show is that we came face to face (for the first time, in my case) with the formidable force known as Spyro Gyra. We thought we had a good crowd, but the Spyros were mobbed. And once they started playing, you could see why. It was like being on a cruise ship without ever having to leave dry land. Silly me: I thought Lee Ritenour was the man!

Fuck Industrial Jazz. Gimme that Spyro Jazz!

Actually, the Spyros provided the first of several leitmotifs for the tour. Later that same evening, while back at the hotel, quietly enjoying my fourth or fifth beer (alcohol is like air over there), and mulling over the events of the day, I involuntarily overheard an argument between two members of the group. Somebody had pissed somebody else off, and person number two was not going to take it anymore. (Oh, jeez. Their music is so bubbly, who knew they were such tortured souls?) Jill mentions another occurrence of the SG leitmotif here (find it quickly by searching for the word "grope").

The second leitmotif, discovered after tearing myself away from this eavesdropping situation, emerged during a drunken conversation between Schnelle, Brian, Jill, Matt, and myself. Dan, it turns out, is an anthropologist of sorts; his research has primarily consisted of compiling a dictionary of beyond-the-pale-sex-acts-that-go-by-funny-names, such as the infamous Alaskan Pipeline. These, in turn, would work their way into the various lacunae that populate our music (such as the constantly-changing four syllable utterance that concludes "Hang Ten Through Hell").

So that's the wrap-up for day one. Next: IJG live at the Bimhuis.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Movies from across the pond

Two meditative pans on the premises of the BimHuis (the first from across the street, and the second from inside the MuziekGebouw, which houses the club). Both shot on Thursday, sometime between our soundcheck and our show:

At some point during the tour, I discovered that Brian and Katherine had a similar affinity for sharp-elbowed high-falutin' classical sax parody. I got them to demonstrate briefly just before our show on Friday night:

More to come...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Explosive Lee Ritenour

Let me set the scene: we were still all a little giddy from our performance in the Bakersfield Jazz Festival ("we" in this case consisted of Schnelle, Zick, Wendel, Rosenboom, Carroll, Templeton, Walsh, and myself) and were congregating in the parking lot, preparing to get into our respective vehicles. Most of us had just enjoyed Matt Wilson's set (alas, I was only able to listen with one ear because of all of the other things that were going on after we had wrapped up our own show). The sun had just gone down. Off in the distance, we could hear the roar of the Ritenour fans, waiting for their chosen god.

And then this happened (cue the YouTube clip).

Sunday, May 13, 2007

More evidence

More to come, but at the moment, I have a birthday party to get to.


IJG at the Bakersfield Jazz Festival, May 12: here's what it looked like from three different angles (about fifteen minutes before we were to play).

More to come...

[Update: here's Jill's take on the Bakersfield show.]

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Getting there

A quick inventory of observations as we launch our wild ride through Bakersfield and the Netherlands (how's that for geographical incongruity?):

-- A strange travel day yesterday. It was (I think) my first experience of the surreal Las Vegas airport, which is where I caught a puddle-jumper to Bakersfield. By a delightful coincidence I ended up on the same flight as Jill. (She was at it again: flying in from the east coast to play with this damned group. How does she do it?!)

-- We (i.e., all forty or so people on the PJ flight) had to endure the musical stylings of a steward-from-heck (note that I distinguish him from a hypothetical steward-from-hell because he seemed like a well-meaning enough fellow), who must have, at one time, aspired to a performance career (who knows, maybe he is still aspiring). Comedy, singing, repartee, this guy did it all. Except that it was after midnight and most everyone on the plane seemed beat.

-- My puddle-jumper experience may have been negatively affected by the fact that I was seated next to a somewhat obese woman who kept falling asleep and letting her entire body slide over into the legroom area of my seat.

-- We made it to Bakersfield safely, where we procured the services of the most insane cabbie I have ever known. Pegging 90 MPH, blowing through stop signs, driving with one hand: this guy did it all. All at 1 AM in the morning. He gave us his card, in case we wanted to call him again. Yeeeaaaahhhhh, right.

-- Today Jill and I will spend a little time hanging out with KT (we have the express privilege of getting to meet his beautiful kid!) and then head over to the festival to meet up with the rest of the crew, who is arriving from around CA. We go on just before 7 PM. I'm told the audience will be in the thousands. Egads!

-- Tomorrow I catch an early morning flight outta Burbank so's I can get back to Port-town in time to celebrate my beautiful kid's birthday. And then Tuesday it's off to the Netherlands (I'll try to have an after-the-fact post about our Bakersfield hit before then).

-- Yee-haw. And again, I say, yee-haw.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


What I meant by the aforementioned "drama":

He's dying of cancer, very little time left, in a weirdly vulnerable state, and he performs like this. Even with the Paul Schaefer group fuckup (not sure who it was, exactly), it's a very moving rendition. Live TV is rarely this close to the bone.

YouTube: The lazy way to blog

Why is it so much more fun to find these clips than to write the "big important posts" (ahem) that I know everyone is craving?

Damn you, YouTube!

Anyway, enjoy. (Stick around until the end of the tune, okay?)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Pick-up lines

It occurred to me recently that with some music it's all about what happens in the first (say) twenty seconds, and that it takes a special talent to figure out how to grab someone in that short space of time, and to keep them involved to the end of the tune, even though nothing much better is going to happen after whatever initial burst of brilliance occurs. (Of course, it's even more difficult to sustain this sort of interest-without-development for more than four minutes or so.)

Is this a definition of pop?

Case study #1: Warren Zevon: "Lawyers, Guns, and Money." One of the most intriguing openings in modern rock: "I went home with a waitress / the way I always do / how was I to know / she was with the Russians too?" Does the tune go anywhere after that? Not really -- the groove and melody and lyrical punch all lead off, and everything else is just reinforcement or repetition. That sounds like a criticism, but it ain't -- this is one killer tune, and that fact that it works in spite of the frontloading is a testament to the fact that WZ is still underappreciated, even after all the drama surrounding his death.

Case study #2: Flaming Lips: "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." It starts off like this: "Her name is Yoshimi / she's a black belt in karate / working for the city / she has to discipline her body." My only thought at the end of those four lines: "What the fuck is this song going to be about? No really, tell me!" As a jazzer, I know I'm not supposed to like these guys (who don't even seem to think of themselves as "real musicians") but I do. They've got the "lead with the strongest bit" thing down pat. It's impressive in four lines, but check it out in two: here's the opening from "Race for the Prize" (from their best album, The Soft Bulletin): "Two scientists were racing / for the good of all mankind." Okay, you've got me. Where we goin'?

Case study #3: Ween: "The Mollusk." "Hey little boy, what you got there? / Kind sir it's a mollusk I've found / Did you find it in the sandy ground? / Does it emulate the ocean's sound?" Another band that doesn't exactly fit the profile of "the music a jazz composer is supposed to listen to" (these guys never seem to write anything but 2- and 4-bar phrases), I love Ween in spite of myself. This tune (from the album of the same name) isn't quite as good an example of what I'm talking about as #1 or #2, but it's the same idea -- about halfway through, the momentum peters out -- but the tune persists, because the opening is so, well, forceful and bizarre.

Frontloaded, forceful, static, persistent: some music just works this way.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

And because I haven't yet wasted enough of your time with YouTube this week...

The potential disappearance of stuff like this: one more reason it would suck if the site went out-and-out corporate.

(Wait -- have they?)

Anyway, whatever you think of the tune, ya gotta dig a quartet of dancing timpani players.

(And yes, the singers here are the very same "Peanuts" who appeared to great effect in various Godzilla movies. Here they perform one of their hits: "Koi no Fuga.")

How I define "success"

I will know the IJG has "made it" when we're able to afford (and perform in) costumes like these.

I call the Octopus!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Made in Jersey

No one could ever accuse me of being a booster for my home state, but I must admit I get a rush every time I discover someone about whom I can simultaneously say "he/she's doing something artistically interesting" and "he/she's from New Jersey." So here's the latest entry in the incongruity sweepstakes.

"How I try to relate to my shipmates" -- now there's a line for these times.