Saturday, March 08, 2008

LEEF Trax: PDX LIX LAX



photo c/o Nick Moon


Madness.

That's right, I said it. And I'll say it again. Madness.

Don't those guys look tired? Punchy? Ready for the looney bin?

That fellow to my right is Nick Moon -- who, by the way, is quickly becoming Portland's go-to guy for audio recording. Although his most high profile gig might be working with Gino Vanelli, Nick's resume lists a growing "who's who" of local/regional jazz (and jazz-related) talent: Nancy King, Belinda Underwood, Alan Jones, Madeline Eastman, most (all?) of the members of Pink Martini, etc. Why he consented to working on the new IJG record is simply beyond me.



"Historic" Troutdale, OR: home of Tone Proper Mastering.


But consent he did. And I'll bet he regrets it, because what started as a two-day project back in November quickly turned into four, and then six, and then eight, and now... well, let's just say we worked pretty much every day last week to finish the fucker (and just in time for our upcoming tour, I might add). Apparently mixing a live multi-tracked big band recording -- especially one that was made without using any real separation techniques (bafffles, clip-on mics, judicious and sparing placement of monitors) -- is a lot harder than I had originally supposed. Boy did I learn a lot about some of the things that can go wrong (hello, low-end bleed!).

It's amazing how something as sedentary as mixing -- really hardcore mixing, even over a short period of time -- can be physically exhausting. I suppose that's a function of the kind of repetitive listening that's involved. It's a kind of listening that is probably not at all "natural" -- the ears, I suspect, are not really built to take in the same song (or even snippets of the same song) hundreds of times in a row.

Hence the semi-zapped look on our faces in the pic above.



Going to the studio: it's almost like taking a leisurely stroll through a quaint little tourist town -- but not really.


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Those of you who are already on the Facebook bandwagon (I'm going to assume Jason Moran's use of that term has de-pejorativized it) may have noticed the Industrial Jazz Group page over there. This is but one of the places you can check out an advance copy of "PDX LIX LAX" -- one of the representative pieces from the most recent incarnation of the group. (A "more final" mastered version is also available here.)

PDX was written in the summer of 2006 -- midway between two events that turned out to be pretty crucial to its conception, completion, and title: first, the ill-fated CD release show for "Industrial Jazz a Go Go!", which took place at Hollywood's Barnsdall Theater in April, and second, my relocation to Portland, OR, in September of that same year.

When I look back on it now, that seems like an amazingly compressed period of time in which to undergo such a drastic shift -- especially with wife and kid in tow, and especially given that I had no idea during the CD release show experience that I would be out of LA (my home for ten years) within a few months. But the "Barnsdall incident" helped to solidify that migration for me -- as you might notice if you read the above-linked post (which was probably written in a fit of pique: fair warning) . It's not that I necessarily minded dealing with the possibility of a low turnout for any given IJG show -- I know that risk is pretty much inevitable wherever you go -- but I was tired of compromising so many other aspects of my life just to stay in a town that was not much more welcoming of the arts than any other big metropolis in the country.

Anyway, "PDX LIX LAX" emerged in Barnsdall's wake -- pretty much in tandem with another LEEF track, "Howl." (I tend to write things in pairs, for some reason.) This is actually the second arrangement of the tune. In the original version, the melody of the "A section" (basically, the first half, before the gospel-like groove kicks in) was mostly shared by two alto saxes in unison. But as I was preparing for our last east coast tour, I got the bright idea to convert a significant portion of the A section into more of a "Concerto for Evan" (highlighting the idiosyncratic brilliance of longtime IJG collaborator, Evan Francis).

For comparison of these arrangement approaches, you can check out this excerpt from the original arrangement -- this is the beginning of the tune, as heard in a performance at Club Tropical (in Culver City), at the outset of our August 2006 west coast tour (the alto parts were expertly played by Ariel Alexander and James King, both motherfuckers in their own right).

One of the performance possibilities that was opened up by the later revision -- and I think I had a strong feeling that Evan would go this route, though I don't remember explicitly coaching him into it, and it's certainly not indicated on the chart -- was that the first statement of the melody would no longer have to be limited to the ink; i.e., Evan was freed up to start with an embellishment instead of a theme. The fun part (for me, anyway) is that the listener doesn't really know what the embellishment is an embellishment of until the second statement of the melody (at around the 1:12 mark), where the ensemble pretty much takes over and puts the tune out there quite emphatically. So things are kind of backwards. (On top of all this, I should add, the looseness of the opening is heightened by drummer Dan Schnelle's willingness to provoke and propel Evan's playing.)

What can I say? I'm fascinated by inversion. I like the word "preposterous."

Anyway.

Not totally unrelated: one of my favorite Prince tunes is "Forever in My Life" (from Sign o the Times). It includes a "backing / counterpoint vocal" that anticipates the tune's "lead vocal" (in a more typical pop arrangement the relationship would be the other way round). I haven't listened to Prince in a while, but SOTT was a favorite of mine for a while -- so I'm guessing that "Forever" had some sort of impact on my rearrangement of "PDX."

(You can file that bit under "artists you would never have guessed as influences on the IJG.")

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P.S. Does PDX really "lick" LAX? Well, that's a loaded question. I do love it here. In particular, I can say that it's extremely cool to live somewhere so green, and yet still so satisfyingly urban. And there is something endearing about PDX's pride in local quirkiness (one reason I used a local manufacturer and printer for the replication / packaging of LEEF -- more on that soon).

Also: check out M. Farina's post / link on the Portland music scene. That's more about licking SEA-TAC, I guess. Maybe I'll write a sequel tune.

2 comments:

M.Farina said...

WOW. I used to work at a couple studios in SF/Oakland and the thought of doing an entire big band always brought a (big) stab of fear.

But hey, you don't look so bad at all! And "PDX LIX LAX" kills... thank you.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Hey, thanks!