Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Proof that music is good for something

For instance: winning a child custody case with a legal-brief-in-the-form-of-a-rap. The composition in question included such lines as these:

"Regarding frivolous filings, one thing is clear. Notice to show cause and proper service before you appear."

"And if Industrial vs. Marquardt is any measure, it's the frivolous allegations, not the venue of your endeavor."

"A domestic relations exception, I was supposed to know. Appellee would know too, so why did he spend so much doe?" [sic]

"Appellee dissed 814.04 for his 3 grand justification. But he forgets that 977.08 puts the brakes on his compensation."

All of which suggest that whoever wrote the story for WTMJ-TV doesn't have the slightest idea of what actually constitutes "good rhythm."


The photos here were snapped at last night's rehearsal of the Portland Jazz Composers' Ensemble. I contributed a new tune, "Et Tu, Tutu?", which will programmed in the group's February 17 show, to be held in tandem with the Portland Jazz Festival.

It's always fascinating for me to write something for a group other than the IJG. One of the assumptions I make about my own musical creativity is that it is highly dependent upon a specific context of players that I already know -- and the better I know them, the better music I can write. I really feel like my music arises from the social context of whatever band I'm in -- not from the isolation of my own head. This is why I've never been able to develop a career as a composer-for-hire (e.g., film scoring, or commercial music).

However, I do appreciate the challenge -- it comes up from time to time -- of stepping outside of the "comfort zone" of the IJG, just to see what happens, and what I can learn from that. So when Andrew Oliver (the co-leader of the PJCE) asked me to be part of the upcoming PCJE concert, of course I said yes. (It helped that the PCJE includes three now-veterans of the IJG, all great players and great people: Mary-Sue Tobin (alto / soprano sax), Mieke Bruggeman (bari sax), and Kevin Van Geem (drums).)

The PCJE has a slightly different configuration from the IJG -- more brass-heavy, for one thing, and with a greater focus on acoustic bass and a full rhythm section. So I was initially tempted to contribute a slightly revised version of "Sneaky Whispers," an older, more recognizably "jazzy" tune of mine that originally appeared on the Industrialjazzwerke album.

But ultimately I decided to offer up something new, something closer to where my head is at now. Thus "Et Tu, Tutu?" has all the hallmarks of the IJG circa 2009: simple melodies expressed through dense, layered arrangements; a strong groove; an electric bass part; a few tempo shifts; chanted words; a goofy title; some physical comedy. We'll see how it turns out, but in the meantime, I'm just honored that the players (heavy hitters all) were willing to give it an airing.

The other composers for this show are: Dan Duval, Ken Ollis, Kyle Williams, Sam Howard, and the aforementioned Andrew Oliver. Do yourself a favor and check their music out -- their tunes were all smokin'.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Kids today

Today I asked my elementary school band and guitar class students about they music they liked (in order to provide them with some arrangements of music they could actually relate to), and here's the list they gave me:

Metallica: "All Nightmare Long"
Beatles: "Hey Jude"
"D-Generation X Theme"
Queen: "We Will Rock You"
The Outlaws: "Green Grass and High Tides"
Beethoven: "Fur Elise"
Rolling Stones: "Ruby Tuesday"
Linkin Park: "What I've Done"
Taylor Swift: "Love Story"
Neil Diamond: "Coming to America"
Bob Dylan: "Masters of War"
Clay Aiken: "Invincible"
Natasha Bettingfield: "Pocketful of Sunshine"
Soldier Boy: "Soldier Boy"
Survivor: "Eye of the Tiger"
Scars of Broadway: "They Say"
Muse: "Starlight"
Black Sabbath: "Iron Man"
"I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire"

I'm thinking a medley is the way to go.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You reeka

Holy cow, I think I just discovered the perfect forum for the occasionally-discussed (but mostly unlikely) revival of Dancing Days, that mawkish thing I wrote way back when (and which I have almost finished uploading to Facebook, where you can now experience it in all its 20-year old digitized videocassette-y glory).

One wonders if this sort of thing would have been so popular in the days before the ever-increasing voyeurism/exhibitionism of the world wide web!

Anyway, thanks, Willamette Week, for the tip.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

So Last Year

[El Intruso requested this list of my 10 favorite albums from last year for their 2008 musician's poll. It will be published in February.]

I didn't hear everything I wanted to in 2008, but here are some records I really enjoyed: randomly selected, in no particular order, and accompanied by the briefest of commentary. (I love calling them "records," by the way, even though they aren't.)

I probably left many things out; I'm not good at keeping track of this stuff.

* * * * *

Empty Cage Quartet: Stratostrophic (Clean Feed)
More than any other artist I keep close tabs on, these guys inspire to me listen through their music's surface-level qualities (e.g., timbre, aspects of ensemble interaction) in order to try and understand the compositional techniques and philosophies that are, well, "behind the music." In other words: the exact cure-for-a-short-attention-span that I've been looking for.

Lesley Kernochan: The Pickle Jar
"Do it because you love it and for no other reason." That there is some of the best advice I got all year; it's from the album's second track. Imbued with that old-timey jazz vibe that Portland musicians (or, in Kernochan's case, ex-Portland musicians) are so obsessed with, plus a little Laura Nyro-ishness on the side.

PLOTZ!: Live 2008 (PMPCD)
All the subtlety of jazz mashed up with the aggression of metal and the rhythmic prestidigitation of Balkan music. A (live!) CD that was, as you might imagine from a band with a built-in exclamation point, one of the two most intense, driving things I heard all year.

The Mars Volta: The Bedlam in Goliath (Universal)
The other of the two most intense, driving things I heard all year. I find myself laughing at various points whenever I listen to this -- probably for the wrong reasons (the same reasons I used to laugh at Yes albums, in fact). But at the same time I find this stuff musically gratifying (though I need a nap afterward).

Deerhoof: Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars)
The quirk knob on this group goes to eleven, so of course I am all over it. Thankfully, there is no accompanying "cute knob" to cancel out the quirk. That's a very hard thing to pull off when you have a heavily-accented chick singer.

Erykah Badu: New Amerykah, Pt. 1 (Universal)
Honestly, I think Badu deserves most of the love that Beyonce is currently getting.

Graham Reynolds and the Golden Arm Trio: Cult of Color (Rickety Fence)
My favorite contemporary composer, probably. Everything he does is ambitious.

My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges (ATO)
Pitchfork called this album "incongruous and awkward." Exactly why I like it, you bastards.

Reptet: Chicken or Beef? (Monktail)
I'll have the chicken, I guess. But look! It's Reptet. We in the IJG like to think of them as our more lithe, slightly jazzier, more extravagantly costumed northern cousins.

Veda Hille: This Riot Life (Ape Hill)
"The killer of god stays up all night long." That was me in college. Anyway, this is some of the most creative music-that-errs-on-the-side-of-pop that I've heard in a long time. The production is a little delicate for my taste, but the great compositions burst through anyway.

Boy, do I hate year-end lists. Bye!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sad for whom?

How Circuit City's demise is affecting the smooth jazz industry.

High School Musical

Wow, I never thought I'd be posting what I just posted.

You should be able to get the full backstory at the Facebook page from whence this comes (assuming said Facebook page doesn't lock you out). If you can't, the short version is that, as it says in the bio sidebar of this here blog, I wrote a "rock opera" (Dancing Days) during my senior year in high school (1986-87). Above is a video of the beginning of it.

I realize that by posting this, I risk destroying, in one fell swoop, whatever "avant garde" credibility I have painstakingly built up over the years. (What's that, you say? It's hard to destroy none?) Especially once I get around to putting up some of the more maudlin bits from the show. (With any "luck," the whole two-act mess will go up on Facebook over the next week or so. Thus you should be able to get to the other tunes via the above link. Or, just come find me on the Facebook.)

I guess the question is: why am I posting this? And why now? Especially since I've never been a particularly nostalgic person? And especially since every time someone has asked me about Dancing Days in the 20 or so years since it was first staged, I have almost always changed the subject?

Alas, much as I hate to admit it, this particular trip down memory lane probably has something to do with my recent "graduation" to age 40, which has been accompanied by a desire to get some perspective on my life, not to mention a greater sense of my own mortality... and other stupid existential stuff like that.

I am not, and will never, make any claims for the value of this very old set of songs, written in late adolescence, before I really knew the first goddamned thing about how the world actually works (not that I know much about that subject now). You can't choose your geographical, historical, or social starting point, but you can try to express something about that starting point honestly, until you adapt or change or grow. Dancing Days was pretty much my attempt to do exactly that, circa the late 80s. On a personal level, it was "successful" and gratifying because it captured my state of mind in a way that was musically relevant for me and many of my high school peers. Whether this state of mind was worth capturing is another subject altogether.

Of course, because of the implied answer to that implied question -- no, this state of mind was probably not worth capturing -- some of Dancing Days is downright embarrassing. But that dovetails nicely with the fact that, more and more, embarrassment has become one of my aesthetic tools (possibly one reason I frequently call upon my band-mates to do truly ridiculous things -- things that no self-respecting jazz musician would deign to do -- onstage). I see embarassment as a specific disarming / de-formalizing strategy within an overarching comic sensibility. It's also a key element of the sort of aesthetic and philosophical honesty I was pursuing here.

Sorry, I started to get high-falutin' there for a second.

Anyway, why the embarrassment over (certain sections of) Dancing Days? In a word: "sentimentality." Much of the music I have loved as an adult pretty much avoids directly expressing excessive or overwhelming emotion -- either disregarding it as a phenomenon altogether, or questioning it as a pose and a construction. Which is fitting, given our era: a sweeping Hallmark-ian idea of "love" is used to sell us everything under the sun, tapping into and exploiting our basic insecurities and loneliness... and ultimately leaving us insecure and lonely. Popular music has been greatly implicated in that swindle, as has Broadway.

Zappa pretty much nails it here:

And yet... who among us is so evolved as to have completely escaped the irrational emotional underpinnings of the psyche? Every once in a while I'll be reminded of how Zappa wept at the sound of Irish folk music (toward the end of his life), or how Duke Ellington doted upon his mother, or how John Lennon could write such cloying music as "Dear Yoko" -- all evidence that under even the toughest sentiment-eschewing artistic exterior, there has to be a basic vulnerability, even if the audience rarely gets to see it up close.

So maybe that's why I'm not prepared to disown Dancing Days, and have even started thinking of it fondly again, despite all its faults: it's me at my most artistically vulnerable. (Duh! I was a teenager.) And that's a handy personal reference point every time some critic faults me for missing a soul.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Once again, I have to play catch up

I blogged a little bit elsewhere about the IJG New Year's Eve gig. And here's a pointless reposting of the short video I put up last week:

The show was actually a lot more raucous than that, but I wasn't able to record any of the rest of it. So you'll just have to trust me when I say that the band played really well -- especially given the fact that a good chunk of the musicians were brand new to the IJG schtick (click the link above for the full personnel list).

Anyway, thanks to everyone who played, and everyone who came out to hear us. We hope that, in our own small way, we got 2009 off to an irreverent but auspicious start.

Next up: I'm writing a piece for the Portland Jazz Composer's Ensemble, run by Andrew Oliver and Gus Slayton. The concert will be Tuesday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 PM at the Old Church. You know: during the 2009 Portland Jazz Festival. (I think "during" means "in tandem with," but I'm not entirely sure about that.) Tickets are available here.

And then we're back in California the first week of April. I can't wait.

[Image source.]

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Out with the old

For those of you who haven't been keeping meticulous track of the last eight years -- and let's face it, the bullshit just started to bleed together after a while (how's that for a mixed metaphor, by the way?) -- Mother Jones has an excellent handy-dandy web-based Iraq War timeline.

"Lie by lie," as they put it.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Will someone...

...please tell Randi Rhodes that there is no such word as "subsdidized"?

I'm no word Nazi, despite the PhD, but this recurring mispronunciation is driving me bonkers. Especially given the "Radio, only smarter" boast.

And I'm a fan.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Apropos of nothing

A little taste of our New Year's Eve show up here in Portland. I guess this is, uh, not your typical IJG fare -- but it seems to fit the moment. (Full details on the personnel, etc. at YouTube.)

Thanks to everyone who supported us in 08!