Thursday, March 29, 2007

What? What?

No, really. I can't hear you out of my right ear. That's cuz I have a collapsed eustachean tube, thanks to an epic headcold and a brief ride on a plane last Tuesday.

Ah well. At least the tour is going splendidly... we had a wonderful day in San Diego yesterday, both in terms of the level of musicianship being pulled out of the proverbial hat by folks who had barely had an opportunity to look at the charts ahead of time, and in terms of that oh-so-elusive grail: the warm, supportive, enthusiastic crowd. And so my post-PNW fear that we were going to slip back into the Barnsdall pit has, for the time being anyway, been allayed. Mad, mad props for this turn of events must be extended to Mr. James Romeo, the jazz director at Mesa College, who more or less single-handedly engineered our day-long journey behind the orange curtain.

I will need to return to the subject of this tour, the people involved, and the doings and happenings of note. But at the moment I want to take advantage of the fact that tonight's recording session has been postponed becuase of intonation issues with a piano. I am exhausted, and I need to rest up before our next hit, which is later tonight (er, tomorrow morning), at 1 AM.

In the meantime, here's a representative photo from yesterday's gig at Dizzy's. Bang your head!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Catch 'em while you can...

Hilarious SNL parody of the happy little brat known as Dora the Explorer (note to KT: DtE is another show to avoid, in my humble opinion). Probably won't be up for very long, given the recent lawsuit against YouTube. But it's the funniest thing I've seen on SNL in a while. (Actually the show seemed unusually consistent last night, though the fake news was weaker-than-usual.)

Also soon disappearing into the ether: WKCR's country music festival. That would be real country music, y'all... listen to it online if yer not in NYC. Great stuff.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Art of the mix tape: no. 1

Here I go again, delving into that oh-so-troublesome activity -- you know, the one which I have inferred in the past is a complete waste of time (or at least something about which I am fairly conflicted) -- writing about music. What's my problem? I'm an addict, I guess.

I'm pretty sure I have already mentioned the working title of the next IJG release (which is currently in process) somewhere in this bloggy mess. But if not, I've been calling it The Art of the Mix Tape, vol. 1. There are numerous references going on there, but the literal one is most relevant to this post, as I hope that what follows will be the first in a series of bloggified mix-tape tracklists (sorry, I'm not ready to start uploading completed mixes yet, though CD-R copies are a possibility if there is an interest).

Like I said, what's my problem? I guess it started with the realization that, of late, I rarely listen to complete "albums" (a term I'm using in the metaphorical, not the LP-specific sense). Maybe in the car once in a while -- but if you're driving, car listening is not really "listening," unless you're being reckless. And usually I'll play albums around the house during the day, but of course I'm always multitasking when I'm "around the house during the day," so that's more like a background music sort of situation too. When I really want to sit down to do some focused (or "deep") listening (usually long after everyone else has gone to bed), it's generally a "surf iTunes" kind of affair. A little bit from column A, a little bit from column B -- kind of like a private radio show with me as both the host and the listener.

This jumping around may be a weakness of mine, I'm not sure. I suppose it sounds a little like evidence of a short attention span, but that wouldn't explain the fact that I can listen to music in this way for hours. And I should point out that there are certain pieces (string quartets, say) where I feel like I'm cheating if I haven't digested the whole thing in a single sitting -- whether or not "the whole thing" takes up an entire disc. But in general I suffer from an urge toward eclecticism.

(Incidentally, sometimes I wonder why so many CD-producers seem consistently compelled to "fill up" the entire available 74-80 minutes with sound, as if somehow the listener is being duped if the content is any shorter? Have we forgotten that there can be as much beauty in well-deployed succintness as there is in an expansive work like Beethoven's Ninth (which, incidentally, is probably the source of the original 74-minute length of the medium)? My own tunes are generally between 5-10 minutes (which, compared to the Ninth is not very long at all), but IJG albums (and many of our live sets, now that I think about it) haven't yet gone longer than an hour, because sixty minutes is about as much of my own stuff as I can stand in a single sitting.)

Anyway, much of my listening time nowadays is taken up with a type of activity that I actually consider a kind of composing: devising mix tapes. Here too I am using the media term in a general, not specific sense -- of course my mixes no longer go on cassettes but end up as either iTunes playlists or, if I really like them, as CD-Rs. But magnetic tape seems the right metaphor for this process because it was this technology that first provided the widespread opportunity for listeners to assemble their own albums out of whatever shorter pieces they saw fit. When I was a kid, "mix tapes" (helpfully organized with dopey titles like "Billy Bang's Bawdy B-Sides") were how I kept track of the music that mattered to me, and how I shared my love of specific artists or pieces with my friends. The ones that survived endless replays still serve as useful touchstones for specific moments of my musical development.

I recently realized that the idea of a "mix tape" also resonates for me as a metaphor for what I am after as an artist. I have been trying like mad for several years now to divest myself of the impulse to view music as a linearly-evolving phenomenon in which the artist's role is to come up with the next innovation -- a pursuit that must of necessity repeat itself every few years (thus the concept of successive artistic "schools" or "movements," all developing in some relation to a timeline, and thus all beholden to varying notions of "progress" or "retrenchment"). I do see the value in linearity (obviously one of the main engines driving the development of western music for the last few centuries), but as I get older it has become less interesting to me than the more, well, "wholistic" (call it totalist if you like, but that wouldn't be exactly right, and besides, it sounds too much like "totalitarianism") approach of trying to look at everything that has been done, and attempting to incorporate it all (or even, say, a generous smattering of it) into a personally distinctive, generous, celebratory hybrid. Truly innovative musical developments seem (in their rhetoric, at least) to resist hybridity to some extent -- typically casting off the "shackles" of some preceding idea -- but I'm after hybridity in my life, and I'm after hybridity in my art. Which is not to say that I've achieved either, or that either is thoroughly possible (it's always a question of degree, I guess) -- just that this is my current modus operandi.

I know I'll need to say more about this "postmodernism-through-zen" (huh?) thing at some point (I'm still figuring out what I mean by it, anyway). But for now, enough blather. On to the mix! It's a work-in-progress (as they always are), and it's heavily weighted in certain directions, but I've tried it out in a few contexts, and it's a good listen. I'm gonna attempt to be sparing on the commentary, but on most of these, I can't resist (damn you, left brain!)...

Art of the Mix Tape No 1

[Note: I started with the intention of linking all of these, but that proved to be too tedious a task. A simple google search will yield up something interesting on most of 'em.]

1. Rene Hall's Orchestra And Willy Joe: "Twitchy"

Your basic out-of-tune call-and-response rock-and-roll goodness. The unitar riff does indeed sound like it is twitching (a unitar is a one-string guitar: get it?).

2. Gene Pitney: "Town Without Pity"

3. Gene Pitney: "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"

Bombastic and melodramatic as hell, Gene Pitney was one of the poppier of the early rock idols. It's hard to hear this stuff now as anything other than camp, but some would argue that Pitney preceded the Beatles in his presentation of new textures (sitars, for instance) for pop music. Like another dude on this list (see no. 6), his voice was heavily vibrato-fied. So sue me: I love the over-the-top mood of these.

4. Bob Landers With Willy Joe And His Unitar: "Cherokee Dance"

See track one; add vocals.

5. Katie Lee: "Will to Fail"

Something about the transition from the gutteral stomp of "Cherokee Dance" into the sweet, showtune-ish "Will to Fail" (with its celebration of underachievement) really works for me.

6. Tiny Tim: "I Got You, Babe"

He sings both roles: Sonny and Cher. Beware the fake applause at the end.

7. The Techniques: "Queen Majesty"

8. Rashaan Roland Kirk: "The Entertainer [Done in the Style of the Blues]"

Kirk, playing tenor, proves he can do "gutbucket" with the best of them. Yes, this is the Scott Joplin tune: an amazing, raunchy version, which pulls out the "country" potential of what is essentially an "urban" tune (that's not a very good description, but I don't know how to improve upon it).

9. R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders: "Get A Load Of This"

Visual art isn't the only thing R. Crumb does well. Here he is playing tenor banjo in a fine 1970s string band revival outfit (except that here they are doing an original tune about, well, junk food).

10. Midlake: "Roscoe"

I don't usually go for modern indie pop (is that what they're calling it now?). If it has guitars, good-looking singers with perfect hair-dos, heartfelt lyrics, hip art, and youth on its side, chances are I'm going to be turned off immediately. But this tune (which arrived at my ears via a most circuitous route) has been played and replayed by me the proverbial umpteen times. I'm at a loss to explain its appeal -- particularly since it seems to reference what I think may be one of the most overrated bands of all time: Fleetwood Mac.

11. The Maytals: "Six & Seven Books Of Moses"

12. Lee Dorsey: "Working In The Coal Mine"

(Incidentally, I recently learned that this New Orleans icon spent a good deal of his youth living in Portland, OR. Wow!)

13. Hombres: "Am I High"

They probably were, as the talent-depleting effect that drugs can have seems evident here.

14. The Holy Modal Rounders: "Boobs A Lot"

Did I mention that obscenity (and its cultural importance) is an obsession of mine?

15. Herbie Nichols: "House Party Starting"

I know what some of you must be saying: at last, something like "real jazz."

16. Henry Mancini & His Orchestra: "Something For Cat"

17. Gerald Wilson: "Bluesnee"

18. Gary McFarland Orchestra with Bill Evans: "Relections in the Park"

Gary McFarland and Gerald Wilson: underrated, but in different ways. Throw in Herbie Nichols (and what the hell, maybe Roland Kirk as well) and you get a certain theme emerging here...

19. Ganimian & His Orientals: "Come With Me To The Casbah"

20. Folkes Brothers: "Oh Carolina"

Maybe one of the first reggae recordings ever?

21. Marianne Faithfull: "I'm a Loser"

Current MF is sort of Marlene Dietrich without the sex appeal. But she put out a live album a few years back that I simply adored (not least because she took on Weill, to great effect). In any case, don't forget that she once sounded like this. Wispy, breathy, girly -- I think "twee" is the term -- yikes. Anyway, it's not the best rendition of this quintessential Lennon tune (the chorus suffers from the absence of one of the swingin'est basslines Paul McCartney ever played), but it's got a certain beat charm.

22. Doodles Weaver: "Eleanor Rigby"

Why is this here? Apart from the obvious Beatles link to the preceding track, I think I dig this one because I am interested in failure as an aesthetic strategy (it offsets success oh so nicely). This rendition of the classic fails over and over again as Mr. Weaver attempts to remember the lyrics, and, instead of doing so, interpolates his own ridiculous words. (Ah, Doodles. Did you really kill yourself at 72?)

[Photo credit: thanks, "Stupid Nick" (if that really is your name).]

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Well, duh

SPIN has a 10-step fix for the music industry.

"Stop releasing crap," eh? What a novel idea!

No, I kid David Browne. Some of these suggestions are actually kinda insightful... like no. 5 (it's the medium, stupid!).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Several of my jazz blogosphere compatriots have been eloquently keeping on top of all the recent losses in the music world -- and what a depressing year it has been so far, what with the departure of everyone from Leroy Jenkins to Alice Coltrane to Michael Brecker. I have been moved by reading these tributes, but in general I have felt that my comrades did their blog-eulogies so well that additional commentary from the likes of me was more or less completely unnecessary.

Still, I don't think any of the usual suspects have yet noted the strange sad passing of Boston vocalist Brad Delp. Which is probably just as well, because Boston's contributions to the advancement of jazz are probably negligible. But good music is good music, right? If you're looking for some sort of standard for male hard-rock vocals (and I know you are), Delp was surpassed only by the godlike Freddie Mercury.

In practice, I was never a huge Boston fan. But I respected them, because they did what they did extremely well, and with a hell of a lot more integrity and focus than some of their contemporaries. They were one of those groups whose records earned the dubious distinction of ad nauseum airplay, which nearly ruined them for kids like me. But for better or worse, all of that was forgiven during one hot Fourth of July weekend in high school, when "More Than a Feeling" was revealed as the perfect soundtrack for a moment of teenage lust. What can I say? For that I will always be grateful.

Seattle prattle

Not very pointy, is it?

Well, that was interesting.

Day two of the latest IJG excursion is now over and done with. The IJG-PNW band did an intrepid job, I must say. It is never an easy thing to learn this music -- but to do so with a minimum of rehearsal, alongside thirteen other musicians who are similarly green; well, that's a real feat. And to have fun in the bargain (as pretty much everyone involved told me that they did) may be the optimal outcome for an experiment like this.

I wouldn't exactly say that I had fun, alas -- even during those moments when things really came together musically, this "tour" was overall a fairly stressful experience. That's partly because the audience turnout was a bit disappointing -- in terms of listeners-per-square foot, it was probably on par with the Barnsdall nadir of last April. (Of the two nights, Seattle was marginally better-attended. Of course it may only have seemed that way because of the architectural configuration of LoFi, which was narrower and more intimate than the cavernous newness of the Someday Lounge. (Both are amazing venues, by the way.))

One measure of the resulting frustration: I actually forgot to introduce Jill in Seattle. This despite the fact that she was the only other "original member" of the group to be on the tour (a circumstance that was only possible because she covered her own airfare), and despite the fact that she provided me with a very valuable point-of-reference throughout the week. Throw in the not-insignificant detail that she is also a dear friend, and you have a very unfortunate situation indeed.

I suppose I should be satisfied with the fact that I managed to fill the entire band with subs, cuz that was certainly the trickiest part of this whole thing. Of course, the musicians who gave of their time had less of a history with the project, which meant that there was a little more of a "hired gun" vibe than I am used to. (That's nobody's fault -- like any other relationship, true musical camaraderie takes time.) On the other hand, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that a few of the PDX / Seattle players, upon seeing the low turnout, refused to accept any money for their services -- a fact for which I am both embarrassed and grateful.

Anyway, the upshot, for me, was that there was just too big of a contrast with the euphoria of January's east coast tour, with its big, happy audiences; its artistic esprit de corps; and its sense that we were finally getting somewhere. I used the (easy) metaphor of a drug to describe that tour, and now that I have been denied my fix, I see how accurate I was. In the wake of the PDX / Seattle shows, I am finding myself irritable, peevish, self-absorbed, and just generally unpleasant to be around. It's a feeling that is fading a little this week, but I'm clearly going through some kind of withdrawal. (The irony is that there are numerous very cool IJG things being planned for the months ahead -- so I'm fairly certain the cycle is going to begin again. The trick now will be figuring out how to sustain the high.)

Poor Britney. First the breakdown, and then this flyer.

One of the more positive side effects of the PNW shows is that I got to add Reptet (authors of the above flyer, and bookers of these gigs) to the list of cool new bands the IJG has double-billed with. If I haven't been clear, Reptet is yet another under-the-radar mostly-instrumental jazz-derived ensemble that deserves your attention. Except for our mutual friends Gutbucket, they embody the jazz-punk aesthetic (and lifestyle) perhaps better than any other group I am aware of. Their latest record would have made my "best-of-'06" list, if I had actually heard it in '06. And on top of everything, and at great personal risk, two of their members (Samantha Boshnack on trumpet and Izaak Mills on tenor) joined the IJG ranks on both evenings (and thus ended up playing more music than any of us -- and without any perceptible loss in energy). Reptet are truly the bee's knees, and I hereby thank them officially for their friendship.

In the days immediately after the Seattle show, I kept returning to the question of whether it had been a mistake to go ahead and follow through on these gigs after I had discovered that I couldn't afford to bring up any of the IJG regulars. Aside from my disappointment at the turnout, I still think the tour was the right thing to do. As painful as it was to perform to a near-empty room again, at least I have finally put to rest the nagging feeling that I need to start getting my feet wet in the Pacific Northwest scene (even if if I did end up leading with my face and not my feet). If nothing else, I established a beachhead -- I need to remember that success up here is going to take time. I also met a ton of wonderful musicians (again, thanks to Rob Scheps for this -- and thanks as well to Tim DuRoche, Una O'Riordan, Jonathan Sielaff, and Mary-Sue Tobin). A few of the folks on the gig actually had that certain industrial je ne sais wha?, and so hopefully I won't have seen the last of them on an IJG bandstand.

Taking on the impossible, counterclockwise from left: Jim Sisko, trumpet; Rob Scheps, soprano sax; Chris Fagan, alto; Tom Hill, bone; Marc Smason, bone.

Oh, yeah, and I think I discovered a new metaphor for the frustrating insanity of the music business (the last metaphor, you may recall, was Christina Aguilera). I can't say more yet, but stay tuned...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Touching down in PDX

Yesterday started in what was probably the worst way possible. Woke up to exactly the wrong kind of back pain -- the kind that hinted at one of my infrequent "no, you're not going to be able to walk today" bouts with Ankylosing Spondylitis. That's always bad, but it's particularly bad on the day of a gig. Thankfully, I shook it off by mid-morning, but let me tell you, that was a pretty scary couple of hours.

At around the time my back began to loosen up, I received an urgent message (actually sent the previous night, but missed because I had crashed uncharacteristically early, and had made the unusual (but ultimately healthy) decision to unplug the phone / internet for a few hours): Dave Valdez (thanks GDG for the link), the sax player who was (until that moment) on board to play bari for both PNW gigs, had gotten an extremely bad sore throat that had landed him in the emergency room. So it was back to the phones and email, and a few hours later, I was able to capitalize on the fortuitous recent discovery that Ward Baxter -- previously of San Diego, and thus an associate of Nate Hubbard, and thus already an honorary IJG member -- is living in Portland. Ward had helped me out of a jam on Monday by subbing at a rehearsal (on tenor), and he helped me out of a jam last night when he played the gig (on bari). He is now officially "in the club," as far as I'm concerned (he'll be playing again tonight).

After resolving the bari issue, I had a strange phone conversation with the dude who was going to be subbing on the drum book at yesterday's last-minute rehearsal. Upon examining the drum charts, this droll fellow discovered that they were "wrong" (yes, that's the word he used) and that it would consequently be impossible for him "or anyone else" to sight-read them. (Does having the charts for almost a week really count as "sight-reading," by the way?) So he bailed.

What the fuck? I'm willing to own that the way I write charts has its idiosyncrasies, and I'm also willing to own that I have been spoiled by the amazing Schnelle, who seems to be able to read anything I put in front of him. But come on! I've had this band for long enough to have accumulated plenty of evidence that a competent sight-reader can make his or her way through my music (on the drums or any other instrument). It ain't easy, sure, but it can be done. Is the fact that you can't do it my fault? Like, do I really have to take responsibility for that too?

(Sorry for the rant; I was sorta having a bad day so far.) [EDIT: Clearly this rant was uncalled for, but I will leave it up here as evidence of the peevishness I describe in the next post.]

Anyway, that was what things were like before the gig. Here's what they were like during:

Yeah, that's a woefully fuzzy view of Reptet in full swing: note the blur (that means they are ripping it up). Note too that they are clearly beating us in the jazz-musicians-in-funny-outfits-derby.

Picture no. 2 is the IJG moments before downbeat, stage right. Front row: Jake McLean. Back row, l-r: Garner Pruitt, Matt Carr, Samantha Boshnack.

Finally, the IJG moments before downbeat, stage left. Front row, l-r: Rob Scheps (proving that it is indeed easy to be green), Scott Hall. Middle row, l-r: Tom Hill, Stan Bock. Back row, l-r: Paul Gabrielson (with back to camera), Ward Baxter.

I'll have more to say about the music and its reception after tonight's gig in Seattle. For now all I'll say is that I'm extremely grateful that such amazing musicians continue to make time to play in this group.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Doin' it to you in your pacific northwest

Ready or not, here we come...

March 7: IJG at Someday Lounge (125 NW 5th Ave, Portland)


Rob Scheps, Gary Harris, Scott Hall, Jake McLain, Izaak Mills, Dave Valdez (saxes). Matt Carr, Samantha Boshnack, Garner Pruitt (trumpets). Stan Bock, Tom Hill (bones). Paul Gabrielson, Ward Griffiths, Jill Knapp, Andrew Durkin (rhythm).

Come check out whether PDX really does lick LAX.

March 8: IJG at LoFi (429 Eastlake Ave. E, Seattle)


Rob Scheps, Mike Brockman, Chris Fagan, Jake McLain, Izaak Mills, Dave Valdez (saxes). Jim Sisko, Samantha Boshnack, Garner Pruitt (trumpets). Marc Smason, Tom Hill (bones). Paul Gabrielson, Ward Griffiths, Jill Knapp, Andrew Durkin (rhythm).

Come check out whether Seattle's audiences are as good as its coffee.

* * * * *

A few notes:

1. I've had to learn a lot of new names in the last few weeks -- hopefully I don't fuck any of 'em up when it comes time to announce the group. Cross yer fingers.

2. Both shows will be starting somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 PM.

3. Both shows will be double bills with the deeeeeep local sextet, Reptet. Frankly, I'm stoked to be able to hear these folks live. (Reptet goes first on Wednesday, we go first on Thursday.)

4. We got a rather strange plug/review in the aforementioned Willamette Week (thanks to the aforementioned Jason Simms), which I cut and paste here cuz I just know it'll be a dead link by next week:

"When you put Los Angeles-based Industrial Jazz Group's 2004 album, Industrial Jazz a Go Go!, on the stereo, it seems reasonable enough. The first track, 'Doo Wha?,' kicks off with a swinging beat and a sentimental piano melody. But a couple of minutes in, the horn section of this 15-member ensemble starts to stretch the key almost to discord, and before you know it, you've entered a staccato, hyper-dramatic section with occasional smooth (almost hip-hop) beats. The song ends in a trumpet solo of the strangled African animal variety before the next track starts off nice and reasonable again. These two extremes certainly hold your attention."

Ain't gonna nitpick this one (The WW was the only PDX paper to preview our gig at all -- and in the past, flat-out amazing reviews have often presaged empty venues), but yes, that's the entire review...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Call me crazy...

...but this really hits the spot right now.

No, really. I think it's beautiful -- though perhaps a minute or so too long.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Q & A

Q: How many band-related emails have you sent out today, Mr. Durkin?

A: 26, starting at about 5 AM.

Q: It is now 12 noon. How many emails-per-hour is that?

A: Almost 4.

Q. Were these quickie-emails, usually comprised of a word or two?

A. Nope.

Q. Were they complex emails, usually involving some careful working-out of important details?

A. Often.

Q. I guess that's what you get for booking nine gigs in three months, two countries, and seven cities, with five different versions of the group.

A. Is that a question?

Q. Do your fingers hurt?

A. Yup.

Q. Are you crazy?

A. Yup.

Q. Do you love your life?

A. Yup.

Q. Why do you continue to type, even though you're taking a break?

A. Notice I am only typing one-word answers.