Saturday, July 02, 2011

Music at the Aspen Ideas Festival

After several days of financial angst and counter-terrorism, I made time today to attend two musical interludes at the Aspen Ideas Festival that I found to be very restorative.

“The Global Breadth of Cuban Music” featured Orlando “Maraca” Valle and his band in a session that was part lecture, part concert. Integral parts of the Cuban sound, particularly rhythm, were explained and demonstrated. The main unit of rhythm is the clave, with song forms like son, rumba, and timba all having different claves, each admitting of many variations and embellishments. The audience was encouraged the clap the basic figure while instrument upon instrument layered on pattern after pattern, until it was hard to tell where the bars began or ended. The sheer complexity and ingenuity of the resulting structure was exhilarating, making you want to laugh out loud. Musicians tend to be capable in many instruments, so the rotation of band members can add yet another layer of richness to the proceedings.

“School of Rock” by Graeme Boone (part professor, part DJ) took us on a lightning tour through the world of rock ’n’ roll, from the Beatles to Nirvana to Danger Mouse and beyond. Taking syncopation from jazz, scales from the blues, and even discords from modern classical music, rock ’n’ roll went through a modernist period of innovation in the 50s and 60s that ultimately settled into a ‘common practice’, albeit with disruptive excursions, such as punk rock, which attempted to break the mold. We are now living in a post-modern period in which remixes, re-recordings and multiple directions seem to be the norm. Music is as likely to be created using a computer, rather than by wrestling with a real instrument, thanks to technological advances in music software, giving composers a richer palette of sounds, timbres and textures than ever before.

These two sessions reminded me how essential music is to the human soul, or at least to my soul.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Jazzkickers play Solera

Last night, we played three sets at a Christmas party in downtown Minneapolis. Our keyboard player, Tim Wick, had a gig at the Dakota with blues singer Big Walter, but Steve Hegman was a great stand-in. I played my 1990 Fender Stratocaster through my 100 watt Fender Jazzmaster Ultralight amp.

We played a variety of instrumentals from the Real Book and were joined by local singer Dennis Spears in the third set. Dennis came straight from starring in the opening night of "Black Nativity" to join us. He sang "Girl From Ipanema", "Drink Muddy Water", "All Blues", and "Satin Doll", really livening up our show.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jazzkickers gigs

Many thanks to all who turned out to hear the Jazzkickers play for the 2009 Employee Giving Campaign on Thursday and Friday. We featured a more blues and samba oriented program this year, with songs such as "Chitlins Con Carne", "Blue Bossa", "Bags Groove", "Black Orpheus", "Motorin' Along", "Beach Fatigue", "Meditation" and "Kelly and Tucker".

The Jazzkickers are Gary Berosik (drums), Steve Proper (bass), Peter Jackson (guitar), Tim Wick (keys), and Gregory Bannister (saxes). (Carmin Pluntz was unable to join us on sax this year.) We play mostly jazz standards from the Real Book and some originals, and tend to play just in the last quarter of each year, doing charity gigs and holiday parties.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Week at the Dakota Jazz Club

Sandy and I started off the week on Monday with Chick Corea, backed by Stanley Clarke (bs) and Lenny White (dr). Great set, featuring "Stella by Starlight", "Senor Mouse", "No Mystery", and a cool arrangement of the famous Rodrigo adagio.

Thursday night, we saw the Tierney Sutton Band in fine form. They did "Devil May Care", "It's Only a Paper Moon", "Cry Me a River", among others. Tierney's voice, style and delivery are just awesome, and the whole band rocks.

We also saw Gretchen Parlato, who did some very cool numbers, including Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly", "I Can't Help It", and some interesting originals. Again, a great band with some very thoughtful arrangements.

Finally, we enjoyed a set by Sachal Vasandani, who also did a mix of standards ("A Small Hotel", "All The Way") and originals ("Royal Eyes"). A young man worth watching; he will go places.

We also ate a lot of good food and drank some fairly strong martinis. Each night we also ran into some friends we hadn't seen for a while, so that made it all just about perfect.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Catch up post for May-July: Karrin Allyson, etc.

This summer has been so busy there has been no time to blog. I've been spending a lot of time in New York, both NYC and outposts such as Buffalo and Rochester.

Best show I saw in all that time was Karrin Allyson at the Dakota on June 24. She sang with a somewhat stripped down band: guitar, bass, and herself on the keyboard (though not all the time). A different, more intimate sound than her previous shows, but equally enjoyable.

I have been working very hard on jazz piano this summer, continuing lessons with Bryan Nichols. Main emphasis is on improvisation over a metronome and breaking out of ruts.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Catch up post for March-April

I have done a terrible job of keeping up to date in recent weeks. At the end of March, Sandy and I went to see Tierney Sutton both nights she was in Minneapolis and the gigs were excellent, although the second night audience seemed to be fairly comatose. We also went to see Snowblind at the Dakota, who played their unique brand of brass oriented modern jazz.

In the first week of April, I spent a weekend at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, taking four seminars from Gary Lee Joyner on guitar & harmonica, songwriting, music theory and improvisation. It's a great place and I enjoyed getting out of town for a few days. I didn't get to see Steve Earle, though, because the concerts that weekend were both sold out.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Scott Yoo's "Young Americans"

Scott Yoo, Artistic Partner to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, conducted and played in a fabulous concert tonight at the SPCO Center in the Hamm Building. In the first half, Scott played violin in two pieces, Jeffrey Cotton's Sextet for Two Violins, Two Violas and Two Cellos, and Dan Coleman's Sonata in Two Acts for Violin and Piano.

The Cotton Sextet (also called the Sextet for Strings) is a wonderful piece of music, beginning with a rather serpentine Dance movement, continuing on with a very moving (and rather Barberesque) Elegy for the victims of 9/11, and ending with a short Scherzo. Cotton was apparently on the scene after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, and participated in volunteer rescue work. Scott Yoo and Steven Copes did a fabulous job on the violin parts; Scott actually played in the world premiere of this piece in 2002.

Dan Coleman's Sonata is for violin and piano (played by Susan Grace), and takes its inspiration from opera tableaus and song forms (aria, recitative, cavatina, etc). The violin part is both lyrical and muscular, with excursions into 12-tone music, requiring great dynamics and a wide range of tones. The two acts are separated by an Intermezzo for solo piano that can be played as a stand alone piece. Scott played his challenging part just beautifully; again, he played in the world premier of this piece in 1996.

The second half featured the world premier of Patrick Zimmerli's Chamber Symphony for 14 Instruments, a piece inspired by both jazz and 12-tone music, with Scott Yoo conducting. Steve Copes and Dale Barltrop played violins and Susan Grace returned on piano. There was much to admire about this symphony, including some interesting jazz arrangements, but I found it clever more than anything else. Based on a single hearing, it seemed to lack the emotional appeal of the Cotton work and the energy of the Coleman work. But it's a piece I will want to hear again, once a recording is available, and I'd also like to hear some of his other recordings.