Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Penultimate gig with Caterwaul

On October 28th, I played bass with Caterwaul at the Fusion Music Lounge in downtown Saint Paul. I am leaving the band at the end of the year, partly pressure of work, partly hand problems, and partly a desire to do something different. My only remaining commitment is to do another gig in December.

Ideally, I would like to play more guitar, and put together a lineup for a recording next year. I also want to do more composition; I have a lot of pieces that need finishing or arranging. I want to spend the winter resting my hands, polishing my guitar technique, and putting together some new repertoire.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Jazzkickers play Al Baker's

Today the Jazzkickers played a lunchtime gig at Al Baker's in Eagan, MN, for a Red Hat Society event on behalf of the American Heart Association. I played my Gibson Les Paul Elegant through a Fender Princeton Chorus amp. Numbers included "Take the A Train", "All Blues", "In a Mellow Tone", and "Well You Needn't", all great songs from the American jazz songbook. Everyone was in fine form, with Carmin Pluntz on saxophone, Tim Wick on keyboards, Steve Proper on bass guitar, and Gary Berosik on drums. This is far and away my favorite band to play with, so I hope we get more opportunities to play together in the future.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Stephen Prutsman at the Ordway

Composer and pianist Stephen Prutsman directed a stunning program of mostly jazz-influenced pieces with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in Saint Paul tonight.

Prutsman's own Jazz Fantasy on the Theme B-A-C-H for piano and strings kicked off the evening, with Stephen on piano and Chris Brown playing bass, sometimes bowing and sometimes plucking walking lines. The four letters in German musical notation translate into Bb-A-C-B, which provides a nice chromatic figure for stepping out. The piano playing was nothing less than inspired and, although the piece is completely written out, the music is derived from improvisations by the composer.

I'm in a huge Prutsman fan, having also seen and heard the premier of "The Grand Excursion" at the Ordway in 2004, and his "Curious Hymns and Cosmic Spaces" earlier this year. In conversations with Stephen, I have since discovered that we share a passion for 1970s British progressive rock! (I'm the biggest Yes fan ever.)

But I digress. The Jazz Fantasy was followed by Darius Milhaud's La Creation du Monde, a cheeky momento of Milhaud's time in New York in the 1920s, featuring saxophone and a jazz drum set as well as the usual percussion. A very entertaining and refreshing piece that hasn't aged much in over 80 years.

The climax of the first half of the concert was Mauric Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, which is one of those spine-tingling pieces of music that are once heard and never forgotten. The central Andante assai has that langorous, inconclusive, suspended quality that makes Ravel's best music so mesmerizing and so emotionally complex. Prutsman and the SPCO players absolutely aced this work.

After the intermission, we came back for Mozart's Quartet in G Minor for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello, K. 478. This piece was apparently written with amateur musicians in mind, but turned out to be too challenging for both the fingers and the ears of that particular market. Really a delightful piece, though, with a lot of musical ideas being tossed around from instrument to instrument.

After the chamber music, we listened to Butch Thompson play piano rags in the Ordway mezzanine, including works by Fats Waller, Jimmy Yancey and Bix Beiderbecke. Not bad for a night out in the Mid West!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

SPCO play Schubert, Mozart & Mendelssohn

Last night, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra gave a splendid concert at the Ordway Theater. Nic McGegan was down to direct the performance, but unfortunately could not make it in from Europe due a flight cancellation. Scott Yoo flew in from New York to take over at very short notice, and did a fabulous job.

The evening began with Schubert's Rondo brillant in B minor, arranged for violin and strings by Dale Barltrop, who also played the lead. His performance was given a standing ovation, both for his playing and the beautiful arrangement. (Schubert originally wrote this piece for violin and piano.)

This was followed by Jonathan Biss playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C (K. 467). I have never heard a better rendering of this work, especially the famous Andante, nor have I ever seen anyone put more feeling into his music. After years of being somewhat indifferent to Mozart, I am finally becoming a true fan, thanks to having heard so many fine performances by the SPCO, often in relatively intimate settings.

The program ended with Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5 in D (Op. 107) a.k.a. the "Reformation". This work is something of a showcase for the brass and winds, as well as featuring some very fine string parts. It's interesting to hear the influence of Bach in the later movements, sometimes so pronounced that one can even recognize small quotations, e.g., I thought I heard the Fugue from the First Violin Sonata at one point.

All in all, an awesome event that was followed by a great party, given for the musicians, board members and staff by the Securian Foundation, who also sponsored the evening's concert.