Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Milarepa Gatha

Howdy anyone out there reading!

I completed this afternoon a new quick music project on electric bass. A year or so ago I took Terry Riley's "In C" and recorded it multitracked with on 15 different bass voices. The difference with that was I shifted the subdivision to 16ths, instead of eighth notes, and gave it more of an ambient/techno vibe. Well I just did a new multitracked electric bass project, taking Jackson Mac Low's piece, "Milarepa Gatha" which is similar to the picture above, although the vertical mantra from this piece was "Je Mila Zhadpa Dorje La Solwa Debso." I believe it is a tibetan mantra, but still have yet to find any translation.

Essentially the piece can be performed as vocal music/spoken word, by reading (or singing) the line vertically, and then reading it horizontally on a chosen line. So to take the example from above you could sing/say "Namu Amida Butsu" and then choose another line that would say "AAUUMMMMMMMM" which is the horizontal line that starts on A from Amida. With the Gatha poem that I chose from Jackson Mac Low, it came with a pitch representation of each letter of the mantra. So instrumentalists could also play this idea, almost like a GIANT TONE ROW MATRIX! One of the other ideas is to have space/silences when there are spaces in between the letters/words, which also translates musically.

So the gatha poem that I chose came with its own pitch interpretation that worked like this:

Je Mila Zhadpa Dorje La Solwa Debso =

G E, G C# F A, C B A D B A, D F# Ab G E, F A, Eb Gb F G# A, D E Bb Eb Gb.

With the horizontal lines, there were 44 new variations with these same letters and pitches, so I went through line by line copying out the pitch version of the poem, not musical notation paper in order to not be biased on register issues.

When I recorded it, I recorded 5 low register and 5 high register versions of the main mantra, and then only 1 version of each of the 44 variations. With each individual voice I alternated the mantra with a variation, formally like ABACADAE... I used 11 electric bass voices to realize the piece, starting with one part, and then stacking another by another until eventually all 11 were in, to give it a 6 minute or so build. The piece turned out to be around twenty minutes, and I have just uploaded it on my myspace page.

I still do not know much about Jackson Mac Low, other than his writings and his graph work influenced some of John Cage's writings, but I checked out his book, "Things of Beauty," containing selections of his work, and these Gathas are some of the few musical pieces in them. I can't wait to dive deeper into his poetry though!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fred Frith

I have been doing more youtube-ing these days, and finding some incredible footage, so for now I am going to save three parts of a documentary on Fred Frith to watch at a later date, titled "Step across the border." From reading the wiki page on it, it seems to be shot similar to Ken Vandermark's documentary "Musician" in which they are non-narrated snapshots of the musicians doing what they do, without much information as to who is who, and where people are at in the filming.

I'll check this documentary out later on, but now it's saved!

EDIT: Just watched it a bit ago, great film, I think this is only a portion of it, but great pre-1990 footage of Fred Frith playing with Tom Cora, and with John Zorn, and a new band at the time "Keep the Dog." His solo playing was inspiring too, like a multi instrumentalist version of Derek Bailey with singing as well. The way it's shot is beautifully done, juxtaposing studio music of Frith projects with incredible black and white scenes of different areas from around the world. I gotta find the complete documentary!

Friday, November 20, 2009


Part 1

I can't figure out exactly everyone, but this is a 1987 performance on some television show of multiple John Zorn groups. Xu Feng is a game piece, and this features Bobby Previte on drums, Wayne Horivitz, Bill Frisell, Eugene Chadbourne, to name a few. The other performance is of the Sonny Clark Memorial group, featuring Previte, Horivitz, and I can't figure out the bass player. PART 3 is XU FENG, and all the others are the Sonny Clark Memorial.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

TREATISE and beethoven...

I know, I haven't listened to it yet, or had others listen to it, but here's the TREATISE post, now that I have completed the score and recording to the over 3 hour work realization of Cornelius Cardew's piece.

Here goes:



Circles are notes, larger the circle the longer the duration. The proximately of the circle to other circles, or to the middle black line determines pitch, higher or lower.

Triangles are triads (taken from a Cardew interview), and angles are double stops.

Squares/rectangles are harmonics.

Numbers are number of short sounds played by distorted electric guitar.

The black circles are played by distorted electric bass.

The black middle line is bowed acoustic bass. The pitch changes from page to page, and if the line is interrupted somehow. If the black line arcs up or down, it’s a glissando.

Empty staves, or lines that look like staves, stacked on top of each other vertically, are represented by improvised noise. The closer the lines are together, then denser the noise, the farther the lines are away from each other, the sparser and more long tone based the improvisations are.

Pitches in general follow the shape of the symbol, in going up and down.

A single line that stands alone is represented by a drone, either using tremolo picking on guitar, by playing whole notes of the same pitch in the bass, or bowed on the acoustic bass.

At this point dynamics are random due to the levels set when the different instruments were recorded, but sometimes their were F or P written in the score, in which I would follow them as their respective forte and piano.

Everything is read left to right musically, and if it isn't exact, than the gesture of the idea is realized musically in the notated score. ALL symbols are accounted for.


Voice (up to 4 parts) –only used when the page is filled with graphics, and plays the highest part of the page.

Distorted Electric Guitar (up to 2 parts) – only used when numbers are there, OR right under the highest part of the page

Acoustic Guitar (up to 5 parts) – only used to represent the graphics from above the Black line, to a quarter of the page up.

Distorted Electric Bass (1 part) – only used in black circles

Electric Bass (up to 5 parts) – from black line down a quarter of the page.

Acoustic Bass (up to 7 parts) – plays the black line drone AND the bottom quarter of the page.

So that's it for Treatise feel free to comment, or email me at 1smileymn@gmail.com with questions, or if you want to hear a recording. I no longer have any of the piece up on mymyspace page, but probably will soon.


I just finished a week ago writing out a score for 8 people + soloist for the COBRA Ensemble. The score calls for 2 bassists, 2 percussionists, 2 comping instruments, and 2 wind instruments, and a soloist. It is essentially a concerto, and is taken from 10 pages of the last movement of Beethoven's third symphony. I took scissors and tape, and cut out fragments from the score, didn't include key signatures or clefs, and wrote some text instructions for interpretation. Essentially their are 10 sections, and the accompanying ensemble is split into two groups, and get different cues. The soloist has completely different material than the ensemble, in the specific instructions of how to improvise the solo part. Hopefully the piece will be read in the next few weeks, and sounds like a fun open-ended idea. It's very controlled, but at the same will sound COMPLETELY different depending upon the performers/instrumentation. If anything the piece is reminiscent of Terry Riley and John Cage but meeting a more free improvisation world of sound and options.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

AACM Book, Part 3

I just finished up reading "A Power Stronger Than Itself," and picked out a few more passages to copy out and comment on through the rest of the read.

P. 216

“Part of the job of a musician is that of a messenger. If you ain’t ready to be a messenger, forget it. You need to get a job in the post office or somewhere. If you ain’t ready to travel, pack up your family, or pack up yourself and hit the road, you’re in the wrong business. Because that’s what music is about. It’s about spreading knowledge and education, and re=education. It’s about spreading. You have got to travel with it to spread the word. Like all the people in the past that have had to travel to spread the music.” -Lester Bowie

I am always looking for advice on the business of music, and the behind the scenes ideas of what needs to get done, and how to do it. Ken Vandermark's documentary "Musician" is a good insight into this world, as well as this quote from the Art Ensemble trumpeter.

P. 229

“…If you wanted a gig you wanted to be on somebody’s record, and you weren’t invited, all you had to do was go to the BYG studio with your horn. The guy would say, Oh, you have your horn, Come and play on this piece.” -Wadada Leo Smith

Since my vinyl kick, I have been trying collect a lot of the BYG Actuel records, which have been re-released over recent years, thanks in part to Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. This label recorded avant garde music in France from 1969-1971, and this quote makes me think about the atmosphere going on in the session at the time.

P. 363

“I seek new sounds

because new sounds

seek me

Why, Please tell me

Music I limit myself

To a saxophone or clarinet!

All the rhythm of All

The universe is flowing

Through me – Through all

Things, why must I become

“a master” –of anything

when all sound all movement

springs from the same


-Joseph Jarman

Jarman's poem on the idea of multi-instrumentalism, a school sort of "founded" in a way by the Duke Ellington musicians and later on in a figure like Eric Dolpy, or Yusef Lateef. Come of the AACM guys, like Anthony Braxton, or the Art Ensemble played every family of woodwinds, on top of hundreds of different percussion instruments, and more!

P. 442

“Thus, one can imagine the puzzlement of AACM experimentalists when a new breed of New York-based journalists, critics, and musicians advanced the claim that hose who had been creating the new music, had “no respect for tradition.” Curiously, this discourse is hardly to be found in other musical genres. Jimi Hendrix was not critiqued on his ability to sound like Little Richard, nor was Reba McIntyre challenged on her ability to sing like Patsy Cline. On the other hand, these musics did not, until recently, witness the kind of radical challenge to traditional modes of musical aesthetics that jazz did. When transgressive musics eventually came along in other fields – punk, techno, grunge, trash - those critical communities did not, for the most part, critique these musics on the grounds that they did not sound like the Beatles, or insist that they cover a Hall and Oates tune as part of their legitimation strategy. This is to say nothing of contemporary pan-European art music, where present-day composers are not judged on their ability to incorporate the sounds of Vivaldi into their work, though they are free to do so if they wish."

This is George Lewis talking about the idea of how backwards the neo-classical jazz movement seems, in comparison to all the other genre. He makes a good point, no other music makes you imitate the past verbatim, like jazz music does. In rock music today, no one is forced to know Buddy Holly tunes, in 21st century contemporary classical music, no one is forced to compose in the style of Baroque...so why in jazz are we all forced to play a limited amount of material(standards) in a limited way (bebop), when no other genre does that?!

p. 447

“Well, you often hear people nowadays talking about the tradition, tradition, tradition. But they have tunnel vision in this tradition. Because tradition in African American music is as wide as all outdoors… Music is much bigger than bebop changes. I don’t feel like being trapped in those halls of harmony.” -Julius Hemphill

Julius Hemphill, famous for his recording on Arista, "Dogon A.D." and being part of the World Saxophone Quartet, he echoes some of the sentiments of George Lewis. Music, call it jazz, call it contemporary improvisation, call it free, or avant, whatever music does not have to be limited to verbatim copying of musicians' licks/riffs from 60 years ago. Music is much more open than that!

Thus ends my AACM commentary, I may be doing a post soon on Treatise, a Cardew piece that I completed today, and I will write about my overall feeling after listening to it straight through, comments that people hearing it will say, and then what I have learned, and what I might have done differently. Also I will type up some of the interpretation rules I came up with or general tendencies of realizing the piece, as well as how many instruments were involved in the end! Until Next Time!

Monday, November 2, 2009

AACM Book, Part 2

A Power Stronger Than Itself

More excerpts from the George Lewis book with my own commentary

P. 91

“According to the Nigerian musician Babatunde Olatunji, Coltrane and Yusef Lateef were working with him on plans to organize an independent performance space and booking agency. Olatunji portrays the saxophonist as declaring in their conversation that “We need to sponsor our own concerts, promote them and perform in them” …The three musicians drafted a tri-partite mission statement:

To regard each other as equal partners in all categories

2. Not to allow any booking agent or promoter to present one group without the other two members of the Triumvirate.

3. To explore the possibility of teaching the music of our people in conservatories, colleges and universities where only European musical experiences dominates and is being perpetuated."

I think this is incredible, to show that had Coltrane not died, there would've been this powerful musical trio of these great musicians, always playing on the same bill together, and hopefully, even playing in a group together. This most likely would've put Yusef more into the forefront of music, as well as Olatunji. Incredible organizing and sticking up for one another though!

P. 177

“In one of our many interviews, Abrams presented a summary of what a first-time student in his class would encounter in the first few lessons:

We learn how to develop things from the raw materials. First of all, before we write any melody, I deal with the scales and derivatives of scales, which brings us across modes – Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian. We’re listening to stuff that’s around us, and then we can transcend. We’re not captive to the usage of things around us, the empirical part.

I take a tetra chord 2 =2 =1, C + D + E + F. We have to have a note to start from. That’s the first four notes of the major scale. If we proceed with the major scale, from the F we get another 2, to G. From the G we get another 2, to A. And then, form A to B another 2, and from B to C, a 1. So you have 2,2,1 with a 2 in the middle, then 2,2,1. That’s the major scale, and you can start it on any note of the major scale.

They have music paper by now, and they take this scheme and transfer it back to notation, so that they can see it. We’re heading towards composing, personal composing. We’re collecting these components, so we won’t be puzzled by how to manipulate them. First, we organize ourselves rhythmically, so that we have some idea of how to move things around in a verity of ways. We learn all the major and minor scales, and related scales, like the double harmonic scale, stuff that we hear around us.

We haven’t started talking psychologically yet, and we haven’t talked about how the Chinese or the Indian have different tunings. That’s left to personal investigation, which is strongly encouraged.

Then I make an impression up the student by playing it. All the time they’re getting an appreciation of what they hear around them, all over televisions, the symphony orchestra, and everywhere. Then you hear something a little more abstract, then you go investigate to find out how it was developed. This is giving you the basis for looking into it. If it uses notes, rhythms and harmony, you can find out what it is.

Next I give them rules for generating melodies. First, write an uneven amount of notes’ end on the same note you start on’ never make two skips in a row, because we’re trying to separate out chordal melodies. There are six or seven rules, then we start to construct melodies. Then we bring rhythms over, and we write a rhythm for the melodies. So in about the third session, we’re composing melodies. Here’s a person who didn’t know anything in the first session, and they’re creating with full confidence in knowing what they’re doing. They know the materials they’re using. I encourage people to be forthcoming to teach other people, and assisting them.

The AACM School was developed out of this."

I personally like this, because it shows me that these musicians were well trained, and that AACM literally was a school! This short excerpt is nice to read coming straight from Richard Muhal Abrams' mouth to see how this collective of musicians learned together.

P. 184


Reach down deep inside of what you are

And bring up the reality of

The “part” = you don’t need the

“training” of the “actor”; you need the training

of yourself, what you are already - that IS enough.

How to act in each “scene”;

Don’t “act” at all becoming yourself out

Of you life and do the scene, the reality

Of it, as it is the facts of you life

Are the only theatre needed.

-Joseph Jarman"

This comes from a collection of writings of Joseph Jarman, one of the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, on theatre and acting. I thought it was pretty inspirational, and could be applied to music/composition as well as the theatre end of things.

Stay tuned for more updates/passages from A Power Stronger Than Itself, until I finish the book!

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I am currently reading George Lewis's book on the history of the AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself. I am only through the first few chapters, but feel I am learning a lot about this scene of musicians, and it's relationship to the "mainstream" jazz history that is taught in schools. Basically I am getting the more into the relationship of jazz to other musics, (B)lues, 20th century classical composition, R&B), and the AACM musicians to Bird, and so on. So what I would like to do with this blog, while I am reading the book, is write down a couple verbatim passages that jumped out at me, and talk about them. So I will quote the page number and passage, and then write in a short response after that.

p. 28

Muhal Richard Abrams: “To us, Bird and them were like people who broke ground. We copied them religiously, but that was not the end’. We didn’t sacrifice our individualism to do it. There were some on the scene who did, but we didn’t; we started to draw and paint, because we felt like that - doing things differently.”

To me this is a blessing to hear musicians of the day, being more open, and actually Bird-like in their interest in other mediums of art, instead of a lot of people who copped his licks. As Charles Mingus said, "If Charlie Parker was a gunslinger, there'd be a whole lot of dead copycats."


The painter Lee Krasner observed that her husband, the painter Jackson Pollock, “would get into grooves of listening to his jazz records not just for days, day and night day and night for three days running… He though it was the only other creative thing happening in the country.”

Another beautiful passage to hear about the dedication of the abstract expressionist painters to jazz music.

p. 40

“The composer Charles Ives privately recorded a short series of free improvisations between 1938 and 1943, as well as some highly personal version of movements of his Concord sonata that featured spontaneously conceived sections that apparently do not correspond to the printed score. The 1949 recording of Lennie Tristano…”

This passage jumps out to me as saying that Ives was the FIRST person to record free improvisations, predating Tristano's experiments by 6 years! Jazz history courses need to include this fact into its lectures.

p. 42

“As Amiri Baraka remembers, “I especially liked Morton Feldman’s music, Cage’s audacity and some of the other things.”

A major figure, poet and writer on this experimental Chicago scene of artists and musicians, it's amazing to hear the influence that Cage and Feldman had on them. Personally, as an enthusiast of experiental music, be it of "jazz" or "classical" genres, this is great to read, and figure out where the crossovers lie.

p. 55

“Herman Blount founded his own band in 1950, with people like saxophonists Harold Ousley, Von Freeman, Earl Ezell, and John Jenkins, bassist Wilbur Ware, and drummer Vernel Fournier.”

Herman Blount is Sun Ra, and this sounds like one of his first bands. The drummer from Ahmad Jamal fame, and the bassist from Thelonious Monk fame. Von Freeman is an amazing unheard of cat from Chicago, that is a big influence on that scene of horn players. I need to start looking around for recordings of this group, hoping that there are some out there.

p. 58

“…pianist, composer, and arranger Charles Stepney, who introduced Abrams to Joseph Schillinger’s unusual system of musical composition. Stepney, a house arranger for Chess Records, was soon to apply Schillinger-related principles, along with ideas from composer Henry Cowell’s early text, New Musical Resources and the work of Gyorgy Ligeti, to his landmark work for Ramsey Lewis, the Dells, the Rotary Connection and Minnie Riperton, Phil Upchurch, Muddy Waters and Earth, Wind and Fire. Stepney introduced Schillinger’s books to Abrams who ended up buying his own copies.”

This jumps out at me, to hear that Ligeti and Cowell were influences on such main stream music, incredible! Also to see the link of how Richard Muhal Abrams, a major teacher and figure in the AACM, was attracted to the Schillinger system of composition, which is a totally new thing for me, and I will start checking out.

p. 59-60

"As a budding painter who had already explored the synaesthetics of Kandinsky, Abrams was excited about Schillinger’s construction of a necessary, ordered connection between sound, sense, science, emotion, reason, and the natural world."

Another cross influence of Abstract painters and their connection to this new music of the day, from Pollock to jazz, and Kandinsky to AACM.

P. 68

“Alvin Fielder recalled, “I developed a philosophy there that I wanted to play my bebop as loose as possible and I wanted to play my free music as tight as possible.”

A great quote for me to keep in mind with the COBRA ensemble, my free improvisation group, to keep the music as tight as possible. I feel I personally have gotten a little better at playing bebop in a freer manor, but while still following a semblance of structure. Perfect quote for a musician in the crossroads of these musics.

That's all for now, will continue to update as a read more and mark more passages, enjoy!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

11 Wayne Shorter albums in 9 and a half hours

ALL NIGHTER!! It's been a while since I have pulled one of these, at least a few years. I wanted to get that calm feeling of no sleep, that natural perspective changer, and what better way then to stay up catching up on work, as well as listening through 11 Wayne Shorter albums back to back!

Introducing Wayne Shorter: A good starter, bluesy, but not in a kitsch/cliché sort of way. Wayne's gentle harmonizations at the end of lines really do this album justice. Not modal, but hints of it, as well as hints of Coltrane Giant Steps substitutions, 1959!

Second Genesis: I didn't know this existed! Art Blakey on drums, kind of like a jazz messengers quartet vibe.

Wayning Moments: There's a sweet swing version of Black Orpheus. The album didn't have the best review but I think Wayne and Freddie Hubbard sound great on it!

Night Dreamer/Juju: Adding these together for the Coltrane-esque back up band of Reggie Workman, Elvin, and McCoy. This is when the music started opening up more, and the model influence on the compositions started coming in full sway. Starting to equate Wayne's sound and concept with the space of Elvin's triplets.

Speak No Evil: Wowza, great compositions, this record brings me back several years. Starting to shift into Miles Second Quintet sound, but still with Elvin swinging away in the background.

The Soothsayer: Starting to hallucinate/get tired from staying up, it's roughly 4am right now. This is when we break away from the typical blue note, bop, modal sound and start adding Tony Williams and James Spaulding into the mix, to give it some avant garde edge. Going crazy quietly!

Etcetera: Vamp heavy, this seems more a pre-cursor to the 70s loft scene sound of Sam Rivers and those co-horts. Bass vamps, long solos, modal, and stretching out the form. The change to Joe Chambers is huge, more backbeat and funk to the drum sound, really gives the records a totally new sound, much heavier.

The All Seeing Eye: Where I am at now at 6:03am, bringin' in a wave of new instruments, harmonies reminiscent of Ornette's "Free Jazz" mixed with Sun Ra, mixed with Art Blakey. The new sheets of instrumental colors are taking me for a ride that I can't quite get off of. Reminds me of Tony William's Spring, and some of the looser Andrew Hill records with Joe Henderson. I am amazed at the colors that Ron Carter is playing, he's usually so "in," great to hear him taking risks.

Adam's Apple: I always thought this record was an early Wayne Shorter one, but it turns out it's one of the last ones before he goes fusion. Wayne really likes interacting with the drummer's snare, from record to record I keep hearing that interplay. We've come full circle and Reggie Workman is back on bass! Wayne's solos are starting to get longer in the past few albums and here, but he plays less, more like inspired collective improvisation, rather than a soloist concept.

Schizophrenia: Perfect end for my sleep deprived state of mind.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Open Space Festival for New Music

I am blogging today to spread some publicity for UNC's upcoming Open Space Festival for New Music, March 24-27th 2010. This is our second year for this festival, last year being a big success. Our mission statement is as followed:

The Open Space Festival of New Music is designed to present innovative composers and interpreters of contemporary music annually at the University of Northern Colorado. Composers and performers are featured guests in lectures, seminars and performances. Each Festival gives students the opportunity to perform with guest artists in a number of diverse settings and genres.

Here's a list of of what happening last spring at UNC:

Thursday, April 9
4:40 p.m.: Composition master class with Paul Rudy, Studio B at Frasier Hall, 7th Street between 9th and 10th avenues
4:40 p.m.: Piano master class with Stephen Drury, Milne Auditorium, 8th Avenue and 17th Street
7 p.m.: Pre-concert talk with Paul Rudy, Milne Auditorium
7:30 p.m.: Music of Paul Rudy and Charles Ives performed by Rudy, Stephen Drury and Roger Landes, Milne auditorium

Friday, April 10
Noon: Lecture/demonstration: “What You See is Not What You Get: Slight of Hand in Sound and Image” by Paul Rudy at the Kress Cinema & Lounge, 817 8th Ave.
2:30-4 p.m.: Open rehearsal for John Zorn’s “Cobra” with Drury, Kress
5 p.m.: Live performance of John Zorn’s “Cobra,” Kress
6-9 p.m.: Live music at the Kress
9 p.m.: Irish, Balkan, Middle Eastern concert with Roger Landis at Patrick’s Irish Pub, 800 9th St.

This spring we're looking at bringing composer Christian Wolff, Stephen Drury and the Callithumpian Consort to perform a new piece by Wolff, "Songs from Brecht: The Exception and the Rule." The UNC Cobra Ensemble will be giving a performance of Wolff's improvisatory piece "Edges." Composer and performer Michael Hicks from Brigham Young University will also be a part of this spring's music festival.

For more information on some of these artists check out the links:

And for my own myspace page that I will updating throughout the year, go here:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bass Videos

For my Jazz Lesson this week I am supposed to bring in five videos of bassists with an amount of facility, here goes:

Drew Gress unaccompanied playing Autumn Leaves

Michael Formanek on Caravan with Kenny Drew Jr. and Clarence Penn

Trevor Dunn on a Tim Berne tune

Gary Peacock on Autumn Leaves with the Keith Jarrett Trio

Christian Mcbride and NHOP on Bye Bye Blackbird

Sunday, September 13, 2009

2nd day of Crumb

I drove up a few nights ago with a van of music composition students to see a few performances of George Crumb's pieces with him in attendance. The Grusin Music Hall was very nice, located on campus at Colorado University in Boulder. The first piece was "The Ghosts of Alhambra,"a setting of Federico Garcia Lorca poem's to music with a baritone singer, nylon string guitar and multi-percussion. The singer occasionally played percussion, like finger cymbals and clave, and the guitarist used some extended techniques, with knocking on the wood and playing with a glass slide. The percussion set up was pretty big, with congas, bongos, cymbals, vibes, bells, shakers, claves, and a lot more! It was a pretty mind blowing experience, especially considering it was a world première. This was sung in spanish, the original language of the poems. The guitarist was David Starobin, which I was told is a well known contemporary music enthusiast that has had hundreds of pieces commissioned for him to play.

The second piece was my favorite, featuring four handed piano playing, with an amplified piano. This was an older work titled "Celestial Mechanics" written in 1979, and was four movements long, with a rotating cast of six piano players. All of the movements were named after stars, and it sounded like outer space music. A lot of contemporary and/or avant garde music gets the nomenclature of "outer space sounds," but truly, these sounds reminded me of a dark and very empty starry black night. The majority of the piece was played inside the piano, with the occasional bass note struck, high pitched chord, or repetitive idea. The piece featured a lot of subtle sounds, and unfortunately was disrupted for me a few times by obnoxious audience members not following performance etiquette.

The last piece was another setting of a Lorca poems,"Sun and Shadow," written in the past year, and performance by George Crumb's daughter Ann singing the soprano part, and piano accompaniment. The piece was sung in english this time, and had humor in it, for instance the second movement "The Fly" consisted of the vocalist humming and buzzing with her mouth. Between movements the piano player left some of the music backstage and unceremoniously went back to retrieve the missing parts.

After the performance my teacher Paul Elwood introduced me to some "harmonic chanters" a term new to me, but basically "throat singing." They made me aware of a vocalist known as David Hykes that performs and writes music for a harmonic choir, a choir of people that do throat sing. I knew one could do a lot more with this vocal technique, and finally have heard someone that is really extending the range of what can be done. This is very beautiful music so I recommend checking it out! All in all a great evening of music, and a pleasure to see George Crumb and hear his music. The Kronos quartet is coming in a few weeks to play Black Angels, and I hope I can go!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

George Crumb and The Bad Plus

Yesterday I was at the George Crumb lecture in CU Boulder, involving him speaking in a panel with several of his former students. Here are a few thoughts from his lecture: Crumb mentioned his main influences being Debussy, Mahler, Ives and Bartok. What he mentioned brought all these composer's together was their use of quotations, their pluralism, and their organic magick. It seems to me the common bond is that all of these composers use folk materials from other geographical areas, and were stretching the forms and what had been done up until their time. At this point Crumb mentioned to the composers out there, to use everything that they are hearing, all the devices they know of, and not focus on just one technique. There is a book I need to get titled "George Crumb: Alchemy of Sound." Crumb when talking about Asian music says that what is going on is a suspension in time, with a minimal idea and/or texture. The Asian idea is that the ideas are not narratives like in western art music, but more of a sounds tapestry.

I apologize for jumping all over the place describing the lecture, but I am trying to put all my thoughts out there from what I heard him say. When talking about music he mentioned that music doesn't consist of always equal parts. There are certain times when a piece focuses solely on rhythm, other times the focus is on melody, and other times only on strong harmony. Another Crumb piece I need to check out is "Five pieces for piano," a piece that became one of his earliest musical fingerprints, and was influenced by John Cage visiting his school, and becoming influenced by his philosophy, which he thinks Cage's philosophy is the most important element of 20th century music! It was interesting to note that Crumb talked about writing for inside the piano, but how he does not like to prepare the piano, but use what is naturally there inside of it. There are some pieces he wrote for his daughter based off of Appalachian music, which I never heard the name of the pieces, but will look into. "Zeitgeist" was another piece that was performed yesterday and talked about in the lecture that I need to find a recording of. He mentioned his music sometimes has a "daytime version" and a "dream" version within the same piece. "Music has to connect the composer to the area in which they were born," and he was adamant about this thought. On post modern music, he said that it is music mostly freed from politics and agendas, an interesting note. On electronic music he said "It is hard to admire the bravura of a machine!" On why he uses graphic notation, "I don't know, just something I did, and other composers around me were doing." Several of his students at this point talked about it for him, saying that it gives you a visual representation of how the music in the big picture is supposed to come out, be it a long arch, or a circle, or a cross. The original version of his "Night music one" had a fully improvised section, but after some bad performances of it, he changed it to being fully composed, not being happy with the improvisations. On Bach, he said, Bach's fugues were metaphysical, and he never had wasted a note. On the direction music is heading in the future, "Music is going inside, inside yourself, more composers are reaching inward than looking outward, which helps in identifying with your personal musical fingerprint." Crumb did talk more about the importance of the philosophy of Cage, but then mentioned the spiritual importance and dedication of the composer Messiaen. The last notes I wrote out were of Crumb saying you cannot quantify timbre like you can other musical elements. Also there was a mention of electronic music never being able to fully emulate the complex sounds of acoustic instruments, the example being of an oboe.

The only downside of the lecture was some older, presumably musicologist, that made a comment about how nothing is happening at all in the music composition in the past thirty years. The panelist deflected the question well, coming back to the idea of personal statements and musical fingerprints. Somewhere later in the lecture, the youngest panelist mentioned working with a synthesis of genres with musicians in New York, and this same old musicologist interrupted him by shouting, "Nothing new is happening!" Luckily, this man got nothing but death stares and dagger eyes from everyone else. Luckily George Crumb was the least pretension person in the lecture hall as well. This musicologist just goes to show that the older generation will continue to decry that the younger generation isn't contributing, and that music isn't like what it was back in the old days, an age old argument of the conservative vs. the youth. I was blown away, simply thinking about the breakthroughs that have happened in the past thirty years in the downtown New York scene, samplers/turntables/electronic music, the availability of music from all over the world, and the hybridization of all the different genres forming new syntheses. Oh well, a good lecture, and there always are a few bad apples in the crowd. I also can not help but laugh at different "questions" that arise in lectures like that, where the person with the question name drops several composers and their pieces, uses high academic language, and asks incredibly shallow things. Again, oh well, it happens, fact of life, but Crumb was a beautiful person to hear speak of music, and I can't wait to see the performances tonight!

After the lecture the group of people that I was with decided to hang out in Boulder, buy some vinyl and catch The Bad Plus at the Boulder Theatre. The saxophone professor from UNC went down to the show, and told me he knew Reid Anderson, the bassist of the group fairly well, and that he would introduce us. The show was great, chocked full of originals, several that haven't been recorded on a record yet. The "covers" of the night were Ornette's "Song X," Stravinsky's "Apollo," David Bowie's "Life on Mars" and the jazz standard "Have you met Miss Jones." Have you met Miss Jones started out normal, but kept slowing down and speeding up throughout the performance. It was a funny take of the tune, and seemed to be poking fun at the idea of playing a jazz standard.

After an incredible and inspiring show we were able to meet Reid Anderson and Ethan Iverson. Reid Anderson spoke of the cult following of his record the Vastness of Space, and how currently he isn't practicing much anymore. He told me that he worked really hard for over ten years practicing, but because he gigs so much now he stays in shape. Reid was also saying he no longer flys with his bass, and gets a bass provided by the venue. He has had two very bad bass experiences flying where his bass was destroyed, the neck completely broken. I asked him about practing arco after being done with school, (Reid studied at the Curtis Institute) and he said he rarely played with it after that. He did however mention that if I did work on practicing with a bow to practice scales, with the metronome at 40 bpm, playing eight beats to a single note.
I spoke to Ethan Iverson for a minute after meeting Reid, and mentioned that I had sent him my blog post on Charlie Haden for his blog contest. He immediately remembered me, and told me that he had forwarded my paper to Charlie Haden himself. Ethan said he never heard back from Haden about it, that he is bad with responding to calls or emails, but that he had it. He then recommended I see the documentary on Haden that was coming out soon. It was an incredible evening, and tonight I go back to Boulder to catch several premiere's of George Crumb's pieces.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

George Crumb

I am going to see George Crumb, who turns 80 this year, give a composition lecture today, and catch performances of his pieces tonight and tomorrow night. I will give more updates, and whatever notes that I gleam from the lecture. I was disappointed to miss a performance of Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik (Ruminations on Round Midnight). The piece used Thelonious' Monk's Round Midnight, and plays variations of that theme, uses Henry Cowell effects and other extended techniques. I don't have much to report today, but will update this very soon on the topic!

Monday, August 10, 2009


Welcome back
I need to post more often, I have not really had any particular things to blog about. The cobra ensemble is going great, had a successful run of a Scratch Music piece (Cardew) that involves a long 20 minute transition from percussion non pitched sounds, to long tone clouds of pitch with no rhythms, if possible. The Cardew Treatise piece is going well, my score is now up to 160 pages of 193, so that's almost complete, and my recording is up to page 62, and that will take a few more months at best. For now though, I thought I would make a list of the vinyl that is sitting by the record player now that I have accumulated recently, and have listened to have of, maybe make a little commentary on them.

Wilco- A Ghost is Born
Listening to this as we speak. It sounds much more clear and present than on CD! There is better stereo imaging, and depth of timbre in the overdubs. It's a beautiful 180 gram double LP, and for being one of my favorite rock albums, it's a wonderful new perspective on the band.

Marion Brown Duets (With Wadada Leo Smith and Elliot Schwartz)
I have heard some of this alto player via Coltrane's Ascension, and some other 70s avant records since, but this is a good find on the Arista Jazz label. When I ebay records this is one of the main labels I look up to see if I can find any cheap deals. So far I've heard one side of the one of the records, and the duo with trumpeter Leo Smith is great, a lot of space, kind of John Cage space, with both musicians adding percussion to their own respective instruments. I wish I knew what percussion they're playing, because there are some great unknown sounds to me there. Three more sides to go on this one!

Charles Ives "Concord" Sonata played by Aloys Kontarsky
A bit scratched but a good version of Ives' famous piano sonata. When Stephen Drury came to UNC last spring he performed it, and I knew it would be a great performance when I saw him bring a 2 by 4 on stage with him. A great piece, I used to have the score on a pdf, but with or without it, it'll take you on a transcendental journey. I was fortunate enough to win a lot of a dozen Charles Ives records several months ago, and this is one of them.

Huey Lewis and the News - Fore!
A very silly album, I bought it because of the movie American Psycho. I have listened to it all the way through a few times, but keep coming back to "Hip to be Square." Such a dance record! Also, on the album cover 5 out of 6 members are all sporting mullets...you can't beat that!

Bill Laswell - Baselines
I picked this up because a local drummer Mark Raynes told me to check out more Bill Laswell. He's a great producer player that is involved with dub music, world music, avant/experimental, funk, you name it, this guy is all over the proverbial musical map. This is definitely a dated sounding record, but that does mean it's a bad thing. Other notables on here are Philip Wilson, drummer on Julius Hemphill's Dogon A.D., Fred Frith of Naked City fame, AACM trombonist George Lewis, and Primetime drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, along with several more. Good find!

Tears for Fears - Songs from the Big Chair
All I can think of when I hear this is Donnie Darko, as some of the songs are on the movie. Wonderfully dark, pre-emo rock record, everyone should own it! The Bad Plus has a great cover of "Everybody wants to rule the world" on their record Prog, check it out!

Miles Davis - Miles Smiles
I haven't heard this one in a long while, but a great refresher on the wonders of Tony Williams and Ron Carter. Ron just stays on that ostinato on Footprints and doesn't lay off. I don't know how many times I've played that tune and screwed with the bass line chorus after chorus, and here he is just holding it down, not getting off of it. Freedom Jazz Dance is a refreshing, I have been wanting to know what the bass line is on that for a while, and enjoy hearing how free Ron is with this tune...good to know for future gig reference!

Paul Motian Trio - Le Voyage
An early solo record with J.F. Jenny Clark on bass and Charles Brackeen on saxophones. A lot of these compositions made their way onto later Paul Motian trio records with Lovano and Frisell. This is a wonderfully emotive raw record, and with Paul Motian just coming off of the Keith Jarrett American Quartet with Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden, it sounds very fresh!

Charles Mingus - Me Myself an Eye
A later Mingus Atlantic record without him playing on it, but he supervised the session. George Mraz and Eddie Gomez are on bass duties, along with a star studded cast of players, including the Brecker Brothers. The "Three worlds or drums" is a great drum concerti featuring Steve Gadd, Dannie Richmond and Joe Chambers. This was a good find, and I'm low on Mingus vinyl so hopefully more Mingus reviews in the near future!

Albert Ayler - Holy Ghost
AMAZING THREE LP CLEAR VINYL WITH POSTER AND POSTCARD! This came out of the Holy Ghost CD set that was released a few years ago, and highlights that collection. There are great live versions of Ghosts, Ayler playing with Cecil Taylor and with Pharoah Sanders, all in all a very diverse collection of Ayler's later career, with all live recordings. I am still hoping to see the "My Name is Albert Ayler" documentary that features footage of him playing in Europe, eventually it'll be put out on dvd, I just have to be patient.

Old and New Dreams - Self Titled
This is the Ornette Coleman quartet minus Ornette. They recorded a few records on ECM, with the line up of Ed Blackwell, Charlie Haden, Don Cherry and Dewey Redman. I say it's the Ornette group, because all members were sidemen of his, and play some of his compositions, mixed in with their own tunes. This album features Lonely Woman, originals by all members, including an expressive arco piece by Haden titled "Song for the Whales." If you find recordings of this group, pick it up, you won't be disappointed!

Ornette Coleman - Friends and Neighbors Live at Prince Street
This recording features the above musicians from the Old and New Dreams group, minus Don Cherry, and add the voices of Ornette's friends and neighbors. The liner notes show photographs at the session, which was done at Ornette's loft, showing Gil Evans, Archie Shepp, and many others I don't recognize. This is a later period for Ornette, and he's playing violin and trumpet on here alongside his alto saxophone. It shows a great community effort and happiness, and like most of his albums, leaves you with a positive earthy feeling afterwards!

For right now this concludes my vinyl round up. I'll post some more vinyl lists as more records come in. A Ghost is Born is at the end painful synthesizer piece, meaning the album is almost over, so until next time, keep checking out music, canned or live!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Steve is not happy

"Charlie Rose" By Samuel Beckett

Click the link for the 3 minute video. This is an independent film written and edited through Charlie Rose's famous interview show, that has Charlie Rose interviewing himself in the style of the great Irish minimalist writer Samuel Beckett. I read somewhere that whereas James Joyce would contintually add words and ideas to his pieces, Beckett would take away and chip away giving you less than the minimum amount. I would like to compose a piece based on the formal ideas of this short video, much like composers have done in the 20th century with Beckett's plays. Here's a transcript of the video, Charlie Rose on the Left, and Charlie Rose on the Right:


R): Welcome to the broadcast tonight, a conversation about the future of technology and the internet and mobile devices and all that, we talk to Charlie Rose for the first time, welcome. The future of technology coming up.

(Music introduction)

R): What will the web due to content, in terms of high cost, expensive, uh, time consuming cunt?

L): My perception is, eh-uh, bu-, ... (Pause) You would know this much more than I do. (Pause) Okay, tell me four or five of those that we ought to take a look at that are start ups that have a brilliant idea.

R): Microsoft and yahoo.

L): Microsoft ... yahoo.

R): Microsoft and yahoo.

L): Microsoft ... yahoo.

R): Microsoft.

L): Microsoft.

R): Yahoo.

L): Yahoo.

R): Micro-

L): -soft.

R): Ya-

L): -hoo.

R): Microsoft and yahoo.

L): (Pause) ehb ... Microsoft yahoo.

R): Why wasn't yahoo?

L): Yahoo. (Pause) Steve is not happy, with the process so far.

R): Microsoft-

L): Don't do that.

R): -and yahoo.

L): (Pause) Google? (Pause) Google? (Pause) Google?

R): No, we're not going to do that. I can never get, uh, Craig to talk to me about his economic model.

L): (Pause) Google?

R): No.

L): (Pause) Google?

R): No.

L): (Pause) Google?

R): No, we're not going to do that.

L): (Pause) Google?

R): Radiohead.

L): Blogs.

R): Google.

L): (Pause) Google? (Pause) Google? (Pause) Google?

R): Microsoft and yahoo.

L): (Pause) Google?

R): Microsoft and yahoo.

L): (Pause) Google?

R): Microsoft.

L): (Pause) Google?

R): Yahoo.

L): (Pause) Google?

R): Google. Yahoo.

L): Yahoo.

R): We're making all this money and our stock prices are going through the roof, and how can we use this advantage to enter new markets, to expand our market share to beat the hell out of everybody.

L): Steve is not happy.

R): What's going to happen?

(Long Pause)

(Outro Music)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bass Players (What I know) Part 3

The stunning conclusion of Bass players, which might not be a conclusion, because I may decide later on in the coming months on Reid Anderson, or Ben Street, or another bassist that comes to mind, but today we have two more!

Michael Formanek

I have had the good fortune to meet Mr. Formanek at Peabody when I was looking for graduate schools. I unfortunately did not set up a lesson with him, but several friends of mine have studied with him and said that he is a really great teacher! I very much trust that opinion, but as a musician, I think he's one of the best on the jazz/improvised music scene today. I probably first heard him in Uri Caine's orchestra music transcription projects, especially some of the Mahler works, played by an ensemble with drum set, electronics, turntables, saxophones, etc... playing various pieces by Mahler, like excerpts from his symphonies. Michael Formanek is also a Tim Berne bassist, like I am just now noticing most of the bass players mentioned have played with Berne coincidentally enough. Formanek was in Tim Berne's group Bloodcount, featuring Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor, and Jim Black on drums. They formed soon after Chris Speed and Jim Black moved from Boston to NYC, and on recommendation from Jim Black, Chris Speed joined the group. I have read somewhere (review, blog, liner notes, something of that nature) that a good descriptor of the band would be "Gradual Coalescence." Taking these really tight hypertension heads with phat pocked grooves, that melt and transform into bowed long tones on the bass, quarter tone squeals with Berne and Speed in their highest registers, and Jim Black's cymbal colors, and all of a sudden are playing a unison melody again. I would like to purchase some of Tim Berne's charts for this band, to get a sense of where the form starts and stops, and the improvised sections begin and end. Formanek has played with a plethora of other musicians like Dave Ballou, to Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, and Fred Hersch, to name a sample of performers. One last musician I would like to hit that he has recorded with is Tony Malaby. From what little I know about both of their teaching styles from friends, it seems like Malaby and Formanek would be pretty similar players. Both seem really great at taking very small cellular ideas, and manipulating them rhythmically to get the most out of them as possible, before trying to add any new information into the improvisations. There is a great record titled "Mirror me" with both of these players on it, under Angelica Sanchez's name...look it up!!

I have this Bloodcount DVD, and musically it is amazing, but I cannot take the weird seizure inducing editing of it...but here's a good example of Formanek with this Tim Berne group.

Skuli Sverrison

Skuli to me is one of the downtown NYC electric bass players. There are countless groups that I hear and think, wow another great Skuli album! I used to listen to nothing but electric bass players, and have shied away from that over the years, but never feel tired/bored by this guy's innovations on the instrument. One of the first group's that come to mind, is his playing on Chris Speed's Pachora group, a NYC band playing balkan/eastern european music. They have a great myspace page here, and check out the list of influences...I found so much great music I would have never heard about otherwise, very intense sounding ensemble! Skuli is on a few records with Brad Shepik, another member of Pachora, and the albums have the same balkan sound, but through different filters. Chris Speed's "Yeah No" is another group of Cuong Vu and Jim Black...mostly Seattle guys originally, that all moved to Boston and NYC together and kept playing music, very incredible unique ensemble! Skuli seems to be a first pick for a lot of guitarists, as he has also recorded with Guitar MONSTER Ben Monder, as well as playing with Hilmar Jensson, another icelandic music such as himself. Skuli was in the first version of the Jensson band "TYFT" which no longer records with bass, instead favoring guitar with octave pedals, and saxophone players...another group with Jim Black drumming. One of my favorite records with Sverrisson's influence is John Hollenbeck's Quartet Lucy, a group that had the goal to make a record about Americana songs, and have an ECM-esque sound. They succeeded, and the musicality of the band make it sound like there are a lot more members than four, at multiple times during the recordings. Lastly, check out Jim Black's Alasnoaxis, a grunge rock band, that has a saxophone/clarinet (Chris Speed) as the vocalist, and Hilmar Jensson and Skuli on the guitar and bass...beautiful and minimal sound, and they just came out with a new record, so go out and BUY IT!!!

This is a video link of Skuli Sverrisson with Wadada Leo Smith, enjoy!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bass Players (What I know) Part 2

More on the Bass player update today, and I will work on upgrading the last post as well.

Trevor Dunn

This is a bassist I have been checking out more seriously in the past few years. He's a killing electric bass player, coming from the band Mr. Bungle, a band whose first record was produced by John Zorn, featuring the vocals of Mike Patton. His electric bass has landed him maybe recording sessions with Zorn, as well as his tight focused double bass sound on film works of Zorn, and his own projects On electric bass he is the mainstay bassist for the John Zorn group Electric Masada, and has performed cobra on the same instrument. A newer version of Naked City (oversimplification) is the Astronome/Moonchild group that is Mike Patton, Dunn, and Joey Baron, less of the five second quick cuts and more longer duration esoteric metal compositions. I have fortunate enough to see him in a version of Masada, but with him subbing for Greg Cohen, and Ben Perowsky for Joey Baron...still a crazy group! Also, thanks to Chris Speed's label Skirl, I saw a record party where he played prepared bass duets with harpist Shelley Burgon. Trevor Dunn has a quartet that I REALLY want to hear titled the "Proofreaders," a quartet that plays all Ornette Coleman compositions, and is named after one of the tracks on the Ornette Atlantic boxed set. His own Trio Convulsant is a great trio with Ches Smith and Mary Halvorson, featuring Dunn's arrangements and compositions. He has a great arrangement of "Single Petal of a Rose" by Duke Ellington, that I will be stealing some ideas from for a recital later this year, combining Shelley Burgon's harp to the trio. I was inspired to check out his website, and see how much he helps others in answering his questions over the years, which you can find here. There's also some wonderfully abstract short videos on the site, and eerie Hunter S. Thompson-esque music. I still have yet to hear another trio he is in with Erik Friedlander titled the "Broken Arm trio" with Michael Sarin, and Friedlander playing pizz cello...soon though, so much to still check out and give a listen to! I forgot to mention, Trevor Dunn is also the resident bass player seemingly on Skirl records, recording on both New Mellow Edwards albums, his own Baltimore duo, Andrew D'angelo's Skadra Degis (or Gay Disco trio), and is slated for more on the way! Trevor Dunn with Zorn's Cobra here, and with Moonchild, Tribute to Andew D'Angelo here, and an early video with Dunn playing a Tim Berne composition here.

Mark Dresser

Mark Dresser is still a bassist that blows my mind, and yet I feel like I haven't heard enough of him. Recently I heard a free improvisation record of Ellery Eskelin called "Vanishing Points" with Matt Moran on vibes, and Friedlander on cello that he was killing on. There are some early Dave Douglas string ensemble records with him, as well as the Arcana String Trio. Mark Dresser studied with contemporary bass legend Bertram Turetsky, Italian virtuoso Franco Petracchi as well as Ray Brown. I haven't heard the Italian bassist, but I think he brings the pizzacato sound of Ray Brown and the extending techniques of the others, along with complete precision in sound, to every situation. He has recorded on several Tim Berne records, a favorite of mine being "Sanctified Dreams." He was also Anthony Braxton's bass player during the 1980s with, again in my opinion, one of the top Braxton groups, with Marilyn Crispell on piano and Gerry Hemingway on drums. This group just kept help expand Braxton's language, and brought it to a new level of composition/improvisation...a sound to behold! Here's a video of Dresser playing with ethnomusicologist, avantgardist great Roswell Rudd in a duo. There is a pretty wild record with Denman Maroney, where Dresser really shines, and Maroney's inside the piano work is a really unique soundscape in it, titled "Force Green."
With trumpeter Edwin Harkins here, and with Lawrence Ochs and Vladimir Tarasov here.

That does it for now, Hopefully I'll have some Michael Formanek and Skuli Sversson reviews soon, and try to update these posts to include some more video links... Give me some time and you'll be be in bass heaven!!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bass Players (What I know) Part 1

Apologies for slacking off on posting. When I first started this blog I was fresh with ideas, and feel like I'm spending a lot of time with long term projects (probably for the best) and havent' had a lot of fresh ideas of late. So I would use this time right now to update on who I think are some of the most happenin' bass players, being one myself, that are out there today, and have some links to share.

Charlie Haden

I think I gave this guy a lot of face time in an earlier post on this blog about his politics in relationship to music, but on a personal level it wasn't until I heard this guy, that my concept of what music is and can be changed completely. Before listening to Haden, I was more of an electric bass player, really into the idea of virtuosity, via Victor Wooten, Jaco, and Oteil Burbridge, all people who's playing I still love, and get more out of than the technical end. Anywho, I heard Charlie Haden on the record with Joe Henderson and Al Foster called "The Montreal Tapes" and was incredibly enthralled by it. During one of Haden's solos he plays these simple major scale passages, and these motivic ideas that are so simple, but so beautiful and full of vocal phrasing. I was so blown away, that when I started diving deeper I found the music of Ornette Coleman, and his playing is so complementary of Ornette's free melodocism, that the harmony's and counterpoint of the two is on a level of musical genius. Check here out for some of that interaction.

Drew Gress

As Charlie Haden is one of the oldest bass players in the tradition, he's the one I respect and hear in myself more than anyone, and so the rest of the bass players will all be of a younger generation, because to me, no one from Haden's generation can touch him. (Ron Carter is still around, Butch Warren, Eddie Gomez and a plethora of other guys, but all making completely different music in my opinion). Drew Gress has the best sound of the bass, of the younger school of bass players, and plays some of the best creative music to be heard. Originally more of a side man, he has released multiple records out of his own compositions, and is just as killin' of a writer, as he is player. The Claudia Quintet is a group that came to my university, twice, and features the compositions of John Hollenbeck, that I also wrote a lengthy article about a while back, but any improvisation/jazz/creative music enthusiast MUST HEAR THIS GROUP. Also of note, Tim Berne has a free improv trio called the Paraphrase Trio with Gress and drummer Tom Rainey, which I still am looking for recordings of. Ellery Eskelin is an amazing tenor saxophonist that went to college with Drew Gress, and played in a group with him, Paul Smoker on trumpet, Phil Haynes on drums titled "Joint Venture," another band I am voraciously trying to seek out recordings of. They recorded a few records as a tenor saxophone trio, that still is blowing my mind, before Ellery formed his consistant trio today of Jim Black on drums and Andrea Parkins on accordion/electronics/sampler/keyboards. The Fred Hersch trio is another great place to find Drew Gress's playing in more of a standard jazz environment, with incredible open and freeness, similar but not too similar to the Keith Jarrett Trio's concept.

That's all I will post for today, but look for more bass player updates, and more links with these guys I have already mentioned in the coming week... Going to feature Trevor Dunn, Mark Dresser, Michael Formanek, and hopefully an electric bassist or two.... COMING SOON!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ali Akbar Khan (April 14, 1922 – June 18, 2009)

A great musician died a few days ago, the great Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.  He was the master of the indian instrument the sarode, and one of the most renowned modern teachers of Hindustani music, or North Indian classical music.  For starters, here's a few videos to show you what the maestro himself sounds like:  Here, Here, and AACM.  The last clip was on the AACM, Ali Akbar Khan College of Music, which is located in San Rafael, California, where Ali Akbar Khan has taught at since the late 1960s.  The school currently is working towards getting funding for a public library on their campus to archive and preserve over 6,000 hours of concerts and classes for open use.  The family of Ali Akbar Khan wishes that instead of providing them with flowers or other gifts over the recent passing of the maestro, that you instead donate to their library fund, which you can at this address.

Ali Akbar Khan means a lot to me as a musician on multiple levels.  In high school I started listened to indian fusion music through the likes of John Mclaughlin and the band Shakti.  I remember an early love of "whatever that hand drum was that could obtain so many different sounds."  Of course later I found out that was a tabla, and a very difficult instrument to master, with a vast array of colors and timbres that could be achieved in those two little drums.  Another influence oddly enough came from listening to the younger blues and slide guitarist Derek Trucks.  He has this sound, that people immediately identify with, that comes from an old tradition, much older than himself, that Derek himself says comes from the Blues, from Jazz, and from Pakistani and Indian music.  He dabbles in the sarode, although has not recorded on it to my knowledge, and sites Ali Akbar Khan as a big influence.  From Shakti and Derek Trucks I made my way into hearing Ali Akbar Khan's music, the first album I got being Ravi Shankar/Ali Akbar Khan's "Ragas."  I knew of Ravi Shankar as being the primary sitar player and figurehead of Indian Classical music, or even "World music," whatever that vague term means.  A few years later in my life, and listening to a lot of recordings later, I bought a sarode from the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music.

The sarode came in a large well packaged box, and as soon as I opened it, I was completely confused on how to play it.  Lucky for me, after talking to a friend of mine who was taking sitar lessons, I was hooked up with a sarode teacher in Maryland.  The unfortunate part of this was, he lived three hours away.  My teacher was Soumya Chakraverty, who maintains a beautiful website on the instrument and it's music here.  Soumya was kind enough during a rough period of my life, to both take me on as a student, and then when the drive got to be too much, discontinue lessons.  I still believe in all my musical education, that this is some of the most important information that I have been able to receive in this life.  The Gharana, or musical lineage that I was learning though was the Shajahanpur Gharana, which roughly dates back to the 16th century, and was helpful in the modern development of the sarode, from the Afghan rabab, a similar precursor that was more of a marching percussive instrument.  Within this same Gharana, is another well known sarode player coming more from a vocal style, is Amjad Ali Khan.  A quick note, Ali Akbar Khan comes from the Senia-Maihar Gharana, and not the same Gharana as Shajahanpur.

Down the path that is like I was incredibly fortunate enough to play twice with Ashish Khan, Ali Akbar Khan's eldest son and sarode player.  Ashish Khan, like his father, started off studying with Allaudin Khan, the main figure that took multiple strains of Indian music, and codified into his own way of teaching.  A few a quick notes, Allaudin Khan lived to be 110, wrote thousands of pieces of music, and played over 200 instruments.  Towards the end of his life it is said that he practiced up to 23 hours a day!  When Ali Akbar Khan was studying with his father, Allaudin Khan, he made him practice 18 hours a day, starting lessons at the age of three.  So going back to Ashish Khan, the event was an annual music festival in my home town, that had a different theme each year, and that year was India.  The organization obtained grants and funding and were able to bring Ashish Khan with a young tabla player, Salar Nader.  My jazz professor at the time, Chuck Dotas, was comissioned to write a piece, so he composed a piece for double bass, drum set, trumpet, tenor saxophone, tabla and sarode, and we gave two performances of it.  Chuck took a ten beat raga that he had on record of Ashish playing, and morphed it into a jazz/indian piece for Ashish Khan to solo over.  Never before in my life has a performance meant so much to me.

This has been a rambling post on indian music, and it's effect on me, and a memorial to a great man, a great musician, and a great teacher.  One day, after grad school, I hope to move to California, and study at the Ali Akbar Khan College, and even though I will never meet or take lessons from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, my resolve is stronger in hoping to gain from the fruits of his labor and his wisdom that he has imparted on so many people internationally.  

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bach Chorales and Scratch Music

We had another meeting/rehearsal of the Cobra ensemble last sunday, and for the first time tried out some new pieces.  We started out with an idea that came second/third hand from Paul Elwood, which was to play Bach.  The Cobra ensemble specifically plays music that has improvisational elements and can be played by any instrumentation.  So with than in mind, how does Bach's music play into this?  I took three Bach chorales, and I put them into finale, to have transposed parts for Bb and Eb instruments to play, as well as C instruments.  For rehearsal I did not know who or what instruments would be there, but we ended up with an octet.  We had two double basses, two violins, guitar, piano, accordion and alto saxophone.  We equally distributed the parts and played the chorales in non-traditional ways.  We took the melodic lines from the chorales, and had the performers play them at their own tempos, or using the lines as ordered pitch sets, that were played until every fermata was reached by everyone in the group.  I would then cue them to move on after everyone hit the fermata.  The second way we played this, was to not stop at the fermatas, and everyone just eventually got to the very last chord together.  So half of the piece, most of the group had already reached the last chord, with 2-3 people still playing their lines slowly.  We tried it with everyone specifically playing their parts in free tempo, but slowly, which worked out very well.  The last attempt we made was to play the Bach chorale lines with playing them in non-normal registers, or transposing the melodic lines into different octaves.  Overall it was a good experiment, where the only thing that made the piece confusing was the non-balanced instrumentation.  The piano got buried, and didn't have the sustain of say the accordion or the electric guitar.  This might be a good thing to try out later with more similar instruments (brass, or only strings, or only keyboard instruments), but fun to try out.

Scratch music, by Cornelius Cardew, was also performed in the rehearsal.  Currently the scratch music is on my myspace page, but for how long who knows, I update the page after every Cobra ensemble rehearsal with the most current rehearsal takes.  Scratch music went very well, and it was good to finally realize what that looks/sounds like.  We performed it by initially having everyone pick one piece, and play the one piece until 3-5 minutes are up, when it sounds like its winding down.  This part worked incredibly well.  I was playing the piece "Chant," so I started chanting buddhist mantras, while someone else was playing the piece "Stand up and say 'Is there anybody here?' 6 times," while there were a few percussion or other light sounds happening.  After that, we attempted two different versions where people were freely moving around, going from piece to piece, and having a general crazy environment of recitation, performance art and sound.  It was fun, but very akin to being a child and playing.  Due to the instructions of the some of the pieces, people were yelling out profanities, telling stories, ripping up paper, playing on the floor, bouncing balls, scraping metal on concrete, running around like a bee, etc...  It was utter chaos!  

I am attempting to get this piece, Scratch music, performed at a Music of our Time concert in the fall, and think it needs modifications to perform it.  I would like to treat it more like our first run through, and have everyone pick the piece they want to play, get the necessary materials together to play it, and when both of those are accomplished, give a downbeat, and everyone plays their piece until I give a cut off 5-10 minutes later.  This total musical action would be looked at as a movement, and if we performed it, we could play 2-3 movements, where each movement a performer picks a new piece to play.  I also edited the pieces down, and took out a dozen or so of them, so there are more of the "musical" pieces left in, and the performance art pieces are on the cutting floor.  For instance I took out "Swear," "Tell a story," "Bounce a ball," and ones that are generally silly, and involve movement.  I want to try this piece next rehearsal with the modifications, and see how it sounds with less silliness, and more thoughtful musical consideration.  Sonically, the piece turned out really well, but it is somewhat difficult to not laugh upon hearing it when people in the group are telling silly stories, or suddenly yelling out swear words.

Next up on the rehearsal schedule for the group are James Tenney's Postal Pieces, and Christian Wolff's Edges, along with some more COBRA action.  

As a quick side note, check out Jamie Saft's new label Veal Records.  You can purchase the entire Veal catalog at www.myspace/com/vealrecords or at www.downtownmusicgallery.com and www.squidco.com.  Lot of albums with configurations of two great drummers, Mike Pride and Bobby Previte.  I can't wait to purchase and hear the two records "Whoopie Pie" with tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry as well as "Angel Ov Death" with alto saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo.

Friday, May 15, 2009

TREATISE by Cornelius Cardew

Well, here I am back, back at working in a local performance center ticket office, selling series subscriptions and the like. Summer is here, school is out for a few months, and it's time to dive into summer projects. Still working through the book "Simple Composition" by Charles Wuorinen, from a recommendation that I got from both Ethan Iverson and Dave Douglas. It's a theory book that takes you through methods of serial music, and I read from both Iverson and Douglas that it helped them construct 12 tone lines to use in improvised music. While at work now, its easy for me if we're slow to study a few pages, and sketch out a few examples to pass the time, and study theory simaltaneously (AND GET PAID FOR IT!).

My other summer project while at work, is to compose a realization of Cornelius Cardew's "Treatise." There is a wonderful animated website right here, describing the piece and possible ways to interpret it. Also some interviews and additional links/resources at this site. Essentially the piece is almost 200 pages of graphic notation, without any explanation to how to play it. The picture at the top of this post is the first page of the piece. Later on in this posting I will go over how I interpreted that page. In an interview with Cardew that I read he says that the point of the piece is for the musician(s) to come up with their own system to interpret the symbols, and to play it using their own ideas of what things mean. I am currently devising a system, that I am adding to the deeper I delve into the score.

Parameters that I have set are as followed: The instrumentation will be multitracked double bass, electric bass, acoustic guitar, melodica and voice, with the possibility of preparing the string instruments (with paper, metal, wood, etc...). I have thought about it as something that will be completely controlled by myself, as far as playing all the parts, recording it on my own equipment, and manipulating the material to play it using my system as best of my ability. So, from the earlier website I posted above, the main idea was how to go about taking these symbols, and interpreting them with pitches, rhythms/durations, timbre/instrumentation, and dynamics. I have come up with a few rules:

1) Throughout the piece there is a blackline, like a "life line" that goes throughout each page, and occasionally is distorted by the notation, but is there for 90 percent of the time or more. My parameter for the line, is that it represents a drone, which I am playing arco on double bass. To be able to musically markthe difference between the pages of the score, I am having this bass part change drones at the start of each new page, to a different pitch.
2) The instrumentation is as followed; the top of the page is melodica, closer to but above the "life line" is acoustic guitar, below the "life line" is electric bass, and at the bottom of the page is double bass pizz. If the score gets very dense with symbols, only then will I assign the voice to some of the ideas expressed.
3) Circles in the piece represent long tones, and the bigger the circle the longer the duration.
4) Squares represent harmonics.
5) Numbers that crop up in the piece stand for the number of short sounds that are to be played by the melodica. So if the number "2" is shown, then the melodica plays any two pitches, or 2 chords, but with very short durations on each note(s).
6) If there is a line that is curved, I have been intrepreting that as dynamics, either getting louder or softer, sometimes expressed with a volume swell, if it's assigned to the electric bass.
7) If there are additional bar lines, or staves, or a collection of parallel lines, I have been assigning those as "noise" with some sort of additional parameter, depending on how the lines appear, or what direction they go in.

So to realize the first page, which is the page at the very top, it starts with the numbers 3 and 4, so it is 3 short melodica sounds, a pause, and then 4 short melodica sounds. The line that follows I expressed as a dowel rod in the acoustic guitar strummed once, then a pick scrape starting at a high pitch that descends. The bowed bass is bowing an open G, except for when the circles overtake the line, and when the circe with the line through it comes up, the bass drone is doubled on the G an octave below the open G. The circles are represented by mostly half notes in the electric bass, which change pitch and overlap with each new bubble. The pitches of these half notes are determined by the proximity of the circles to the "life line." The lower the circle the lower the pitch, and the higher on the page the circle is, the higher the pitch is. This electric bass part will be multitracked with three different electric bass parts, to really hear the exactly overlap of the long tone notes. The square around the circle is an electric bass harmonic sounding at the same time as a fretted electric bass note. The lines between the numbers "3" and "1" are going to be a coin scraping against the G, D, A, and E string in that order on the electric bass. The lines that curve upwardly into the Square/Circle will be played by the electric bass, and is notated on my new score as "NOISE" starting quietly and building into the harmonic.