Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"As a karate expert, I will not talk about anyone up here."

There I was driving in my car listening in to the NY gubernatorial debate, expecting to hear some outrageous Paladino antics. But wait, what's this?

I wish I could visit an alternate universe where this guy is governor.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mid-Week Live Music Update

Tuesday was a really great night of music at Korzo in Park Slope. This week James Carney's music series featured a new Tim Berne trio called Snake Oil, with Matt Mitchell and Ches Smith. They played Tim's music, some of it I was familiar with from his band Hard Cell, which has the same instrumentation but with Tom Rainey and Craig Taborn. Tim mentioned at the beginning that they were also planning on incorporating other people's music into the band, naming Matt Mitchell, Craig Taborn, and Django Bates as possible sources. Their set was great, I was especially blown away by how Ches Smith shaped the music, and what an intense and original approach he has to the drums. I was sitting right by the piano, and could watch Matt Mitchell play those incredibly hard piano parts that Tim writes! Matt is such a great improvisor, I feel like I learned a lot just watching his hands.
Then Mike Pride's band Bacteria 2 Boys played, which was also awesome. So much good drumming! Mike's music for this group really took me by surprise. I had always seen Mike playing drums in very out settings, but this band's music is largely tune-based. There was even one straight-up jazz ballad!

On Wednesday I saw most of a set by John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble at Littlefield. Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann were singing together, which was really wonderful to see. I'm always amazed by how many different musical territories that John explores in his writing for this group. I heard him say once that he tries to approach every composition differently, using a different process, almost to try to make each piece sound like it was written by a different composer. The pieces that Kate and Theo sang on were very tonal and almost pop-sounding. Another piece had lengthy sections featuring John improvising with saxophonists Tony Malaby and Ellery Eskelin over cued atmospheric backgrounds.

Put a Motor In Yourself recording project

At long, long last, this powerful power-trio is recording some music! Here is a mini-rockumentary of our first recording session at I Beam Music in Gowanus. Stay tuned for more info about the music.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Khaira Arby at Zebulon

Last night I heard Khaira Arby and her amazing band at Zebulon. I hadn't heard their music before, my friend Kenny Warren of Slavic Soul Party had told me about the band after performing on the same bill with them. Seeing them play reminded me about why it's great to live in New York, where you can see a great band from Timbuktu at a small club. The band's rhythmic feel was unbelievable. The drummer was playing the kit in a way that was so different from what my western ears are conditioned to hear, and the two electric guitarists weaved interlocking strands of rhythms over the powerful groove. When they played hits together, it had an uncommon impact, I can't really describe it. It also had the energy (and volume!) of a rock band, but with an incredibly graceful finesse. At one point I commented to a friend about how great the drummer sounded, and my friend replied "everyone in the band is playing like a drummer!"
At the center of the band's sound was Khaira Arby's powerful voice. This is a musical tradition that I know nothing about, and will have to look into. Better just to hear it for yourself. I found this video on Youtube, I think this is the song they were playing when I walked into Zebulon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Magic Mountain

"We live on Magic Mountain. No one leaves Magic Mountain."

I just finished re-reading Thomas Mann's 1924 novel, the Magic Mountain. I first read it about seven years ago, and it made a huge impression on me. I would always cite it as one of my all-time favorites, although as years went by I forgot more and more about the multitudes of ideas in the book. I've only recently started re-reading my favorite books, and am finding it to be an incredibly rewarding experience. In a way, authors have it tough. We listen to our favorite songs or even albums hundreds of times, but most books are read once and put away.
Re-reading the Magic Mountain gave me a glimpse back to my life seven years ago. At certain points in the story, I could remember where I was when I first read it, and the emotions that it stirred had a familiar feeling. It is truly an epic book. I knew when I first read it that a lot was going over my head, such as the allegorical nature of the characters, and the sometimes lengthy philosophical arguments played out between them. But the beauty of Thomas Mann's writing held me in thrall, just as it did when I first read it.
I had forgotten so many things about the story! The best surprise came towards the end of the novel, when the sanatorium in which the hero, Hans Castorp, is living his hermetic existence gets a new gramophone player. The chapter is called "Fullness of Harmony", and describes Hans Castorp becoming an obsessive audiophile.
At a later point in the story, a young girl who is a patient at the sanatorium is discovered to be a clairvoyant medium, and they begin holding seances. Someone theorizes that having music playing in conducive to connecting to the spirit world, so Hans picks out his favorite records to play at the seances. Essentially making a mix tape!

Listen to This

I have excitedly begun reading Alex Ross's new book "Listen to This". Ross's first book, "The Rest Is Noise", is one of my favorite books about music, he has a real gift for tracing common threads in the work of disparate artists and moments in music history. He's a bit like Leonard Bersnstein in a way, although with a more cool-headed approach. One theme of the book seems to be dissolving the borders between "classical" (a term that Ross derides) and "pop" music. There are chapters on Schubert, Bjork, Bob Dylan. Books like this are like manna from heaven for me.

Some memorable passages so far:

"What I refuse to accept is that one kind of music soothes the mind and another kind soothes the soul. It depends on whose mind, whose soul."

"All music becomes classical music in the end. Reading histories of other genres, I often get a funny sense of deja vu. The story of jazz, for example, seems to recapitulate classical history at high speed. First the youth-rebellion period: Satchmo and the Duke and Bix and Jelly Roll teach a generation to lose itself in the music. Second, the era of bourgeois pomp: the high-class swing bands parallels the Romantic orchestra. Stage 3: artists rebel against the bourgeois image, echoing the classical modernist revolution, sometimes by direct citation (Charlie Parker works the opening notes of The Rite of Spring into "Salt Peanuts"). Stage 4: free jazz marks the point at which the vanguard loses touch with the masses and becomes a self-contained avant-garde. Stage 5: a period of retrenchment. Wynton Marsalis's attempt to launch a traditionalist jazz revival parallels the neo-romantic music of many late-twentieth century composers. But this effort comes too late to restore the art to the popular mainstream."