Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Endangered Blood at Littlefield and the awesomeness of Skirl Records

Endangered Blood (formerly known as the Benefit Band) played a double-bill with Icelandic bassist/soundscape-ist Skuli Sverrisson. I was bummed that I missed Skuli's set, but Endangered Blood did not disappoint! I'm not sure, but I think it was all Chris Speed's music. He announced only the last tune they played, most of the set flowed together without any kind of lull. I'm a huge fan of Chris Speed's playing and writing. One of the most inspiring musical experiences of my life was seeing his band YeahNo play at the Knitting Factory and Tonic many years ago. All of the hallmarks of that group, and Chris' other bands with Jim Black were present in Endangered Blood: instantly memorable melodies, balkan-influenced odd meters, and a very soulful, direct manner of expression. There was even a cover of Monk's "Epistrophy" in 7/4. Usually, jazz tunes played in odd meters make me cringe, but this tune really sounded like it fit the band's language. A lot of Chris' tunes use just a single melodic motive, like Monk.
These cats are about to do a European tour AND a US tour! Can't wait to hear them when they get back from that. They already have a CD that will be released on Chris Speed's label, Skirl Records. Skirl is fast developing an amazing catalogue documenting the Brooklyn scene. I'm also excited to hear Ches Smith's new CD with his band These Arches. There's a lot of activity going on in the Skirl circle, they have events planned in Europe, too! Very Inspiring.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Belated Live Music Report/Thoughts on harmony in free improvisation..

Last week I saw two great sets of all-improvised music, both with the bassist Todd Sickafoose. The first was at Korzo with Eric Deutch on piano and Ben Perowsky on drums. This trio has a very melodic and groove-driven musical language, which seemed to me as something of a rarity in a group playing completely improvised concerts in New York. Their interplay was really wonderful, and the music evolved with great freedom and openness. As a pianist, I have always struggled with the issue of harmony in free-improv situations. I often fear that if I play too tonally it limits the other players, and that I become the "leader" and everyone else has to choose their notes more carefully, and the music takes on a tentative quality that can stop the flow. I think this is part of the reason that a lot of players, not just pianists, avoid tonal improvising. It's a lot easier to "match" when everyone is playing atonal, or playing non-pitch-specific sounds. The same thing with grooves. Sometimes when a groove happens in a free improvisation it can take control of the course of the music too much, or it can be hard to get out of it. The trio at Korzo didn't fall prey to any of these problems, however. I mentioned to Todd Sickafoose after the set that it was refreshing to hear a trio improvise in such a tonal language. He replied "Oh, I'm not afraid. That's 98% of music!"
Then the next night I heard Todd play again in an all improvised set with Jonathan Goldberger and Jim Black at I Beam. This trio has been developing a musical language of electronic textures, fractured grooves, and spacey ambience. Jonathan's guitar effects and Jim's laptop electronics conjured mysterious alien landscapes of sound. And of course, they also HIT! A short sample: