Thursday, June 30, 2011

American magic and dread...

I've been rereading Don Delillo's sprawling epic masterwork, Underworld. Everyday I come across a passage that just stops me in my tracks and I can only marvel that someone can write this well.

One of the characters is on an obsessive quest to find a baseball that was hit in the game-winning home run of a Brooklyn Dodgers vs. NY Giants game. He is confronted by a baseball memorabilia collector who tells him that his obsession to find the baseball has a poetic revenge to it. "The revenge of popular culture on those who take it too seriously."

"But then he thought, How can I not be serious? What's not to be serious about? What could I take more seriously than this? And what's the point of waking up in the morning if you don't try to match the enormousness of the known forces in the world with something powerful in your own life?"

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Minerva and Tim Berne at Korzo

Minerva, a collaborative trio I play in with Carlo Costa and Pascal Niggenkemper, were honored to share a bill with Tim Berne's trio last night at Korzo in Brooklyn. Tim was playing with Ches Smith and John Hebert, and they sounded fantastic. Ches and John have a great rapport that's evidenced in their work with Mary Halvorson's groups, and they really tore into Tim's music with utter fearlessness. Here's a little clip:

We had the good fortune to have our set recorded by Randy Thaler, who has been most generously taping shows at Korzo and giving them to the musicians. People like Randy are such an important part of the music community, and we are very thankful!
Here's a clip of us playing Pascal's composition "Let's Go...I Don't Know"

Let's Go...I Don't Know by JPSchlegelmilch

Monday, June 27, 2011

Between Two Mysteries - Mount Eerie at St. Cecilia's Church

A first live encounter with a band that you've only known on record is always an experience charged with possibility. Will they recreate the sound of their records, or take the music to a different place? Will they play my favorite song? Will I gain a deeper insight into the message of the music from hearing it from the source in real time?
I was pretty obsessed with Mount Eerie's last record, Wind's Poem. I had heard some of Phil Elverums' work with the Microphones, which was fascinating but I never spent as much time with that music as I did with Mount Eerie. Mr. Elverum is a lo-fi producer mastermind, and Wind's Poem has a very unique and stunning palette of sound. Supposedly inspired by black metal, there are crushing walls of electric guitar and blurry washes of drums, with everything filtered through a warm analog impressionistic lens.
Beneath all this are haunting and mysterious songs that hint at some kind of concept album. The lyrics consistently invoke images of nature; wind, stones, trees. I've always loved stuff like this. I like music that offers a kind of puzzle that you have to figure out, a landscape that you can read your own meanings into.
As I was listening to Wind's Poem for the first time, my ears pricked up when I came to the song "Between Two Mysteries", which references the theme music to Twin Peaks. He even name drops the David Lynch TV series in the lyrics to make it more explicit.

"The town rests in the valley beneath twin peaks, buried in space.
What goes up there in the night, in that dark, blurry place?"

There's definitely a spiritual affinity between the mysterious music on Wind's Poem and the surreal world of Twin Peaks. And both the band and the show are from Washington state.

But back to the concert. I had heard very mixed things about Phil Elverum's live shows. I'd heard that he sometimes arrived with just an acoustic guitar and improvised, or that he would invite people from the audience to come onstage and play instruments. I was relieved when he came onstage with an electric guitar backed by a synth player and they launched into songs from Wind's Poem. The setting of St. Celelia's Church in Greenpoint gave the music even more of an otherworldly, ethereal air.

Here's a clip of them performing a new song.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Triple Bill at I Beam

Last Friday was a really fun night of music at I Beam. First up was Vavatican, performing as a trio with Owen Stewart-Robinson, Nathaniel Morgan, and Weston Minisalli. I see this group as part of a continuum of composers/improvisors in Brooklyn that is starting to coalesce into a movement of sorts. The compositions incorporate free improvisation often using extended instrumental techniques, but in a very calculated, compositional way that reminds me of early AACM music. The thing that really makes this music a different kind of experience is the use of spoken texts in the pieces. The other bands who are working in this kind of area are Buckminster, and This Sporting Life, whose performances are part avant-chamber-improv and part surrealist theatre.

Next up was pianist/accordionist/composer Mariel Berger leading a new group playing all new compositions, featuring Martin Urbach, Will McEvoy, and Nathaniel Morgan. The music had a very ambitious scope, and all the pieces made a journey through diverse and complex musical material. But there was also a very organic development to the music, and Mariel told me after the performance that she had composed the music without writing anything down until she could hold the entire piece in her memory. Everyone in the band played great and showed a real commitment to realizing the music.

Then I played a set of solo piano, focusing on the music of guitarist and composer Bill Frisell. I've been exploring this repertoire for a few months now and I've really been enjoying the process of re-imagining this music for piano. Bill Frisell is one of my favorite musicians, and has been a big influence on my composing. I find playing solo to be a formidable challenge, but I feel like I've learned a lot in the few gigs that I've done. My head got cut off in this video, oops...