Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Rite of Spring at 100

Seeing as today is the 100th anniversary of the debut of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" I thought it was appropriate to post on the subject.

Over the past week I have found a fair bit floating around on the subject - NPR's "Why Jazz Musicians Love 'The Rite Of Spring' is just one example. Other examples include; jazz ensembles and trio's tackling the work - some coinciding with the centenary and others from the past. The only one that I have had time to track down and listen to is WBGO's live recording of The Bad Plus performing 'The Rite' back in 2011 is still online for streaming. Every so often I pop by Ethan Iverson's blog "Do The Math", I missed this performance at the time so I gave this a couple of listens this week - It didn't grab me.

As you would expect, a Stravinsky/Jazz search brings up plenty on 'Ebony Concerto'  too - a quick search of YouTube provides a few of versions for those of you unfamiliar with this piece (likewise with Rite of Spring). During those searches I stumbled across "Keeping Score: Stravinsky's Rite of Spring"- a six part video (1 hour). Turns out it's from part of an educational series San Francisco Symphony & Michael Tilson Thomas did for PBS - Keeping Score.

My interest in 'The Rite Of Spring' was sparked when I heard that Charlie Parker was into Stravinsky. It was at either the city or school library that I first listened to it. Some time after that I went out and found a copy (along with Bartok's string quartets) in a record store bargain bin. For a while these were the the only classical discs I owned and they got plenty of air-time. Often I would put it on when I wanted a break from class related listening and it did the job.

Dancers Backstage 1913
Here's a link to Bird playing "Repetition" with Neal Hefti's band. Bird quotes 'Rite Of Spring' as he opens his solo. The quote appears again in a live recording from Paris in 1949 - this time a break-neck "Salt Peanuts" gets the treatment (around 1.33). If you know any other examples of Bird quoting 'Rite of Spring' please pass them on.

Over the years 'Rite of Spring' has taken a lapse from my listening (I can't remember the last time I listened to it). When I heard the 100th anniversary was coming up I decided it was the perfect time for us to get reacquainted. Over the last week, I have given it a listen each day. Where's the appeal for jazz musicians? Answers will vary, but I feel the rhythmic & poly-rhythmic elements and overall urgency of the piece have something to do with it.  The rhythmic side had stayed in my mind but I forgotten how much I enjoyed the bold melodies that leap out as well as the quieter sections. I've had fun revisiting it and doubt the breaks between future listens will be as long as they have been in the past.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Listening: a little bit of Lacy

As a soprano saxophonist, Steve Lacy is very much on my radar. This goes back years before I even owned a soprano and as much as I love his work, I feel it had little to do with me moving on to focus on the soprano (consciously at least). Lacy is a player that all saxophonist and jazz fans need to check out. He is a fairly regular part of my listening habits and at times I binge on his playing. This past week there's been a bit of Lacy bouncing around the apartment.

"Work" (Sketch 2002) Lacy with Anthony Cox (b) Daniel Humair (d) This trio seems to have only recorded together once - shortly before Lacy returned to the U.S following his decades based in France. Tunes are provided by each of the trio plus Mal Waldron, Louis Sclavis, and Thelonious Monk. There's a little bit of overdubbing from Lacy - two soprano's on 'Acrylic' and soprano and voice on 'Tina's Tune' - it's kept to a minimum. The trio sounds great together. Approval from my wife - "Who is this? I like it."

"Avignon and After Vol.1" (Emanem 2012) Comprised from a couple of solo concerts from the 1972 & 74.   Lacy is playing at the more 'out' end of the spectrum but lyricism remains part of the sound. A master of solo performance.

The disc is a combination of reissued tracks and nine previously unreleased tracks. The new tracks include the five pieces from 1974 that make up "Clangs" and four pieces from the 72 concert that was previously issued as "Weal and Woe." Unfortunately 'The Woe' (an anti-war suite) part is missing from this latest reissue. The ups and downs of reissues!

Aside from "Reflections" and "Evidence" some of the first Lacy I heard was solo - live in concert and friends of mine had "Weal & Woe" and "Hooky.

"Sempre Amore" (Soul Note 1986) Duo's with pianist Mal Waldron. Melodic playing on a program of lesser known Ellington & Strayhorn tunes. Waldron & Lacy were great collaborators with a long history together (Waldron was part of Lacy's 2nd album as a leader 'Reflections' back in 1958).

Check out Senators website for a bunch of info on Steve Lacy.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Other" Music Part One

Let me take a break from jazz for a brief moment and give mention to some of the "Other Music" I enjoy.

Bela Bartok - String Quartets. I started listening to these during my time at music school. Up to that point, I hadn't really listened to much classical music. Somewhere I read that Lee Konitz took these records on the road with Stan Kenton's band - he and Bill Russo would hang out listening to them. That was reason enough for me - saved up some busking money and I've been listening to them ever since courtesy of the Keller, Emerson & Tackas Quartets.

Glenn Gould 2 & 3 Part Inventions
J.S Bach - I have an on-again off-again playing relationship with the Two Part Inventions - we're back on at the moment (#2 C minor). I'm not sure why these were not part of my studies at music school? That comes to mind as one of the 3-b9 licks we had to learn for the improv class pops up in Invention #2. Anyway I'm glad to work on them now. I was probably initialy inspired to get into them after hearing the live recordings of Lee Konitz Warne Marsh playing numbers 1 & 13 on the live recordings on Storyville. Lately I've been playing #2 along with Glenn Gould.

Back in my alto days I worked a little on the Cello Suites but haven't continued with them on the soprano. Recordings by Anner Byisma, Roel Dieltiens, and Pablo Casals (of course) have kept me in touch with them. Great to relax to and the first Bach I got into.
Stockhausen - Tirkreis

Stockhausen - "Tierkreis" For a while these 12 pieces were part of my regular practice. Hayden Chisholm had us perform our star sign during his workshop in Greece. I had never played any music like it before. Rhythmically and melodically they are quite different to what I am used to and improvising on them was a lot of fun and stretched me into other areas - I found it came easier on some than others. I plan to revisit them.  These recordings provided plenty of variety: Elisabeth Klein's solo piano (a straight version), The duo of Volker Hemken (bass clarinet) & Steffen Schleiermacher (piano),  The trio of Markus Stockhausen (trumpets/piano) Suzanne Stephens (clarinet) Kathinka Pasveer (flutes/piccolo) the trumpet and organ duo of Markus Stockhausen & Magareta Hurholz.

Morton Feldman
Morton Feldman - One problem I have with these works is that due to the length it's hard to get all the way through in a sitting! I enjoy the floating, endless quality they have. Sometimes I feel the pieces are quite hypnotic. Here are the works of his I have listened to the most - I plan to continue exploring.
"Violin & String Quartet" by Peter Rundel & Pellegrini Quartet. Probably the first Feldman work I heard - Intrigued I wanted to hear more.
"Piano & String Quartet" by Kronos Quartet & Aki Takahashi. My wife arrived home one evening while this was on and commented that it reminded her of a 70's horror soundtrack.
"Triadic Memories" by Marilyn Nonken.
I am interested in getting into improvised music that harnesses some of the qualities of Feldman's work.

Anton Von Webern - Of the works of Webern's I have the "String Quartets/Trio" by the Emerson Quartet have received the most play time. I'm not sure what led me here. Steve Lacy talked of working on vocal parts of Webern's - that may have sparked my interest once I took up the soprano. Opus 9 grabbed my attention. Saxophonist John O'Gallagher is way into 12-tone concepts. I can't see myself traveling that road but I am keen to check out his book on the topic. Next month O'Gallagher is releasing the "Anton Webern Project".

Arnold Schoenberg - "Pierrot Lunaire" Part of Deutsche Grammaphon's 20C series.
Quite a new addition (I got it in January) not sure what made me choose this one - I had planned on getting Schoenberg's solo piano stuff but they didn't have it - I couldn't leave empty handed! 

When I'm interested in a jazz artist I tend to seek out information about them - interviews, biographies, websites etc. For whatever reason, I don't seem to do this on the classical side. Aside from the Bach and Stockhausen pieces mentioned above, it's rare that I study the pieces the way I do with jazz. One day perhaps, but for now I'll enjoy listening to them with getting too involved. Classical music tends to come and go in phases - I'll spend a period of time listening to one piece a lot or mix it up with various pieces then take a break from it for a while.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Spring Time Listening

Lacy: N.Y Capers & Quirks

Here are a few discs that have been on over the last few weeks.

Steve Lacy: NY Capers & Quirks (HatOlogy 1979)
If you asked, I would likely answer that Lacy's trios are my favourites from his vast discography with this live album near the top. The trio - Lacy (soprano sax) Ronnie Boykins (b) Dennis Charles (d) - sound great playing all Lacy tunes. Plenty of energy  and creative playing from all.

Bley: Notes on Ornette

Paul Bley: Notes on Ornette (Steeplechase 1998)
Bley (p) Jay Anderson (b) Jeff Hirshfield (d) One Bley original and a handful of Ornette tunes. This disc was new to me and has had multiple listens. Worthwhile checking out if you have and interest in Coleman or Bley.

This led me to revisit a couple of Bley's earlier discs  - "Footloose!" (Savoy 1963) with Steve Swallow (b) Pete LaRoca (d) and "Closer" (ESP Disk 1965) with Swallow (b) Barry Altschul (d). Both are excellent and recommended. I was introduced to Bley's work by one of my lectures - Norman Meehan - who went on to write "Time Will Tell: Conversations with Paul Bley." I rate Bley highly - a distinctive pianist and one of my favorites.

Warne Marsh & Sal Mosca: Quartet (1 & 2) (Zinnia)
Have been listening to a couple of very nice ballads from the these to volumes of live recordings at the Village Vanguard in 1981 "Shak' In-Out" (Improvising on Body & Soul) and "Way In There" (You Go To My Head).  The latter is one of my favourite Warne Marsh performances. Sal Mosca is in fine form too. These recordings are fairly lo-fi but well worth listening to for those interested in Mosca & Marsh.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bob Sheppard Masterclass

I hopped on the red line and headed up to Evanston on Saturday afternoon. Work on the lines made it slow going and it cut into the time I set aside for trying out soprano's before the Bob Sheppard masterclass hosted by PM Woodwind.

The turnout was ok - less than I expected but respectable. Sheppard had a nice relaxed, free-wheeling style of presentation. He started things off with a bit of background on how he came up in music - plenty of on the job training and learning what you need to know by failing. "It's all about not sucking" (as he put it).

Four main points go plenty of attention:

  • Fun: It's always easier when you enjoy what you are doing.
  • Tone: Develop a sound concert. Emulate the greats. "All the chops in the world don't mean a thing if it doesn't sound good." He talked a bit about some of Joe Allard's methods though I have heard them explained and demonstrate better by others - namely my teacher Richard Tabnik. In fact he said a couple things about facial muscles that seemed to have very little to do with Allard's teachings (as I understand it). He did emphasize staying relaxed to allow the reed to vibrate to it potential.
  • Play Melodies: Any melodies - tunes, melodic fragments, intervals. Different Keys. Move them around the horn by ear. Develop the connection between your ear and the horn. A few attendees had a crack at this with some success.
  • Play along with recordings of your favourite players: Emulate their sound, articulation, lines, and nuance. Sheppard mentioned over the years he has done this with artists such as Cannonball Adderly, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, David Liebman, Steve Grossman, Michael Brecker & Jerry Bergonzi.

Everything was presented with a demonstration and there was a solo performance of "I Can't Get Started" as well as "It Could Happen To You" with a young guitarist and tenor player (sorry guys I didn't get your names).

Sheppard made the excellent point that all the answers are in the recordings and your imagination - there is not need to rely on books for practice ideas/chops/transcriptions etc.

When he mentioned (while on the subject of sound and blending I think) Lee Konitz wasn't hired to play in big band saxophone sections - I had to interject.... "Yes he was. Claude Thornhill... Stan Kenton." I couldn't let that pass.

It Could Happen To You
Added bonus was Sheppard had reed samples to hand out (he's a Rico endorsee). I grabbed some Rico Select Jazz (Unfiled) 3 Mediums - the only soprano reeds he had with him. I hadn't tried Rico Jazz on soprano for quite some time (Lately I've had some luck with Rico Reserve) and from the few I warmed up yesterday they are playing a bit soft for me. 

It was refreshing that someone who has a couple of endorsement deals and a new album due out wasn't trying to sell them to you for two hours. He mentioned those things in passing but for the vast majority of time it was all about playing. Very little shop talk. He did have some of the Macsax Bob Sheppard Signature Edition mouthpieces for people to have a play on after the masterclass.

It's great PM Woodwind hold these masterclasses - this was the 3rd  that I have been able to get to (Ernie Watts and David Liebman were the others). I look forward to future events they hold.

For those after a bit more from Bob Sheppard check out the audio interviews over at the Best Saxophone Website Ever - here & here

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Listening: Early May

Evan Parker - Chicago Solo
Evan Parker: Chicago Solo (Okka Disc 1995)
Parker's first solo disc devoted to the tenor saxophone (20 years after his first album of soprano solos). Glad I picked this disc up. 14 solos ranging from less than two - eight minutes in length. I gave this a couple of listens last week - Initial thoughts... quite different from his solo soprano tracks (even if only in the shortness of tracks). Some of it quite intimate sounding. Plenty of similarities too.... 'illusions of polyphony' a plenty. I have kept it out for more listening.

Kaum QuartetAt St. Audeon's Church (Plush 2008)
Fantastic alto saxophone quartet with Sean Mac Erlaine, Hayden Chisholm, Frank Gratkowski & Christian Weidner. I have been enjoying a few alto only groups of late - a post is in its infancy..stay tuned (or should that be detuned?).

Various Billie Holiday (Columbia box set) & Lester Young (30's-early 40's).
All Of Me, A Sailboat In The Moonlight, Sun Showers, You Go To My Head, Shoe Shine Boy, Pound Cake, Laughing At Life, Me Myself & I, Texas Shuffle, etc etc.

Billie & Pres could pretty much be a default entry for the listening lists!  In the not so distant future they will be the subject for an 'Impact Records' entry.

John Coltrane was revisited. A few select tracks ... "One Down, One Up", "Brazilia" and some others plus these albums:
Live At The Village Vanguard (1961) I listened to this quite a bit when I started getting into Eric Dolphy during my music school days.
Expressions (1967)
Ascension (1965) I first heard this shortly after hearing Ornette's "Free Jazz" and thinking... 'damm' - I had no idea what to expect.
Interstellar Space (1967....released 1974)
One of the things I am enjoying about the 'Friends of Jazz Free Jazz Project' is that I am revisiting a lot of music I haven't listened to in quite a while - as was the case with the 4 discs above..... I hadn't listened to them in years.

The next email will be #5 - subjects so far have included Lennie Tristano, Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman. Coltrane is up next.

Albert Ayler: Spiritual Unity (ESP 1965) also got a revisit as part of the project. I also re-watched the Swedish film "My Name is Albert Ayler." Recommended. Though I wouldn't mind hearing what the Swedes were saying.....I watched it online without subtitles.

Djivan GasparyanHeavenly Duduk (Network 1999)
An excellent release from all the free jazz :-)

Monday, May 06, 2013

Impact Recording: Charlie Parker "That's Jazz"

Part Three of the ongoing series of records that made an impact on me as a young musician. Read the others - Part One - Part two.

Charlie Parker "That's Jazz"

Not long after I started playing saxophone I hit the library to find some books about jazz. One name kept on popping up - Charlie Parker. I headed over to Tower Music and purchased the only Charlie Parker CD they had - "That's Jazz" (I believe this was my first CD purchase too).  Once home I listened to the entire disc - I felt exhausted! This was something else.... until then the jazz saxophonists I had heard were from the previous generation... Johnny Hodges, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster among others and clarinetists like Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman.  Aside from Charlie Parker's name and the track listing there was no other information provided. Who were these people and what were they doing? I had no idea. Confused.... yes! Intrigued.... yes!
I remember trying to learn some of the melodies and not having much luck..... possibly "Yardbird Suite."

Despite being rather lo-fi, two tracks stood out - "Rocker" and "The Street Beat" - both live recordings. I'm not exactly sure what it was about them. The live atmosphere - chatter, calls of encouragement, whistling etc added something. Perhaps it was Bird's soaring sound. The push and pull of this phrasing and articulation.  Who knows?
I have gone on to check out much more of Bird's work and these tracks remain favorites to this day (along with a few others!).

I would later find out that these two tracks were issued on "Complete Live at Rockland Palace" and "One Night at Birdland".... fantastic discs - check them out!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Roscoe Mitchell at Constellation

More catching up to do.....
Mitchell in flight on Sopranino
The night following the panel discussion at the Cultural Center the Roscoe Mitchell (Alto/Soprano/Sopranino Saxophones, Baroque(?) Flute) Mike Reed (Drums/Percussion) duo were at Constellation.  As I mentioned in the last post I had been listening to a bit of Mitchell lately so this was a concert not to be missed. 
Not quite a sell out - perhaps not quite as many as for the ICP Orchestra which I found a bit surprising with Mitchell's music being such an important part of the music to come out of Chicago I figured people would be beating down the doors to get in. All the same it was good to see people getting out on a less than pleasant evening (last night of snow for the season).
The set started out with a solo piece from Mitchell on alto sax. Starting with multiphonics and sustained quiet notes the piece grew in intensity as Mitchell added more and more notes to the mix.

Reed joined Mitchell for the rest of the set playing two long improvisations. The piece had Mitchell starting on flute before working his way through his saxes from high to low. At times he was alternating phrases on sopranino and soprano and finished off flying around the lower register of the alto at a burning tempo. The second duo started off with Reed playing solo. Mitchell entered playing simple melodies on alto - quite the contrast to the end of the last duo - reminded me of what he had to say at the panel discussion about studying opposites.

Whether he was using sticks, brushes, mallets, or what appeared to be an amplified tank drum, Reed's playing was superb throughout the evening.

Following the gig I only had to wait ten minutes for the snow to stop making waiting for the bus somewhat more pleasant.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Surround Sound: Prairie and Beyond

Well.... after a week away I have some catching up to do.  
A couple of weeks back Roscoe Mitchell was in town.  Having been introduced to his work a couple of years back via the Art Ensemble of Chicago - in recent months I have been listening to a few of his works as a leader - "Sound" (Delmark 1966)... his classic sextet recording as well as the solo albums "The Solo Concert" (AECO 1974) "Live at the Muhle Hunziken (Cecma 1986) and "Solo [3]" (Mutable 2003).
L-R: Roelstraete, Decker, Vandermark, Jennings, Mitchell

Mitchell was one of the panelists for a discussion titles "Surround Sound: Prairie and Beyond" held at the Chicago Cultural Center.  The rest of the panel were:
Dieter Roelstraete (Moderator) - Curator at Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Pamela L. Jennings - has the long-winded title of... "Program Director for the Human Centered Computing Cluster programs and Cyberlearning Transforming Education programs in the Information and Intelligent Systems Division of the Computer Information Science and Engineering Directorate at the National Science Foundation."
Shawn Decker - Sound Artist. His work is currently on display at the Cultural Center.
Ken Vandermark - reed player/improvisor/composer etc etc

I was quite keen to hear what Vandermark and Mitchell had to say on the topics of Improvisation, Sound, and Space.... here are some of the scribbles from my notebook.

Roscoe Mitchell:
*** Silence is already perfect - what are you going to do when you interrupt it?***

Study of opposites - how things work at one end vs the other to gain a better understanding of the middle.

We don't learn from each other if we are all the same.

Keep your mind open.

Take a small part of music and really study it and get underneath it.

Playing with nature - excellent practice for musicians.

- like minds with a shared vision
- more control over your own destiny
- control of your music
- training programs for young musicians
- exchange programs with other cities... Black Artists Group (BAG) in St. Louis
- taking music out of the clubs and into the concert hall

Ken Vandermark - on his relationship with his instruments
- It all starts there
- The struggle between myself and the horn. Finding out what I can & can't do leads to new things

 All in all there was some interesting discussion and I'm glad I got along. The notes above give me plenty to think about.