Tuesday, December 9, 2008

This is exciting

I was glad to see this article on the LA Phil's new conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, conducting the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. Anything that makes kids more excited about music can only be good for our city and to give them access to someone like this along with the instruments, rehearsal space, etc. has the potential to take their musical pursuits to a whole other level. Let's hope the funding stays intact.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Vietnamese Music School in Little Saigon

This is one of the reasons that I love living in the greater Los Angeles area. The amount of music that we can take in is almost unlimited. I've been interested in Vietnamese music for a while now and would seek out a chance to study it if I had the time. Check out the Dan Bau, it's amplified! Instead, I'll be content with the following for now:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Terry Riley Experience

On Monday November 24 John M. Kennedy directed the CSULA New Music Ensemble in a program titled the Terry Riley Experience, the name referring to the two showcase pieces, Terry Riley's In C and Eric Honour's Haze.

The first half of the performance began with Madelyn Byrne's Rain, Sea, and Sky, a piece for piano, vibraphone, and computer generated sounds. With the spare piano and the combined resonance of the bowed vibraphone and the recorded sounds this piece leaned towards the minimalist portion of the program. The totality of sound was the key here, with the vibraphone blending into the synthesised sound and the piano floating over the top, with no one sound source dominating. The harmonic stasis of the piece underscored the serenity suggested by the title.

Next was the piece for two pianos by Emma Lou Diemer, Homage to Cowell, Crumb, and Czerny. The piece showcased various extended piano techniques loosely linked to the composers that the it was dedicated to. Between these techniques and the orchestral quality of two pianos playing together the composer achieved a particularly massive sound. As in the Byrne piece, the pure sound of the instruments was up front here. With few melodic and harmonic reference points the piece was a nice contrast with the first.

After a quick set change a short film on guitarist Jimi Hendrix introduced one of the pieces that the evening's program was named for, Haze by Eric Honour. Loosely using Hendrix' Purple Haze as source material Honour essentially deconstructed the guitarist's music spreading motives and gestures across the different instruments. Particularly striking was the use of the cello as "feedback". Each motive was given ample time to develop, with the piece giving the listener a displaced Hendrix feel without overtly using material from it's source.

Last in the program was Terry Riley's In C. This is a piece that really doesn't need much comment at this point. However, the ensemble performed it well, dealing with the obvious challenges that the piece presented. Kennedy ably directed the group, managing the subtle changes in the music.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's been a while

It's been a while since I've played straight ahead jazz, but I got to last night at CSULA's Fall Jazz Combos concert. Our combo was led by Cathy Segal-Garcia and included singers Margaret Adegboro, Bill Sinclair (primarily the combo's piano player), and Priscilla Stroud. The rhythm section was David Askren (bass), Omar Chaudhry (drums), myself, and JoAn Kunselman and Sinclair (piano).

The set started with Autumn Leaves played rubato between myself and Segal-Garcia. A nice little vamp in time led to each singer taking part of a chorus with solos by Kunselman and myself. Ending the song were some very nice three part harmonies between the singers.

Next up was a piece very closely associated with Billie Holiday, Lover Man, sung by Stroud. On this one the rhythm section created a slow groove that allowed her to dig in and get into the meat of the song. Bill and myself took solos, with some great rhythmic punctuations by Choudhry. Back to the bridge and out, with Priscilla really driving her point home.

While not usually a singer, Bill Sinclair decided to give it a go and sang When In Rome, styled after the great collaboration between Tony Bennett and Bill Evans. I got to play a solo over the bridge on this one.

Our set ended with a version of Sonny Rollin's St. Thomas, with original lyrics in Nigerian by Adegboro. This had a little bit of a fast bossa feel, with the choruses moving up in half steps. Margaret really sounded great singing in her native language and really brought a feeling of fun to the tune. A nice, upbeat way to end the set!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New MC76 Blog and Gig Tonight!

My band Monte Carlo 76 has a new blog here. Go over there, check it out and contribute!

Also, tonight we are playing at East Side Luv in Los Angeles. This is a great place to see live music with a great look, particularly the sunken bar. The price is right: free.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A little family reunion...

Tuesday November 4 marked a little reunion of sorts as I played with Olmeca, whose group includes Gomez Comes Alive! on bass. This was like a microcosmic Slowrider reunion, even with a Slowrider song being played, Con Respeto. It was great to hear that Olmeca has stayed very true to his aesthetic of hard-hitting, political, bilingual hip hop and it was great to experience the group from the inside out.

Due to a family emergency for the group's guitar player Alex Hernandez I was asked to fill in at the last minute so the set was very abbreviated. This was a concert that was part of the 21 Day Fast for Human Rights encampment and march at Olvera St. The march was today, with the hunger strikers breaking their fast as well. Although the weather was cold and we had to compete with election day, it was a good set. Olmeca started by rapping to a backing track, to which Gomez and drummer Josh Duran joined in. From there I joined in on The Product (a song to which I contributed to originally), Batalla, Remember Your Foundation (on which we were joined by singer Laura Rann), and ending with Con Respeto. I felt good about the set, at the very least making it possible for the band to be part of the event in Alex's absence.

It's after a gig like this that I reflect on how music and life can take us all in different directions, but we'll often return to a core or center, if only briefly. With Gomez, Olmeca and myself I believe that core exists strengthened by so many years of playing, traveling, and spending time together.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Marisela is mixed and mastered!

Finally, after so many delays, Monte Carlo 76's next album Marisela is mixed and mastered. You can hear the first single Mesmerize on our new website. Alberto Lopez and Alex Painter did a great job mixing it and Joel Soyffer did the mastering.

Another huge part of this project was the production skills of Quetzal Flores and Martha Gonzalez of Quetzal fame. Without changing the basic framework of the tunes they helped to bring out something extra that made a body of music I was already proud of even better. Someone else that spent as much time as anyone on the album was Cesar Mejia of the the Shelter Studios who did 99% of the tracking, with Alberto making important contributions to some tracks as well.

Next up, producing the physical package. With the way CDs are selling these days it's going to be a minimal first run, with the focus on digital distribution supplemented by gigging and other creative means of promotion.

Also remember to come out to see us at East Side Luv on November 13. We should have something by then!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quetzal @ the Temple Bar

Friday September 12th was an end of sorts in a couple of different ways. First, it was the last show that Quetzal will play in Los Angeles before bandleaders Martha Gonzalez and Quetzal Flores move to Seattle. Second, it will be Quetzal's last show at the Temple Bar, which will be closing in it's current location at the end of the month.

Opening the show was MC Olmeca, whose set I missed. Not a great move considering that bassist Gomez and drummer Francisco Huete are also bandmates of mine in Monte Carlo 76 and Olmeca and I played together in Slowrider.

Second on the bill were Upground. This young band definitely play to their strengths, with super tight rhythm and horn sections providing a strong basis for their energetic mix of ska, cumbia, rock and other styles.

After Upground, Quetzal took the stage. Quetzal had invited me to sit in on a couple songs during their set. This was great because even though MC76 has been working so closely with Martha and Quetzal to get Marisela recorded and produced (so close to being done we can taste it) I've never actually never played with Quetzal before, so I was looking forward to it. With my luck, technical difficulties set in and I was able to actually play on only one song. Even so, this one song marked a mix of musical past and present for me. With Martha, Quetzal, Marisa Ronstadt, and Cisco on stage we had the present, with all of these people either playing on or being involved in the production of Marisela. Olmeca's improvised rhyming represented a past for me due to our years in Slowrider together. It's funny how memory works, because even though we were playing Quetzal's music once I heard Olmeca it took me right back to all the music we shared together in that band.

The closing of the Temple Bar is another milestone in Los Angeles music. This venue provided a place for the bands mentioned here and so many others to play thoughout the years and they always did it with a respect not found at other clubs. However, from the words of the owner it looks as though the club will reopen in another form elsewhere in the city, so this may not represent so much an end but another chapter.

The great thing about music is that it adds meaning to all of these stories without even trying. Make no mistake, this was Quetzal's show and there were many more guests besides myself who shared the stage that evening who have been more closely associated with the band throughout the years. All one has to do is see this band perform to realize their importance to music in Los Angeles. I think all of us will be excited to see what this next period in the band's development brings.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Downtown Space

Arts journal Afterall's film series Making Strange: Rooftop Sci-Fi at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel concluded this week with a screening of director John Coney's Space is the Place, a film featuring the music and philosophy of American composer/bandleader Sun Ra. With the Bonaventure hotel and the downtown LA skyline providing an appropriate backdrop to the film we were given an overview of Sun Ra's sound philosophy.

Afterall's intention for the series was to present "low-fi cult features and artist videos that use elements of science fiction to cast new light on earthly struggles and everyday phenomena." Viewed in this light, Space...was an appropriate selection. It has always been tempting for some to minimize Sun Ra's contributions due to his emphasis on the extra-terrestrial, the costuming, and his early use of music technology. All of these elements of Ra's art come into play in the film and although it is indeed "lo-fi" in it's special effects it does provide Sun Ra (who co-wrote the film) an avenue to showcase his music, his spirituality, his ideas about the position of African Americans in American society, and his views on the music business and the media, by no means lo-fi content.

However, it is music that occupies a central place in the film, with Ra frequently talking about his ideas about the transformative effects of his music and the film culminating in a concert. We also get to see footage of the Arkestra, most notably June Tyson, John Gilmore, and Marshall Allen.

All in all, Space is the Place did in fact show Sun Ra's struggles to produce his art, although in a condensed cinematic form. As far as the everyday phenomena, these were indeed things that Sun Ra had to deal with every day. Yes, there were elements of caricature, yes there were elements of humor and absurdity, as in much art. But this should not make one take this film and Sun Ra's artistic output any less seriously.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Power Rangers

OK, I know Power Rangers seems to be an odd subject, but composer James Guymon and myself just found out yesterday that the the cue that we worked on together for Power Rangers Jungle Fury was used on the show. You can hear the cue from about 3:00 to about 4:30 in the YouTube video. Recently I also added guitar to a piece that he wrote that will be used by a major automotive manufacturer in demos for a new car that is coming out. James is a great composer and I've really enjoyed the collaborations so far.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Monte Carlo 76 Page on Facebook

Monte Carlo 76 now has a page on Facebook. Become a fan and find out about all of our gigs, recordings, etc!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Last night's gig

As usual in LA there was a lot going on last night, so it was hard to know how this show was going to turn out. Honestly, the last time we played at 2nd St. the turnout left something to be desired, so we all decided to turn it up a notch with the promotion and it seemed to work out. Marisa was able to get Happy Frejo to play with us at very short notice and with FreeQuinSeas spinning, the bill was complete.

I hadn't yet heard Happy perform even though she and Marisa are roommates, so it was great to hear her blend of soul and hip-hop with a lyrical focus on insights into her personal life and the issues facing the indigenous people in the United States. Some people have a hard time blending the personal and the political in their music, Happy did not have this problem. I'd like to see what she does with her live band as last night she was accompanied by backing tracks as well as herself on guitar.

I felt good about our own set as well. After Cisco gave me a scare and everybody else showed up on time, we did our usual thing. "Intoxicating" started a little fast, but after that we settled down to a decent tempo on the rest of the songs. "Leave the Weight...", although not an obvious "big ending" was actually my favorite live performance of the song to date.

After making good on my threats to my co-workers to let them know about my shows, some of them actually came this time, so now that work/personal life barrier has been broken.

This week we continue on getting Marisela mixed. I can't wait for that to be done, then we can really start getting out there with a recording that better represents where we're at right now. Let's hope some of my fears regarding the direction it's going don't come to fruition....

New iPhone Music Apps

I did not fall prey to the iPhone problems yesterday. Looking around, I saw this about the new music related apps and plan to check some of these out....

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pretty Cool for compact recording

While I already have the Zoom H4, this new device from Belkin will allow you to record using your iPod. I would consider this if I didn't have the H4.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jazz Worship

Justo Almario and Abraham Laboriel will be playing at my church this Sunday. I am fortunate enough to get to play with these guys, come on out for some very impressive playing and worship!

I gotta admit....

This looks pretty cool. Even though I don't play one, 3 of these guitarists were very influential on my own playing.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Film Festival

The short film that I scored, "Look at Me" will be screened at the Reel Rasquatche Film Festival at Cal State LA's Luckman Fine Arts Complex on Saturday, May 31 at 10 AM. Come check it out and support student and independent filmmakers!

Luckman Fine Arts Complex
5151 State University Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90032-8116
(323) 343-6611

Friday, May 16, 2008

2 days, 2 gigs

Better late than never I guess.

I had two gigs on 4/4 and 4/5 that pretty much represented the range of my music and guitar playing right now. 4/4 was with the Dead Air Trio (written about in my last post), 4/5 was Monte Carlo 76.

4/4 brought me back to a familiar venue, the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, hosted by Alex Cline and the Open Gate Theater. Mr. Cline has always been an advocate for Dead Air and we were honored when he suggested that we do a 10th anniversary show there. We were doubly honored when we found out who was on the bill with us: Michael Vlatkovich and William Roper, two guys that I have seen play as long as I've been into improvised music. These two obviously have a natural affinity and it came out in their playing. As far as I could tell this was all music that was composed by Mr. Vlatkovich. Exploring the lower frequencies of the brass section, this music exhibited moments of lyricism, swing, density, and sparsity. Being music that I call extreme in the sense of number of participants and in register (low in this case), this may not have worked in lesser hands.

Dead Air's set was extreme in the sense of volume and texture. This one was particularly difficult for me in that we all decided to go beyond what we usually do and get even quieter and exploit repetition, most notably toward the end of the set. Dan's whispered squeaks mixed with my fingers rubbing against the strings. I remember the room seemed particularly big and quiet to me at that point. Other parts of the set covered (for Dead Air) more familiar territory, with some nice melodic parts, more density, and Dan and Brian on their various other instruments.

The next night was another thing entirely. In Cisco Huete's absence Monte Carlo 76 was joined by drummer Mark Scaggs, who I play with at Pasadena Foursquare Church. The venue this night was the Old Towne Pub in Pasadena, with DJ Sloepoke and Mouthpeace Mondays hosting. This is a cool, small spot that we've played at twice now. After some technical difficulties we saw a solo set of hip-hop by a performer whose name I didn't get. Playing what I assume were his original beats and loops, he accompanied himself on guitar, Rhodes, and flute. This set the stage for MC76's set and I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was this only about the fourth time that we had played with Mark, this was our first gig with bass player Paul Perez. We made it through our 8 or so tunes and had what I thought was a good set, no highlights but no train wrecks either.

I highly recommend that people catch Buyepongo when they have a chance. Gomez Comes Alive! wrote a good review here, so I'm not going to reinvent the wheel, but this is a great cumbia group that will make you dance for sure. The bass clarinet really stood out for me and added a nice color to the music. Made me wonder what would happen if Eric Dolphy had played dance music. Maybe he did, depending on what you like to dance to.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

TV Show

Last night I was able to add some very metal guitar to a cue for some work that composer James Guymon was doing for a popular children's television show. If I'm able, I'll post it. He and I also did some work for a student film recently as well.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

thoughts on the dead air trio's 10th anniversary show

Next week on 5/4 will be the Dead Air Trio's 10th anniversary show at the Open Gate Theater in Eagle Rock. Ten years is a long time for any group and especially for improvising ensembles, with the lineups of such groups often being as transient as the music. Over the past few years this group has not gigged much, except for these Open Gate shows. Although this may not be enough, I believe there is a positive side to this as well for in the back of my mind I always know that there is one ensemble I can return to that does nothing but improvise. While it could always be argued that by improvising exclusively we are making it easier on ourselves regarding rehearsals and all of the other necessities of keeping a group together, I feel that we in fact open ourselves up to the possibility of failure that is only avoided by the trust and empathy that we have cultivated and maintain.

Brian and I have played together for about 18-19 years now, a long time by almost any standard. Brian understands my playing better than any other musician. Although there are many ways for musicians to learn to blend their voices there is really no substitute for history between players. We have played so many gigs in so many configurations and styles that we always know where the other is going. Sometimes this may mean that one of us will change directions for the sake of an interesting detour as opposed to visiting familiar locations. Even when I find where I've ended up questionable, Brian is right there, either with commentary or even total silence.

Although Dan and I have not played together quite as long, there is just as rich a relationship, but different. Dan's vocabulary is one of the most interesting of any of the musicians I've played with. Dan will go from pure lyricism to pure texture in the blink of an eye and never make you wonder why. No matter what the style we are playing, whether it be hard bop, funk, or free improvisation, Dan's own voice shines through. He does not feel the need to tailor his playing to any one situation but instead will use all that he has available in a musical way.

As far as my own playing goes in this group, it's always hard to say. I feel that my playing has probably become more melodic since we started and possibly more conservative in some ways. At our last rehearsal I found myself thinking that I may be playing more than in the past and maybe too much. At any rate, my desire is that I still am able to bring something that can inspire these guys enough to want to keep doing this. I think 10 years is a great testament to a particular chemistry that could not have been planned or forced.

The Dead Air Trio will play Sunday May 4th at 7 PM at the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, 2225 Colorado Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90041 323.226.1617. Admission is $10.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra @ LACMA

It had been a while since I had been to one of the Friday Jazz Concerts at LACMA, so when I heard that the Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra was performing I made the trip down. I had not seen the Arkestra before, but had seen it's founder Horace Tapscott many times in the 90's. The group is now led by Michael Session, a longtime collaborator of Tapscott's. A large Creative Orchestra made up of winds, brass, piano, two double bass, vibraphone, percussion, and drumset the group played music by current members, Tapscott, and Charles Mingus in the one set that I was able to see.

A repeated baritone figure signalled the beginning of the set as the Arkestra launched in to Mingus' Moanin. The group's instrumentation created a massive sound for this piece, truly in the spirit of Mingus himself. Although the sound was predictably awful where I was sitting, not helped by the chatter of those around me, the solos sounded great and the drums and percussion contributed to a propulsive forward momentum.

Next in the set was an original written for Barack Obama by the vibraphonist Maia, Yes, Now This Time. With the group providing a musical foundation, Maia and vocalist Dwight Trible used poetry and vocalisations to convey a sense of strength and optimism regarding the presidential candidate. With the constant barrage of media concerning this election, it was a welcome change to have a musical and poetic take on the candidate.

Los Angeles has felt a great musical void since the physical departure of drummer Billy Higgins. Reminiscent of the countless 60's Blue Note recordings that Higgins played on, the modal harmony and lyrical melody of the third piece in the set, Billy's Delight, showcased the compositional creativity and instrumental virtuosity of it's composer, trombonist Isaac Smith. After a solo by Session, Smith had his say with a solo marked by an amazing tone and rhythmic inventiveness. A return to the melody signalled the end of the piece.

Ending the set, Dwight Trible was accompanied by piano (Nate Morgan, I believe) for a beautiful version of Tapscott's Little Africa. The vocal power of this man cannot be overstated. After the introduction, the Arkestra fell into a 3/4 groove that allowed to Trible to go where he needed to to. The classic richness of his voice combined with his ability to go beyond jazz vocal tradition made for a perfect end of the set.

Seeing this performance by the Arkestra made me realize how important community music ensembles are. It is no small feat to get this many musicians together, but when they are united by the legacy of a musician such as Horace Tapscott the result is something that contributes to the musical and spiritual life of Los Angeles.

Friday, April 18, 2008

How did this happen?

Over at Create Digital Music I saw this story. Obviously, it's unfortunate, but it really begs the question: how did it happen without this guy noticing. I guess whatever was on the drive wasn't being used at that point in the set, but who doesn't see someone come on stage and disconnect something from your own laptop? There are probably particulars that we aren't getting from the story, but still....

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Joe Bataan at the Lakewood Hop

Fans of Latin Soul are being treated this weekend to another visit from the great Joe Bataan, with his first appearance last night at the Hop in Lakewood CA.

I have played at the Hop before, the first and (thankfully) last time being when I was with Slowrider. When we played there the sound onstage and off was terrible and last night was no exception. Due to the fact that he could not hear himself adequately, Bataan had to frequently change microphones and ask the soundman to make adjustments to the onstage mix. You could see the frustration in his face and body language as he led his group through such classics as "I Wish You Love" and "Ordinary Guy". This was an all too familiar example of someone who has given their life to music having to put up with substandard playing conditions.

In spite of all of this the show was still great, getting to hear the songs mentioned above and many others. Hearing Bataan speak of his first trips to LA with Ralphi Pagan, how St. Latin's Day Massacre took on a life of it's own after his first performances of it's songs in San Francisco, and the dedications that he took from the audience underscored the longtime personal relationship that he has with his LA fans.

Except for the problems mentioned above the band, assembled from local musicians, handled the music well. As I listened to the whole crowd sing along to "I Wish You Love" I was struck by how a musician can make such an impact on people's lives that the awful acoustics are forgotten as they sing along with a song that still means something 30+ years after it has been written. As we enter into a time where music commerce is changing rapidly we could all take a lesson from someone who will travel across the country to make a connection like this. It still comes down to that relationship between performer and audience that cannot be found on MySpace, Facebook, iTunes or the technology of your choice.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My New Site

This will be the site that I use to communicate about my music and my thoughts on music.