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.