Free Parking for improvisation in multiple environments.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Salmonella Summer

If there is one form of popular music that could be called "indigenous" to New Zealand, it would be reggae and dub. It links closely to to our landscape and has played a strong role in the expression of (particularly Maori) political views over the past three decades.

For many of us, a kiwi summer wouldn't be complete without a road trip to a music festival, somewhere by a beach, with entertainment provided by any number of local reggae and dub acts. Sun, skank and shared substance.

Based in Kaikoura in the South Island, Salmonella Dub is one of our longer-serving dub outfits, riding the line between singalong reggae, electro dub and dance electronica. They've been remixed by Mad Professor and Adrian Sherwood. They are also possibly the loudest band I have ever heard, with basslines that are positively bowel-loosening.

Salmonella Dub - For the Love of It
From Killervision: Virgin 847608 [Buy]

Salmonella Dub - Longtime
From one drop east: Virgin 592471 [Buy]

Derek Bailey In Memoriam
I must also note the passing on Christmas Day of Derek Bailey, a key pioneer of improvised music in Europe, and one of the greatest innovators on guitar, ever. David Fenech offers a short appreciation, there's an excellent personal reaction on Rod's wordsandmusic blog, and John Fordham also writes an obituary in the Guardian.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Almost Christmas: Part II

Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols was written during an uncomfortable 1942 voyage in a cargo convoy from New York to Liverpool, at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic. Britten had been living in the United States since 1939, prior to the outbreak of hostilities, and the convoy was his only option to return to England in wartime.

Many of the texts used for the carols were taken from a collection of medieaval texts Britten found while his ship was docked in a port in Nova Scotia. The music, written for harp and a choir of boy sopranos, possesses a calm light and joy that defies the fog of war that loomed at the time of its creation.

This particular version of Ceremony is sung by the Choir of King's College Cambridge, directed by Sir David Willcocks and recorded in July 1972. Two of my favourite movements.

Choir of King's College Cambridge - There is No Rose (Op.28, III)
Choir of King's College Cambridge - Spring Carol (Op. 28, IX)
From Britten Choral Works: EMI 62797 [Buy]

Posting activity for the next week or so will be limited. I am going to be enjoying time with family, time on the beach, and time on the water. I wish everyone reading this a happy and peaceful Christmas, wherever and whoever you are.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Almost Christmas: Part I

It's that time of year, and given that the annual "Christmas-is-too-commercialised" debate is being thrashed out elsewhere, I thought I'd share some Christmas music that's guaranteed not to be heard on high rotate in your neighbourhood Starbucks.

Lester Bowie - Almost Christmas
From All the Magic!: ECM 1246/47 [Buy]

The Goons - I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas
Available on The Goon Show Vol.3 [Buy]

Monday, December 19, 2005

Gorillas, Demystified

There was no shortage of self-interest in hurrying to see Peter Jackson's King Kong last night. Sure, there was a modicum of national duty, for this is a kiwi movie (OK, apart from minor factors like big-name American actors and Universal Studios finance and distribution).

But the main reason I was eager to see this film was because I am in it. Briefly and insignificantly. In the New York theatre where Kong is displayed as a captured trophy before a dumbfounded audience, there is an orchestra. There's a trumpet player (one of several) flinching in the side of a wide shot as Kong roars and threatens to break his shackles. Yes, that's me. 3 pixels of Hollywood immortality. The Central Warhol Agency will now have to deduct several milliseconds off my 15 minutes.

So what did I think of the film? Well, it's a big, dumb, monster flick. At heart Peter Jackson is a horror fan. Give him a threadbare plot like Kong, and Mr Jackson will fill it with gratuitous dinosaurs, giant bats, spiders, carnivorous worms and giant cave wetas (yes that's wetas, not "vampire crickets" as the New York Times put it. Come to NZ sometime and see some.)

If you haven't seen the film yet, I'm not spoiling it by saying that by the end you'll be cheering for the gorilla. The magnificent metaphor of the beast atop the skyscraper, defiance amidst the concrete jungle, is all the more poignant for the fact that the most human character in this movie is the ape himself.

And one day, I'll be able to tell my grandkids (or somebody's grandkids) that once, I got paid by Universal Pictures to dress up in a tuxedo, pretend to play my instrument, and then run away terrified from a big digital monkey.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

John Surman

Inspired in part by tunes posted by molo on gunter likes french fries...

John Surman is often thought of as a "superstar" of contemporary European jazz, and is notable as one of the few musicians to choose bass clarinet and baritone saxophone as his primary weapons. (Surman is also frequently heard on soprano saxophone, but the classic image of Surman is his gruff bearded frame bent over one of his larger, less wieldy horns.)

Born in Tavistock in Devon in 1944, Surman has made a career of reflecting his English heritage through the prism of jazz and improvised music - a theme that started with his work in the Mike Westbrook Concert Band in the 1960s, and continued on albums such as Westering Home (Future Music Records FMRCD 16) and The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon (ECM 1193).

Two contrasting selections today: Alignment is a solo improvisation recorded in Oslo in September 1991. No Twilight features Surman with John Taylor on organ and the Salisbury Festival Chorus, and was recorded live at Salisbury Cathedral in June 1996. The text is a reference to the Old Testament book of Job.

John Surman - Alignment
From In the Evenings Out There: ECM 1488 [Buy]

John Surman - No Twilight
From Proverbs and Songs: ECM 1639 [Buy]

Let the stars of the twilight be dark
Let it look for light but find none
Neither let it see the eyelids of the morning
(The Book of Job, Chapter 3)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Loneliness of Command

Beck - He's a Mighty Good Leader
From One Foot in the Grave: K Records KLP 28 [Buy]

I don't often blog about stuff that happens at work, but some recent experiences have meant I've been confronting the importance of leadership in the past few weeks and months.

Earlier this year, I was promoted into a position of some fairly decent responsibility, including being the leader of a team of people for the first time. Now everyone I've talked to says that I've done a good job so far in leading my team - making sure that people are kept busy and interested, making sure that people hit their deadlines and that the people in my team are valued. (I know, this all sounds very touchy-feely and managerial, but it's all true. If you treat your team with arrogance or disrespect, you wont be able to do your job either).

However, after assuming this new position as a "manager", I lost a lot of the support I used to get when someone else was supervising me! So I did my own job, but I actually missed having oversight, having someone take an interest in what I was doing. I didn't know whether I was doing a good job, because nobody was really telling me if I was doing a good job or not... A friend of mine calls this experience "the loneliness of command".

But things have changed just in the past few weeks, since the team has restructured. I still do the same job, but I now have a more immediate uber-supervisor, who is checking on me to make sure that things get done, and kicking me in the butt (in the nicest possible way) to make sure I keep stuff happening. So now I am busier than ever, but enjoying work a lot more because I have a leader, and the experience of command has lost its loneliness.

So I guess what I'm learning is that leadership works both ways. Even the leaders need leadership. I think often in the capitalist West, we are encouraged in the ideal of individuality and independence, and there is the expectation that everyone must always live up to some crazy ideal of infallibility. I think sometimes we get so caught up in trying to emulate some concept of icy perfection and total competence, that we forget that it is OK to be a follower, too. And no matter how much "responsibility" you have, no matter how many other people you're in charge of, there is comfort in knowing that someone else watching over what you're doing.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Donald Byrd II: The Birth of Disco?

Soul-Sides had a great post last week touching on the Mizell Brothers and their contribution to the birth of disco. Starting in the early 1970s, the Mizells' crystal-clean multitracked productions set a standard and a sound palette that many disco producers looked to emulate later in the decade.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and contend that the birth of disco occurs during 8 bars in the middle of Fight Time the first track on Donald Byrd's 1972 Mizell-produced album Black Byrd. If you don't believe me, skip through to 5'17. Remember this is April 1972! Flight Time is a complete production number, including the sample of the Boeing 707 that opens the track. Cheesy? Quite possibly, but it didn't stop Black Byrd going on to become Blue Note's best-selling record ever.

On Love's So Far Away, the nascence of disco is even more apparent - check out David T. Walker's killer rhythm guitar work. The band on Black Byrd includes Joe Sample (elp and synth), Wilton Felder (b) and the funkmonster himself, Harvey Mason (d).

Donald Byrd - Flight Time
Donald Byrd - Love's So Far Away
From Black Byrd: Blue NOte 84466 [Buy]

I'll also mention in passing how good it is to have the international cricket season underway again - especially when New Zealand sets a new world record for a 2nd innings run chase (332) to beat Australia. OK, Australia won the series 2-1, but the kiwis went out there last night in the final match in Christchurch and beat the best team in the world. They looked good doing it, and it was super, super-sweet.

Notes to Self

1. Never take cellphone with camera on Nick's stag night. (Nick gets married next weekend, bonne chance, mon vieux - that's Nick T, not Nick H, to avoid confusion)
2. Never, ever, leave laptop switched on and connected to internet so you can post photos when you get home at 3.30am
3. Never expect anyone who reads this blog to be at all interested.
4. Or is this citizen journalism at its most raw and noble?
5. Music. Yes. Music will return in soon when I have had a sleep.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Donald Byrd I

The Blue Note label in the late 1950s and early 1960s was the proving ground for a generation of talented young trumpeters who surged into view in the aftermath of Clifford Brown's untimely death. These new players had chops for Africa (often literally and spiritually), were alumni of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and were deeply imbued with the gospel and blues that would inform hard bop in the first half of the 1960s. Among this cohort of young lions were Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Reece and Donald Byrd.

I've chosen just one Donald Byrd track to share today, because it stands out for its power and sheer funk. Frank Foster's The Loud Minority was recorded on December 4th, 1970 in New York. These sessions, along with some December 1969 recordings, lay dormant in Blue Note's vaults for 25 years until they were finally released in 1995 under the title Kofi, an album that provides a superb insight into Donald Byrd's explorations in West African and Brazilian musics and funk. I highly recommend the entire album for those interested in groove and early fusion.

What I particularly love about this track is its balls-to-the-wall horn statement and the great rhythm section that underpins it. Drummer Mickey Roker rides the line between boogaloo and a loose, open-sticked clave on snare. Ron Carter (b) keeps things loose-knit. The other percussionists are some guys called, oh, Airto and Dom um Ramao. Frank Foster's tenor sax is flippin' tesifyin', brother. Donald Byrd hits those high notes and makes it sound like he means something (go back to school, Maynard). And Duke Pearson (rhodes) and Wally Richardson (gt) round out a great sounding band. Gotta love it.

Donald Byrd - The Loud Minority
From Kofi: Blue Note 31875 [Buy]

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Byron's Bugs

Don Byron, clarinetist and composer. His 1996 album Bug Music carried the ambitous subtitle Music Of The Raymond Scott Quintette, John Kirby & His Orchestra, And The Duke Ellington Orchestra. And yet what is most surprising about this piece of painstaking musical archaeology is how modern it sounds.

It's a dynamite band, too, featuring Uri Caine (pn), Pheeroan akLaff, Billy Hart and Joey Baron (d) and David Gilmore (g).

I've chosen a couple of compositions from the album that were either written or arranged by Raymond Scott (1908-1994). Scott is among "the-most-widely-heard-composers-of-the-20th-Century" thanks to his work becoming the background for multiple Warner Brothers cartoons, from classic 1930s Loonie Tunes through to Pinky and the Brain.

Don Byron - Powerhouse
Don Byron - The Quintet Play Carmen
From Bug Music: Nonesuch 79438 [Buy]

If you'd like to know more about Don Byron, his website is very good. And Fred Jung's Conversation with Don Byron is well worth reading.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Beauty of Optimism

Graeme Allwright and band
Saturday, 3rd December 2005, University of Auckland School of Music

Graeme Allwright's concert last night demonstrated how this French star remains a virtual unknown in his country of birth. I imagine a passport check at the door would have revealed as many French citizens in the audience as New Zealanders. And I was very possibly the youngest person at the event!

Folk music is not my regular predeliction. However Allwright's performance affirmed that this music should be more widely appreciated and heard. Storytelling and collective memory play such strong roles here, and this is the common thread that links the work of Woody Guthrie and Willy Nelson to Charles Trenet, George Brassens and Jacques Brel. Allwright's choice of material for the evening highlighted these hidden transatlantic links.

Too often today our popular music is characterised by lyrics that are self-centred and cynical. Allwright's music evokes a kind of simplicity and optimism (or hippy naïvité?) that is so often lacking in songwriters of more recent times. Listen to this, recorded by Allwright in 1978:

Graeme Allwright - Petite Fleur Fanée
From The Best of Graeme Allwright: Mercury Universal 077 090-2 [Buy]

Allwright's kiwi band were great, although at times overpowering the nonchalant delivery of Allwright himself - his vocals could have been higher in the mix for the whole evening, with perhaps some of the mids dropped out. It was refreshing to hear Jonathan Crayford and Lucian Johnson in a frankly non-jazz setting (although Crayford got to play to his strengths, and Allwright got to play at Charles Aznavour in a swinging rendition of "It had to Be You/Il fallait que ça soit toi".)

Allwright's music is one of great lightness and beauty, and I hope that I am as sprightly and commanding on stage at the age of 78 as was Monsieur Allwright last night. C'était vraiment très bien.