Free Parking for improvisation in multiple environments.

Monday, January 30, 2006

It's a Summer Feeling

A long hot weekend... two gigs in one day, starting at Browns Bay beach, then a dash across town for a twlight gig to 4,000 people at the Zoo. This is what being a musician in Auckland is all about...

Browns Bay (more people swimming than dancing...)

At the Zoo

Katchafire at the Zoo

Sunday, January 29, 2006

In My Father's Den

I have finally seen In My Father's Den, and it was a shame that I waited until the DVD release, rather than seeing it in the cinema. I think it is a completely stunning film, and does full justice to the novel by Maurice Gee.

The intrigue of the film reveals itself in a slow and measured way. What starts as a story about the return of a (prodigal?) son to his hometown after years overseas prompted by his father's death, becomes a rumination on the pain of confronting our past. The mystery deepens when a key character disappears, and it is only at the end of the film that we find out just how close together all the protagonists are bound.

For New Zealanders, it is easy to view this as an archtypal kiwi film. There are certainly aspects of this work that will resonate strongly with a native audience: the need to escape our islands, the sense of landscape, the particular characters in the community, and the accents of the actors. For kiwis of a certain age, there is even a "Dougal Stevenson" moment.

Director Brad McGann (currently battling cancer again) has done a great job capturing the landscape of inland Otago, and reflecting the culture of a small town in New Zealand's South Island. But this is a film that anyone, anywhere will enjoy. Beautiful to look at, and genuinely moving.

I know there are many non-NZ readers of this blog. If your experience of NZ cinema begins and ends with Peter Jackson, this film is well worth seeking out.

Crowded House - She Goes On
From Woodface: Capitol 793559 [Buy]

Friday, January 27, 2006

I'm Feeling Lucky...

"We'll completely destroy Liu Shaoqi-Deng Xiaoping anti-revolution line."- Chinese poster, 1967

This has been all over everyone else's blogs, but it's worth trying if you haven't done it yet.

1. Search for Tiananmen Square on Google USA
2. Search for Tiananmen Square on Google China

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Tradition

Art Ensemble of Chicago - Charlie M
From Full Force: ECM 1187 [Buy]
Art Ensemble of Chicago - Promenade: Cote Bamako II
From Urban Bushmen: ECM 1211/1212 [Buy]

The operating statement of Art Ensemble of Chicago is "Great Black Music: Ancient To the Future". And homage the traditions of this music can be heard throughout the AEC's long recorded career. From New Orleans polyphony to seat-of-the-pants funk, from bebop to the blues, it's all in there, filtered by the AEC's skills as composers and improvisers.

These two examples pay respect to the black musical heritage that spans the centuries and the Atlantic Ocean. Charlie M is, of course, a reference to Charles Mingus, and AEC appropriates the loose-limbed swing and combustible jazz mastered by Mingus' mid-sized groups in the late 1950s. This version was recorded in New York in 1980, just a year after Mingus' death.

Promenade: Cote Bamako channels a musical spirit that runs more ancient still. With the entire ensemble doubling on percussion and "little instruments", we are placed in the midst of some un-named ritual on the West Coast of Africa. An evocation of musical tradition that transcends any particular named culture, a tradition of which the Art Ensemble are the present-day griots.

Cote Bamako was recorded in May 1980 at the Amerika Haus in Munich, a live show released as the double ECM set Urban Bushmen, and considered by many to be AEC's finest live album.

Roscoe Mitchell and his bass saxophone. (Photo Credits: Jacky LePage)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Collectivity

Art Ensemble of Chicago - Oh Strange, Part 2 (Excerpt)
From Live in Paris: Actuel/Fuel 2000 302 061 383 1 [Buy]
Art Ensemble of Chicago - Tnoona
From Fanfare for the Warriors: Koch Jazz 8501 [Buy]

The Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC) are probably the single most influential improvising band ever. The Ensemble consists of individually brilliant musicians who submit their voices to a collective process, to create a collective sound. AEC has never been a band of soloists.

This concept of "collectivity" has been a guiding theme throughout the 40 year history of the AEC, but is particularly apparent in early live recordings, such as this extract from Oh Strange, recorded in Paris in October 1969. The personnel are Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors and Joseph Jarman. (Drummer Famadou Don Moye joined AEC the following year).

AEC, 1975: Clockwise from bottom left: Favors, Mitchell, Moye, Bowie, Jarman

The ethos of collectivity extended to their stage presentation. Joseph Jarman explained in an interview in 1999:

"Lester would wear a doctor's coat, the scientist, the experimenter. Roscoe was the businessman, the gentleman. I was sort of the shamanistic image coming from various cultures, so was Malachi and Moye. You know, face painting in non-Western cultures is a sign of collectivism, is a sign of one representing the community, it's not unique at all. But in our society, it's something unique. So what we were doing with that face painting was representing everyone throughout the universe, and that was expressed in the music as well."

Joseph Jarman (Photo Credit: Jacky LePage)

Perhaps the exigencies of recording studio albums encouraged the Ensemble towards more structured work. On Tnoona, a composition of Roscoe Mitchell, we hear the AEC's collective approach to improvisation, but focused towards a compositional goal. Individual voices can be distiguished, but are subsumed into the creation of a unified soundscape.

If you've never seen the Art Ensemble play live, I can highly recommend the Live at the Jazz Showcase DVD, filmed in Chicago in 1981. AEC on stage are highly visual, and this documentary is valuable representation of their approach to perfomance. It's available through

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Chocolate City Breakdown

[In today's exciting episode, we watch in horror as a little white boy from the vanilla suburbs of New Zealand wades into something he knows nothing about!]

There were obviously many ways to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr's birthday on Monday... A Considerable Speck recalled a passage from one of MLK's sermons, reflecting on our calling in life. O-Dub posted a historic piece of music. And New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin did a Pat Robertson, describing Hurricane Katrina as punishment from God.

In another brain explosion from the same speech, Nagin also promised that New Orleans would be rebuilt as a "Chocolate City": "it’s the way God wants it to be. ..You can't have New Orleans no other way."

Chocolate City. Kenneth Caroll defines Chocolate City as the rise of black consciousness and solidarity in Washington DC in the 1970s... And thirty years later, "right-wing-but-social-liberal" Andrew Sullivan sees the perpetuation of the Chocolate City attitude as reverse racism. In South Auckland, it's a nightclub run by kiwi hip-hop label Dawn Raid.

For George Clinton and Parliament, Chocolate City was a story of black assertiveness in the wake of the civil rights movement, A synth-laced, jive-ass space jazz funk poem. It could only have come out of 1975, and even today, the song is a cultural and political reference point par excellence.

Parliament - Chocolate City
From Parliament's Greatest Hits: Mercury 822 637-2 [Buy]

And when they come to march on ya
Tell 'em to make sure they got their James Brown pass
And don't be surprised if Ali is in the White House
Reverend Ike, Secretary of the Treasure
Richard Pryor, Minister of Education
Stevie Wonder, Secretary of FINE arts
And Miss Aretha Franklin, the First Lady
Are you out there, CC?
A chocolate city is no dream
It's my piece of the rock and I dig you, CC

Monday, January 16, 2006

Amen Brother!

The possibilities are endless. Make your own church sign at

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Pardon My Rags

An unexpected summertime pleasure has been Alexander Peskanov performing Scott Joplin piano rags. The CD was given to me for Christmas by a thoughtful family member. It's one of those albums that I'd never think to buy myself, and yet is full of interest and new discoveries.

Discovery, principally, of the work of Joplin beyond the classic "Maple Leaf Rag"/"The Entertainer"/"The Easy Winners", (tunes from which almost all life has been drained through endless hours spent with that middle-aged lady piano teacher with the horn-rimmed spectacles who inhabits so many of our childhoods).

There is the ghost of a habanera rhythm lurking deep in Solace. One thinks even of the late Rubén González and the Buena Vista Social Club... and I'm sure Heliotrope Bouquet sends me spam every week trying to sell me Cialis and rolex watches at unbelievable prices.

Time, therefore for some 1907 Scott Joplin that moves at a more measured, less frenetic pace than his most familiar work.

Alexander Peskanov - Heliotrope Bouquet: 'A Slow Drag Two-Step'
Alexander Peskanov - Solace: 'A Mexican Serenade'
From Scott Joplin Piano Rags: Naxos 8.559114 [Buy]

(Another Summer Pleasure - Campari Vine Tomatos - Yum!)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Mashup Challenge 2006: The Results

The House-Elves have returned from their conclave. Nobody is quite sure what happened during their three days locked away inside their rusty postbox, but they came up with a result, and we're able to reveal the Top Ten Impossible Mashups for 2006:

Derek Bailey vs. Jessica Simpson: A nice tribute to the late Derek Bailey. Jessica Simpson wouldn't even know what she was doing.
Yma Sumac vs Celine Dion & Mariah Carey: Yma Sumac will sing a high note. Mariah will sulk. Celine will ignore it all and take a holiday in her mansion on St Barts.
Sex Pistols vs. Enja: Enja deserves everything she gets. This mash needs to be executed with extreme prejudice.
The White Stripes vs The Carpenters: A celebrity deathmatch between two great musical sibling duos - I like it.
Serge Gainsbourg vs. Whitesnake: Come on, Gainsbourg records were made to be mashed.
Pizzicato 5 vs Accept: P5 sound like a mashup all by themselves. this messy tryst with German Speed Metal could be like flattening a poodle with a steam roller. But Accept were big in Japan, so perhaps this could work...?
Funkadelic ("One Nation Under a Groove") vs. Kate Smith ("God Bless America"): There's a twisted patriotism here that could explain a lot, matt.
Bootsy Collins vs. Frank Sinatra: Dunno how the House-elves let this one through. Wingardium Leviosa indeed.
Klaus Nomi vs Sam Cooke: Classic black masculinity meet high camp East Village theatre? Ouch. You people are sick.
Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" to the music of "Sweet Home Alabama": Another commentary on patriotism and civic duty? Possibly?

And to keep the music flowing...

Greyboy* vs Melle Mel - It's Got to be a Love/The Message

Thanks to DJ Godzilla for this particular mash. Simple but effective. For those of you who don't live in Auckland, DJ Godzilla plays Walter Matthau to DJ Shagpile's Jack Lemmon as the awesomest funk DJ duo in town, The Natural Disasters (4-6pm Sundays on Base FM). Muchos Respectos.

Derek Bailey is Dobby's favourite, favourite guitarist, sir!

Podcast Heaven

If you haven't heard Ricky Gervais' new podcast yet, I recommend you check it out. Three guys talk about absolutely nothing for half an hour, and there's a new show every week. I'm not sure I like the way they treat Karl, but it is pretty darn funny.

Also, Radio France now has most of their weekly shows available on podcast! (Note, that's "le podcast", not "la baladodiffusion" as they're trying to enourage in Quebec.)

France Culture and France Inter on demand is something close to pure podcast heaven if, like me, you're trying to retain your French language. Now I can listen to what I want, when I want, and don't have to put up with a streaming live version of Le Fou du Roi at 11 o'clock at night. Like Lionel Dersot in Tokyo, I am grateful for this new small pleasure.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Battista Lena's Soviet Space Oddity

Italian guitarist and composer Battista Lena has put together a couple of rather astounding records for the French Label Bleu in the past few years. One of them, (Banda Sonora), remains on my wish-list. The other is an orchestral eurojazz space opera that describes the fictional voyage of 3 Russian cosmonauts, with a dual libretto in Italian and French.

I Cosmonauti Russi is a curious musical confection that teeters between some rambunctious Slavic wedding feast and the pompous soundtrack to a Soviet May Day parade. The record comes as a 2 CD set, with the same music on each disc, but with French lyrics on one and Italian on the other.

The narrative itself follows a similar arc to David Bowie's Space Oddity: the cosmonauts launch into orbit, they express wonder at the beauty of outer space, there are references to what the papers (Pravda) are saying back home, thoughts of women and families left back on earth, and finally the cosmonauts are lost in space.

Here are a couple of selections, one from each of the French and Italian versions, performed by the Banda et Coro Bonaventura Somma di Chianciano Terme. Solos are by Enrico Rava (tp) and Gabriele Mirabassi (cl).

Battista Lena - La Jupe Bleue de Tatiana/Le Hublot
(Tatiana's Blue Dress/The Porthole)
Battista Lena - Dimitri, Yvan e Alioscia Erano i Nostro Nomi
(Dimitri, Ivan and Aliocha were Our Names)
From I Cosmonauti Russi: Label Bleu LBLC 6641/42 [Buy]

Battista Lena

Mashup Challenge 2006: Update
Thanks for all the suggestions so far: we are still accepting late contributions. Our team of subservient house-elves will begin their deliberations tonight, and (barring hanging chads and ongoing issues with our dodgy IBM voting machines), we should have a Top 10 posted in the next few days!

By the Way...
Dave Douglas has a blog.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

etnobofin's Mashup Challenge 2006

"Mash! We demand to be mashed!"

Kelis vs Nirvana - Milk Shake Like Teen Spirit
Crowded House vs Pharrell - The Weather Episode

matt mentioned John Zorn in a comment here last night, reminding me of an idea that I had half-baked and abandoned. The idea is still half-baked, but I'm dragging it out of the fridge serving it up anyway. It's the stoopidest concept ever, with ther possible exception of Sudoku.

The Mashup Challenge 2006
The aim of this game is to come up with a list of the 10 most impossible artist mashups ever, the sort of mashups that would come with a health warning.

You don't have to nominate specific songs/tracks. Just the artists. Bonus points may be awarded for the most surreal and silly.

Like Mornington Crescent, The Mashup Challenge 2006 is purely an intellectual exercise, and I don't expect anyone to actually attempt to produce any of these in their bedroom studio. If anyone actually bothers, well, we'll give them lots of respect. Or block our ears.

To kick it off, here are three that I thought of:

Madonna vs John Zorn
Serge Gainsbourg vs Whitesnake
mid-80s Prince vs Kenny Rogers

So... post your mashup ideas in the comments section below, and we'll pull together the best ones for a Top 10!

(matt/Taxi Driver, this is why I don't get linked by o-dub. Because I do dumb stuff like this.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Of Edmund and Alexander

To be honest, I was not expecting to enjoy The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe quite so much. It is a film for kids, and Andrew Adamson has done a workmanlike, if not spectacular, job of bringing the C.S. Lewis book to the screen. But what made the film enjoyable for me was noticing the way I respond to the characters as an adult, compared to my memories as a child of 7 or 8, when reading the book for the first time.

When I read the book as a child, Edmund really annoyed me. I couldn't understand what made him want to ride off with the White Witch and betray his brother and sisters. The Witch was so obviously evil - why did Edmund want to hang out with her? I wanted to get on with the big exciting battle between Aslan and the Witch.

But with a few more years under my belt, I now recognise that Edmund reflects some of the venality and selfishness that lies in all of us. (And of course Edmund's fall and redemption is really the central drama of the story). By contrast, this time around it was Peter, Susan and Lucy that really annoyed me, appearing as little more than Enid Blyton cardboard cutouts, all eager for lashings of ginger beer. No wonder Edmund wanted to run away from them.

The other thing that struck me was that the Edmund in the film was the dead spitting image of Alexander Ekdahl, the titular character in Ingmar Bergman's 1982 film Fanny and Alexander.

Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes), 2005

Alexander Ekdahl (Bertil Guve), 1982

Despite the resemblance on celluloid, of course, Edmund and Alexander are far from parallel characters. Edmund ultimately casts aside his "childishness" through Aslan's act of atonement (e~mergent kiwi offers a wider theological exploration of Aslan's sacrifice). Alexander's childishness (he's gifted with a precocious imagination) is both a weakness and a source of great strength, but ultimately in F & A, Alexander's stubborn belief in the imaginative act is vindicated.

I imagine that C.S. Lewis would not have approved of Alexander Ekdahl and his liberal humanist, Swedish bourgeois extended family. But at the same time, the Ekdahls are infinitely forgiving of the weaknesses among their whanau - an unconditional philosophy of acceptance that would put cantakerous old C.S. Lewis to shame.