Category: Listening

James Booker, Stones Throw Records, Muscle Shoals

By , October 21, 2016 12:41 am

Hi everyone!

I recently went through a good run of music-related documentaries that I would highly recommend:

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Bayou Maharaja – This doc is about James Booker, a New Orleans pianist and entertainer that was active primarily in the 70’s. Although he made several European tours and played with many of the era’s great musicians, Booker stayed in NOLA for the most part, which is part of why he is still unknown to many people. I first heard about him when I visited New Orleans with Polyrhythmics the first time in 2014, and it’s a shame not only that I had not become familiar with him sooner, but also that he is still so underappreciated. Completely unique, extremely talented, and fascinating in every way.  Check out the movie!

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Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton – Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton tells the story of Stones Throw Records, the LA label started by DJ Peanut Butter Wolf and responsible for supporting music by Madlib, MF Doom, J Dilla, and others.  In addition to those artists, I have Stones Throw to thank for turning me on to a few other artists that became important to me for one reason or another, like the Stepkids, Mayer Hawthorne, and James Pants.  What interested me the most when watching this movie was how organic the process was in creating the musical scene around the record label; Wolf would actively pursue the music that he thought was cool, regardless of how the bands and musicians related to each other.  In this way, there are some Stones Throw albums that, when put next to each other, would seem like they don’t belong on the same record label, and yet at the same time there is something in the sounds of all their records that makes it sound like Stones Throw.  Wolf created a sound and a scene by not worrying about style or genre or whether it made sense.

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Muscle Shoals – Similarly, I enjoyed how Muscle Shoals recounted the creation of the style and sound that would come to represent early music by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Duane Allman.  The Muscle Shoals Sound would become famous, and its origin is nothing more than 4 studio musicians and a recording engineer from a small part of Northwestern Alabama making music that sounded good to them.  The story of Muscle Shoals, from humble beginnings to more modern music industry struggles and everything in between, was truly inspiring to me.

 

I hope you’re encouraged to watch these films after reading this.  You won’t regret it!

 

Art

 

 

Updates/Podcasts

By , July 13, 2016 1:37 pm

Hi all,

I cleaned a bit of the Links page, adding websites for Ben Bloom, Westsound Recording, and Blue Mallard Studios, who I thank for the killer sounds on the most recent Polys 45.

I also deleted old links and updated the link to Ethan Iverson’s blog, which I have rediscovered recently and am once again impressed and thankful for his insight on both musical and non-musical topics. His recent post about Albert Ayler (https://ethaniverson.com/2016/07/13/albert-ayler-at-80/) is thought-provoking in a great way.

A few new photos are up in the 2016 gallery, and the calendar is updated through most of September, with trips to Colorado and Virginia on the horizon.

Another rediscovery has been the general podcast arena; when I was commuting to an office for work 5 days a week I had a sizable list of podcasts to listen to, but since then I haven’t really been keeping up. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I think I’ve been filling that listening time in other productive ways. But I started browsing around again and found a couple things.

JazzStories is a podcast put out by Jazz at Lincoln Center, and it consists of 10-15 minute excerpts of interviews with jazz musicians both past and present. The fact that it is both older musicians and younger ones is important, because the differences in their perceptions is one of the things that makes the podcast so interesting. In all, it conveys the stories that I enjoy hearing so much; anecdotes and personal accounts of life from the people that I have listened to on record and, in some cases, idolized for years now.

City Soul is a radio show on KBCS 91.3 on Friday nights, but I rarely am able to hear it live, so I’m happy to get a chance to listen in podcast form. It’s a show I would listen to regularly about 5 years ago, and I found a lot of good music moving between jazz, electronica, and hip hop that I never would have discovered otherwise. I’m excited to get back on listening to it and see what DJs J-Justice and Atlee show me next.

That’s all for now; thanks for reading!

Art

Jaco

By , June 2, 2016 1:56 pm

 

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I recently had the opportunity to watch Jaco, a 2015 documentary about Jaco Pastorius, and I cannot recommend it enough.

I remember the summer after I graduated high school I was working at my dad’s law firm, like I always did in the summers, and one of my coworkers, a bass player, introduced me to Jaco.  I was listening to a lot of jazz and was a snob, so the fact that I hadn’t heard the name before made me immediately skeptical.  I was impressed and liked the music upon first impression, but it wasn’t a revelation.  Over the following months though, Jaco’s world, 1970’s jazz and funk, started to open up for me, and there’s still a lot of music from that time that I am fascinated with, as well music from that time I haven’t discovered yet.

And Jaco really is at the center of that stuff for me.  What the film did was add so many other aspects of his persona that I loved learning about.  Some of these include the role that Florida and the Florida music scene played in his life, stories and video footage of he and his family together, and the wide variety of genres and styles he liked and moved between (something that I talk about and think about often, as you may know if you’ve read the blog before).  All of these things and several others parts of the movie had a strong effect on me, and, thanks to a weekend off and a patient girlfriend, I watched parts of the movie, as well as the extra interviews and clips, over and over again.

To this day I listen to Weather Report pretty regularly, and I remember listening to Jaco’s Word of Mouth album constantly for at least a year while I was in college, but watching the documentary Jaco reinvigorated my interest and  love of Jaco’s music and the music being made during his time to a higher level than it’s been in a while.  It also got me into Joni Mitchell’s work with Jaco, which I’m deep into now, but that will have to wait for another post!

Perhaps most importantly, I felt that the movie is a very poignant story about who the guy was as a person, and that might be the part that stays with me the longest.

Anyway, check it out if you get the chance!

 

 

 

Possibilities

By , May 11, 2016 3:31 pm

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The Polyrhythmics tour to New Orleans and the Southeast, from Kentucky (or, as some call it, Kenpucky,) to Florida to North Carolina and beyond went relatively smoothly, with many new areas visited from both the band perspective and a personal perspective.  I enjoyed the cultures and people in the South so very much, and loved having the opportunity  to play music there; once again I felt a real appreciation for professional musicians and bands in the cities to which we traveled.

Even before this tour I had a few long drives, so I checked out a book on tape:  Possibilities, an autobiography by Herbie Hancock.  I really liked it!  Herbie goes into detail about how certain musical projects and bands came about, and what the dynamic was like in those groups, as well as how his musical philosophy changed (or stayed the same) throughout his long career.  Definitely some interesting perspectives from a guy that has been TCB’ing (Taking Care of Business) for quite a while.

I would also recommend, to other aspiring professional musicians in particular, this interview with drummer and producer Jojo Mayer that Adam Gross recommended to me.  There were a few observations from Mayer there about where you work and play music versus where you live, the decisions you make regarding your life as a professional musician, and what the music business means to him.  Good stuff.

I think each time I return home after 2 or more weeks away I engage in the same self-reflection, but once again it’s really hitting me that music is my professional future, both teaching and playing.  For a while after college it was in the background of my professional life; something I was doing intermittently when I wasn’t busy working.  Then, even when it was in the forefront, I assumed that someday I would have to push it back again.  I think I’m getting closer to eliminating that assumption, which feels really good.

 

 

 

 

More Focused Listening

By , March 23, 2016 5:03 pm

When David Bowie passed away, I was motivated to listen to more of his music, as I had really only heard his big hits previously.  As I have occasionally done with other artists in the past, I decided to start with his early albums and move through them chronologically (I wrote about this approach previously here).  Listening to his albums this way definitely taught me some things about the development of songwriting, exploring different sounds and textures in pop music, and how pop music can be inventive and unique.  I really missed the boat in not listening to his music earlier.

With an upcoming special event that Ben Bloom and the rest of the Polyrhythmics will be putting together in New Orleans for JazzFest, I moved on to do the same focused listening with the discographies of Fela Kuti and the Grateful Dead.  I knew a fair amount of Fela’s music, but almost none of the Dead’s music, and once again both experiences were significantly enlightening.  What struck me in listening to the Grateful Dead was how interesting the actual composed material was; it seems to me that they are largely known for the improvisational nature of their performances, but I enjoyed the written material just as much.

Fela’s music is, in its own way, a perfect example of the approach that I frequently talk about achieving:  a unique synthesis of all of his influences into an individual sound.  Throughout his discography you hear how he incorporated West African Highlife, Jazz, and Soul in the style James Brown in a way that allows them all to work together.  The political nature of his music and how fearless he was in declaring his views is also an important part of who he was, and how the music sounded.

Polyrhythmics have never claimed to be an Afrobeat band, or tried to accurately and faithfully execute Afrobeat music as Fela and others played it, but the influence is definitely there, and it would be irresponsible to ignore or downplay that.  I’ve thought a lot recently about my responsibility as a musician to not only acknowledge influences but to bring them to the front of conversation when talking to listeners or students about my playing, especially if they are not familiar with those earlier bands and musicians.  I haven’t done a great job with that, and hope to do better.

Art

 

 

 

Library Music Finds

By , December 31, 2015 5:05 pm

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I’m going through another heavy library-listening phase, checking out CDs by the armful!  Here are some things I’ve been checking  out:

Grant Green, Idle Moments – The more I listen to Grant Green, the more I like his playing, specifically the thematic way in which he improvises.  Although it is sometimes repetitive, I think that repetition is really intentional and makes his solos more melodic, and his language is strong.  This record also has Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Henderson on it too, so there is an interesting meeting of approaches.

Billy Childs, Map to the Treasure:  Reimagining Laura Nyro – I had never listened to Nyro’s music before, so I don’t know how different Childs made these songs with the arrangements, but the arrangements are really moving and well done.  This album has has Becca Stevens on a few tracks, which led me to her album Perfect Animal, another cool record with unique sounds and really great vocal work from her.

Miles Davis Quintet, Live in Europe 1969 – I have to be ready for some pretty intense free/noise improvisation to listen to this era of Miles, but, as I like to say sometimes, the music and the band is undeniable.  Chick Corea, Jack Dejohnette, Miles, Wayne Shorter, and Dave Holland; this is the band before the Bitches Brew bands but after In a Silent Way, so you can kind of hear a transition happening.  It also came with a concert DVD, so it was fun to get a chance to actually watch these guys play.

Roland Kirk, We Free Kings – I think Kirk is pretty underrated, or at least pigeon-holed for playing multiple woodwinds at once, which is really cool and sounds great, but he also was really inventive and unique on singular horns too, working in and building on the bebop language, and I think he was very creative in terms of fusing bebop, blues, and free jazz together.

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls – Also very intense music, but for me this record was inspiring in how unique Mahanthappa’s approach is to alto saxophone; you can hear the influences and the individuality together, and it’s clear he’s worked on his approach in a clear way.

Sergio Mendes, Herp Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – This was a pleasant surprise for me; I had just recently watched the documentary The Wrecking Crew, which talks a little bit about Alpert’s work in the ’60’s and 70’s, and when I saw this album I had to check it out, not just for Alpert’s name but also because I had Medes’ name as well but never listened.  Super strong mood and vibe throughout, with funky beats and cool tunes!

Anyway, that’s just a taste, I’m still going through a lot of things that I just found by sifting through the jazz sections of the cds at Seattle Public Libraries, and I can’t recommend it enough.  Even if jazz isn’t your thing, there are albums to be found in the other sections as well.

-Art

 

 

 

 

Listening

By , September 16, 2015 4:05 pm

I’ve been able to put in some significant practice time recently, which has felt great!  Here’s what I’ve been working on:

This was a track I heard in the Polyrhythmics van; Ben had recently came upon a Grant Green boxed set, and although it’s off of a Lou Donaldson album, Green’s solo really intrigued me and got me into the practice phase I’m in now that is mostly focused on learning vocabulary.

For the last couple of years, my playing has revolved around approaches and concepts, using scales or intervals to improvise and write music. This is different to me than using vocabulary, actual melodic phrases and specific musical “sentences”. I believe I moved away from that because it is easier to fall into cliche and predictability, but coming back to it I find my ideas to be more concrete, and I’m not as concerned about being predictable; every phrase I play, whether it’s coming from another musician or not, still goes through my brain, and is therefore different than it was before.

A couple more I’m working on now:

Clifford Brown’s solo. They way he weaves phrases together is incredible.

Gene Ammons’ solo. This has one been fun because I haven’t transcribed very many solos for tenor saxophone, and it gives me a chance to work on a different style of playing than I am used to.

Hopefully, this practice trend will continue. I’m really excited by its effect on my musical focus and motivation!

– Art

More on Musical Circles

By , June 30, 2015 1:57 pm

Although I won’t be in town, I was excited to see that Kamasi Washington is coming to Seattle, playing at Neumo’s on July 30:

I’ve read a fair amount about Washington in the last couple of months, but one aspect of his approach that particularly interested me was his participation in creating the West Coast Get Down, which is the community of musicians that have known each other since high school, play together in various combinations in Los Angeles, and recently collaborated on a month-long recording session, which resulted in a whole wealth of material written by different individuals in the collective. Kamasi’s album The Epic is just the first release from that material.

What I really like about musical collectives is they give you a wider view of the music that’s coming from a particular time and place. Because a group of like-minded people that know each other well are involved rather than one individual dictating ideas to others, the end result feels more collaborative. The West Coast Get Down and Kamasi Washington’s album is what a certain part of LA’s jazz community sounds like in 2015. I do wish the other members of the West Coast Get Down were mentioned as often as Washington and the collective are, but perhaps that will come in time when the rest of the material from that recording session is released.

I talked a bit about Seattle’s musical circles here, but the stories about Washington’s album and the West Coast Get Down got me thinking about them once again (post edited: I tried listing all of the music communities I consider collectives or near-collectives, and the list was just too long, I’m sure you all know many of the ones I do), and it made me wonder what Seattle music in 2015 sounds like to people that don’t live in Seattle or haven’t listened to it very much.  Perhaps it’s better to refrain from over-categorizing and trying to define the music being made; when it comes down to it we’re all just trying to be musically honest and playing what we like without making it fit into a style.  I know I’ve had this type of conversation with different people many many times, but it always seems to be on my mind, so if I’m repeating myself I’m sorry, friends!

 

 

Tour Blog 3

By , May 4, 2014 11:18 am

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San Diego:  Our San Diego show was in the beach town of Ocean Beach, at Winston’s, where we’d played once before and had a really successful show.  Unlike last time, I went to the beach for a little while before we started, which was gorgeous!  A nice last look before we turned East.  Then I talked to my sis and got the recommendation for fish tacos (she lived in San Diego for a couple of years).  I also found a record store and got a Grant Green vinyl, Solid, with James Spaulding and Joe Henderson, two saxophonists I like.  Our gig was with a local band that I was familiar with through Twitter, Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, and they sounded awesome too; interesting tunes, cool sounds, and nice and supportive people to boot!  I made sure to grab one of their 45s!

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Then we took the left turn to head towards the middle.  First on that route was Phoenix, at Last Exit Live.  The building was kind of on the edge of town and the “green room” was an old airstream trailer; not a lot to look at on the outside.  But, sure enough, the inside was stylish and clean, and they had a fence that was hiding a big patio with nice tables and chairs everywhere.  Their sound system and staff was top notch (several of them from the well-known Recording Institute they have in Phoenix, where my friends Matt and Adam went), and the inside of the trailer was hip too!

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Our local connection there was the Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, and they tore it up!  Lots of energy, commitment to the Fela Kuti sound, and what looked like a community that was really into creative music; several of the audience members had just seen Kneebody in Phoenix the week before, after they played with Hardcoretet in Seattle, and they had listened to some of the Polyrhythmics before we got there and were really excited about us.

Around this time I was really becoming aware of how quickly I fell in love with all of the places we play.  I understand that I’m getting an unbalanced view, being somewhere one night, maybe two, and only encountering locals at the show, where obviously everyone is going to have similar personalities, but I can’t help but be fascinated with what it’s like living somewhere else and being immersed in music somewhere other than Seattle.  After all, I’ve never lived anywhere else.  It would be a long time before I ever moved – I have too many connections with friends, family, and musicians that would be too difficult to leave right now – but this tour in particular really got me thinking, and this is before the real kicker:  a week in New Orleans.

BUT FIRST:  An overnight detour to Telluride and a Lucky Brown reunion in Santa Fe!  All that and more in my next post.

Tour Post #2

By , April 28, 2014 6:26 pm

Writing this in the backyard of Scott’s friend Josh, a saxophonist in New Orleans who is nice enough to put us up for the week.  There is a warm breeze and it is a sticky but beautiful 80 degrees, although it is kicking up a bit and there are some storm warnings.

Some carryovers from S.F.:  Grant trying on a handmade tie-dye coat at Jamming on Haight, and my favorite photo on the Boom Boom Room Wall, Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Waters Blues Band.

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SO…after San Francisco we had a show at Harlow’s, in Sacramento.  We played with Big Sticky Mess, a funkadelic trio from Davis.  They were a lot of fun, a little bit of Bootsy Collins, Cameo, and 70’s funk guitar and bass; it was impossible not to dance!  We stayed at their house in Davis, a musician’s house with 11 people, jam/recording space, and a friendly house dog.  Many of them work at the Trader Joe’s down the street from their house part time, which gives them time to work on music too.  Davis seemed like a cool, mellow college town, although I didn’t have a whole lot of time to explore.

We then headed to Nevada City to another favorite spot, the Crazy Horse.  The Horse has a small apartment unit above the bar that we were able to stay in (any time we have the opportunity to stay somewhere with a kitchen is a great thing because we can save money by cooking.  Of course, avoiding hotel room rentals is a huge cash saver too.)  We had a day to rest, stretch the legs and play frisbee, and wander around a town a bit.  I found a bookstore and bought a copy of Tolkien’s the Silmarillion, which I’m hoping to get through in the van rides and plane ride home.

The Tuesday show at the Crazy Horse was pretty intimate, with plenty of supportive local folks.  Some are here for Jazzfest too!

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Thursday was time for Southern California, in Hollywood.  We swooped in to load and soundcheck, and I had just enough time to go to the big Amoeba Music store there, where I picked up a used Zero 7 CD, the Garden, which I’ve checked out from the library and played beginning to end several times over the years, so I figured it was time I buy it.  I also went to dinner with my dear friend Sarah; I wish there had been more time, but as always it felt good to catch up and hear her thoughts on things.

Although our show at the King King Theater there in Hollywood was kind of sparsely attended, the stage was really nice and the sound was awesome.  We also made a few new fans and signed some albums, something I don’t think I’ll ever get used to!

Right after the show we loaded up and left for San Juan Capistrano; Sam’s parents hosted us that night and the next day and treated us to lunch.  As is the case with everyone who puts us up, they were extremely warm and hospitable, and very curious about the touring life, which I honestly have fun discussing (obviously).

Every once in a while I deal with some anxiety about making a music career work.  Scheduling performance and teaching commitments efficiently can be really tricky, and I worry about shortchanging students by being away too often or for too long, and although it is tremendously exciting for me to have these chances to travel, I am always trying to be aware of my responsibilities back in Seattle, and it looks like these travel opportunities are going to come up more often in the future.  For now, the best I can do is be honest and give as much notice and accommodation as possible, and hope for the best; I’ve seen more than a few examples of how people make music work professionally on this trip, so I know it can be done.

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That’s all for now, next post I will cover San Diego and the Southwest!

 

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