Posts tagged: polyrhythmics

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Updates

By , February 16, 2016 1:39 am

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Thanks for another awesome photo, Chris Davis!

 

Hi all,

It may be a little late for a New Year’s post, but here are some things happening for me now and things I’m looking forward to this year.

The Unsinkable Heavies continue to play every 3rd Wednesday at the Seamonster, and we have had a few opportunities to get out and play some more around town as well.  The band has really come into a particular vibe and sound that I think separates it from other similar groups.  That kind of clarity is important with the Heavies since we all play in the Polyrhythmics as well, but I think the two are distinct and different musical experiences.

Both Polyrhythmics and Theoretics are keeping busy, working on new material while still trying to push outward and share our music.

Because Theoretics (at least in its current form) is a little newer, one of my goals for the band is to get some real momentum with both live shows and new music.  Over the last couple of months I’ve talked with more and more people that like what we do, which is really encouraging, and, as with the Heavies, our musical style is becoming more and more solidified.

With Polyrhythmics, I’m looking forward to working on more new material and continuing down the path that we largely started on last year.  I’ve started to participate a bit more in the creative process with the band, and I’m excited about what comes out of it.

Lastly, teaching is going well, and in addition to giving private lessons I feel really lucky to be able to work with Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra’s Jazz Scholars program, where I can help give musical inspiration and motivation to kids who may not have the same support that I did when I was their age.  Check out their page here for more information!

 

Art

 

 

 

East Coast, California, and Oregon

By , October 21, 2015 3:46 pm

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Home again home again after a busy couple of weeks:

– The Polyrhythmics East Coast Tour was overwhelmingly positive, both individually and as a group. Although our time in each area or city was usually pretty short, I really enjoyed being in areas where the moods, personalities, and cultures were a bit different than that of the Northwest, from New England to New York to DC to North Carolina. Equally interesting were the parts of some of the cities that I found really similar to Seattle and the Northwest; sometimes it was the way a town felt, sometimes it was the way the people were, sometimes it was something else. Regardless, there was strong support and love for our music, which was heartwarming. New York in particular was wonderful; I reunited with several friends with whom I always enjoy catching up.

– After that, our stops in California and Oregon were familiar in the best of ways. Many of the venues we’ve played several times before, and it’s comforting to know that the place you’re playing any given night likes you and will treat you well, and you will probably see some familiar faces too! I talked about music a lot with a couple of the guys on this run, discussing where we see our music (both as individuals and as a band) fitting in compared to all of the other music getting made out there. I always find those conversations very rewarding, and think it makes me a better musician (or at least makes WANT to be better).

The Polyrhythmics twitter and instagram accounts were pretty active on these runs, so there are more detailed descriptions of the tours here and here.

It is not easy to make tours like this happen (much of the credit should go to Ben Bloom, our guitarist and tour manager), and there are sacrifices each of us in the band make to do it, but I feel very fortunate to be along for the ride.

On to the next!

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

Updates

By , August 22, 2015 7:18 pm

July and the beginning of August has been some of the busiest times for me in recent memory!  Here’s what I’ve been up to:

 

– I went to Chicago to see my sister graduate and become a doctor in Psychology, very exciting!  Over the 4 years that she lived there I visited several times, and I enjoy that city very much; to me it has a very clear cultural identity that is colorful and rich.

 

– I played with Theoretics on KEXP’s morning show.  Although I had done an in-studio performance there before with Polyrhythmics, it is always thrilling to know you are being broadcast on the radio.  I also appreciate what KEXP does for creative music in Seattle (along with NPR stations KPLU and KBCS).

 

– I performed a few pick-up gigs with musicians I admire:  Tarik Abouzied, Ian Sheridan, Joe Doria, Brennan Carter, Jeff Johnson, and Jake Svendsen.  It’s always a pleasure to play music as well as talk with these guys and get their viewpoint on things.  Jeff in particular is someone I look forward to playing with every time because I view him as an older music master and local legend, so whenever I play with him I feel as though I’m with a mentor, and there is always something I learn from playing and hanging with him.

 

– I kept a steady weekend-warrior-style tour schedule up with Polyrhythmics and Theoretics.  I had the opportunity to play at the Capitol Hill Block Party, the Guitarfish Festival, the Northern Rockies Music Festival, the Kaslo Jazz Festival, Summer Meltdown, the South Lake Union Block Party, Doe Bay Fest, and the For the Funk of it Festival, and I traveled to cities and areas all around Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, and Nevada.  Crazy!

 

I put up a bunch of new pictures in the Photos section, and I uploaded many videos from my travels onto a “Summer Performances 2015” playlist on my youtube channel ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYy1yby1nObZRmIM1hh7G3A/playlists ) , so check those out!

 

– Art

New Orleans JazzFest 2015

By , April 30, 2015 5:47 pm

Hi all!

I’ve made a playlist on my YouTube channel with some of the short video clips I managed to take while in New Orleans.  They are very short, but it hopefully will give you at least small idea of the energy behind these live performances and the music happening here.  Go here and check out the New Orleans 2015 playlist for a tiny taste of Jazzfest!  In addition, there is a clip there of me from our performance at the Blue Nile, in the French Quarter district of New Orleans.

In addition to what I’ve said in the past about the high number of talented musicians in New Orleans and the supportive culture in the city surrounding live music, one of the other parts of the JazzFest experience I enjoy is meeting and talking to touring bands and musicians that are at the festivities for the same reasons we are, and sometimes these bands and musicians travel just as far.  It’s interesting to get their take on traveling and playing this kind of creative groove music.  In general, there seemed to be those people that were part of the core groups of bands, kind of like we are in Polyrhythmics, and then those independent musicians that get hired to play in this or that group or band.  These are the people that I found myself asking “who are you playing with this year?” because they may be in a different horn section or featured with a different group, etc.

Both of those types of conversations are equally fascinating to me, but I regret not talking more about just music and playing.  I feel as though this year if I became self-conscious or nervous I would fall back on those kinds of music business-type questions instead of asking about music.  Something to keep in mind for next time…

A few extra photos:  
  
Frenchman Street, where many of the live music clubs are all lined up.  This is definitely the street where I spent most of my time.
  
The blanket fort is from the friends’ house where we stayed.  The house was pretty small so I slept on the floor under the table, which led somebody to build me a fort…the sign says “Art’s Fort – BEWARE IT STIRS”
  
The third photo is our keyboard player Nate and I riding in our friends’ van to get to one of the gigs.  We had to borrow some drums so Nate and I made sure it got there.  Don’t worry, it had seatbelts!

I was going to add a photo of the Alligator sausage I had, but it tasted better than it looks, you’ll just have to trust me!


 

-Art

 

 

News

By , April 6, 2015 3:59 pm

Hi everyone!

Lots of exciting stuff happening.  Polyrhythmics just returned from 4-day west coast tour that culminated in a show at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, CA.  The Hall has been the site of many amazing concerts over the years, and is a beautiful room to play in.  I felt very lucky to play there!  The Polys will be going down to New Orleans for JazzFest once more at the end of this month, another place that seems like a blessing for me to visit.  I look forward to taking in as much music as I can and getting input and advice from other musicians.

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Theoretics are gearing up for several festivals this Summer, which is very exciting since the band is, to me, still pretty young, at least with its current sound, and I think there are a lot of new listeners out there that will really appreciate what we do.  Our Seattle show at the Tractor Tavern went very well, and we will be opening up for Robert Glasper on April 14 at Neumos.  I have enjoyed Glasper’s music for a while now (here’s an older post about him here ), so this is a great opportunity to maybe get a little closer experience!

Teaching is going well, although working out the education/performance balance is constantly ripe for improvement.  For the future, I am thinking of experimenting with Skype lessons while on the road, as well as keeping students more informed about what touring and performing is like.  Perhaps a mailer or more consistent blogging is in order…

Art

P.S.  Check out The Main Squeeze.  This is the band we shared the stage with in San Francisco.  Great stuff!

 

 

Greetings From The Road!

By , February 18, 2015 11:24 pm

The Polyrhythmics are currently on our way out of Louisiana, heading toward Colorado.

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The Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans was more colorful and vibrant than I could have imagined, and although the multiple parades and costume balls range from neighbor and family friendly to parties that were for older folks, the one thing that was everywhere was MUSIC!

Just as it was last year after our trip to NOLA during JazzFest, I was sad to leave the city. I love being a part of the music community in Seattle, and I never want to leave it, but it always feels special to be in New Orleans, and I think it’s a city I want to continue to visit throughout my life.

Other news: Theoretics have released a new EP, and I think the music we made on it is unique, exciting, and creative in a way that I am very proud of. You can check it out here: https://soundcloud.com/theoretics/theoretics-fugue-state

A few other recent performances I found really musically fulfilling:

Tim Kennedy Quintet at Tula’s – Tim’s original material allows all of us to interact and make great music together.

Lucky Brown and the Super Premium Chiefs at Port Townsend’s Strange Brewfest – More on Lucky here

 

We’re moving on to Wyoming and Idaho from here, then we head home to Seattle.  See you all soon!

– Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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