Posts tagged: polyrhythmics

Saxophone Siblings

By , April 15, 2018 4:48 pm

I started playing music by learning clarinet when I was 9.  I had 2 cassette tapes:  one of Swing clarinetist Benny Goodman and one of saxophonist Kenny G.  That ended up being the only Kenny G music I had, but I did go on to get several Benny Goodman tapes after that.

I then went on to listen to more and more jazz, and by the time I was 13, when I had the opportunity to play in Jazz Band at school, I was excited to play this music.  At the time, however, the band did not allow clarinets, so if I wanted to join I had to play the saxophone.  

I don’t remember being disappointed about it, and in fact I think I was excited to learn this instrument that was in so much of the music I listened to, so I was given an old Alto Saxophone from one of my cousins and things kind of took off after that.  I’ve been playing alto ever since.

After college, I bought a Tenor Saxophone from an old friend and would play it by myself sometimes, but never really worked with it; all of my gigs were on alto, and I considered myself an alto player.

Then one day Scott Morning recommended me for a new band, and assured the members that I did, in fact, play tenor (although at the time he didn’t know for sure!)  That was my introduction to Polyrhythmics.

As Polyrhythmics continues to move forward each year, I have deepened my commitment to being a better tenor player.  Although the 2 instruments are closely related, they really do require different things, and most importantly the voices are distinct and very different from each other.  

It’s difficult to maintain a balance, because I never want to stop playing alto.  It’s where I began and I still feel like it’s an important voice to me.  But I think some of the difficulties I’ve had lately (that I hinted at in my last post) come from an underdeveloped voice on tenor saxophone.  After all, I have 20 years of playing alto to try to catch up on if I really want to strike a balance.

As I said, alto will always be a part of me, and I will continue to use it as a primary voice in Theoretics, as a well as a part of my sound in Unsinkable Heavies.  But I am also excited to expand and explore tenor sax more seriously in the years to come!

 

Writing

By , April 4, 2018 1:13 pm

Hi all,

It feels good to be a little more active in blog posting, so thank you to any of you that have checked out what I’ve been writing the past couple of months!

Polyrhythmics recently finished several days writing new music together, which is always very exciting.  Last time around, I had a few ideas for a song bouncing around in my head, and with the help of the band, and Grant in particular, that song eventually became Vodka for My Goat, which is on the most recent album.

This time, I didn’t have anything in mind for a new composition, which I was comfortable with going into the writing session; I was ready to add my musical voice to whatever the guys brought in, and if some organizational thoughts came up that I could share regarding other people’s songs, then so be it.

It’s not always easy to be comfortable in that role, though.  When the songwriting and compositional impulses are going strong for everyone else in the group, it’s hard not to feel like you need to pull your weight in that department.  There is definitely a stronger feeling of ownership in a project when you have a direct hand in the music-writing process.

So even though I did as I intended, helping to organize other guys’ ideas and trying to add small suggestions when I felt like it, there was a bit of insecurity for me in the session, which I’m still dealing with a little bit.  This is also compounded by some current feelings of stagnation in my playing, which I think comes from a couple of different places.

I’ve tended to focus my development on playing the saxophone and becoming a better saxophonist, or at least better at playing saxophone in my given approach/style.  One of the things I love about the instrument is the wealth of different ways to play it, all of which can take you down wildly different paths.  And although I occasionally stretch myself and work on writing and composing music, that pull does not feel as strong to me as the pull to work on the craft of playing the saxophone.

We will see what happens; the periods of time when I feel that pull to write music come and go, and when they come I will turn to my saxophone to bring that music out.  Improvising as a way to coax out music in my head has been somewhat successful in the past with Hardcoretet, as well as previously and currently with Theoretics, so I see no reason why it can’t help me bring something new to the Polyrhythmics table too. 

In fact, in the process of writing this post, I’ve already started trying to work with some ideas that have popped up in the last couple of days.  It would appear that composing is just a slower process for me, and being patient as well as persistent (hopefully) pays off!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austin Impressions

By , February 9, 2018 5:54 pm

For my next post, I had planned on asking John Speice, a prolific and very active musician on the scene in Austin, Texas, to do an interview.  

Several of the projects Speice is involved in, including Brownout, Grupo Fantasma, Ocote Soul Sounds, and Money Chicha, have been essential music in the Polyrhythmics van for a while now, and John was also on hand to sit in on and talk after our late night performance at High Sierra Music Festival last summer.

In addition, Adrian Quesada, one of the main creative engines behind Brownout, Grupo Fantasma, and Ocote Soul Sounds, was in Seattle in November working with the modern opera Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance at On the Boards theater, and Polyrhythmics horns had the opportunity to do some small recording for him while he was here.  Clearly these guys have a lot going on! 

Most recently, we played in Austin with another project John is involved in, Kalu and the Electric Joint, and between hearing him talk about past touring bands and scenes and seeing the reaction of the crowd to his presence in the Electric Joint, I felt like he could add something to the musings I’ve had here about the musical circles and scenes in Seattle and how the dynamic here compares to that in other cities.

However, as I was preparing to ask for the interview, John posted a link to an interview he had done here:  

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-akmgh-86440a#.WnSMXPIbSU4.facebook

The interview was for a podcast called “How did I Get Here?”, and it ended up having everything I wanted John to talk about!  I highly recommend checking it out, although I believe you have to download the Podbean app to do it.  The app is free, so it’s still relatively easy to get to and to hear.

Here are a few parts of the interview that really resonated with me:

By connecting the dots between the various bands and musicians he’s played with between his time in Denton and Austin, Speice paints detailed pictures of a couple of different musical circles. Throughout these sections, he just matter-of-factly describes what he was trying to do musically, and how meeting one person led to meeting another, and how playing one gig led to playing with this band, etc. As I’m typing this, it seems really obvious – that this is how a musician works – but it’s not always that easy, sustainable, or direct. The difference in hearing Speice talk about it is that you can tell he would always do what it takes to make life work, so to speak, and that he has a certain determination about playing music that is really inspiring.

In one memory, John describes auditioning for an established Austin band close to when he moved to town, and being passed up for another drummer that had a more technical/”chops”-based focus, and the negative impact that experience had on him. He found out later that that drummer was also dropped later on, because he didn’t have the sound and/or feel that the band wanted. All schadenfreude aside, there was some affirmation in hearing that news; he felt that it meant that even though there are many technically amazing drummers out there, the specific style and feel that he has is just as valuable. There are several places in the interview where he describes moving from playing and listening to music based on technical virtuosity to longer-form groove-based music, and his thoughts on that were really deep to me.

Near the end of the interview, Speice talks about his family, and what it has meant to be with his wife over the years and for her to be supportive and encouraging of what he calls a “compulsion” to be a musician. This also resonated with me; as the musical aspects of my life continue to grow and spread in different directions, I am increasingly aware of and thankful for the patience and support of my girlfriend, my family, and my friends. The compulsion to play music as a career can narrow your vision at times, and it’s important to recognize that to keep from isolating yourself too much, something that I am working on.

There were many more parts in this interview that are worth sharing, but I don’t have the room here. Check out the link to the podcast, if you are so inclined, and definitely check out John’s projects:

brownoutmusic.com

grupofantasma.com

https://ocotesoulsounds.bandcamp.com

www.moneychicha.com

www.goldendawnarkestra.com

www.kaluandtheelectricjoint.com

 

 

 

 

Updates/Listening to the London Scene

By , September 11, 2017 1:26 pm

Hi all!

It’s been an eventful Summer:

–  Polyrhythmics played across the region, including the Eclipse Festival and the High Sierra Music Festival, where I had the opportunity to share the stage with both Skerik (who I talked with on the blog here) and Karl Denson, a musical highlight for me.  We added the finishing touches to the next album, set to release 9/20, and are asking fans, friends, and family to preorder it at http://www.pledgemusic.com/polyrhythmics .  Check it out!  There are other fun gifts and thank yous for supporting on that site as well.

–  Theoretics performed at Capitol Hill Block Party and are working on a new EP.  We’re continuing to move in a different direction from previous sounds, and I am really excited to continue.  To me, the music fuses a more composed, layered approach with a creative and spontaneous treatment of sounds and textures, and it’s changing how I think about writing and playing music, in a good way.  I hope to share it with you all soon!

–  I moved to a slightly different part of town with my girlfriend, a little more out of the way but still connected to what I need personally and musically.  With how busy things have been it has been difficult to really get settled (3 months later and we still have pictures to hang and boxes to unpack!), but all things in time.  Honestly, it has been nice to feel as though I’m getting away a bit when I come home; it has been easier for me to focus on what needs to get done.

 

In other news, I’ve been more and more interested in what seems to be a particular circle of creative musicians based in London, and it’s been fun to listen to their similarities and differences in sound based on that common geography.

I had heard the Heliocentrics from Adam, our drummer in Theoretics, quite a while ago, but recently, after they released a new full length album, I went back and got back into them.  In addition, they began popping up in my social media feed more.  Here is their drummer and producer, Malcom Catto, giving a tour of his recording studio (just click).  There also was a Gilles Peterson podcast on which Catto and bassist Jake Ferguson talked about some of their jazz influences, as well as influences outside of that genre like Ennio Morricone and Can.  Unfortunately, it looks like that podcast is not available anymore.

Listening to Gilles Peterson’s playlists after that was really informative because of their stylistic range; although genres like Electronica, Jazz, and Hip Hop are more fluid in America than they were 10 years ago, in my opinion, it seems they are still more fluid in Britain.

At the same time that I was listening to the materials above, I started listening to and following saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings.  As it turned out, Hutchings had worked with Heliocentrics in the past, but predominately plays with his own group Shabaka and the Ancestors, which sounds significantly different from Heliocentrics, in a good way.  Again, through social media I saw more and more from him – clips of interviews, concert footage (Hutchings posted a great clip of an Ancestors show where Kamasi Washington sat in, really beautiful), etc.  Also, check out his account of playing with the Sun Ra Arkestra:  A Meditation on my Experience with the Sun Ra Arkestra

A fourth element of this London scene I listened to was Yussef Kamaal, a duo collaboration with another unique take on creative London music.  Although the duo is no longer considered together, Kamaal Williams, aka Henry Wu, is quite active on my feed, and I’m interested to see what he does next.  And, as before, even with major differences in their musical approach, sound, and style, there is a common thread – Yussef Kamaal’s album Black Focus was engineered by none other than Malcom Catto of the Heliocentrics.

Anyway, I recommend checking out any of the artists mentioned above.  It has been enlightening and interesting listening to them over the last couple of months!

 

Art

 

 

 

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:

booker

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!

wolf

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.

rick-hall

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

12509159_10206925407631080_8076351819740086810_n

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

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