Posts tagged: soul

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.

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Changes

By , October 1, 2010 2:59 pm

Tonight I will be playing with the Shawna Locey Band for the last time, and this past Sunday I played my last show with Soul Kata. The motivations for the changes in both bands are somewhat similar.

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Although Soul Kata will continue, I didn’t see myself putting in the necessary effort and energy into getting that band where it could and very well should be, and for me to just show up and play (and have a tremendous amount of fun, mind you) without getting into the nitty gritty of rehearsing and promoting didn’t seem right to me. Soul Kata will go on to do great things, there’s no doubt in my mind, and there should be someone in the saxophone chair who’s completely committed to getting the band where it needs to go, rather than just picking up a gig. Again, despite all this, I can’t say enough that I loved every minute of my time with Soul Kata, and I hope to see Adam, Nate, Josh, Eli, Scott, Ben, and Katrina up on stage very soon.

Shawna will be taking some time off and then working to put together a new project, to a certain extent for the same reasons that Soul Kata should have a different saxophone player. The band had several members coming from different places, all of whom are very talented, and for that reason very busy. I admire Shawna a lot for recognizing what was working and what wasn’t, and then having the courage to change direction and start again, rather than just go with the flow. The next time around I am confident she’ll have the right band that is completely dedicated to hitting it big and taking the music somewhere beyond where we had it when I was playing there, because she definitely has the potential to take off. Shawna’s band was another group that would have me smiling every gig, and I am definitely thankful for that.

I learned so much from these bands about working with people, playing with your friends, and serving the music, and I am grateful for everything that these experiences have done for me as a musician. I’m also really happy that I met all the people in these bands, and I hope I can stay friends with all of them. To lose contact with so many great personalities would be a shame.

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