Kenny Werner – Lawn Chair Society

I’m not sure how I first became aware of Kenny Werner’s new CD, Lawn Chair Society. It might have been through a magazine ad, or possibly through an online New York Times review of a recent performance by the quintet. I have dug Kenny Werner since my early 20’s when he played with Mel Lewis’ Jazz Orchestra, so the idea of a Kenny Werner CD was interesting to me, but then I read that the band was Chris Potter, Dave Douglas, Scott Colley, and Brian Blade, and that interest ramped up a couple of levels. These guys are all favorites of mine. Interestingly, the album was produced by Lenny Picket. Yes, that Lenny Picket.

The album starts off in a manic kind of vibe. It is energetic in a way that is almost nervous. I like it. It has the kind of energy that won’t let my body be still. It’s not necessarily a funky dance thing, just an energy that causes me to move my body. There are electronic elements to this music, and in the liner notes Werner refers to it as his first “electronic voyage.” I don’t know if I would call it an electric album though. The heart of the music is acoustic, and the electronics are just one of the colors present. It at times calls to mind Douglas’ Keystone, and Potter’s Underground. I almost hate to even draw those comparisons, because someone will think they sound nothing alike, but they evoke similar vibes for me, and I think if you like Underground or Keystone, you will dig Lawn Chair Society.

While much of the album has the frenetic energy I mentioned above, there are a couple a drastic departures from that vibe. The fourth track, “Uncovered Heart”, is beautiful and sensitive with an arresting melodic presentation from bassist Colley. The ninth track is entitled “Loss”, and that is what it sounds like. It is deep and dark and moving. This flows into the trance-like “Kothbiro”, which closes the album with a slow and gradual journey from the dark back into a brighter place, then on to a peaceful conclusion. I realize that this may make the album seem a bit bipolar, but it really rides a nice organic curve that takes it to all of these spaces.

Full Disclosure: I didn’t buy this CD, but was given a copy by the promotion firm that is handling this release. It arrived unexpectedly, but serendipitously, because earlier that day I had thought to myself that I needed to order a copy of this CD.

A Lesson From the Jazzmatician – March 27, 2007 – The New York Sun

A Lesson From the Jazzmatician – March 27, 2007 – The New York Sun:

“The 61-year-old Mr. Braxton seems to do everything possible to present his music in a way that makes it sound serious and artsy, which is to say foreboding and inaccessible. Even his physical appearance —bespectacled, sweater-wearing, pipesmoking — is outwardly academic. But when you open your ears to what he’s playing, Mr. Braxton’s compositions are surprisingly listenable. Granted, there are long interludes of screeching and shrieking on his various horns that naught but a hardcore avant-garde admirer would relish, but for all his academic posturing, much of his music is playful, swinging, witty, and — dare I say it? — fun.”

We should let more music be fun, or better yet, realize that more music is fun.

(Via Soundslope.)

DJA out in blaze of glory (at least for a minute) and home jazz recording

Darcy is putting his Secret Society blog on a bit of a hiatus. He’s acting like he has to actually do some work or something. His most recent post however links to enough stuff to keep you reading until May anyway. I won’t link to all of it, just go over there and see for your self.

One discussion that I would like to add to is the one about home recording as it relates to jazz. It started with Daniel Melnick, who writes at Soundslope. He wrote:

What it really made me think about and wonder is if jazz has moved towards having more home based recording environments, as many rock musicians and producers have, and if it hasn’t, why is that the case? Recording technology keeps getting cheaper, so why is the studio even in the equation? I wonder if it has something to do with the technical difficulties of recording jazz. I would assume, based on my own rudimentary knowledge of microphones and recording technology, that making a good jazz recording requires a higher level of mastery than the average home recordist possesses. Nevertheless, I think it makes sense for jazz artists to look beyond the traditional studio environment as a means of making records if there is really value in being able to spend more time recording.

Then DJA replied:

A few factors that may partially explain why home-recorded albums don’t happen more frequently in jazz: [1] Lo-fi, as an aesthetic, lacks widespread acceptance in jazz circles — when you’re recording acoustic instruments, there really is no substitute for a good recording engineer using good mics in a really good space. [2] The buy-in and setup costs for a home studio, while falling, are still well beyond the means of many jazz musicians, especially young artists … [3] In New York, at least, many if not most musicians do not live in spaces where they can play (especially when there is a drummer invovled). [4] As a corollary to [3], many New York musician apartments are barely large enough to serve as functional living spaces as it is. Where are you going to put the home studio?) [5] The number of home-recorded commercially-released nonjazz CDs is vastly exaggerated — unless you count things like Prince records as “home recorded,” which is obviously absurd. The overwhelming majority of successful and semi-successful albums are still cut in professional recording studios.

To me the biggest issue is that you can’t record jazz one player at a time. I could pretty easily cut a pop tune on the gear I already have here in my house, especially if I used programmed drum sounds, and I don’t have a huge setup here. It would be much harder to do a jazz record, because I can’t have the bass player play, then track the sax, then the trombone, etc. It is also very hard to engineer and play any sort of session, and that is just magnified on a jazz session. There are two very different types of mental focus required, and they almost cannot exist concurrently. If I were doing a home CD with my rock band one of the other guys could engineer while I laid my parts.

I have done one album completely DIY on my laptop with two mics, but it is a duet album with only trombone and guitar. Not having to record drums makes DIY much easier. It is a download only release, and you can check it out here. Interestingly, that album is the only project that I have done that was in the black in any sort of reasonable time after its release, because it cost nada to make.

NewMusicBox : New Music Economics (Part 2): The Malady Lingers On

NewMusicBox: “New Music Economics (Part 2): The Malady Lingers On”

This is a very interesting look at the economics of performance.

In 1918, Igor Stravinsky composed The Soldier’s Tale, a new-music/theatre piece designed for a performance tour; it was initially unsuccessful and lost money. In 1976, Philip Glass premiered his own theatrical production, Einstein on the Beach; it was quite successful, playing to capacity audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, it also lost money. (Glass wrote that during Einstein’s brief, sold-out run at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, the deficit was $10,000 a night.)

What happened? Stravinsky had the misfortune of seeing his planned tour cancelled due to a worldwide influenza outbreak. Glass fell victim to a subtler ailment: Baumol’s cost-disease.

Check out Part I of the series here.

(Via artsJournal.)

Noise complaints could silence jazz at King Bolden’s

New Orleans CityBusiness — The Business Newspaper of Metropolitan New Orleans: “Noise complaints could silence jazz at King Bolden’s”

Actually, they already have, at least temporarily. I was quoted in this piece.

“If we start closing the places where we can be creative and practice our art over stupid stuff it makes you want to leave,” said trombonist Jeff Albert, a King Bolden’s regular. “Before the place was King Bolden’s it was a gay strip bar/disco club. How can having a jazz band be a downgrade from a gay strip club/disco bar?”

I just want to clarify that if it had been a straight strip club disco bar, my point would be the same. Either way it would have been louder than an acoustic jazz group with no PA. Leo Watermeier, the same moron that has been busting WWOZ’s balls for years, had this to say later in the piece:

Watermeier said he doesn’t lament the loss of another jazz club in New Orleans.

“I don’t think there’s a huge market for more jazz places,” he said. “Even Donna’s struggles. It’s mostly a tourist thing. Locals don’t go sit and listen to jazz bands.”

Every time I have played King Bolden’s the crowd has been mostly if not all locals. King Bolden’s has been the site of some really great music. Vibrations that can make the world a better place. I’ve blogged about a few of them.

Offbeat doesn’t get it, or just saying “thank you” would be fine

offBeat Magazine has this interview with Harry Connick, Jr., Branford Marsalis, and Anne Marie Wilkins. The interview was conducted by Jam Ramsey, the publisher, and Alex Rawls, an editor.

Rawls: Does it strike you as odd having a Musicians’ Village where musicians are, at least at this stage, the minority?

Marsalis: There is a federal statute that says you can’t build homes with public people’s money, and say that they’re reserved for 100 percent of anybody. There was a time when you could do that, but we’ve gone past that time. We get 2,000 applications, and of those 2,000, 10 percent are musicians. So what do we do with the other 90 percent—“Sorry, not a musician. See ya”?

[It’s not obvious how the Fair Housing Act would prohibit an all-musician village. While that would certainly go against general notions of fairness, Section 804 (a) declares it unlawful to “refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Throughout the act, those are the conditions under which discrimination is illegal; occupation is not mentioned.]

The last bit in italics is an editor’s note. That is exactly how it appears online and in the print version. I hope I am misreading this, but it appears to me that the editors of offBeat are quoting Federal statutes to make the point that it is not technically illegal to deny housing to someone because they are not a musician. Even though the editors admit, “that would certainly go against general notions of fairness,” it seems that they are badgering Connick and Marsalis about the lack of musicians who have qualified for housing in the Musicians Village, and in the process making the implication that non-musicians should be denied housing in favor of musicians.

I am not sure what offBeat’s motivation could be in doing this. It seems to be in vogue lately in New Orleans to find anyone who is trying to help, and give them crap about not helping “fast enough”/”the right way”/”the way we used to do it”, etc. This approach obviously makes everything run better (where’s that sarcasm emoticon again?). Why don’t we find everyone that wants to do some good in New Orleans and f*** with them until they get fed up and leave? Then we wouldn’t have any more carpetbaggers like Harry and Branford coming in here and trying to provide affordable homeownership for a city that has a dire housing need.

To even suggest that we should discourage non-musicians from receiving Habit for Humanity assistance is ludicrous. That is in no way different from saying that you can’t live here because you are black, white, straight, gay, or a writer for a mediocre music magazine. To make Harry and Branford defend this issue is appalling. It is a non-issue, and should have been from first glance. Those guys don’t have to do what they are doing. We should be thanking them, not giving them the 60 Minutes treatment.

Rawls: I understand what you’re saying about the housing rules, but this has been pitched as “the Musicians’ Village.”

Marsalis: It’s a musicians’ village in a peripheral sense. You can’t find me a single piece of documentation that says, “We’re building homes only for musicians.”

[True, but New Orleans musicians have a reason to think otherwise. That was certainly the tone of the initial message, so much so that none of the stories written about the Musicians’ Village printed in New Orleans mentioned that the village would not be reserved strictly for musicians. Only one Associated Press wire service story raised that issue; it quoted Jim Pate, executive director of New Orleans’ Habitat for Humanity, as saying, “Habitat cannot reserve houses for a specific group, and non-musicians would also live in the village.”]

I remember from the beginning hearing that the Musicians’ Village could not be reserved for musicians only, and it made perfect sense to me then. If the New Orleans press missed that part of the message it is because they are either incompetent, irresponsible or both.

After offBeat ran their first 60-Minutes-wanna-be piece on this, the Times-Picayune ran a big story on the injustice of musicians being denied homes in the Musicians’ Village. It was presented in a way that led one to believe that because our city flooded, we should take all of the irresponsible musicians with lousy credit that never could have bought a house before, and buy them all houses. They talked about how hard it is to get gigs post-K and how tough it is on the musicians. The photo used on the front page of the story showed a musician sitting in a FEMA trailer with a large TV that barely fit in the small trailer in the background. If you want to spend your Red Cross money on a big ass TV, that’s fine with me, just don’t make me listen to you bitch about your credit afterwards. Not long before that story ran, I received a last minute call from the premier local jazz club to bring in a band the next night, because the act they had booked cancelled the day before the gig. This is a good guaranteed money gig. The guy that cancelled was the guy in the paper in the FEMA trailer with the big ass TV. “Times are tough, but it’s easier to whine about it than to get my business together enough to do the gigs I have,” is the message that is being sent.

I’m not in any way saying that we should not be helping people. We should be helping people. As Harry said about the Habitat staff in the offBeat piece:

These guys are bending over backwards to help people, doing more even than I thought they would: There are legal services available; they’ve got credit counseling. It was actually a surprise to me how available all this stuff was to the applicants. It’s just a matter of calling, setting up an appointment, and doing a little bit of work.

offBeat stirring this pot in this manner is irresponsible. If they want to stir the pot, why not get on the city about the crime. A student of mine was robbed at gunpoint, and bound and gagged in his own home last weekend. Stir the pot about that. One annoying French Quarter resident/irritant is trying to get one of the few modern jazz venues in town shut down. Stir the pot about that.

offBeat won’t say this, but I will. Harry and Branford, Thank you very much for what you are doing. It is people like you that have the best chance of saving New Orleans from itself. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Standards or originals?

This post at Rifftides is an interesting peek into the challenges of hearing all the new music that is being made. This is an issue for me as a fan, I can’t imagine how bad it is for well known writers who are sent hundreds of CDs. I commented on the post, but it was a comment by Ken Dryden that got me thinking.

BTW, I loved Ken Dryden when he played for the Habs. Actually I am pretty sure it was this Ken Dryden.

Anyway, Ken wrote this:

Many writers complain about artists who insist on recording nothing but originals, despite the fact that even media veterans (print, web or radio) who’ve been immersed in jazz for decades have never heard of any of the musicians. With a backlog of hundreds (or more) jazz CDs awaiting a hearing, the chance of rising to the top for a review or airplay is made considerably more difficult by such releases. At least one familiar song or composer might help a CD get a hearing.

I guess I can see his point of possibly playing something if it had a name I recognized on it, even if it is a song name, but to be honest, I really don’t need to hear another recorded version of Stella By Starlight, or Giant Steps, or My One and Only Love.

When I play live, I often play classic jazz tunes from Monk, or Mingus, or Ornette. I don’t plan on recording any of those tunes. One reason is financial, and it goes back to the plethora of indie recordings that started the whole conversation. If I record someone else’s tunes, I have to pay the mechanical license fees for those tunes. Three covers that are 8 minutes each just added several hundred dollars to my budget. Granted if the best musical result comes from a few covers, then we should pony up for the mechanicals.

For me as a listener, the best musical result rarely comes from the covers. I want to hear something new. Oddly, as I am writing this I am listening to Available Jelly’s In Full Flail, and as I wrote the words “I want to hear something new” their version of the Beach Boys’ “Catch A Wave” came on, and I am totally digging it, not that their version is much like the Beach Boys… Anyway, I don’t want to compare all musicians on the equal turf of standards, I want to experience each in a setting of their own creation. Maybe that’s just me…

Comments working again

The comments seems to have decided to behave again recently, so if you have stopped trying to comment because it was not working and my WordPress/MySQL chops couldn’t sort it out, please resume commenting. The cyber-faeries have fixed things…for now.