Saturday, March 31, 2007

spring snow

Part of the unrelenting charm of living at the southern end of the Rockies at 7,000 feet: seasonal transitions that often involve unpredictable events. A sudden plunge in temperatures last night and 2 inches of snow, for example, but with the predicted high temp today up into the 60s again. Fruit trees often push out flowers at the first sign of warmer weather and then get slammed with the return of frost and snow. Of course the indigenous denizens around here are adapted for these extreme fluctuations. It's the invaders like myself (even after 24 years I'm still not a local) who get our blossoms battered.

The view of the mist and snow in the foothills (haha, "foothills" that go up as high as 9,000 feet) from the un's apartment at sunset or in the almost-full moonlight yesterday is one way of accessing humility. Living in an environment where there are frequent reminders that we carve out a bare existence shaped by a meager generosity and vivid drama, maybe we get perspective. Having also lived in Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Los Angeles, as well as Bethlehem, PA, what's most apparent in Santa Fe is that humans persist in spite of the distinctly inhospitable environment, not in any dominant or prolific way but tenaciously, tentatively. Even with the relatively huge increase in population over the past 20 years, it's no wonder that New Mexico, the fourth largest state in the US, hosts a mere 2 million puny humans. Roughly 15 people per square mile. And that's artificially inflated by the few "urban" areas. The more rural areas have 4 or fewer people per square mile. Compare to the population of Manhattan, nearly equal to the population of the entire state of New Mexico, with almost 70,000 people per square mile. Or even Phoenix, AZ with about 2,800 people per square mile.

Masochist? Misanthrope? New Mexico's for you! (not the official New Mexico promotional slogan....which I think is still "The Land of Enchantment.")

Insect Trust in the background doing Glade Song, from 1970's Hoboken Saturday Night, hosting Elvin Jones on the drums. "You bring your toys to my house, I will open up the gate, we'll spend the day together making the sun shine. You bring your can to my house, I will open up the can, we'll spend the day together eating a sandwich." If anyone knows how Elvin Jones ended up on this recording, I'd love to hear the story.

My ex-wife's dog passed away Thursday. Kita (a Great Pyrenees/Akita mix) was a beautiful, noble and dignified beast with a few flashes of surprisingly clownish ways. I become massively attached to dogs; it's a sense of real loss for Kita to be gone. But for JG, I can't imagine how global a feeling it must be, as she was inseparable from Kita for 15 years.

I'll be setting up some kind of web platform to host audio files and some of the Duology duets will probably go up first. More info on that later.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

opera madness

One of my day gigs is working as an artist-in-residence (fancy huh?) for the Santa Fe Opera in their Student Produced Opera program. The format is that a theater artist and a composer visit public schools and work with groups of kids age 5-12 to help them write the libretti and music for their own operas. The projects culminate in a public performance, with one of the projects that I started back in October going up last night.

The Nava Elementary after school program was proud to present When Doom Comes Alive, the story of a magic horse who wears the Golden Wreath of Truth, the Dreadful Doctor of Doom who captures the horse because he wants the wreath, and the heroic Escogida family who are swept into the Doctor of Doom's castle by a tornado and imprisoned by meteors but somehow manage to put the Golden Wreath of Truth back on the horse's neck and lead it back to earth, followed by the Dreadful Doctor of Doom who is transformed, once back on earth, into the Daring Doctor of Daylight (who also just happens to be the family's long lost Uncle David).

Tonight, Salazar Elementary offers the world premiere of Operation: Egypt, in which the evil Queen Kryses has stolen all of the world's stories and is keeping them in her tomb and the courageous Agent 21X 006 and his Sidekick travel to Egypt, are captured by mummies, rescued by centipedes and spiders, and return the stories to the children of the world.

Somehow the kids on both projects came up with stories that are no more nor less bizarre than many swanky classic operas. The music ain't Mozart, however. But there are some surprisingly complicated bits, especially rhythmically, that the kids are managing to pull off. Like the mummy rap:

We know your secrets, secret agent
Like that clean, cotton underwear that you wear,
Glowing in the dark under there, there, there
You're really just a scaredy cat
You're really just a scaredy cat

Sunday, March 25, 2007

wha happen?

Duology went remarkably well. Steve Schmidt from Fly on the Wall Productions did a digital recording and burned me a copy on the spot; haven't heard it yet. Somehow zeroing in on six different performers in six back to back duets worked out; especially cool because I had never done a duet with any of them. Ruth Zaporah and I met for the first time at 7:15 in front of the performance space. She called it a blind date.

I got comfortable eventually with the Yamaha grand. These expensive pianos are not properly maintained very often. Uneven action, in particular. There's a lot of great piano tuners around here because of the classical scene but where's the techs to build an even action across the octaves? Also, the preferred tuning locally sweetens the upper-mid register too much, again a reflection of classical priorities. The intonation of the lower two octaves is often so sloppy it's embarrassing. Finally, Yamahas are designed to cut through behemoth orchestras; the upper octaves are brighter than polished silver. It's a shame, because the quality of the box itself is high-- would a little warmth kill anybody? It's got that horrifying music box sound up there. I guess I need to win the lottery and buy a Bosendorfer.

Each duet presented unique opportunities and challenges. I drew the names out of a hat and Mark Weaver on tuba came up first. It's a shame anyone has to go first, really. But Mark wrestled that sucker to the ground. I had trouble hearing him for a bit and realized two things: I was playing too loud. I was in the low end too much. We locked eventually. Ruth Zaporah started behind me, out of my sightline, and yet I could feel the sphere of her energy radiating out, could listen and respond, intensely tuned (at one point the hair on the back of my neck stood up). Chris Jonas tore off the top of my head and handed me a new pair of shoes. Jeremy Bleich's oud playing brought tears to my eyes. Paul Brown's bass shifted, turned, elbowed angular lines. Mike Rowland played with astounding dynamic range and ferocious energy throughout...even in the quiet sections. I owe all of them a debt of gratitude.

Here's the thing: it's been a good while since I performed completely improvised music, especially so focused on the piano. I intentionally did not practice leading up to the show. I know that might sound strange but I decided to get in fresh, try not to bring anything at all (other than a pre-existing 25 year relationship of sorts with the piano). I had never performed a duet on piano with any of the artists and had never even met RZ. Needless to say I was completely and totally absolutely freaking out in the days leading up to this, especially yesterday afternoon. I used to drink a lot in an effort to manage those feelings of horror, nakedness, anxiety; the different thing is being with that set of demons and just riding it out. I kept chiding myself for not being able to center, to be peaceful and serene, and then I realized that was pretty damned funny.

Anyway I had a great time and the players and audience seemed to as well.

Duology Two in the works already. Jeremy suggested we try Triology One. What I wanted to do was call everyone up on stage and do a septet piece, but I didn't want to create an opportunity for noodling and aimlessness, which was mostly (miraculously) absent up until then. Maybe we can try a group piece next time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Duology One

Peter Breslin and Friends present an evening of improvised duets.

Saturday, March 24, 8 pm. $10. O'Shaughnessy Performance Space, Benildus Hall, The College of Santa Fe, 1600 St. Michael's Drive. Call 670-1500 for more information.

Improvising performers include Jeremy Bleich, multiple instruments; Peter Breslin, piano; Paul Brown, bass viol; Chris Jonas, saxophones; Mike Rowland, drums; Mark Weaver, tuba; Ruth Zaporah, voice and movement.

Duology, the study of twos. Duets carved out of fat air. Improvisation in a fairly pure form, with no prior discussion, lead sheets, arrangements or composed themes. In the moment, of the moment, out of the moment, arising from long-standing or completely non-pre-existent creative partnerships. Breslin has never performed with Rowland (his former drum student) nor with Zaporah. Has never played piano with Brown nor Weaver. Has never played a duet with Jonas.

Each participant brings vitally fresh energies coupled with depth of experience.

Performer's Bios

Jeremy Bleich incorporates a wide palette of culture, ancient and modern instruments, traditions and forms as well as electronic manipulation into the creative process of composing, performing and recording music. His approach to the electric bass and the oud have earned him a reputation internationally as an innovator. Jeremy is focused on producing music that captures the essence and meaning behind the process of creating it. He resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he is involved with presenting new music, as well as composing and teaching. Jeremy is a member of the critically acclaimed group birth and has performed and/or recorded with Coung Vu (Pat Metheny Group), Joe Maneri, Jeff Coffen (Bela Fleck), Chris Jonas, Carmen Castaldi, (Joe Lovano), Brook Martinez (barky!), Kevin McCarthy and Nashville songwriters Rick Elias (Ragamuffins) and Jason White. He has played the oud in collaboration w/ Mustafa Stephan Dill (SAMA trio), Andrew Stoltz (laptop musician/composer), and Rahim Alhaj (Iraqi oudist). He has recorded for MCA Records, Hopscotch Records, High Mayhem and INS labels.

Peter Breslin is a percussionist, pianist, composer and teacher who has performed extensively on the east coast and in the southwest. He studied drums with Andrew Cyrille in New York and piano with Shirley Ling in Philadelphia. In northern New Mexico, he has performed on piano in several large ensemble concerts of original composed and improvised music, as well as appeared on drums with a variety of groups, including Mingus Amongus, The John Clark Quintet, The Gluey Brothers, The African Space Program, Mad Trio, Bing, The Miles Davis Electric Project and Rrake. Breslin recently organized, arranged and conducted the Miles Davis Electric Project, a cadre of 14 local musicians re-examining Miles Davis's music from 1970-1975. Currently, Breslin is an artist-in-residence with the Santa Fe Opera's Student Produced Opera Program, and writes on the arts for The Santa Fe Reporter. Breslin broadcasts a weekly creative composed and improvised music program on KSFR, 90.7 FM, Santa Fe Public Radio called "Inside Out," every Thursday from 1-3 pm.

Paul Brown has been playing music for 33 years, studying bass with
Greg Mooter and Rich Appleman at the Berklee College of Music in
Boston, and oud (middle eastern lute) with Haig Manoukian and Necati
Çelik in Mendocino, Calif. He is a specialist in Balkan and Turkish
music, especially as they relate to groove and improvisation. A
recent (re)transplant to Santa Fe, he plays with many groups across
the country, and is starting to play locally as well, with Chris
Jonas' Rrake, Polly Tapia Ferber and Round Mountain, among others.

Mike Rowland has found himself playing drums in miscellaneous weird bands, touring and doing recording projects in Pacific Northwest from 1986-1997, including work with 11 Phantoms, Delilah, Pinewood Derby, and the infamous Rockn' Rod and The Strychnines. Rowland moved to Santa Fe in Spring 1998 and hooked up with Yozo Suzuki and Dierdre Morris, forming the legendary Candy From Strangers, as well as playing in Invisible Plane. Rowland is a Board member and co-founder of High Mayhem (IDEA: Institute for the Development of Experimental Arts). Currently, Rowland plays in The Late Severa Wires. His side projects include The QT, a percussion driven experimental ensemble and guest appearances with We Drew Lightning and The Pedal Pushers.

Chris Jonas of Santa Fe, New Mexico is a composer, multimedia/visual artist and soprano/tenor saxophone player. Jonas has gained recent international attention for his work leading the New York-based ensembles The Sun Spits Cherries, the Jonas Cork Ensemble (a mixture of Irish and Congolese musicians from Cork, Ireland), the Santa Fe poly groove band, Rrake, the collective EU-US quartet amitosis, and along with co-leader and life partner Molly Sturges a neo-Ethiopian pop groove band BING (of annual silent film soundtracks at
the Lensic and Circus Luminous). He is also well known for his 1990s
tenure as a saxophone player and side-man to New York City jazz musicians
and composers Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Cecil Taylor, The Brooklyn
Sax Quartet and in Butch Morris‘ conduction ensembles. Additionally, Jonas
has also become well known for composing and guest-conducting ensembles
all over the US and Europe, receiving commissions for works for
orchestras, circus noir, soundtracks, installations and new music
ensembles. Jonas also works as an intermedia artist, combining music,
performance, video and new media into structures for performance.

Mark Weaver (an architect by profession) has been playing low-brass instruments since 1970. Primarily self-taught, Mark studied the wind instrument methods of Arnold Jacobs with his student Steve Rossé (now principal tuba, Sydney Symphony Orchestra) in 1989-90. His musical interests have been broad, leading him to involvements with a wide range of ensembles. Currently, Mark is a member of the following ensembles: Brassum, a unique brass+drums quartet performing Weacer;s original compositions, with Dan Clucas, Michael Vlatkovich, Weaver on tuba, and Harris Eisenstadt; Rumble Trio – (Mike Balistreri-dbl bass/percussion, Ben Wright-dbl bass/saw, and MW-tuba) with guests including Jack Wright, Dan Clucas, Tom Leith, Alan Lechusza, Dave Nielsen, Dave Wayne, and Sara Schoenbeck; Selsun Blue – Albuquerque street band quartet with a down-home off-beat approach, led by L.B. Smith with instrumentation including dobro, banjo, guitar, tuba, vocals, drums. Mark has performed in ensembles led by trombonist/composer Michael Vlatkovich, trumpeter/composer Jeff Kaiser, multi-instrumentalist/composer J.A. Deane, pianist/composer Christopher Adler, bassist/composer David Parlato, composer/arranger Jack Manno, percussionist/composer Harris Eisenstadt, multi-instrumentalist/composer Alan Lechusza, dbl-bassist Damon Smith, trumpeter/composer Dan Clucas, saxophonist-composer Chris Jonas and vocalist Patti Littlefield. He considers these artists to have been his teachers, in the absence of a formal music education.

Ruth Zaporah's work established her as one of the San Francisco Bay Area's pre-eminent solo performers. Zaporah recently relocated to Santa Fe, a return to her home town. She is a master of improvisational performance, a master of dramatic action. Her scripts are created in the moment-to-moment process of performance, never to be repeated. Zaporah is a dancer, an actress, a mime. She is a performer who can transform her being into characters of great variety. These characters have extra-ordinary, archetypal dimensions, illuminated by her unique use of language, gesture and her freedom of mind. She dances and sounds, creating environments and moods. Zaporah is funny; she's moving; she's entertaining. Zaporah's book, _The Improvisation of Presence_, is a vital guide to the spirit of improvisation in performance. Zaporah is a teacher of these particular skills of performing, which she calls ACTION THEATER. Ruth's training awakens spontaneity, present awareness, and a sense of play. For her audience and students alike, Zaporah's theater offers a lesson by example: Every action becomes exciting the moment we pay it our undivided attention.


in other news:

Okay, so I finished drafts of all 4 sections of the Santa Fe Reporter's Annual Manual. You know those ideas that hit you and you never do anything about them? The idea I had last year was to collect all the news related to the four sections I did then, (same as this year-- Jobs and Business, Education, House and Garden, Health and Wellness) and have all of that info at my fingertips for the 2007 versions. Of course, I never did this, not even for a week or two after I finished last year. That meant hours of research into news archives, City Council web pages, State of New Mexico government pages, a huge number of websites regarding housing, commerce, real estate, water conservation, alternative energy, health care laws, etc. It's Wednesday morning and I've already forgotten just about everything I knew yesterday. Then there's the strange necessity of double checking city and state web sites by calling info and other numbers on the phone...for example, 6 weeks after local School Board elections, the Santa Fe Public Schools had not updated their website information on the new Board members or officer positions. Santa Fe charm. Land of Manana. Stupid.

Spinning now: Lester Bowie's solo about 17 minutes into "Oh, Strange" from The Art Ensemble of Chicago's Live in Paris, recorded October 5, 1969. It's one of my favorite Lester Bowie statements from any AEC recording. I've had the two album vinyl from Affinity since about 1980; Emery sent along the 2003 2-CD set from Charly. The vinyl is nearly unplayable, so it's amazing to have yet another resurrection experience. Small appreciation: many CDs of extended improvised performances blend the LP sides together on the reissue. It's great to hear the set unfold over something closer to its entire length without having to flip the LP.

Sunny and warm. That's the weather.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

a break from copy whoring

The un several days before Christmas in La Mision.

I've got several thousand words of copy due to the Santa Fe Reporter for the special Annual Manual issue, a comprehensive guide to living in Santa Fe, by Wednesday (with my own personal goal of getting the sections in early). What does it say about this crazy mountain town that two of the shortest sections are Education and Jobs/Business? And two of the longest are Health and Wellness and House and Garden? I can guess, but all I know is that I'm working on all four.

The last of the Emery shipments arrived last week and I haven't had time to listen to many of the albums, but Clifford Brown's work with the French musicians, 1953, very interesting. More about that soon.

Back to work with me...Sarah Vaughan taking Black Coffee for a ride, with a slinky arrangement that just barely avoids being the corniest thing ever.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

the new originals

A key feature of the "neo mainstream" movement and even certain projects from people outside that movement is to revisit jazz compositions and styles from past times. Honestly, I usually find these revisions or excavations a waste of time (or much worse), as the results rarely have the vitality and urgency of the originals.

Even the Art Ensemble of Chicago, for example, loses me on those Dreaming of the Masters recordings from the 1990s. The cover of Purple Haze, for example, is painful, in my opinion. (Zombie is pretty good as is Creole Love Call).

But there are and have been exceptions. When Sun Ra's band started playing Fletcher Henderson charts in the '80s I was blown away. I love what Steve Lacy and friends did with Monk tunes. The Duke/Strayhorn duets between Lacy and Mal Waldron are absolutely stunning. Duke's own tendency to reach back in his catalogue often had vital results, such as Ellington '55. David Murray, Henry Threadgill, Dave Burrell and some (some!) of Paul Motian's retrospective approaches really grab me. When I'm in the mood, Charlie Haden and Hank Jones' Steal Away works just fine. Dave Holland's bands echo various post-1960 (or so) compositional and improv approaches and his stuff is interesting. Tim Berne's post-modern cut and paste jumpcuts are often intriguing and seem more sincere and less gimmicky than Zorn's earlier work.

The tendency of a lot of the younger neo mainstream players to echo '60s Blue Note approaches (so-called "hard bop") is truly unfortunate, as the original recordings are always far more varied, energetic and natural-sounding. Why would I spin Donald Harrison etc. if I can just check out Turrentine, Blue Mitchell or Lee Morgan?

Here's a (very) short list of revival or back catalogue work I'd be interested to hear:

The Herbie Nichols songbook arranged for a quintet or larger ensemble. I think Rudd's groups used to include some Nichols tunes but I don't have any of those recordings. Perhaps an extensive excavation of Andrew Hill compositions with new approaches/arrangements as well.

A new and improved Skies of America; a better recording with a more enlightened and sympathetic orchestra and conductor.

Re-arrangements and performances of Cecil Taylor compositions for various ensembles.

Art Ensemble of Chicago compositions could be an interesting legacy in the right hands.

A revisiting of James Blood Ulmer and Ronald Shannon Jackson compositions for various formats. Jackson and Ulmer's groundbreaking work went by pretty quickly.

Somebody I admire having a go at a new arrangement of Dogon AD.

Just some thoughts. The Vandermark 5's "Free Jazz Classics" really didn't do it for me, to put it mildly, but that doesn't mean there isn't potential for relevant and vital contemporary stuff to be done using a more judicious and less "corporate bopper" approach.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

jazz death part 2

Just want to keep the conversation happening. Lots of folks say to me, "This is boring! There have been so many discussions of whether or not jazz is dead. Get over it." I take that as a good sign. If there have been so many discussions about it, why aren't the results more crystalline? Cogent?

Part of the problem is the yutes of today. They ain't got no respect. The whole idea of tradition is anathema to them. Everything springs full blown and unrooted out of the present moment. There's little if any sense of music history informing their listening or appreciation. Maybe this rant should be saved for my new blog, "Git Offa Mah Yahrd!" (the blog that will pave the way for my inevitable descent into snarling senescence and violent curmudgeonhood).

But really, a lot of what I hear that's being done now just sounds like stuff I've already heard. A lot of my younger friends don't seem to have that baggage. "It's nice," they say and kind of shrug. Why get all lathered up over Branford Marsalis' execrable "version" of A Love Supreme, for example? I mean, if you haven't heard 'Trane's, what difference does it make. And even if you have, so what? It's all good. Shrug. "It's nice."

No, it's not fuckin' nice. It's horrifying.

Well, maybe not. Maybe we're just spoiled in different ways. I'm spoiled by thinking that great artists did great things at various times that are still great and still worth knowing fairly intimately. They're spoiled by the fundamental idea that no one is any more or less great than anyone else and it's all...nice. Shrug.

Culture right now has all the vitality of McMurphy after he's lobotomized in Kesey's "Cuckoo's Nest."

Not sure what this has to do with jazz being dead. Dead as roadkill. Dead as dead can be. If I didn't keep nailing it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies. It's an EX-genre. It's rung up the curtain and joined the choir invisible.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

slash and burn

There's a whole class of plants, usually found in extremely xeric, harsh desert climates, called "geophytes." (There are some lavishly "pretty" and more coddled geophytes as well: Iris, crocus, amaryllis, tulip...bulbs, basically. In this post, "geophyte" refers to the rougher, hardcore xeric types).

Geophytic plants are characterized by having a significant portion of their living tissue underground, usually in the form of a tuber, caudex or various subterranean structures of other kinds. Many desert plants evolved to have the vast majority of their living tissue buried in the cool dark, safe from predation, fires, light frosts, plant collectors with anything less than pickaxes, etc. In Madagascar, for example, where slash and burn farming techniques periodically result in as much as 30 percent of the island being in flames at one time, the many geophytic caudiciform succulents growing there survive, sending up new life in between blazes.

A fine example of a geophytic cactus from the US is Peniocereus greggii, the "night blooming cereus" of the Southwest, pictured above. The stems look like dead sticks and sometimes are completely broken off, killed by rare frosts, or burned in brush fires. Underground, an old specimen of Peniocereus greggii can have an enormous tuberous root, weighing 100 pounds or more.

P. greggii specimens in the wild give themselves away 1 or 2 nights a year when they flower. The fragrance is legendary, apparently detectable from a single plant for as much as a 1 mile radius.

Who are the geophytes in music? Stems camouflaged, dead-looking, largely underground. We don't know who they are by their above ground parts. The trick is to be buried. The flowers seem to come out of nowhere, actually resulting (briefly) from the dark itself, a darkness painstakingly guarded, nurturing, protective.

(musings partly dedicated to Leroy Jenkins, 1932-2007)