Monday, May 28, 2007

I'm Goin' to Yemen

Not Yemen. Tempe. But I'm sure we all remember the Friends episode where Chandler goes to Yemen simply to get away from the woman with the unbelievably annoying voice. What we don't remember is the name of the character. And we'll pretend we also don't remember sitting around for two hours every weekday evening watching Everybody Loves Raymond and Friends reruns on television in Los Angeles in 2004, post DUI, unlicensed to drive, required to attend DUI "school" (one session of which involved watching the Simpsons episode where Homer gets arrested for DUI, which really taught me a very valuable lesson).

The great pleasure of being legally forbidden from driving in Los Angeles involved walking in the balmy night air from my apartment at the intersection of Saturn and La Cienega to the theaters in Culver City to see a movie. Mapquest tells me this was about a 9 mile walk round trip. No wonder I lost 25 pounds, in spite of Icees and buttered popcorn (and the brain fattening fare of Dodgeball and The Day After Tomorrow).

Anyway, the house hunt is on in Tempe. The Weather Channel (online; I no longer even own a television, he lied, avoiding mention of the fact that he still races little cars around thanks to Playstation2 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, which also consumed countless hours in early sobriety, post jail; the cars are little because the screen is all of 13 inches, he boasted, proud of his alienation from the wasteland) anyway the Weather Channel says it's 98 degrees in Tempe right now, at 7 pm, with a chilly overnight low of 74 degrees in the offing. Bring a sweater. And a body sized chest of ice to climb into every hour, on the hour.

If any of my dear and faithful readers know of improvising musicians in the greater Phoenix metro area and can weasel me a facile intro, I'd appreciate it. The actual relocation looks to be at the end of July, but I just love me some schmooze. Anyone know anything about the Phoenix Creative Music Movement?

I've only ever heard of John Hollenbeck.

If any of you can get me a radio show and a freelance writing job, that would be cool too.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

what's the difference?

"Looks like the same species of cactus to me," many cactus freaks proclaim. Even experienced growers with a trained eye claim they have a hard time telling the above two plants apart. In my opinion this is like someone well versed in music claiming that they can't tell the difference between 1950s Sonny Rollins and 1960s John Coltrane.

Anyway the above two plants are growing in the xeric demonstration garden at Santa Fe Greenhouses; the first is Echinocereus triglochidiatus and the second is Echinocereus coccineus. The E. triglochidiatus is from seed collected from the gigantic plants that grow in the White Sands area of New Mexico- it might be hard to tell from the photo, but the largest stems are more than three feet long. (Del Weniger, who is usually much more detail oriented and thorough as a botanist, takes it on hearsay that these White Sands plants revert to the usual much smaller size when they are grown elsewhere....obviously not the case).

So the surprising inability to tell the above two cacti apart reminds me of how it is for anyone who knows even a passing fair amount about anything. The more I learn about music, for example, the more clear detailed distinctions become. I never really bothered distinguishing Joseph Jarman from Roscoe Mitchell in any active way, for example, while listening to Art Ensemble recordings. But somewhere in the process of getting it together for the Mitchell interview the distinction became entirely clear, and I wondered how I had never been awake to it before.

One of my favorite pastimes in mid-adolescence (and occasionally since) was listening to music and identifying who the players were. That we can make these sorts of distinctions, in the manner of a "blindfold test," is truly remarkable and would probably be difficult to analyze. Sure, there are the easy ones: Ayler, for example. But my friend Emery and I used to make fine distinctions between, for example, tenor sax players whose styles were all mutually informed. I suppose this is "voice": that even drummers can have a unique voice, or piano players, both of whom deal not with breath and timbre so much as some mysterious something else, is also remarkable.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Roscoe Mitchell Quartet 5/19/07 Outpost

Roscoe Mitchell stepped to the mic after the second standing ovation of the night and said, "Last time I was here was at the old Outpost (a concert of duets with Malachi Favors). Tom (Guralnick, Director of The Outpost) and I go back many years. We've found out that music keeps you busy."

This evening's music was constituted by some of the best group interaction I have heard in a long time. Bassist/'cellist Harrison Bankhead, drummer Vincent Davis and trumpeter Corey Wilkes managed the ultimate act of respect, supporting Mitchell's every move while at the same time stepping out and being completely distinct and authentic. This was a fully functional collective ensemble, finely honed and tuned, yet somehow it was absolutely clear that Mitchell was the leader. The energy reminded me of some of the great Art Ensemble of Chicago shows I was lucky enough to attend in the 1980s. Mysterious, brooding, abstracted, music like silence itself offset by great swing, thunderous passages of relentless intensity and straightforward head arrangements. The band served up many of the offerings of Mitchell's omnivorous stylistic appetites. Each musician displayed ferocious technique that was artfully in the service of their torrent of ideas. Corey Wilkes sounds the history of "jazz" trumpet but not in a self-conscious way; there's also more than a little Lester Bowie in his playing, but not one shred of imitation, just absorption. Vincent Davis brought huge dynamic range to the percussion and even during subtle passages maintained completely focused energies. Bankhead's bass and cello poured out lines that were impossibly both highly ornate and utterly grounded.

It was Mitchell who reaffirmed his status as a legend. Playing only flute, soprano sax and alto sax, Mitchell remains instantly identifiable as himself. There is no one who plays melodic lines akin to his. A close scrutinization of transcribed Mitchell solos might reveal at least a part of his intervallic predilections, his absolutely unique phrasing and his pantonal choices in relation to bass lines. But his voice couldn't be transcribed, and that's where Mitchell is a nonpareil conjurer. Especially apparent last night was his complete relaxation, mentally and physically. Even during the second set alto solo that involved a lot of circular breath and built to, as well as sustained, an unbelievably complex intensity, Mitchell was the picture of completely relaxed and focused concentration. Also, he wasn't affected by Albuquerque's altitude, which many otherwise very strong players are. The generous resourcefulness and mercurial soul of his music carried the group of very, very heavy players.

Do not miss any chance to hear this group.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

JA Deane Interview

The interview with Dino came out yesterday.

Not sure how I managed to get the day of his performance wrong in my copy for the print edition, which had him playing Saturday, May 19 (which is when Roscoe Mitchell's show is). I've had way too much going on lately.

The Roscoe Mitchell interview airs at about 2:15 mountain time this afternoon, KSFR 90.7 FM, streaming from

Here's a few more of Dino's comments on conduction and sampling for which there wasn't room in the SFR version:

What is conduction?
Lawrence “Butch” Morris, who originated conduction, defines it this way: "A vocabulary of idiographic signs and gestures activated to modify or construct a real time musical arrangement or composition. Each sign or gesture transmits generative information for interpretation by the individual and the ensemble, providing instantaneous possibilities for altering or initiating harmony, melody, rhythm, articulation, phrasing or form."

In your work with Butch Morris and CK Barlow’s role in Out of Context, sampling and live sampling are mentioned. What is that?
Basically, a sampler is a digital recorder that allows the player to manipulate prerecorded and live recorded sound in real time. Painting or sculpting with sound, I think best describes the
process, but with the added ability orchestrate multiple events in real time. More than any other instrument of technology (tape recorder, electric guitar, synthesizer, multitrack recorder) the sampler has forever changed music. It’s influenced or altered nearly all evolving music in the world today, from concept to creation, and has even changed the way we listen to music (the iPod, for example, the “fast food” version of the sampler).

Why do you use samplers?
I always envied that painters could realize large scale works completely on their own; composers couldn't. The first time I saw Butch Morris conduct he was using samplers but with musicians painting with sound in real time. It was a large scale sonic sculpture. Then the question becomes “what's your palette?” Are you going to use the same four on the floor beat as everyone else? A lot of what I hear people doing with samplers is relentlessly boring, smothered by this beat. The sampler can be the definition of option have to determine your parameters. What has emerged is in a narrow range dictated by the fashions of social dance music. If you get rid of the unrelenting beat, the real sophistication emerges.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

nice guy

Coming soon, a transcript of the interview with Roscoe Mitchell that we did this morning, which will also be broadcast on KSFR ( for streamers) Thursday, May 17, at about 2:10 pm Mountain Time.

I was nervous talking with Mr. Mitchell. I've been listening to his compositions and improvisations since I was about 14 years old, about 31 years. Roughly nine years into his career. I was astonished to note that his discography lists 112 recordings that he either appears on or is a leader of. That's about 2.6 per year. My first Art Ensemble of Chicago concert was probably about 1980 or so; in particular I remember an incredible performance by Mitchell at a show a bit later in the Reagan Era at Bryn Mawr College, including his signature circular breathing, single note solo to end the first set. Another remarkable show was at The 9:30 Club in DC; I attended with a fever and chills and the music completely healed me of whatever bug I was harboring.

Mitchell was courteous, professional, articulate and insightful. He's bringing the "Chicago Quartet" to The Outpost in Albuquerque Saturday, May 19.

Also coming soon, an interview with J.A. Deane that I did over the weekend. This will probably run in the Santa Fe Reporter next Wednesday, May 16, and I'll put up a link and include some of the sections for which there wasn't space. Deane is doing a solo set and conducting his 12 piece ensemble, Out of Context, the day after Mitchell's appearance, also at The Outpost, as part of the three day Creative Soundspace Festival, which also features Myra Melford/Mark Dresser Duo and Santa Fe's acoustic trio, A. Barnhouse.

When it rains around here, it pours.

Friday, May 04, 2007

community art

Sclerocactus parviflorus, flowering northwest of Bernalillo, on Jemez Pueblo land.

Toumeya papyracantha, sometimes called the paper spine cactus or grama grass cactus, flowering north of Santa Fe, near Jaconita.

Local cacti. Entirely unknown to 99% of local residents.

I've been working on a 600 word preview article for the Santa Fe Reporter on an event with a cast of 24, a 9 person artist team, 4 months in the making. Memorylines: Voices from a Collective Journey/Voces de Nuestra Jornadas, a community arts project resulting in an original opera, directed by Molly Sturges, with music by Sturges and Chris Jonas, performed by a 9 piece orchestra. The entire cast is local, the whole project is local. Most of the cast members, who range in age from 8 to 88, have never done any performing arts work before. This is the kind of project that Molly does. The last one was in Cork, Ireland, as part of the European Union Festival; an original opera featuring homeless elders, school children, etc. The great thing for Santa Fe arts about Memorylines is that it's co-sponsored by The Santa Fe Opera, traditionally somewhat of an elitist or at least rarified, specialized organization, presenting work by hundreds of visiting artists who only come for the summer.

But how to sum up such a beast as Memorylines in 600 lousy words? Maddening, really. I could have written a 4,000 word cover story about the event, especially tied in to the Santa Fe Opera's Student Produced Opera Program, the tendency for Santa Fe performing arts events to be imported from far flung places, the emerging highly vital and unique, yet barely surviving local arts scene that goes far beyond 2-D and 3-D arts like painting and sculpture that have held sway here.

It used to irritate me that the now-defunct "Santa Fe Jazz and International Music Festival" was 100% imported. Not one local artist ever graced the stage for this event, except for the event organizer. The new jazz festival, called the New Mexico Jazz Festival, has remedied this snobby, elitist, reverse provincialism by at least including a series of events in Albuquerque featuring New Mexico musicians. Meanwhile, the annual High Mayhem Festival of Emerging Arts (unique not just for this area, but internationally) focuses almost exclusively on local performers and gets next to zero press coverage in the daily papers. This is yet another way that Santa Fe is a charming and crazy-making mess: a backwards, paradoxical town full of elitist, aesthetically conservative rich "arts consumers," who want their Mozart and Verdi and Wynton Marsalis and who somehow manage to leave their progressive or liberal political views at the doorstep of local venues.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

this space for rent

Not really. I've just been too busy to do any writing outside of writing for work. The above photos: a Pediocactus simpsonii on the Rio en Medio Trail and Fritz Hochstaetter taking a picture of same. Yesterday morning at 7 am I met Herr Hochstaetter and the two of us went out into the boggy wilds. A drenching rain had fallen since about midnight. We had to cross the same river many times (Heraclitus be damned). Sodden, cold feet. I should never hike first thing in the morning. I'm not really paying attention. It was fascinating, though, meeting and getting to hang out with the world's greatest living expert on the genera Pediocactus, Sclerocactus and Toumeya. (His taxonomy is highly controversial, but that doesn't negate his contribution to the understanding of a group of plants otherwise fairly obscure). I know absolutely no German; Fritz knows very little English. This made for some absurd and comic moments.

Like "jazz," cacti seem best appreciated by Europeans.

I've been studying up on Roscoe Mitchell and playing a lot of Mitchell's compositions on the radio show, in preparation for his appearance at The Outpost in Albuquerque on May 19. I always thought of the Art Ensemble of Chicago as largely a collaborative. Check out the composer credits on Art Ensemble albums; it's highly instructive, especially in regard to Mitchell. The AEC book relied heavily on Mitchell's structured, whimsical, fierce and soulful lines. I hadn't really taken notice before that many of my favorite satirical/parodic AEC pieces are by Mitchell, as well as some of the more intricately structured themes. If all goes as planned I'll be interviewing him next Wednesday morning for broadcast on the May 17 show.

This just in: the New Mexico Jazz Festival is bringing Sonny Rollins to the area for two shows, in Albuquerque and here in Santa Fe, in late July. I haven't heard Rollins' new CD yet. I did play some of the Night at the Village Vanguard tracks today on the air-- Strivers Row and All the Things You Are, and was yet again reminded what a launch into new form that pianoless trio format was. In 1957, too. Two whole years before The Death of Jazz, according to Darius Brubeck.