Ornithology

Dave Brubeck, 1920 – 2012

Posted in Jazz by Matthew Flores on December 5, 2012

Woke up this morning to reports that jazz icon and legendary pianist, bandleader and composer Dave Brubeck died this morning. He was one day short of his 92nd birthday.

In terms of influence in making challenging jazz accessible to the mainstream, Brubeck’s seminal Time Out  with his Quartet (Brubeck, Paul Desmond on alto sax/clarinet, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums) pushed the bar on what the non-aficionados could and would digest and enjoy. Everyone jumps straight to “Take Five,” but the amount of classic songs Brubeck and his various bands recorded is staggering. “Blue Rondo á la Turk,” “Unsquare Dance” and “Kathy’s Waltz” are brilliant – when Paul McCartney is quoting your melody, you must have something special on your hands.

After this morning, the piano gleams a little less brightly, the world a little less soulful.

Rufus Kills It

Posted in Video by Matthew Flores on May 16, 2012

Duke Ellington – Piano, John Lamb – Bass, Rufus “Speedy” Jones – Drums

A Peaceful Moment With a Jazz Icon

Posted in Jazz by Matthew on November 3, 2011

John Scofield is a man at peace. After nearly forty years and enough records to stuff Dizzy Gillespie’s cheeks, the man known as Sco has released an album that perfectly exemplifies him as a guitar player – cool, confident, and full of the experience that only comes after decades writing and recording music.

A Moment’s Peace is not stereotypical Scofield. Gone are the incendiary leads and frenetic, funky jams that he has become known for. This is a set of ballads – ranging from the unique (a relaxed cover of The Beatles’ “I Will”) to the smooth and groovy (“You Don’t Know What Love Is”) to the laid-back and delicate (“Already September,” a standout Scofield composition).

Scofield was kind enough to sit down and chat about his newest album, reaching jazz maturity, passing the torch and what it was like to play with the great Miles Davis.

A Moment’s Peace is, like the title suggests, much more tranquil than many of your other albums. What prompted the shift in tone and mood on this album?

I kind of shift tone and mood somewhat for all of my albums. The temptation when you’re a jazz musician is to just make the same record over and over again because you like jazz and you want to get it right. I like to have all of them actually be a little bit different, in order to get some variety. I feel like I’m actually able to play ballads now. I’ve always been a fan of jazz performances of ballads and slow material, but I feel like I’m good at it now. It took me a while to reach a certain maturity.

What made you finally feel comfortable with playing ballads?

I think it was experience, and I’ve been primarily been in my career really working on hot guitar playing.

Many have identified your music as being chop-heavy and really virtuosic. Do you think that it’s important to branch out like you did with this album or with your gospel songs on Piety Street?

I think that the whole chops thing is a dead-end street. Anybody who tries to play virtuosically, with gratiutiotous virtuosic playing, well, that’s not what music’s about.

Where did you find a lot of inspiration for this album?

I think it’s really the greats of music that inspire me, on this album and for all things. I do get a lot of inspiration from the greats of jazz, really, and their ballad performances. Miles (Davis), (John) Coltrane, Ben Webster was a great ballads player and Bill Evans on the piano, to name a few.

What  about the band you’ve assembled for this album? Have you ever worked with Brian Blade (drums), Scott Colley (bass) and Larry Goldings (piano/organ) before?

Larry Goldings, I’ve worked with a lot. He’s been on a number of my albums and was actually in my band for a while. Colley I’ve worked with a little bit, and Blade this was the first time I’ve ever recorded or really worked with him, so it was new to play with him.

Were there any challenges to playing together with a new band?

Not really, because I knew they were all really great. I knew I wanted to play with Brian Blade, and I asked him who he pictured us getting on bass, because I wanted the drummer and the bass player to really be in love. He suggested to get Colley, who I knew anyway, and knew he was a great player. So they wanted to play together and Goldings is just a perfect fit for me, anyway, because we’ve played together so much. Luckily we just made the record. There was no problem.

Who would you consider some of your biggest influences musically throughout your career?

I would say the biggest influences have been the guys I’ve played with who were better than me. That goes kind of across the board from when I first started out. One of the big influences was Miles Davis. I could get to play in his band and really learn from him but he had been my favorite before that from his records. One thing is that I’m going to be 60 this month, and I have gotten to check out a lot of jazz. I’m a student of it just like everyone is.  Its been a long time but I’ve learned a little bit from this guy and a little bit from that guy and it doesn’t stop. All the greats, all the big names that everyone knows about, I’ve really listened to; they’re great for a reason.

You mentioned you’ve played with Miles, you’ve played with Chet Baker, Charles Mingus. What was it like playing with those real giants of jazz?

I got nervous, but it was an ecstatic experience getting to play with the guys who I had grown up listening to their records. Joe Henderson was another guy like that – Herbie Hancock, Gary Burton. I feel like I’ve really been lucky that I’ve gotten to play with my idols and that may be the greatest thing about playing music is getting to play with these legends. I’m a jazz fan first. I think all of us are – you have to love the music more than anything.

Did playing with those guys shape the way you play and compose music?

Not only those guys, but all of the musicians in my career who were a step ahead of me, the older players, that’s how we learn. We pass down the experience from one person to another.

So where’s that experience being passed today?

Well, it’s being passed to the younger musicians that get a chance to play with people who know what they’re doing. I think it’s always been like that. I think music is history in a way; it’s like living history. When you can talk to a musician who can talk to you about music and play for you and show you how they approach improvising and jazz and composition, tell you what they like, you’re learning a little piece of history.

You have this tour in support of your new album; you’ve had a few records in the past few years – what’s the next step in your career?

I hope to just keep making records and keep performing. It looks like I’m gonna get my wish. I’d like to get better – I’d like to write some good songs. I’d like to write some stuff that really works and keep working on it. Write some new tunes and maybe even get better on the guitar, you never know.

Tin Can Telephone

Posted in Review by Matthew on October 29, 2011

With their newest release, Tin Can Telephone, St. Louis locals The Campfire Club are on to a delightfully unique formula: one part alt-country and bluegrass stomp, one part smoky analogue reverb and a healthy dose of STL pride. “Faulty tape machines, liquor, beautiful disasters and unbelievably true stories are what Tin Can Telephone is made of,” Campfire Club member Ryne Watts said. “This is our “midwest-istential” document of freedom, pain, guilt, regret, love, loss, dreams, and belief. It’s the melodies and lyrics in my head seen to fruition.”

Banjos, fiddles, and harmonicas pop up all over Tin Can Telephone, adding to the supremely intimate country vibe provided by the analogue recording process. Even the machine itself is woven into the atmosphere of the album: “We bought our new (old) reel-to-reel from a precarious, backwoods, character who kept a chainsaw on his couch, convex mirrors in the corners of his rooms, and walls lined with heavily-marked topography maps,” Watts said.

In particular, “The Banjo Song,” a cheerful, romping ode to life in St. Louis (featuring plenty of jolly banjo, of course), and “Devil’s in the Details,” a thoughtful and chilly song, both stand out as highlight tracks – yet as a whole, the album is held together by a cohesive sonic theme. Each song fits snugly and cozily with the rest and play off of very similar and what ultimately become familiar motifs after a few listens: the highs are lighthearted and jubilant; the lows are quiet and delicate; and throughout it all, The Campfire Club maintains a comfortable warmth. There’s no doubt that Tin Can Telephone will leave you with that good ol’ nostalgic feelin’. Blame the banjos.

*This article will appear in the November 2011 issue of Eleven Magazine.

Real Live Jazz: Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Posted in Review by Matthew on September 29, 2011

Wynton Marsalis – perhaps the most seminal jazz figure of the past three decades – is certainly not a name to pass up when he and his Jazz at Lincoln Center (of which he is the director) Orchestra roll through town.  The great legends of the genre, musicians like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, are long-gone, but a player of Marsalis’ caliber is the best we can do as 21st century jazz fans. He and his Orchestra certainly did not disappoint.

The orchestra opened with a big band rendition of Monk’s composition “Four and One,” which featured Marsalis delivering some expert trills and leads in his extended introduction. Trombones, saxophones and the rest of the trumpet section chimed in after the bandleader’s solo, but with too many moving pieces and sounds all at once, the overall effect was a sloppy tonal mishmash. A fierce, screeching alto sax solo sliced the horns away and was promptly balanced by a few bars of Elliot Mason’s trombone soaking up the spotlight.

Almost immediately, a distinct and sharp sound became apparent – drummer Ali Jackson and his perpetual, dynamic kicks and swing. Jackson, a student of jazz legend Max Roach, played with an abundance of Roach-esque metallic accents and smooth rolls. On “Criss-Cross,” Jackson dropped a rhythm that bordered on bossa nova and maintained an immaculate swing, all while throwing in thundering George of the Jungle-style rolls.

His drumming was skillfully doled out and carefully measured, especially for such a challenging piece of music; the song featured unorthodox measures and a particularly counterintuitive beat. “You gotta know what you’re doing, or (the song) will bite you,” Marsalis said as he introduced the song.

The highlight of the first act was the Orchestra’s rendition of a jazz classic: “Mood Indigo.”  Mourning, muted trombone sounds melted into a conversational, ultimately relaxed clarinet solo that was soaked to the core in cool blue colors. The solo was bookended by a muted trumpet solo straight out of 1930. Dan Nimmer’s quiet piano parts held the performance together while a duet between the trumpet and the trombone-traded lines.

The crowd was in for a surprise when act two opened with a wild re-telling of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” complete with a deep, dissonant bass rolling over a thin, almost translucent piano. The jazz flute (shades of Ron Burgundy?) and trombone provided the classic melody – minimalist yet playful.  Carlos Henriquez’s bass skills finally were allowed to emerge with a sparse, yet persistently swinging solo that slid and crept like the song’s namesake arachnid himself.

Marsalis took his turn to shine on a jam session with a simple cocktail of trumpet, piano, bass and drums. He sprinted into a muted solo over a blisteringly fast bass walk and a simple, spartan piano tinkling in the background. Marsalis’ true technical savvy and mastery of rhythm was the story, but Jackson and Henriquez deserve enormous praise for the sheer velocity with which they laid down the rhythm – worthy of every synonym for “scorching” in the book.

The show wasn’t by any means the most impressive nor seminal jazz concert – most of the brass section failed to stand out in any memorable way – but Marsalis and company did a terrific job of getting the geriatric crowd swinging in Jesse Auditorium.  The bandleader was impeccable, calling out beat counts before every song and asserting his musical dominance over the crew of well-maintained and extremely proficient musicians.  Regardless of the quality of the show, the chance to see a musician as acclaimed as Marsalis is an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. As far as classic jazz goes, you simply could not have done much better in Columbia, Missouri.

All I Need – Live From the Basement

Posted in Video by Matthew on August 2, 2011

 

Super Chill. Especially love the heavy echo on that mic.

When Fish Ride Bicycles

Posted in Review by Matthew on July 27, 2011

It’s been three long years since Chicagoland duo The Cool Kids dropped their critically acclaimed EP The Bake Sale, the bouncy and coolly confident effort that put them on the fast track to leading the new school of hipster hop. Fans waited for the imminent full-length debut…and waited…and waited. Now, with the release of When Fish Ride Bicycles, Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks deliver an album that shows the duo is as tight and polished as ever.

One element noticeably lacking from Fish is the shock and awe, flashy hook style that can overcrowd and cheapen a more reckless MC’s record. Look away, Kanye – these Cool Kids are supremely bold and self-assured without getting preachy or even hinting at day glo. “Bundle Up” and “GMC” are classic Cool Kids – laid back and built upon drop-top cruising beats that jump with a surprisingly efficient minimalism.  “Penny Hardaway” is a standout track merely for the fact that Chuck and Mikey hold their own with bona fide rap royalty, Ghostface Killah.

“Swimsuits” pulses with a bright energy that is reminiscent of early Tribe Called Quest, and pieces together snugly with the muggy track “Summer Jam (featuring Maxine Ashley and Pharrell)” to form a cohesive summertime vibe. This is positively an album to blast on the beach or to bump on a sizzling afternoon drive.

When Fish Ride Bicycles may lack the excitement or buzz of Bake Sale, it is nevertheless a clean, slick effort by one of hip hop’s coolest duos – Fish is confidence crystallized. Now let’s hope it’s not another three years before their next release.

 

Funky Kingston

Posted in Video by Matthew on March 27, 2011

Toots and the Maytals, 1972.

King of Limbs

Posted in Review by Matthew on March 25, 2011

 

Most bands are completely content with continuing their own style, refining their sound here and there on each album but never deviating from their collective musical personality. Radiohead is not one of these bands.

Time and again, the group has made conscious strides to break popular notions of their music, switching things up on their listeners from album to album. If any band is going to redefine themselves in a swift, 8-song flourish, it’s Radiohead. “The King of Limbs,” the English outfit’s eighth studio album is a densely layered, electrically wired departure from the sound they cultivated with their previous release, 2007’s “In Rainbows.”

The album is itself a dichotomy of theme and sonic ideas. The lead-off track, “Bloom,” opens with a deep, searching submarine-like blooop…blooop that is quickly buried under an avalanche of electronic drum beats, a shaking framework of circuits switching on and off, of zeroes and ones dancing in place to the ultimately funky beat. Groovy rhythms continue into the next track, the hectic “Morning Mr. Magpie,” an over-caffeinated tune that is infinitely more personal than its predecessor. Eventually the song breaks down into nothing more than the snappy drums and lead singer Thom Yorke’s drone-like voice hovering over the song, an omnipresent sound thorough the entire album.

It’s worth mentioning that “The King of Limbs” is by no means a long-winded, exasperatingly long album – it clocks in at just over 37 minutes long and has only eight tracks in its entirety.  This once again sets it apart from the other releases in the Radiohead discography; “Limbs” powers forward at a sometimes distressingly quick pace. It seems there is no time for the token masterpiece song or even the necessary downbeat, time-to-catch-your-breath track on the album. The frantic beat ticks on mercilessly throughout the album, pausing only long enough for you to appreciate its absence.  “Limbs” is intensity without a personal connection; it’s rhythm for rhythm’s sake.  Even Yorke’s voice – hauntingly sparse and at times almost inhuman – serves mostly as a percussive element rather than as a melodic instrument.

“Codex” and “Give up the Ghost,” the album’s two shimmering moments of solitude and privacy, stand apart from the other tracks in their lack of frenzied fury. “Codex” features a still mightily rhythmic piano and another example of Yorke’s highly individual voice wailing away before tt falls apart in a haze of piano sustain and thick white noise that transforms into the chatter of birds and a thumping drum. “Give up the Ghost” continues the album’s thread of rumbling rhythm, but adding a woodsy Jonny Greenwood acoustic guitar to create a very different feel from the overheating computer processor sounds of the rest of “Limbs.”

“The King of Limbs” is not Radiohead’s shining achievement, but it is not merely commonplace either. The album continues the band’s long history of polar direction shifts after each and every record, and is precisely the album they set out to create from the beginning.

Thelonious Monk – Evidence

Posted in Jazz by Matthew on March 21, 2011

From the film Straight No Chaser

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