Tuesday, November 29, 2005

testing new podcast

I wanna be a podcaster... so I'm figuring out some of the technical stuff now. If this works, you can grab a fresh track from the DC Improvisers Collective from this post and/or by adding my blog feed to your podcast subscriptions... assuming this all works like it's supposed to, I'll be posting more new music on a regular basis. Cool, no?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Dr. James Dorsey

I had an interesting opportunity – last Saturday I performed in a trio with James Dorsey (piano) and Ben Tokarz (percussion) at the Eubie Blake Jazz Institute and Cultural Center in Baltimore.

James wrote a large-scale work that was a very cool (and very well written) blend of jazz and classical styles. The piece was about 60 minutes long, with a very clear structure, very clear themes, and lots of room for improvising. There is a “piano interlude” based on a theme from Chopin that returns several times during the piece, and in between these interludes, there are three different “themes” in different styles. There are a few places with space indicated for “solos” by different performers, and a few instances where the ensemble plays more freely. During this performance, there was one section (marked in the score as “spacey”) where we really took things out into left field – much more so than we did during rehearsal. In fact, Ben and I weren’t exactly sure where we were in the score, but things were going off in a different direction so we just went with it (with interesting results) and then found our place again when James brought the interlude back… Towards the end, James takes the interlude into a blues section, which was also elaborated much more in performance than rehearsal – and I even found myself accompanying his solo with some fragmented blues licks. Very surprising since I don’t really know any blues licks!

I was quite unsure of myself when we started working on the piece – I had to read notes on paper, which isn’t a skill I’ve really cultivated as a guitarist, but I think I did ok. James is a very talented composer and pianist, and I think I’ve learned quite a bit from him just in the short time we’ve been working on this piece. Seeing as my own compositions depend on combining notated / composed materials with improvisation in different ways, it was quite interesting to become familiar with his approach as a performer. This is also great timing, since I’m just starting work on a project with John Kamman and Carl Banner (director of Washington Musica Viva) that will likely explore similar terrain.

Ben Tokarz is an excellent musician as well. It was a treat to perform with him. He laid down some monster grooves with a pair of congas, bass drum, and high-hat. He made some really interesting choices playing with different groupings and subdivisions during a section of the piece that can be counted in four with a triplet feel, or in six. Unfortunately, he’s moving to Norfolk soon, but I hope we’ll have a chance to perform together again soon.

James will also be performing a solo piano piece in a “New Music Salon” event this coming Friday, presented by the American Composers Forum. I hope we’ll be able to find a DC area venue with a nice piano, so we might have a chance to do this piece again.

Photos by Jen. You can see all the pictures she took at the show by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

DCIC Rocks the Black Cat

On Tuesday, November 8th, the DC Improvisers Collective played at the Black Cat along with Gestures, a new group featuring Sean Peoples (Hand Fed Babies), Rebecca Mills (The Caution Curves) and Fiona Griffin (ex-Meltdown, Et At It, Horses, etc.).

We performed without our bass player, Dan Barbiero, because (get this) he had a gig that night with a straight-ahead jazz piano trio at a public library in the suburbs. Well, we’ll forgive him for not doing both shows, even though we didn’t go on until 11pm so he probably could have played both. And I guess he should get points for playing at the library. I do love my county library system.

Anyway, Dan’s early-to-bed early-to-rise schedule notwithstanding, we had a grand old time as a trio. Actually, the sax-guitar-drums lineup worked out nicely for a rock club. I brought my laptop so I had some looping, pitch shifting, and other effects at my disposal and I enjoyed being able to take up more space, sonically. Mike spent most of the evening playing tenor sax, although a short excursion on soprano worked out really well too. His new tenor sax is so loud he didn’t need to mic it, even though the guitar amp was mic’ed and Ben hammered the drums at maximum volume quite often. Ben Azzara, our drummer, is no stranger to the Black Cat – he’s there almost monthly with at least one of his various rock bands.

We all had a hard time hearing the guitar on stage – I should have turned my amp up louder, but the audience heard it just fine since it was mic’ed and fed through the house PA. I think the difficulty hearing actually led to really good listening by the three of us. Since we had to make an effort to hear everything, we were really listening closely to one another, and I think that translated into some solid group improvising.

The venue also had some influence on our playing, I think. Being in a rock club made it easy for us to cut loose and play loud (and we did some softer playing as well). We had a nice audience – pretty good turnout for a rainy Tuesday night, certainly. There were many friends in the house, and I think that also encouraged us to take some risks and try some new things since it was essentially an intimate gathering of friends – many of whom have heard DCIC play a few times, so it was nice to give them something a bit different. And before I get off the subject of the venue, I love the Black Cat for several reasons, including: half price food for the bands at the attached vegan-friendly cafĂ©, Food for Thought (mmmm, BBQ Seitan Sandwich), three free pitchers of cheap beer for the band (also probably helped us cut loose and play loud), and finally and perhaps most important for me: properly grounded outlets! That seems like a funny detail, but my guitar rig can be so noisy thanks to my single coil pickups and my cheap-o audio interface for the laptop. The rig was really quiet, so the power on stage must be really well grounded. What luxury! I wish the same were true in my apartment…

Ok, now about the music… We had a rough outline that was something like this:
1. We open with something energetic and let that go for a good amount of time, 10 – 15 minutes.
2. We do a second piece that opens with a guitar/drum duo – sort of ambient with prepared guitar sounds. After five minutes or so, sax enters, drums exit and we do a lyrical sax/guitar duo. Then we make up some more.

We didn’t actually stick to that game plan – the high energy opening piece got quiet and slow after a few minutes before building back up again, and we went right into the prepared guitar thing without a break distinguishing a second “piece.” All the elements we planned for did get included at one point or another, but we let the music go where it was going and got outside of that structure. Happily, we still did the stuff we said we would… so I can’t complain about any lack of rigor or anything. I’m actually quite happy that we had the flexibility to stay in the moment with the music that appeared – and still find ways to break out into the duos at various points.

During the prepared guitar section, I put the guitar down on a chair and knelt on the floor. I had the usual alligator clips and paperclip on the strings, and played with dulcimer hammers, a paintbrush, and vibrators. Every once in a while, someone in the audience would come up close to see what I was doing and then move back to where they had been standing. That was funny… I’ve been the “guitar nerd” checking out a performer's gear that way so many times, I think this was one of the first times I’ve been on the other side of that transaction.

I forgot to push record on the minidisc before we started the show, but I think I did manage to record about half of it. Hopefully we’ll get that posted on the DCIC website in the next week or so.

If anyone took photos at the show, please let me know – I’d love to post a few here. Thanks to everyone who came out for it! Hope to see you all again soon. And thanks to Gestures for playing with us!