Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sound Design project

cameron and wickett
Originally uploaded by J_matis.
I've had the good fortune of being hired for a unique sound design project. I'm developing recorded work for a choral piece by Don McCullough. The work is called "Let My People Go" and it's an arrangement of spirituals for choir and percussion, with two narrators. The narrators deliver text about the underground railroad and related stories. My recordings will provide a sound environment for the narrators.

Since most of the stories told by the narrators take place at night (since this is when travellers could be active on the underground railroad), I'm using sounds of crickets and nighttime bugs as a foundational element. Towards this end, Cameron and I were able to turn our weekend getaway to a cabin in West Virginia into that lovely thing known to us self-employed folks as a business expense. Our cabin turned out to be an ideal spot to record those little nocturnal forest dwellers in full swing - with little interference from traffic, and other people noises.

Making those field recordings only took about 30 minutes, so we also had time to enjoy the hot tub on our large screened porch (nice "cabin" eh?) and a day of hiking in various parks nearby. This photo is from our morning hike in New River Gorge National Park. Wickett came along for that one...

DCIC at Red and The Black

Last Sunday night (Aug. 20) we played again at The Red and The Black - a new venue on H Street, northeast. It's a nice room, small and warm sounding. I've played there three times now, and it has consistently been a welcoming environment for music. Hopefully the H street corridor will pick up some more traffic over time...

We played on a four-band bill featuring two touring groups from Tallahassee, Florida: Arch Trio and Dead Legs, plus another local artist: Meesh. DCIC played as a trio: Ben, Mike, and me.

We didn't have any rehearsal before the show, and since Mike got stuck in traffic on the way there, we didn't really have time to even discuss a "game plan" for our set. We just had to get on stage and bring it. Seems like the trio is working well enough that we can pull that off. Honestly, I don't think that discussing the set before we played would have made it any better or worse - the three of us have enough experience now playing together that I think we can communicate pretty well in the moment simply through the musical choices that we're making.

DCIC with Greg Osby

It seems I've gotten a bit behind in the blogging dept... so I'm going to try and catch up with a few impressions about recent goings on. Unfortunately, the blog is now messed up: it's not in strict reverse chronological order. I should embrace this new freedom and enjoy the flexibility of posting things not necessarily in the order in which they actually occurred - after all, who gives a crap? But it just feels so wrong. Ok, I will suppress my bean counter nature and move on - out of order.

Back on August 5th, DCIC had the opportunity to perform with a very special guest: saxophonist Greg Osby. The show was a benefit for Alkem, and was held on the main stage at Warehouse Theater. Joe Lally opened, playing a whole bunch of new songs from his forthcoming album. For this performance, we had the full group: Ben Azzara (drums), Dan Barbiero (bass), me (guitar), and Mike Sebastian (tenor sax, and saxello) - plus the incredible Mr. Osby (alto sax).

Overall, things went really really well - better than I expected. Honestly, I didn't know what to expect, so I'm not sure what that means.

What I mean is: Greg Osby is a brilliant musician. He really "led the way." Every time he put the sax to his lips, he gave us such clear and rich material - it was easy to improvise with him. His ideas were so well put together that it felt like the group was generally following his lead - although (and here's where he really was impressive) he didn't take the spotlight. His performance was very much as part of the ensemble -- not "Greg Osby accompanied by DCIC." It was really a collective effort - but he's just a damn fine player and incredible talent.

We made up a "set list" before the show with 5 pieces... various duos and trios, plus some full group playing. What actually happened was a bit different - we played three pieces - but still managed to hit most of those duos and trios. Dan was really "on" that night, he delivered several nice solos and kept things moving through the whole set. Mike also rose to the occasion - I'm sure it was a difficult spot - playing sax next to such a highly accomplished artist - but that was a total non-issue. Mike's playing was very different, stylistically, and made a great counterpoint to Osby's playing.

We recorded the show, and it's been added to "The Vault." Over on the DCIC website, we've set things up now so instead of an overwhelming catalog of mp3's available for free download, there's an archive with a player built into the page. So now you can stream random tracks from "The Vault" for free right from your browser. If you'd like access to everything we've ever recorded it can be had for the price of whatever price you think it's worth - just make a donation to Improv Arts, and you get a passcode to access "The Vault" and download anything and everything... including everything we haven't recorded yet. So, this show is in there (and the recording sounds pretty good if I do say so myself).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Black Stars

This is a song by Jolie Holland. She's a phenomenal songwriter and performer. I made this recording as part of an anniversary present for Cameron. If you listen, you will quickly discover that I'm not much of a singer. I'm very self conscious about it, but am posting the recording here as part of an effort to "get over it." Also wanted to share with everyone what a sap I am - and how totally smitten I am with Cameron.

Plus, I want to spread the word about this brilliant song (even though this performance may not be all that). Dave Maddox wrote a great essay about this song, and one other from the same album. Click-through to read it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fending/Matis tour: "Malibu Death March"

I just finished up a little mini-tour with Brian Fending. Last summer, we recorded an album in Minneapolis. It's being released on a local label called SocketsCDR. So, my thinking was, we'll get the album ready to go and then play a few shows to announce the cd release. Things didn't quite work out so smoothly. We started booking the tour about three months in advance. Two venues that were lined up right away were in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Two weeks before we hit the road, we learned that both of those shows fell through. Our friends in Philly scrambled to get us booked at another venue, and we removed Pittsburgh from our itinerary - and played a last minute show in DC instead. I opted out of our Buffalo show and Brian got a sub for that night, which made the logistics much simpler and cut our losses significantly. Oh yeah, and the CD isn't quite released. We made a small batch, but the packaging isn't quite as nice as I'd hoped. But at least we had something on-hand to take on the road.

Brian's Chevy Malibu had a few troubles. The check-engine light gave us a scare while we were in Manhattan, but it went out the next day for no apparent reason. Before heading to Philly, one of his tires went flat. Fortunately he just needed a new valve stem which took ten minutes and under twenty dollars. Otherwise, logistics went smoothly. Brian and Rachel are shopping for a new car.

First stop was New York City. We haven't played there since 2001 (as part of Gray Code at the Knitting Factory) so we made up for lost time by playing two shows in one night. One very warm Sunday night. First show was 8pm at ABC No Rio, part of their COMA improvised music series. No a/c in that place, so it was warm. Our set was ok, not our best, but we hadn't played together in a year so we got reacquainted. Audience size was about 8 or 10. Loaded out and headed up the street to CBGB's Gallery for our 11pm show. Another audience of 8 - 10. Only two of them in the actual gallery, rest at the bar in back. Cameron says the people at the bar were listening and enjoyed it. This set was much more "rock." Louder, darker. Our only paid gig on the tour - we made $4.25. Seriously. Another load out, and off to Cameron's friend Amy's parents' home on the upper west side. Nice to have friends who have friends in New York whose parents summer in the Berkshires. Load the gear out, into the apartment. Park the cars.

Next morning (Monday), shuffled the cars and gear. Checked Brian's check-engine light. Quick breakfast and drive back to DC. Much less traffic on Monday. Made it back in time to cook some dinner before heading off to the show at The Red and The Black - a new venue in northeast DC. John Berndt generously agreed to come down and play a double bill with us, and brought his new band, "Death in the Maze." Two people in the audience for this show. Music was good, though.

Tuesday, off to Philadelphia. We stayed with a friend of Brian's from grad school, Elton, who lives in Suffolk, New Jersey - about 30 minutes outside of Philly. Elton was awfully nice and a generous host. We piled all the gear into his truck and the three of us headed into the city for dinner at Gianna's Grille (vegan steak and cheese. mmm.). Then off to the venue, The Avant Gentlemen's Lodge. The neighborhood made Elton very nervous about his truck (with good reason, I think). We opened the show, which was very well attended thanks to the rest of the bill: Satanized, Mary Halvorson and Jess Pavone, and The Flying Luttenbachers. The venue seems to be a group house with a large garage that's been turned into a venue. Audience was really listening. Such a nice change (to have people in the room - and then to have them listen). A real treat. Interesting scene up there in Philly. We didn't stay for the Luttenbachers so Elton could get his truck safely returned to the 'burbs.

Wednesday morning, Brian and I parted ways. I returned to DC (Hyattsville) and he drove back to Buffalo. Zero CD sales, and we lost a bunch of money. Looks like this kind of DIY touring may not be the best model for Fending/Matis… In any event, it was great fun to play with Brian every night for a few days. Hopefully we'll get the business side worked out a little better - and we'll be letting you all know when the CD is "officially" released. For now, you can hear a few tracks on our myspace page.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

DCIC at Fort Reno

Last night, DCIC enjoyed the privilege of opening for The Evens at Fort Reno. Despite the extreme heat, it was loads of fun... and thanks to the big draw of The Evens, we played to our largest audience yet, probably a few hundred people. This was particularly exciting for me, having attended concerts at Fort Reno for years, it was a kick to get to play one. Ben Azzara (drums) plays there at least twice every summer, and has done so with his various bands for the last 12 years!?! Well, about time I started catching up to him...

We had planned to do three pieces, but things worked out a bit differently. The first one went by quickly, and led into the second without a full break (although opinions differed about whether we played the second piece, a structure we've named "Triangulation." Mike and I thought we were playing that one, and Ben didn't -- but it worked out ok, really). That was also fairly brief, and we found ourselves with 20 minutes left, so we played a few totally free improvisations and then closed with our "punk jazz" thing. The title is the score.

Mike and Ben were great, as always. We couldn't hear ourselves too well - Ben mentioned at the end that he couldn't really hear either of us. He did surprisingly well if that's true.
Mike seems to have a really inexhaustible supply of musical ideas, and as usual, he demonstrated some really great listening - following my sometimes unpredictable chord changes as well as covering up some of my less brilliant note choices.

Anyway, it was a blast playing at Fort Reno and opening for The Evens... either one of those facts would've been something else - but both combined, will that's too much fun. And now we get to do it again this Saturday at Warehouse Theater - playing with Greg Osby!! How cool is that?

The real star of the evening was our dog, Wickett, who finally got to come hear one of my shows, but more importantly kept all the kids entertained for hours (he's totally O.C.D. and will play ball until he can't stand up anymore... which he did).

Here's a shot of Wickett showing off for his many admirers as The Evens set up for their soundcheck in the background. This is, in fact, very close to the image that appears in my mind when I think about "DC in the summer:" Dog, park, Ian Mackaye, Fort Reno. Just as it should be.photos by Cameron McPhee.