A lot has happened since we went to Italy. Let me summarize:
1. Not one, not two, but three times I started and abandoned the mix for the IJG’s sixth album, tentatively titled Hello, Dada! (“Antennae Town,” included in a post below, was one of the tunes slated for that album.) I am still not sure what is going to become of the tracks recorded for Dada, which at this point are about four years old. I also don’t want to get into the details of the delay. I’m just not happy with the music, for whatever reason. Yet it simultaneously irks me that most of it is not publicly available.
2. I finished Decomposition, my 392-page manuscript, which I describe as a philosophy of music. For a while, I wasn’t sure if that would ever see the light of day, either. Eventually I discovered that I would not be able to finish it until I set my music aside for a while. During the last six months of the process, I didn’t write any music — probably the first such period since high school — and in fact I didn’t listen to much music, at least compared with my previous obsessive listening habits. It was a bit like fasting. And in retrospect I think it was healthy.
3. I started a new Portland-based band, a sextet called Proto-human. I wrote an album’s worth of music for Proto-human, of which I’m very proud. We rehearsed like mad, played two great shows (in March and July of last year), and recorded half of an album. Then we lost two of our members. I have been struggling to reconstitute that group in the months since. I believe we may be on the cusp of re-emerging, but I’ll see how next week’s rehearsal goes before I say more.
4. I came face-to-face with my own mortality in ways I never anticipated (except abstractly) before I was in my forties. I quit drinking, shifted my sleep routine, and generally started taking my health seriously. Physically, I feel better than ever. Existentially, I struggle with a suddenly much more acute sense of melancholy.
5. Damon Zick (one of the IJG’s regular saxophonists) had been proposing the idea of having the IJG at his school for a long time. He teaches band at a private Lutheran school (kindergarten through eighth grade) in North Hollywood. Once my manuscript was finished, I could think about this seriously. This past Tuesday, that performance finally came to pass, plus a show at Chinatown’s Grand Star Jazz Club. Out of necessity, the mini-tour involved a smaller version of the group — ten pieces instead of the usual fifteen. But we debuted an entirely new set of music — eight songs, which are probably among the best I have written, if the most awkwardly titled. There will be video available from at least one of those performances very soon; I will save further commentary on this latest incarnation of the IJG, and my plans for the future, until then.
Well, for a tour that began with intimations of disaster (a singer who was forced to drop out at the last minute, a brand-new bass player and trumpeter, a saxophonist with some broken teeth, a late-night brush with Johnny Law, a traffic jam of epic proportions), last week’s jaunt to San Diego actually went pretty damned well. Personnel: Damon Zick (soprano sax), Evan Francis (alto sax), Brian Walsh (tenor sax), Mary-Sue Tobin (tenor sax), Cory Wright (bari sax, piccolo), Dan Rosenboom (trumpet, piccolo trumpet), Josh Aguiar (trumpet), Josh Welchez (trumpet), Ian Carroll (trombone), Mike Richardson (trombone), Tany Ling (vox), Sam Bevan (bass), Dan Schnelle (drums), me.
We played two shows: one at Mesa College, and the other at Dizzy’s (both on Wednesday, November 3). We enjoyed highly appreciative and responsive crowds, a band that is sounding tighter than ever in its new-old incarnation, and a presenter who really took care of us (the one and only Jim Romeo).
After the Dizzy’s gig, a few of us crashed at Romeo’s gorgeous home in the San Diego hills, an experience that made me think that maybe there is a future in this jazz thing after all. Here’s the view we woke up to:
Anyway, a splendid time was had by all, and blah blah blah. Made it back to PDX without incident. Two days later I found myself in the Alberta Rose Theater, listening to the Quadraphonnes (featuring IJG saxophonist Mary-Sue Tobin) perform their much-anticipated “tone-color-melody” concert, a multimedia extravaganza that I was very honored to be a part of. This show was, as Ellington used to say, “beyond category.” You can hear most of the tune I wrote for the Quads (+ marimba, cellos, and rhythm section) in the below clip. (Apologies for the unsteady camera. I swear I wasn’t drunk.)
First, live audio from the Hammer Museum show on August 19. The sound of the IJG in a big courtyard, at night. This was in fact the first time we had played this tune in public (I believe the technical term is “world premiere”). The trumpet solo is Dan Rosenboom, the tenor solo is Brian Walsh, and the alto solo is Evan Francis. Jill and Tany do an incredible seagull impression at the end.
(It sounds like someone in the audience breaks a glass at around the 17 second mark. Huh?)
Overall, not a perfect performance, but not a bad one either, and the energy is pretty intense, which I like.
And here’s the same tune the following night, at Dizzy’s in San Diego. You can hear the trumpets a little better in this one, so some of the time displacements might make a little more sense. Video courtesy of Tany Ling / Matt Lichtenwalner.
Thanks to everyone who came out to our SoCal shows last week. I’m going to post a rundown of the music we played on both nights (both shows were basically the same), starting with set one, which was as follows:
1. “The Truth and the Abstract Blues” (from Industrial Jazz a Go Go!). At one point, our drummer, Dan, asked for some chord changes to be written into his part to help him keep track of the form of this piece, which was dropped from the set back in 2005. In the process of doing so I realized that “Truth” is actually pretty polytonal in spots. I guess the effect is almost like having three or four different blues records, in different keys but at the same tempo, playing at once. Oh yes, and the title is an obvious inversion of a favorite Oliver Nelson album.
2. “The Bee Dance” (unreleased, though you can hear a rough mix on the ReverbNation player widget, off to the right there). With any luck, this tune will appear on the next album. Though the composition dates from 2007, it wasn’t until 2008 that the arrangement fell into place. Based on one of our heavier grooves, this particular arrangement is adjusted slightly in order to make the Rimsky-Korsakov references a little shinier.
3. “Howl” (from LEEF). Like “Truth,” this one is heavily blues inflected. The title refers not so much to Alan Ginsberg (though I love Alan Ginsberg), but to Chester Burnett (aka Howlin’ Wolf), whose importance to me is somewhat greater: without him I might not even still be making music. It is probably easy enough for the other Wolf fans out there to disentangle the various lupine riffs that have been folded into the first part of this piece. Exhibit A: the trumpet line at about a minute in (again, you can check the version of “Howl” that is cued up in ReverbNation player if you’ve never heard the tune), adapted from the classic Roosevelt Sykes song “44,” of which my favorite version is still Wolf’s. The whole thing ends with a rather dissonant vaudeville two-step sort of thing. Because why not?
4. “The Seagull” (unreleased). One of two brand-new tunes we performed on this tour. There is some serious time displacement nonsense happening here (7/4 against 8/4, or some such thing). I’m not sure I understand it, actually, and I know for a fact that I can’t let my guard down for a second in performance, because there is so much to concentrate on, but I swear the whole thing makes sense once you know how it all fits together. Take away the time madness, and you’ll find the song is based on a pretty simple set of riffs, one of which is very firmly in the “surf sax” genre. You can hear some of the craziness excerpted in this lo-fi video (note how at various points my conducting doesn’t seem to match up with the actual piece — even though I swear it does). Also, this one was originally called “The Pelican,” until I realized it sounded much more like a seagull.
5. “Bajaja” (unreleased). Wow, this is yet another thing you can hear on our ReverbNation player (a veritable potpourri, that). This is a Go-Go era song, and it almost made it onto that album, but was dropped at the last minute, for reasons I don’t quite remember. The tune takes its cue from the Baja peninsula, SoCal culture in general, and Mingus’s New Tijuana Moods stuff. The last time we performed it was in 2005.
6. “The Star Chamber” (from The Star Chamber (duh!)). One of the harder tunes in our repertoire, not least because of the infamous letter E, in which one portion of the band is in 13/8 and another portion is in 13/4. “Chamber” dates from 2002, making it one of the older things in our current set. I think that the next time out I really need to re-insert the piano part (a la the album version), but for this last tour I was too busy trying to make sure everything fit together the way it was supposed to.
7. “Antennae Town” (unreleased). Another one that I hope to have on the next album. A rather sharp shift from “The Star Chamber” in the context of this set, as “Antennae” is an unabashedly melodic and singable tune. I have to say, this is one of my little babies.
8. “Tuxedo Trouble” (from City of Angles). Comically, the twitter pseudo-avatar “Jazz Nerds International” recently posted a tweet that refers to audiences sitting on their hands in the presence of a song that happened to be in 11/8. This tune is in 11/8! (Most of the time, anyway.) And yet people danced when we played it. I guess that’s more evidence that the IJG is not nerdy enough to be jazz nerds, but too nerdy to be jazz non-nerds. Great.
9. And what better way to end set one than with “Jazz-Pop Jerkoff” (unreleased, slated for next album)? Apparently this one caused a bit of a titter in the audience when I announced it, because of course we were performing as part of the Hammer’s “JazzPOP” series, and there was a gigantic sign that said “JazzPOP” hanging right above us as we played. I swear that was just a big old coincidence.