All posts by Durkin

I’m pretty sure you need to hear this

PDX’s own Quadraphonnes, featuring Mary-Sue Tobin (soprano sax), Mieke Bruggeman (bari sax), and Ward Griffiths (drums) — all of whom have shared (and, if I have anything to say about it, will continue to share) their brilliance with the Industrial Jazz Group. The group also features Chelsea Luker and Michelle Medler (alto and tenor sax, respectively) and Leah Hinchcliff (bass). Each player in herself is all kinds of awesome — put them together and you get some sort of supernova.

Yet another reason to spend the rest of my life in Portland.

Cha cha cha!

Found this cool little organ in a quiet corner of the old church

As imperfect as this is, I wanted to post it anyway.

What is “it,” you ask? Well, I’ll tell ya: the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble rendition of my tune, “Grabby McGee” (from last Friday’s concert at the Old Church in downtown Portland). Here ’tis:

Grabby McGee

It’s a brand-new thing. A further exploration of my current obsession with simplicity (or, perhaps more accurately, perceived simplicity — i.e., pieces that sound easy to play or write, but actually aren’t). It’s still very Industrial Jazz-y (it stuck out on the program like a damned sore thumb).

I’ve addressed some of my personal difficulties with writing for a band that is not the IJG here. They still obtain, but I think this piece worked a little better than last concert’s “Et Tu, Tutu?” (which I subsequently revised and added to the IJG repertoire).

Which is not to say that “Grabby” is an unmitigated success. Turns out the Old Church may not be the best place for my music. There is an awful lot of room reverberance in the recording — I think most of my stuff is better served by a bit more clarity/separation between the instruments. Many, many details — and even, in places, the whole trumpet section — get lost. And some of the intonation is a little ripe in spots (my bad — I seem to be very good at writing stuff that is hard to play in tune).

As you can hear, the audience dug it. I’m never quite sure I understand why that happens.

Anyway, my understanding is that Andrew Oliver (who co-leads this ensemble with Gus Slayton — and, by the way, both of them deserve some kind of medal for that endeavor) will be posting some of the other performances from the show soon. The band was stellar, and the other tunes were stellar, so those Mp3s will be well worth checking out, I assure you. Stay tuned to Andrew’s blog for more.

Continue reading Cha cha cha!

More on astonishment

A brief addendum to this. Jazz critic James Hale, commenting on his list of “albums I distinctly remembered hearing for the first time, and knowing I was hearing something special”:

All of which leads me to conclude that these types of indelible experiences may be limited to your first quarter-century, since I haven’t had a single memorable moment like this since — not for lack of listening to new music. Maybe having children (and pets, and debts, etc.) in your life has something to do with it, too.

I definitely still have those “indelible experiences,” but as I said, it feels like they are harder to come by now that I am older and more musically experienced. The thought that they could ever go away drives me to despair. (For the record, I don’t believe they ever will — but who knows? There are plenty of things I don’t believe for a while and then later they turn out to be true.)

Friday morning videos

One of the drawbacks of getting older and more musically, uh, seasoned, is that after a certain point it becomes harder to find stuff that leaves you astonished. Not that anyone can ever hear everything that is out there, but when you listen to, study, and write music all the time, after a while you become pretty accustomed to the possibilities. Which is also not (at all) to say that music that follows your expectations is therefore necessarily “bad.”

It’s just that, for me, “astonishment” is the quality that moves a given song out of the realm of “the great,” and into the realm of “the stellar.” Astonishment is the thing I seek above all in my listening. It’s the thing most likely to bring on the euphoric rush (if you know what I mean). Yes, there are multiple other pleasures that I get from listening — the pleasure of abstract thinking, the pleasure of certain forms of familiarity — but this euphoric rush is the holy grail for me, and without it, I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing.

And with that lead-in, I present the above video, from the British band Acoustic Ladyland. It has been one of the first things to astonish me in a long time.

I posted this on my Facebook account last night, prompting a brief exchange with Ian C. (trombonist extraordinaire, of Industrial Jazz Group, Tin Horn Justice, and, hopefully soon, blogging-in-this-space fame). An excerpt:

Rev. Ian Carroll at 10:54pm July 2
fucking awesome

Andrew Durkin at 10:57pm July 2
Possibly my new favorite band.

Rev. Ian Carroll at 10:59pm July 2
same here, dude. this is the type of band that makes you wanna drive 72 miles to the 24 hour record store (i wish) and buy the goddamn album…after hearing only 5 seconds of the music

Exactly. The thing is, I can’t really explain why this music made my jaw drop. (Incidentally, the rest of the album that this comes from, Skinny Grin, is excellent too.)

The tune is based on the simplest riff in the world. There’s a cool interlocking groove (listen for the keyboard part, and especially the piano re-harmonization at the end), but I’ve heard cool interlocking grooves before. Why did this one stand out? I don’t know. But it underscores something I am pursuing more and more in my own writing: powerful and provocative simplicity. (I’m not saying I’ve found it — “powerful and provocative simplicity” is, ironically, very difficult to attain.)

In defense of polkas

The inimitable Destination Out has done it once again, uploading a freakin’ free jazz polka by Frank Wright. The likes of which you have probably never heard before. (It sounds to me a little bit like a mad deconstruction of “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean.”)


The Industrial Jazz Group, it turns out, had its own little foray into this highly misunderstood genre — many years after Wright, but many years before we knew we were mining the same territory. The tune, of course, is “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboy-Presidents” (which may get the award for the IJG track many more people know the title of than have actually heard). The titular reference is to our (now thankfully departed) idiot-king; this was written right around the time the US invaded Iraq. So yes, there is a political subtext, thank you very much.

Below is the relevant excerpt. The “free jazz polka” bit starts at about 1:30. For the purposes of this post, I preserved the dreamier lead-in section, starring Kris Tiner, Cory Wright, and yrs truly. I also kept the wacked-out minor ending (a musical impression of night-vision bombing), cuz that’s my favorite part of the tune.

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboy-Presidents (excerpt)

Featuring Beth Schenck (soprano), Evan Francis (alto), Cory Wright (tenor), Phil Rodriguez (trumpet), Kris Tiner (trumpet), Garrett Smith (trombone), Aaron McLendon (drums), Aaron Kohen (bass), Durkin (piano).

In subsequent incarnations, the IJG has explored many other flavors of polka (see, for instance, “The Job Song”). But as far as free jazz polkas go: well, this may be our only attempt. Hope you like it!