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.)

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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.”)

frankwright

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!

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Every singer knows the old adage “When you pee clear, you sing clear.” (Grammar be damned.) This requires copious water-drinking, which poses a challenge when I’d rather have a delicious cup of coffee with a metric ton of cream and sugar.

(When my mentor Eugene Thomas saw me fix up a cup o’ coffee many years ago, he said, “So you don’t really like the taste of coffee, do you?” I digress.)

Even now in the middle of summer, I’d still choose a cup of hot coffee (even crappy coffee) over water. This isn’t a good thing, especially as I get a little older (perish the thought!) where the ol’ pipes require a little more care than they used to.

So here’s my revelation:
Whenever I go for a massage or some kind of spa visit (which isn’t very often, sadly), they always have big glass pitchers full of cool water with lemon slices or cucumber slices floating in there. Is there anything tastier or more refreshing in the world than that? NO THERE IS NOT. When I’m there, I drink 27655 glasses of this stuff because it’s just so damn tasty. And hey, what do you know: I’m suddenly hydrated. Weird, that.

If I spent more time in spas, this wouldn’t be a problem. But alas, my throngs of adoring fans do not buy me spa treatments I’m cheap and I always have something else going on. (and really: Does it make sense to pay $150 just to drink some water in a bathrobe?)

So I solved this dehydration quandary by doing something insane: I bought a dang lemon. And now I can’t stop drinking water. I don’t know why it’s taken me 30-plus years to figure this out.

You know, I’m really good at figuring out pretty complex problems; but the obvious occasionally escapes me.

Thank you, drive through.

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Our new friend Jason Parker (a jazz trumpeter in Seattle, and probably one of the more high-energy / exuberant people I’ve met in a long while) was kind enough to include a little Durkin / IJG featurette on his blog. My own commentary was typically cryptic / obscure / stupid, but the hat-tip is very much appreciated. Check it out. (And while there, be sure to check out Jason’s music as well.)

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Okay, I feel like I at least have the basic outlines of a tour in place. I can’t say much about it yet, though the two officially confirmed gigs are now listed on our “shows” page:

October 15 in Pittsfield, MA — We’re going to be the headliners at that (very artsy) city’s October “Third Thursday” celebration. We played here last time we were out east (2007), and had a great time.

October 19 in Brooklyn, NY — Pairing up once again with our friends: Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society. Come on: how many times a year do you get to hear two wildly different big bands in one evening? A splendid time is guaranteed, etc., etc.

There are other exciting things waiting in the wings, I swear. I just can’t commit ’em to text yet, cuz none are locked in. But there will be more updates soon, and much “huzzah”-ing, and maybe a little “harumph”-ing too.

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