Monthly Archives: September 2009

Steve Lehman = Math-jazz?

A recent musical discovery in my world has been Steve Lehman, young saxophonist who’s doing some interesting things with the music (thanks to Sekhar for the tip!).  His most recent recording, Travail, Transformation and Flow is an octet recording, using computer techniques to shape the compositions (you can get a taste of a couple tracks at the link).  Here’s how the Washington City Paper review by Michael J. West put it:

On the disc, Lehman uses a jazz application of “spectralism”: a French school in which composers begin with a note on a given instrument, use a computer to analyze the spectrum of tones that make up that note, then orchestrate all of those tones on different instruments to create new harmonies. The physical acoustics and the musician’s attack on the instruments help determine the nuances within the tonal spectrum, but timbre is the primary element of spectral harmony.

In an interview from a few years back, called ‘Grooving not Repeating’ at All About Jazz, Lehman talks about his college experiences at Wesleyan (my alma mater):

In college and graduate school I was working mostly with Anthony Braxton, Jay Hoggard and Jackie McLean, over at the Hartt School of music. I also studied with people like Alvin Lucier, Ron Kuivila and Pheeroan akLaff, while doing my best to take advantage of the performance courses in South Indian and West African musical traditions that were offered at Wesleyan. It’s hard to sum up the importance of the 6 years I spent at Wesleyan and even harder to know how much of it had to do with the fact that I was functioning within an academic environment.

I think it’s safe to say that when I arrived at Wesleyan as a freshman I was pretty squarely focused on the music of people like Jackie McLean and John Coltrane. By the time I graduated, in 2002, I had been exposed to an extremely broad set of musical traditions. And also given the tools, by people like Anthony Braxton and Jackie McLean and Jay Hoggard, to begin defining the parameters of my own music.

All in all one of the more intriguing new players, and I want to track down more of his music.  The next generation has had hip-hop as a soundtrack growing up, along with pervasive computing, and it all kind of comes together in Lehman’s approach.  He’s said he wants to “attempt to create a more groove-oriented music, without using repetition as a structural device.”

The Referendum – Tim Kreider

Came across this short piece called ‘The Referendum’ by Tim Kreider online at the NYT site, via Andrew Sullivan.  The writer is a single, 42-year-old cartoonist whose putative subject is ‘arrested adolescence’ but it’s really all about the choices we all make, and how to live.  Here’s a taste:

A lot of my married friends take a vicarious interest in my personal life. It’s usually just nosy, prurient fun, but sometimes smacks of the sort of moralism that H.G. Wells called “jealousy with a halo.” Sometimes it seems sort of starved, like audiences in the Great Depression watching musicals about the glitterati. It’s true that my romantic life has produced some humorous anecdotes, but good stories seldom come from happy experiences. Some of my married friends may envy my freedom in an abstract, daydreamy way, misremembering single life as some sort of pornographic smorgasbord, but I doubt many of them would actually choose to trade places with me. Although they may miss the thrill of sexual novelty, absolutely nobody misses dating.

I regard their more conventional domestic lives with the same sort of ambivalence. Like everyone, I’ve seen some marriages in which I would discreetly hang myself within 12 hours, but others have given me cause to envy their intimacy, loyalty, and irreplaceable decades of invested history. [Note to all my married friends: your marriage is one of the latter.] Though one of those friends cautioned me against idealizing: “It’s not as if being married means you’re any less alone.”

We all make choices about how to live, sometimes feeling good about them, other times feeling perhaps we’ve made a mistake.  We can look at our friends’ lives and try to make some comparisons, but in the end it’s pretty impossible to know how other people are really feeling about their own choices.  So we carry on, trying to do the best we can, to live with choices we’ve made, to optimize our future outcomes.  No do-overs, no rewind!

On the run

Got up early this morning for a 5K run through downtown Portland, part of the ‘Run for the Cure’ events.  I was pleased with my finish of 21:56, not too bad given my fairly lax training.  Even better was the fact that my legs felt pretty good during and afterwards.

Since June, I’ve been trying to adjust my running style to land on the forefoot, rather than the heel, and after a rather tough month of early attempts (and walks home), it’s starting to pay off.  By landing at the forefoot, there’s more of a spring effect on each step.

'Pig 05049' by Christien Meindertsma

While over in the Netherlands last year, I came across a book at a museum in Rotterdam that I couldn’t put down.  The book is called ‘Pig 05049‘ and it is a photographic documentation of all the commercial products that are made from various parts of a pig.  Here’s a description:

Christien Meindertsma has spent three years researching all the products made from a single pig. Amongst some of the more unexpected results were: Ammunition, medicine, photo paper, heart valves, brakes, chewing gum, porcelain, cosmetics, cigarettes, conditioner and even bio diesel.

Meindertsma makes the subject more approachable by reducing everything to the scale of one animal. After it’s death, Pig number 05049 was shipped in parts throughout the world. Some products remain close to their original form and function while others diverge dramatically. In an almost surgical way a pig is dissected in the pages of the book – resulting in a startling photo book where all the products are shown at their true scale (1:1).

Just today I came across news that this book has won a 2009 Index prize, and I can’t say I’m surprised.  It’s a remarkable view of how our world actually operates, showing connections most of us have no awareness of.

Beatles For Sale

This week marked what I suspect is the last hurrah for compact discs – the re-release of the entire Beatles catalog, with new mastering, new photos & booklets, mini-documentary videos.  I was working part-time at a record store back in 1985, when compact discs were first rolling out.  Our store had a smallish selection of CDs, mostly classical recordings – other genres had yet to really roll out on disc.  We mostly sold LPs and cassettes.  Now, about 25 years later, the CD  market is drying up fast.  Digital downloads are making up a large and increasing share of the music market.  While I understand it, I do miss record stores.

Since I’m the kind of guy who still has LPs and 45s along with lots of CDs, I picked up a few Beatles titles for old times sake.  The one that’s speaking most to me at the moment is ‘Beatles For Sale’ from late 1964.  The lads had been working hard, touring and recording all year (oh, and they made a movie too!  A Hard Days Night), and this one came out at the end of the year in the UK (it was chopped up for the US market into Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI).  It’s a combination of originals and covers, basically the last time they’d do covers on record. According to the recording notes, on the last day of recording on October 18th, they recorded 7 songs in one long session, 5 covers along with “I’ll Follow the Sun” and “I Feel Fine”.  Amazing!

But I think the sting of the album comes right at the beginning, where a newly Dylan-influenced Lennon indulges in a little self-pity in his powerful trio of opening songs: “No Reply”, “I’m a Loser” and “Baby’s in Black”.

Rock and roll!

I’ve made it to a few shows this past week, which have been blasts of pure rock and roll.

On Wednesday night, a visit to  Slabtown, which feels a bit like someone’s big basement even though it’s at street level, where the Rock N Roll Adventure Kids from Berkeley were headlining.  Their MySpace page lists the following influences:  Traditional Fools, Link Wray, Bo Diddly Hasil Adkins, Cramps, Nobunny, Stooges, Tav Falco, Screamin Jay Hawkins, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Coachwhips, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Gun Club, Gories, Drags, V.U.
Take all that crazy inspiration, mix it up in a two man band with drums and guitar, add in a lot of manic energy. Listen at your own risk.

Early last night I caught the mystical YACHT at the Old Town Block Party.  It was  a fun free show, with some good audience participation. Just so you know, “YACHT is a Band, Belief System, and Business conducted by Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans of Marfa, Texas and Portland, Oregon, USA. All people are welcome to become members of YACHT.”

Then it was over to Dante’s for Pansy Division and headliners The Avengers.  The Avengers got together in 1977 in SF, and have had a couple reunions in the recent years.  Original members Penelope Houston and Greg Ingraham were on hand, with the rhythm section borrowed from PD. PD started in 1991, and appears to be going strong (the sequin dress costume change really kicked things up a notch!).

Both bands had some great punk energy, old-school.  Rock and roll lives on!

Labor Day Adventures

My college friend Todd flew into town on Thursday afternoon, and we’ve been on the go for the last few days!  After an afternoon walk in the hills, we had dinner, then decided on a bottle of Caol Ila (no, I don’t know how it’s pronounced), like so:

We sampled a bit of this smoky scotch, then headed out for the First Thursday events down in the Pearl district.  On Friday we drove up toward Mt Hood, and did a nice long hike, with the main attraction being Ramona Falls, which looks something like this:

I found out about it from the band project of the same name, and it is indeed a pretty spot (photo by Christopher Monsere).

That night we just made it to the set by Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at Mississippi Studios.  These guys out of Austin TX play a pumping brand of soul and blues numbers that was real good fun.

Then on Saturday we headed south, passing through Eugene, where I picked up this book on Andy Warhol by poet John Yau.

We were on our way to a town called Florence out on the coast.  Todd’s mom lives there now, and we were able to navigate to her house just on the basis of the address (small town!).  That night we walked over to ‘Old Town’ which is a nice street of restaurants and shops on the banks of the Siuslaw River.

On Sunday morning we went to a church service at the Church on the Rock, where Todd’s mom likes to attend.  The service included several songs with a band at the beginning, then a sermon based on Matthew 26.  I have to admit I have not been to a church service in decades, and found this one interesting at least in terms of lessons about human nature if not all the biblical specifics.

In the afternoon we drove a few miles north, first stopping at the Sea Lion Cave, which unfortunately has been abandoned by the seals as of a few weeks ago!  So we went a bit further up to Heceta Head Lighthouse, a very pretty spot on the wild coast.  My camera started acting up, and I think perhaps the sensor has gone bad, but finally was able to get this lo-fi picture, Todd and I by the lighthouse.

After that I dropped Todd and his Mom off at her house, then headed home.  All went well for awhile, then a electric warning light came on somewhere along the way.  I hoped to make it home, but near Salem my speedometer suddenly dropped down to zero, followed soon after by the tachometer…  and soon I had to pull off to the side of I-5 as the car was dead.  As usual AAA responded well, and we determined that the best thing would be to tow it to Portland, and get it fixed later (probably the alternator has gone out).  So I made it home a bit later than expected, but no real damage other than $107.50 in towing fees.

Today I went to a mid-day yoga class, much needed on this Labor Day.

George Clinton / P-Funk @ Crystal Ballroom – 1-Sept-2009

Finally saw the master at work.  George Clinton started in the early sixties with The Parliaments, got Parliament/Funkadelic rolling in the seventies, and has been doing his thing for just about my entire life!  Last night the mothership landed at the Crystal Ballroom here in Portland, and the sold out crowd was extremely enthusiastic.  The big band can play just about anything, it seems like, so there was some funk, a little rap, a long guitar instrumental, soul, and whatever else they do.

Highlights for me were “Flashlight”, “One Nation Under a Groove” and “Atomic Dog” at the end of the long set.  There was a nice rendition of “Dr Feelgood” in an Aretha-style in the encore, sung by newest member of P-Funk, Mary Griffin.