Philip Bither may have done the unforgivable in announcing the Walker's 2013-2014 performing arts season - he's named a favorite.
"Uh-oh, you caught me on that - don't tell any of the other artists" he laughs.
Perhaps luckily the curator's top pick comes up first in the new season announced today. The Nature Theater of Oklahoma -- "They actually took their name from a Kafka novel," said Bither -- will perform "Life and Times," a multi-part show based on a mammoth phone call with an ordinary American woman.
Nature Theater of Oklahoma performing "Life and Times" (All images courtesy Walker Art Center)
Bither says that when they began talking, they thought they would just chat for about 60 minutes.
"They ended up with 11 hours of her life," which they took, "ums" and all, and created a musical theater piece about everything the woman could remember, he says. The final show lasts eight hours. Bither saw it in Europe and was enthralled.
"I found myself remembering my earlier childhood memories while watching this woman's struggle to bring to life her earliest memories:The neighbor who scared her next door; What her dad smelled like when he came home from work. And I sense that the entire audience was going through a similar process," he said.
Bither isn't bringing the full "Life and Times" to the Walker, just the early part, which runs three hours.
"And it takes you from the earliest baby memories to the third grade. And you end at the third grade," he said.
Bither clearly takes great joy from his work, and delights in describing it all. He points out the way performance has changed in recent years, and how the convergence of disciplines is apparent in the season.
"I think the age we live in is an age of intense content and the digital era allows people to draw from many sources, and the notions of a defined type of artform just called dance or just called theater is going away," he said. "Younger artists and I think very contemporary artists are thinking about just creating performances, and it draws from many disciplines that we used to think of as separate, including visual art, and architecture, and literature and movement."
Another element which is great to see in the season is the number of performances which feature national or international figures collaborating with Minnesota artists.
"If there's opportunities for leading forces in our community to collaborate with someone nationally or internationally and the Walker can help play a role of bringing people together, we think it's a fabulous thing for us to be able to do," said Bither.
Thus Minnesota composer and director Aparna Ramaswamy, and her choreographic partner and co-artistic director, Ranee will work with award-winning jazz saxophonist/composer Rudresh Mahanthappa to create a new piece called "Song of the Jasmine."
Also several local musicians including Polica lead singer Channy Leaneagh will collaborate with Seattle-based songwriter Jherek Bischoff for a piece called "Composed"
One of photographer Mitch Epstein's images for "American Power"
Cellist Erik Friedlander will perform a piece "American Power" using photographs and videos by Mitch Epstein to explore American's relationship with energy.
And in January there will be the 26th year of the Walker's exploration of the cutting edge of theater in "Out There."
"What we love about 'Out there ' is it gives people a passport to try the unexpected," Bither said. "Our audiences usually have never heard of these companies, but they know that January is a month of great adventure and great fun at the Walker."
Bither also highlights the visit by the Trisha Brown Dance Company which will disband soon, and will perform its final midwestern concert at the Walker in March. There will also be a 20th anniversary celebration of Twin Cities choreographers Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder, known as HIJACK (seen left.)
And there is the latest visit by French performer Jerome Bel who will come with Theater Hora, a Swiss company featuring actors with disabilities, who don't play characters in the production, but instread, themselves.
"And it makes I think in some ways the audience both feel quiet voyeuristic and uncomfortable and at other times you realize that the company are the voyeurs and they are all lined up looking at us," said Bither.
Bither will explain it all and provide more than a few clips at a season preview on Thursday Sept. 5.
THEATER: Nature Theater of Oklahoma Life and Times, Episode 1.
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 26-28, 7 p.m.
MUSIC/FILM: Sam Green and Yo La Tengo, "The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller."
Friday, Oct.11, 7 and 9:30 p.m.
MUSIC: "Composed," by Jherek Bischoff, with special guests Sondre Lerche, Greg Saunier, Ólöf Arnalds and Channy Leaneagh and others.
Friday, Oct. 18, 8 p.m. Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E. Exchange Street, St. Paul. Co-presented with the SPCO'S Liquid Music series and in association with Minnesota Public Radio.
MUSIC: CocoRosie Saturday, Oct. 19, 8 p.m.
The Cedar, 416 Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis.
MUSIC/FILM: Erik Friedlander and Mitch Epstein, "American Power."
Friday, Nov. 1, 8 p.m.
World Premiere/Walker Commission
MUSIC: Tim Hecker and Oneohtrix Point Never.
Saturday, Nov. 16, 8 p.m.
Copresented with the SPCO's Liquid Music series.
DANCE: Jérôme Bel/Theater Hora Disabled Theater.
Thursday, Nov. 21; Saturday, Nov. 23, 8 p.m.
DANCE: Choreographers' Evening Curated by Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs
Saturday, Nov. 30, 7 and 9:30 p.m.
DANCE: HIJACK at 20 redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye.
Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 5-7, 8 p.m.
World Premiere/Walker Commission.
THEATER: Out There 2014: "New World Visions."
Jan. 9 - Feb. 1, 2014
Wunderbaum and LAPD Hospital
Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 9-11, 8 p.m.
Niwagekidan Penino: "The Room, Nobody Knows."
Thursday, Jan. 16, 8 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, Jan. 17-18, 7 and 9:30 p.m.
Clément Layes/Public in Private: "Allege"
Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 23-25, 8 p.m.
Lola Arias: "The Year I Was Born"
Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 30 -Feb. 1, 8 p.m.
MUSIC: Olga Bell, "Origin/Outcome" with special guests Tom Vek and Angel Deradoorian
Thursday, February 13, 8 p.m.
World premiere, co-presented with the SPCO's Liquid Music series and the American Composers Forum.
DANCE: luciana achugar: "Otro Teatro"
Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 27 - March 1, 8 p.m.
Walker Commission/World Premiere
DANCE: Trisha Brown Dance Company Farewell Theatrical Tour, "Works for the Stage 1983-2011."
Wednesday-Saturday, March 12-15, 8 p.m.
DANCE: Companhia Urbana de Dança Na Pista and ID, "ENTIDADES"
Thursday-Saturday, March 27-29, 8 p.m.
MUSIC: Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile, "Intuitive Expression: A Brad Mehldau Celebration"
Tuesday, April 8, 8 p.m.
MUSIC: Brad Mehldau Trio
Wednesday, April 9, 8 p.m.
MUSIC: Burnt Sugar--The Arkestra Chamber, "Any World That I'm Welcome To: The Steely Dan Conductions."
Saturday, April or May, TBD
DANCE/MUSIC: Ragamala Dance and Rudresh Mahanthappa, "Song of the Jasmine
World Premiere/Walker Commission"
Thursday-Sunday, May 15-18.
When Charmin Michelle decided to pursue a career as a jazz vocalist, she was bound to pay homage to one of the greatest voices of all time.
In Billie Holiday, the mesmerizing singer whose haunting interpretations of songs from the Great American Songbook left their mark on history, Michelle found inspiration, and a musical guide.
"The first thing that drew me to her was her choice of songs and how she delivered them - the emotion that she put into them," Michelle said. "Then I started reading about her life and how tragic it was toward the end. But she was very strong considering the time she lived in."
On Sunday, Michelle and the Twin Cities Seven will pay tribute to the famous singer's life in "Portrait of Billie Holiday," at the First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis. The free show, set for 2 p.m., is being presented as part of Black History Month.
The concert also will offer listeners an excellent chance to hear the artistry of Michelle, whose sweet tones and artful phrasing make her one of the Twin Cities best voices. For her, however, it's a chance to again draw on the mastery of Holiday, who brought new life to tunes like "I Only Have Eyes For You," "Body And Soul," and "They can't Take That Away From Me."
"When you think about improvisation, hers is not quite Ella Fitzgerald's," Michelle said, "but that's apples and oranges. She could really emote.
"When she was young, her voice was really high and she was on top of the beat a little bit. But as she got older and the drugs took hold of her voice, she got a little gritty. But she worked with what she had."
Michelle also is booked for a show Monday at the Dakota Jazz Club, where she will be joined on stage by guitarist Joel Shapira -- a great pairing of two different instruments.
Photo by JuliAnne Jonker
This week's hounds uncover a photographer who captures the images that linger in a motorist's mind, a ensemble of six supreme Minnesota saxophonists, and a local rapper who straddles hip hop and pop.
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MinnPost arts writer and jazz blogger Pamela Espeland has had St. Paul jazz saxophonist Nathan Hanson's 416 Club Commission concert on her calendar for a while now. That's because Hanson has assembled a stellar, six-member saxophone choir featuring some of the best sax players anywhere, playing compositions he wrote especially for them. The show is this Sunday, Jan. 13 at 7:30pm.
Yes, Nina Clark sings with the Swedish folk group Flikorna Fem, but she likes all kinds of music, especially when it's live and done very well. Nina saw Minneapolis rapper and producer Xavier Marquis perform and his polished, pop-friendly, palpably energetic performance melted all the icicles in her brain. Xavier Marquis will be performing Saturday, January 12 at Cause Spirits and Soundbar as part of Ceewhy's CD release show.
Minneapolis painter Joseph Giannetti has been following New York photographer Sid Kaplan for many decades. Joseph says Kaplan's latest exhibition of photos at the Icebox Gallery in Minneapolis was shot exclusively from a moving car, while he was driving or a passenger. The strictly black and white images capture forgotten scenes from the road that still reside in our brains. The show is called "Drive-by Shooting" and it runs through Feb. 2.
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We've asked our Art Hounds to tell us about their Minnesota arts and culture highlights of 2011. Here are the music and visual art highlights that we didn't have time to get to on air (see the first and second on-air installments -- and the theater and dance wrap-up):
Mark Mallman's performance of "Minneapolis" at the Ritz Theater
Mark Mallman's upbeat 2011 anthem about coming home to his city/muse was a lot of fun, but this performance revealed that the song went deeper than civic boosterism. For his "Double Silhouette" album release party, he debuted a harrowing, never-before-heard preamble delving into the bitterness and betrayal that led the narrator to flee the Twin Cities in the first place, then triumphantly brought it all back home by launching into an especially exuberant rendition of "Minneapolis" that blew the room away. Mallman is always an intense, kinetic performer, but this performance was electrifying even for him.
-Ira Brooker, freelance writer and the editor of the Minnesota Playlist blog
International Novelty Gamelan performing their original score to Prince Achmed at the Square Lake Film And Music Festival
An absolutely captivated audience watched the 1926 shadow pupet animated film onder the stars surrounded by trees accompanied by the primitive ING orchestra. It was spellbinding to say the least.
-Mike Haeg, Mayor of Minnesota's Smallest Small Town, Mt. Holly, MN (pop. 4), Artist
U of M Jazz Ensembles' Gil Evans Centennial Celebration
A rare opportunity to experience live the music of one of the foremost comoser/arrangers of our time. Musicianship was superb and conductor/Evans Scholar Ryan Truesdell was very informative on his research into the archival treasures of Gil's scores and recordings.
-John Devine, saxophonist and composer
"The Sound of Surprise: A Vijay Iyer Mini-Festival" at the Walker Art Center
Iyer played six sets over two nights -- two solo sets and four with other musicians, including his great trio. It was a remarkable, probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear an important young pianist and composer play that much live music, much of it improvised. It was provocative and luxurious, exhilarating and immersive.
-Pamela Espeland, writer of MinnPost's Artscape and the jazz blog, bebopified
Frank Gaard at the Walker Art Center
Frank Gaard, vanguard of the Minneapolis avant-garde, had a much deserved retrospective at the Walker. His vibrant paintings and portraits mix Rock n Roll,drugs, sex, politics and the tenacity of the human spirit together to make art that truly enlightens and entertains.
-Paul D. Dickinson, host of the Riot Act Reading Series
Moritz Gotze at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead
Gotze creates intriguing Pop art that uses many of its devices (consumerism, logos, etc.) but also adds elements of history and, especially, art history. His exhibition also marked the first major exhibition mounted by the Rourke's new director, Tania Blanich.
-Kris Kerzman, writer for ARTSpulse
Artists in Storefronts
Over 65 artists have been showcased as part of the Whittier Alliance program directed by Joan Vorderbruggen. By animating empty and underused storefront spaces in the Whittier neighborhood over seven short and long term leases were secured for landlords that had been sitting with empty space for three to seven years. This program touches every part of life in Minneapolis. This project is about art, artists, community, multi-cultures, multi-disciplines and commerce.
-Tim Carroll, artist
Andy DuCett's "Why we do this" at the Soap Factory
The artist very cleverly wove together all of the little things that create our collective consciousness as Midwesterners, and recreated them all in one space. The pieces were almost all interactive, and that is what I loved about it. It has been said that dreams are not linear like a story--that they're more like a sculpture; if so, that's what this exhibition was--a living sculptural dream of the events and objects that make up our experiences living here in the Midwest.
-Billie Jo Konze, actor and singer
The Dubious Sum of Vaguely Discernable Parts by Nyeema Morgan at Bindery Projects
Bindery Projects, Nate Young & Caroline Kent's new alternative St. Paul gallery, brought emerging artist Nyeema Morgan's tripartite exhibit which included delicate prints, sublime photographs, and a simple newsprint publication. In "Forty-Seven Easy Poundcakes Like Grandma Used To Make," Morgan created a print series of 47 drawings, each made up of different recipes on index cards. Morgan's minimalist, grayish photographs of pound cake ingredients, along with actual pound cake served at the opening, set the standard for forthcoming high quality academically bent, sociopolitical exhibitions at Bindery Projects.
-Pete Driessen, artist, curator/director TuckUnder Projects
I can't imagine the art moment of the year for me NOT being Northern Spark. I couldn't get over just how crowded the city was at 4 a.m. with other inquisitive bikers. The culmination of the experience was laying on the fake grass under HOTTEA's installation at the MIA. I was exhausted and art-ed out (if that's possible) and that piece just spoke to everyone there. I already can't wait for next year.
-Steph Guidera, painter
This week's hounds guide us to an interactive poetry reading, vibrant 3-D art in Fergus Falls and a horn saturated Afro-Latin band from Ottawa, Canada.
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According to local poet Kris Bigalk, there's no risk of droning poets, stiflingly warm rooms or excessive sleepiness at The Maeve's Sessions, at Maeve's Cafe in Minneapolis. It features some of the best Twin Cities poets reading their work and interacting with audiences. The next installment happens tonight at 7:30pm, and features poets Leslie Adrienne Miller, Jim Moore, Katrina Vandenberg and Kathryn Kysar.
After ten years of being away, sculpture artist Naomi Schliesman has returned home to Ottertail County. Michele Anderson, program director for Springboard for the Arts in Fergus Falls, says Schliesman has installed an eye-popping 3-D installation at the Kaddatz Gallery in Fergus Falls, which reflects on her homecoming. The show runs through January 5.
Go see the Souljazz Orchestra, says Minneapolis bass player Alex Hamberger, and you will be compelled to dance, whether you want to or not. The band guarantees it. Alex says the group, from Ottawa, Canada, truly thrills with its horn section and Afro-Latin rhythms. The Souljazz Orchestra will heat up the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis on Saturday, Dec. 8.
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In our constant search for more things, it can be easy to forget an essential truth - that we are connected to others, and to our planet.
Far removed from the hungry masses worldwide, and from down the road - indeed, from mother earth itself -- we wander in our comfortable shells, often searching for meaning.
If we listen, we can find truth in a mother's call, a river's flow, a bird's chirp. When we're receptive, we can also hear it in the voice of Louis Alemayehu, reminding us to protect the environment by putting away our pursuit of luxury and the poisons it generates.
The poet did so masterfully on Friday, during a performance by The Mother of Masks, a stellar ensemble that fused words and music from the stage of the Bedlam Theatre's new space in St. Paul. Alemayehu and vocalist Mankwe Ndosi delivered their messages with emotion, grace and musicality, brilliantly accompanying the three musicians with whom they engaged in a spiritual conversation.
I can't do the music justice here. But let me just say that bassist Anthony Cox played with a controlled intensity during the show, as drummer Davu Seru painted the air with vibrant colors. Saxophonist Donald Washington brought the melodies home, with energy and humor, in a night of poetic jazz.
When the artists perform again, leave the comfortable seats and popular sets aside for a night. You don't want to miss them.
I was struck today by two questions directed my way in recent weeks, one about the big picture when it comes to the arts, and another about a specific work.
The frustrating one came recently from a colleague who asked whether it's worth it to pay so much attention to a jazz shows in clubs, when perhaps only dozens of people will be there to see them.
Another has come a few times in the past few weeks, from people who have asked if I've heard the new recording by Twin Cities bassist Chris Bates. His group Red 5 performs tonight at the Icehouse restaurant in Minneapolis, part of its Monday night jazz series.
My answer to both, of course, is yes.
To the former, I would say that it's the quality of the music that matters. There's simply no question that jazz - a storied genre that also is the nation's story of music and race relations - continues to capture the imagination of thoughtful listeners.
As to Bates, his story is one of a Twin Cities artist who is trying to make great music in an era when much of the attention goes to those with mass-market appeal. Here's his take on that struggle.
It's a challenge, that's for sure. We have all this other music that's being popularly promoted quite heavily in our faces. Jazz and improvised music is still around. It's just not as prevalently presented to people. You have to seek it out, you know. You can't just walk into somewhere and be like 'oh, this is where this is happening.'
The Chris Bates Red 5 show starts at 9 p.m. Joining the bassist on stage will be Chris Thomson and Brandon Wozniak on saxophones, Zack Lozier on trumpet, and his brother, JT Bates on drums.
If you ask me, the show, and the music, are more than worth it.
Like many musicians, Latin bandleader Poncho Sanchez discovered his favorite sounds at home.
In his case, it was from a small army of siblings taken by the Latin music craze of the late 1950s, which brought the mambo, cha-cha-cha and other rhythms to Los Angeles by way of New York City, Puerto Rico and even Mexico.
"I'm the youngest of 11," said Sanchez, who performs tonight at the Ordway in St. Paul. "I have six sisters and four brothers and so they're the ones that had the first Latin records that I heard. I grew up with the music in my house every day."
Those vibrant sounds came from big bands led by Cal Tjader, Machito, Tito Rodriguez, Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo - musicians that Sanchez, a conga player, would one day seek to emulate.
But first he had to learn how to play.
"I'm the only musician out of the whole family," Sanchez said. "My brothers and sisters love music and they love to dance but nobody actually took the time to learn an instrument, except me 'cause the guy who lived across the street, who's still a friend of mine, Benny Rodriguez, he had a rhythm and blues band and I used to watch him practice."
Sanchez taught himself to play by practicing to the music of the bandleaders he admired. The rest is history. After playing the Los Angeles Club scene, he joined Tjader's band in the 1970s.
Later, he would play with other greats, among them Santamaria, Tito Puente, and Dizzy Gillespie.
"They were my heroes growing up in life, and I actually ended up knowing them," Sanchez said. "I got to hang out with them. I got to play with them and they became my best friends. Now, that's a dream come true."
You can read and listen to more of my interview with Sanchez here.
Photo by Mary Jindra
If there is any certainty to life in the modern world, it's that we are all everywhere.
From Miami to New York and Minnesota, people from around the world are making their presence known, and embracing each other's experiences.
That's particularly true in music, where the blues, jazz and hip-hop -- all largely African-American inventions -- have international audiences and practitioners.
Such is the dynamic that a few decades ago inspired Pavey Jany, then a young guitarist in the Czech Republic, to embark on a musical journey that would lead him to Brazilian jazz, fusion and bossa nova - genres he now explores in the Twin Cities.
"What I've found in Brazilian music was everything that I really wanted to include in my guitar playing," said Jany, who leads Trio Bossa Nova and a larger fusion group called Ticket To Brazil. "All of the sudden there was this door that opened to the world which was so rich for me in which I could apply everything I loved: classical music, fusion and jazz.
"Brazilian guitar music was really the perfect music for me. I think it was a springboard for me."
Trio Bossa Nova performs at 8 p.m. tonight at Café 318 in Excelsior, Minn. Joining Jany on stage will be percussionist and vocalist Lidia Berman, a native of Honduras, and Andrew Foreman, one of the Twin Cities' best bassists.
The small setting allows the three musicians to focus on the intimacy of bossa nova standards that Jany first heard as a young man, beautiful songs from Brazilian guitarists Bola Sete, Baden Powell and Luiz Bonfa. He is also inspired by contemporary artists Egberto Gismonti and Raphael Rabello.
Jany, who studied classical guitar in his homeland, discovered Brazil's musicians after spending three years in the West African country of Gabon, a former French colony. He learned of the African roots of Brazilian music and how they were transported to the western hemisphere by African slaves.
"I had a chance to play with African musicians," Jany said. "That bridge between Brazilian guitar music and west African music ended up in one pot with Brazilian fusion."
Although none of the trio's musicians are from Brazil, Jany said they have adopted its musical culture and made it part of their lives.
"We are Brazilians in our hearts," he said.
Photo by Shelly Moss
Anyone who is looking for a band that captures the spirit of modern jazz in the Twin Cities would want to look no further than the Atlantis Quartet, the four-member ensemble that has set the standard for the last several years.
Formed in 2006, the Atlantis Quartet has become a major force in Minnesota and the Midwest, with a blend of driving rhythms and imaginative melodies. It includes Zacc Harris on guitar, Pete Hennig on drums, Brandon Wozniak on saxophone and Chris Bates on bass.
Fusing traditional jazz with rock and a modern sensibility, the musicians have built an audience with inventive compositions, well-established themes and strong storytelling.
After three strong albums in "Again, Too Soon," "Animal Progress" and "Lines in the Sand," the quartet is again working on new material, songs they will include in a set tonight at the Dakota Jazz Club. After hearing the quartet recently at St. Paul's Artists' Quarter, it seems to me that the group's latest tunes allow for more introspection and variation.
"All four members are contributing original music for the new recording and the music is a lot more 'open' to feature the different members of the band," Hennig told me this week. "There are also a few complex arrangements in odd meter to feature ensemble playing. We're still fine tuning some of the songs this month before we go to record."
It will be interesting to see if the quartet takes more time developing a theme and if the musicians' solos involve a greater sense of exploration, and willingness to take detours.
If the conversations I've had with the musicians in recent months are any indication, their compositions are evolving in more seamless ways.
"We've been getting more free within that," Bates said recently of the group's approach. "You start trusting one another more in that way."
The important thing is that the Atlantis Quartet still has a great identifiable sound - one that will have fans eagerly waiting for the new recording.
If ever there were a concept album just waiting to be made, it would be one that focused on the famed New York building from which many of the greatest songs of the 20th Century emerged.
In a space that united songwriters and artists, the Brill Building produced a gold mine of great songs that are ingrained in the American consciousness.
Among them are 11 classic tunes covered by acclaimed vocalist Kurt Elling on his new album, 1619 Broadway, from "Come Fly With Me" and "A House Is Not A Home" to, of course, "On Broadway."
A remarkable singer known for his range and artistic vision, Elling performs tonight at the Dakota Jazz Club.
Joining him on stage will be Laurence Hobgood on piano, John McLean on guitar, Clark Sommers on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums.
One of the cool things about writing about music is that from time to time I'm able to read musicians' excellent takes on their art -- meditations that often explain their work far better than I could. The next one up to do his duty is guitarist Todd Clouser, who I interviewed last summer for a piece on the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. His band, A Love Electric, has been a big hit in Mexico, the Upper Midwest and beyond.
Clouser, whose work fuses modern jazz, rock and funk, performs tonight at the Red Stag in Minneapolis, followed by a show Tuesday at the Amsterdam in St. Paul and another Wednesday at Café Maude in south Minneapolis.
Here he is on those concerts, in his own words:
The idea for this week's A Love Electric shows is simple: is to take some time to explore writers I've been influenced by and reinterpret their work through the lens of improvisation and my own sensibilities as a player and arranger. I develop these phantom personal relationships with artists I love, and get out of playing my own music for a while. It's a whole different piece of the imagination I get to exercise.
Monday night we're at the Red Stag playing the music of Elliott Smith. It has been an invigorating, if a bit trying, experience arranging eight of Elliott's tunes. I listened to his music very intently in my late teens, as I identified with what could be seen as a largely existential expression at that time. His writing is far more daring than anything you would find in the great majority of modern songwriting. It's just impossibly good at times. That can make it difficult at times to approach as a player or arranger. There were songs I began deconstructing and arranging that I just completely left behind, they were too perfect. The songs I settled on, we will present in our own manner, using the language we use in A Love Electric: improvisation, energy, expression. All the arrangements are unique and took a good deal of time for me to feel they were appropriate to each tune. It's music that commands respect for its emotional sincerity.
Tuesday we are at the Amsterdam presenting deconstructive arrangements of Nirvana's iconic "In Utero" record. Another situation that requires care and vision, as the record is such a complete and poignant artistic statement. The way I've approached it is to completely deconstruct the songs, pulling elements from the tunes and creating a canvas for us to improvise upon. I'm going to be singing a bit as well, which has been a new direction for our band, but feels true to how I feel we can best express, and make our statement, right now.
Wednesday at Cafe Maude with [bassist] James Buckley and [drummer] Greg Schutte we are going to play Brian Eno's Discreet Music, which is largely a soundscape sort of situation, but there is this complete beauty in the commitment Eno had to each note he used on the record. The first piece runs over 30 minutes and is largely just two notes that comprise a major third. Being confined to that, the exploration of possibilities becomes that much more intentional. You can't just blow all your stuff all over the tune. It's very intricate, if simple sounding in its end.
Then I'm down to Mexico for a few week tour as A Love Electric, through Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puebla, the South Baja. It's a different experience performing down there, one I have come to embrace and I think has been mutual. A lot more music happening up to the New Year, when we'll begin pushing for our new A Love Electric record, which I'm really proud of, it's an irritated art rock sort of statement that we recorded up in Woodstock, N.Y. with our band from Mexico City, Steven Bernstein on trumpet, and Brandon Wozniak on saxophone called "The Naked Beat."
I'm really in love with playing music right now, more than ever, and feeling comfortable performing. Self doubt has always been my greatest inhibitor, paralyzing at times. [I] think it's that way for all of us in whatever we do, but I'm feeling really great and just eager to express, create, leave the piece of art as it was made and keep moving. It feels healthy and keeps me digging towards something that transcends complacency.
Walking the beat
I continue to be impressed by the incredible work of jazz rhythm sections in the Twin Cities, where there are great bassists, including Billy Peterson, who performed with drummer Dave King in an incredible show over the weekend.
Another bassist who should be on everyone's list of must-see performers is Anthony Cox, who is near the top of my list of artists to interview. (It could happen...) He takes the stage tonight at the Icehouse in Minneapolis, with drummer JT Bates, pianist Bryan Nichols and saxophonist Michael Lewis.
Check them out.
Drummer David King and bassist Reid Anderson of The Bad Plus perform at George Wein's Carefusion Newport Jazz 55 in Newport, R.I. on Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009. (AP Photo/Joe Giblin)
The last time I saw drummer Dave King, he was playing a duet with drummer J.T. Bates, in an inventive and playful set of music that was as imaginative as it was rhythmic.
It was a natural setting for King, the affable drummer for The Bad Plus who is helping to redefine the role of the drums in a trio setting.
When King sits at the drum set, he puts jazz tradition aside, drawing on rock beats and other influences to augment the other instruments on stage. That's what makes The Bad Plus a trio of equals, with the spotlight equally on piano, bass and drums.
But anyone who thinks King can't swing with the best of them would be mistaken, as the drummer remarkably demonstrated during the trio's set with saxophonist Joshua Redman during the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.
Indeed, King pushed the band to stirring heights, so much so that the concert-goers I sat next to that night couldn't help but exclaim how the drummer's work was a highlight of the show.
If there are any doubters still out there, King likely will set them to rest with "I've Been Ringing You," a new album of mostly standards on Sunnyside Records. Joining him on the recording are two of the Twin Cities most-respected musicians: pianist Bill Carrothers and bassist Billy Peterson.
They'll take the stage tonight and Saturday at St. Paul's Artists Quarter, in shows that are certain to be classy sets.
The call of Africa
Another drummer that I can't hear enough of these days is Babatunde Lea, the world-class musician who is taking the local scene by storm.
Lea is a master of African rhythms from the western hemisphere who has long explored the music of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti and other countries that are part of the African diaspora.
He's bringing a spiritual jazz steeped in the African tradition to the Twin Cities.
Lea performs Friday and Saturday with guitarist Zacc Harris and bassist Adam Linz at the new Café Maude at Loring in Minneapolis.