Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Note Values

A middle-schooler missed an eighth rest, and we were discussing it...

ME: So how much is an eighth rest worth?
KID: I don't remember.
ME: much is an eighth *note* worth?
KID: One-eighth.
ME: One-eighth of what?
KID: Eight?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Kids Say the Darnedest Things When They're Running Late

One of them explained his lateness as follows: "I suppose I could blame my tardiness on our pet mongoose...except we haven't gotten one yet. And I don't exactly know what a mongoose is."
 After that last sentence, I showed him this. And while he agreed that a mongoose would be a pretty unusual pet, he did note that it was "kinda cute."

Monday, June 03, 2013

Burlington, Part IV: The Part Where I Rave About Dave

BURLINGTON--Some people describe trumpeter Dave Douglas' music as "out." (Those who aren't jazz musicians and aren't familiar with that usage of the word might call it "avant-garde.") And I noted long ago in these pages that the older I get, the "outer" I like, but tonight's concert by Douglas and his quintet at the intimate basement venue known as the FlynnSpace was not only far from "out" to these ears, but it was some of the most engaging music I've heard for this entire long weekend.

Douglas has long been known for his prolific output (and his music now has a ready home, since he started running his own record label a while back) For a while, this music was spread over a rather large number of bands, but lately, he's been concentrating on his quintet, consisting of Matt Mitchell (piano), Jon Irabagon (tenor sax), Linda Oh (bass, with Chris Tordini subbing for her tonight) and Rudy Royston (drums). This group recorded two distinct albums in two days during April of last year: Be Still, a reimagination of traditional hymns and folk songs (with special guest vocalist Aoife O’Donovan, who didn't appear tonight), and Time Travel, an all-instrumental set of contemporary acoustic tunes. These two albums provided the material for tonight's show.

Having been familiar with Douglas' music since a friend turned me onto him about seven years ago, there certainly were familiar elements to be heard. For all this talk of "out," a typical Douglas melody is fairly, well, melodic--even if the notes sometimes take interesting turns or land in unexpected places relative to the chords. The solo work--mostly by Douglas, Irabagon and Mitchell, was both virtuosic and heartfelt, and the mood was appropriately playful or reverent, depending on whether the Time Travel or Be Still music was being played at the moment. Tordini, while not a regular member of the group, provided a solid foundation for things and added a couple of enjoyable, energetic solos, and Royston was full of energy for the entire show.

To this sax player's ears, the really big "find" of the evening was saxophonist Arabagon. Given that the tenor chair in previous Douglas groups has been held by such luminaries as Chris Potter and Donny McCaslin, it's a given that Irabagon is no slouch, and the onetime Chicagoan indeed boasts an impressive resume. He provides not only tasty licks, dazzling technique and clever use of harmonics, but also a warm, enjoyable sound and a definite sense of fun--all of which make him a perfect foil for Douglas. This is definitely someone to watch in the future.

Despite this being my fifth trip to the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, tonight was my first time to ever see a concert in the smaller FlynnSpace (though I'd seen many of the "Meet the Artist" sessions there, including one with Douglas this afternoon). While I'd like to think he could have drawn well upstairs in the main theatre, it was great to see Douglas and company up close and personal in this club-like setting. The sound was great, and it was easy to see, despite being in the back section of chairs (Note to self: show up more than fifteen minutes early for any future shows here).

So, there's still that question of how "out" this all is, and I believe (as I said in the earlier post linked above, and paraphrasing Dewey Redman) that outness is in the ear of the behearer. To me, the only thing even remotely avant-garde about tonight might have been when Douglas and Irabagon engaged in some collective soloing, but the interplay fit so well together that I didn't even bat an eye (or an ear). And while some of the people who were with us tonight thought it was a little too out for their tastes...well, I might not have liked it at age 19 either. To those folks I would say this: Keep studying the music, and your ears might open up to this a little more. From my standpoint, it was one of the emotional highlights of the four days of headliner concerts here so far: Beautiful writing and beautiful musicianship. I can't wait to see this group again.  

Another voice: Once again, I invite you to read another take on this concert, by Brent Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free Press. We may occasionally say similar things, but I never read his take before posting mine.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Four Really Good MFs Were Playin' Tunes at the Flynn Tonight

BURLINGTON--Among the slew of tenor players in the jazz world, it might be easy to overlook Branford Marsalis, or at least take him for granted. He's not as flashy as a Joshua Redman or Chris Potter, and he spent his early years in the shadow of his younger but slightly better-known brother Wynton. But over all this time, he's been building up a solid body of work, which was on display tonight at the Flynn Center.

Though Marsalis has worked with groups of a variety of sizes over the years, it's his quartet (Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; and "new" drummer Justin Faulkner, who's been with the group for three years but only one recording) that serves as his primary vehicle. During a pre-concert interview/Q&A session with noted jazz writer Bob Blumenthal, he stated that the reason for doing this was similar to why so many of the great classical composers kept returning to writing for the string quartet: "Because it works." And with the longevity of this working group, they've been able to build up a solid repertoire of original compositions and the occasional standard that encompass a variety of styles.

After making his name as mostly a tenor player, Marsalis has spent quite a bit of time on soprano sax lately, even recording a classical album on the little horn a while back. And while his soprano work often does have a classical bent to it, his tone quality on it is full and beautiful (and, yes, in tune), and the improvisation never strays far from jazz.

The group's newest recording, released last August, is called Four MFs Playin' Tunes, and that's certainly both cheeky and understated, as these are no ordinary MFs. The presence of Calderazzo alone adds a major element to this group, as it becomes a powerful trio in its own right when the leader isn't soloing; the pianist also adds many fine compositions to the mix, including tonight's opener, "The Mighty Sword," which also serves as the lead track for the newest album. Revis provides a solid foundation throughout, especially on the ostinato bass lines that underpin so many of the group's tunes, and he adds tasty solos when called for. New drummer Faulkner, younger than his bandmates, provided energy and creativity throughout. In the pre-concert session with Blumenthal, Marsalis stated what he believes to be the problem with many jazz musicians these days: The tendency to go for technique at the expense of communication and emotional connection with the listener. And while some of his tunes may be a bit angular and less-than-singable by the average Joe on the street, there is certainly a lot to be enjoyed here by jazz fans who aren't working musicians themselves. While the programming may have been unusual--the group closed with the ballad "As Summer Into Autumn Slips" (also from the new album), after playing what Marsalis dubbed the "big song" (did anyone get a title on that?)--there was a lot to be enjoyed tonight. And the encore, "Tiger Rag" (yes, that one) closed the evening in rollicking fashion. He may get taken for granted a lot, but I for one am glad that Branford is around; he's making great contributions to the music that can't be ignored. Another voice:,/b> Brent Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free Press has his take on the concert.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Don't Worry...a major artist can do an entire show without performing his signature song, and the audience will still Be Happy about it.

BURLINGTON--Day Two of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival is in the books, and tonight was definitely something special, as the amazing, beyond-category vocal master Bobby McFerrin brought his new "spirityouall" show to the Flynn Center.

The new recording of the same name finds McFerrin presenting fresh interpretations of a fine collection of great American spiritual numbers in a variety of styles. He was inspired by the work of his father, the noted operatic baritone Robert McFerrin, Sr., and this album shares three songs with one recorded by the elder McFerrin in the late 1950s...but the results are all Bobby, doing the things he's known for best: Vocal percussion, dazzling impersonations of instruments, and seamless transition from deep bass notes to extreme falsetto within a note or two.

Though McFerrin is best known for his solo vocal endeavors (and with a talent like his, a band is not even necessary in most cases), he is backed by a full band on this new effort, and what a band it is: Keyboardist/accordionist Gil Goldstein (who's worked with pretty much everybody who's anybody in the jazz world), multi-instrumentalist David Mansfield (who counts guitar, violin and lap steel among his arsenal), guitarist Armand Hirsch, bassist Scott Colley (featured on several of the last Michael Brecker tours I saw) and drummer/background vocalist/guitarist Louis Cato (whose singing blended so well with the leader that some of us thought he was McFerrin's son). The band provided the perfect accompaniment to the dazzling vocals as the styles changed between gospel, country, blues, and--of course--jazz.

It's hard to decide on a highlight of the concert, because the whole thing was a highlight from start to finish (running nearly two hours without an intermission, and only the shortest break before an encore that was well-earned in this case. Every tune was a true gem, no matter what the style (and it wasn't uncommon for something to take a stylistic turn mid-song). Part of the charm of it all was that it was never certain when McFerrin would take the place of any instrument that was playing, and the solos and melodies were simply all over the place, yet delightfully so.

He was also engaging with the audience, inviting people to come up to the mic and contribute a verse of "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" and even taking requests for a while; whether he truly knew the song or not, he and the band would give it a try. (And thankfully, requests for "Don't Worry, Be Happy," shouted from near where we were sitting in the balcony, were either unheard or ignored.)

On the page for this album on McFerrin's website, he says the following: "What I want everyone to experience at the end of my concerts is . . . .this sense of rejoicing. I don’t want the audience to be blown away by what I do, I want them to have this sense of real joy, from the depths of their being. Then you open up a place where grace can come in.” I think it's safe to say that tonight's audience left with a sense of joy and were blown away by what you did, Bobby. So glad you could grace us with your presence tonight.

Another voice: Arts writer Brent Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free Press also has a review of the concert.