The skeleton of their album I Think I May Have Had A Religious Experience is the intricate woodwinds of AJ Kluth. Kluth lays out his saxes and clarinets in an endless stream of post-Steve Reich/Terry Riley minimalism, like Tibetan sherpas weaving woolen mats of Modigliani patterns....
What could've been a math rock mess is, instead, a masterpiece of passionate and imaginative homemade minimalism and sonic collage. Chicago is one of the spiritual hubs of what has come to be known as post-rock (one version of it anyway) and it seems to still be in the water. Groups like Tortoise and The Sea And Cake sought to combine non-Western polyrhythms with studio mastery, employing all manner of dub artifice along the way. Music As Math is continuing that commendable journey and taking it to the next level.
Thanks for the kind words, The Equal Ground. Much obliged. Download the record for free HERE.
What exactly is it that’s so magical about Dave King’s Rational Funk series? Like much of King’s output as a leader, sideman, composer, teacher, etc., it’s an intelligent and humor-full disavowal of the systematized, fetishized nature of jazz pedagogy and performance. Since the academy realized some time in the 1960s that jazz as a practice was here to stay, pedagogues and scholars have made it their business to squeeze it into the western, white understanding of what art music is supposed to be. To that end, a canon of jazz masters, works, and practices was thus created that became glorified as representative of transcendental jazz truths. Furthermore, recordings of works became apotheosized as autonomous aesthetic objects capable of imputing “truth” from some magical realm of pure Forms divorced from the realm of the immanent (e.g. Socratic forms of divine beauty via The Symposium or a sort of Kantian realm of aesthetic autonomy via the 3rd Critique). To anyone actually engaged with art as a life practice, this understanding of the jazz tradition is patently false.
Other, perhaps better illuminated scholars, have for some time realized this fallacious attitude toward jazz scholarship. We can point to the George Lewis’ salient conversation of the Afrological vs Eurological issue wherein musical performance styles generated out of an African American history and social subjectivity have been squeezed into a (deeply ideologized) western system of aesthetic understanding.1 Or, Amiri Baraka’s monograph Blues People2 which illustrates blues and jazz traditions not as objects, but as practices which can not be divorced from the histories and life-worlds that produced them. The understanding that improvisational practices and traditions that became “jazz” practice can not be successfully systematized by way of said western tradition is recognized, too, by Gary Tomlinson, as he laments the formation of the jazz canon. Only by diminishing jazz-as-practice from a living manifestation of a worlded subjectivity more akin to an ontologically self-producing way of being-in-the-world, to a taxonomically available series of objects, can jazz be understood by the western aesthetic tradition: “Like the canon of European music, the jazz canon is a strategy for exclusion, a closed and elite collection of 'classic' works that together define what is and isn’t jazz. The definition sets up walls, largely unbreachable, between ‘true’ or ‘pure’ jazz and varieties of music-making outside it.”3 Tomlinson goes on to criticize the canonized, “great works” understanding of aesthetic works present in the western art music tradition and characterizes a notion of works in and of themselves divorced from their contextual worlds of production as absurd. It is thereby fallacious to prescribe to…
“…the view that meaning (and hence, value, which only arises alongside meaning) inheres somehow in the notes themselves. Behind it lurks the absurd proposition the music alone, independent of the cultural matrices that individuals build around it can mean—that a recording or transcription of a Charlie Parker solo, for example, or the score or performance of a Beethoven symphony, can convey something even in the hypothetical absence of the complex negotiations we each pursue with them.”4
So, what does this have to do with Dave King’s Rational Funk? The description of each video on YouTube states, “RATIONAL FUNK is a complete instructional program for musicians of all skill levels, featuring tips, tricks, inspiration, and industry secrets from acclaimed drum professional Dave King (The Bad Plus).” There’s the rub; (as if you didn’t catch this already) King is roasting the modern culture of jazz pedagogy by mocking the “complete instructional programs”, tips, tricks (and concomitant accreditations), etc., which make up the way music is sold in the academy and further quantified in the economy. What are those things anyway but the shibboleths of western instructional practices and systems of value that have no real place (other than as self-important and fallacious border-guards of a fictional land-of-jazz; its practices and products) in a musical tradition that, at its best, refigures the worlds of those that live with(in) it?
Going strong with twenty-nine episodes (the most recent of which tackles the issue of charting riffs—a practice relevant to the discussion above of importing living/listening musicianship and musical production into the formalist “grid” of western musical practices), Rational Funk is calling jazz pedagogy out, as well as the dissonance between music-making and how it is quantified and sold by the music industry. All this with King’s unapologetic humor and self-deprecating grace. These videos are funny. But their humor isn’t cheap. It speaks to those of us who know to care in a hidden way to all that’s wrong with the boxes into which our economy and the weight of our western notions of aesthetics are trying to stuff lived, auto-poetic musical experience. They reply to the socially and artistically deleterious absurdity of this pedagogic and economic practice with perhaps the best, most magnanimous attitude available—productive absurdity. And that’s how you get the gig.
1. George E. Lewis, “Improvised Music after 1950,” Black Music Research Journal 16:1 (1996):91-122.
2. LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), 1963, Blues People: Negro Music in White America,(Harper Collins: New York, 1963).
3. Gary Tomlinson, “Cultural Dialogics and Jazz: A White Historian Signifies” in Music and Historical Critique: Selected Essays, Gary Tomlinson (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 1991), 129.
Again Stretching the Bounds of GarageBand + Whiskey | AJ & Friends Do "Telephone Line"
ELO's sad, desperate, and anthemic "Telephone Line" from 1976's A New World Record is a magnificent testament to technology-mediated lonliness. It's also an incredibly well written and executed pop song. A few months back I hung out with Lauren Frost (vocals), Jerome Holloway (vocals), my laptop, some instruments (acoustic guitar, flute), and a bottle of whiskey. We overdubbed a mess of vocal tracks, I played a few instruments, and we enjoyed LA's warm night air. If you haven't already checked out Lauren and Jerome, please do - they're a few of the good ones.
Fun fact: I once ate ravioli at a table next to Jeff Lynne's table at a trattoria in Hollywood. He wore his sunglasses indoors and at night for the duration of the meal. We of course didn't speak, but was a thrilling experience.
I got hip to Kamasi Washington last summer when I happened upon him playing at Piano Bar in Hollywood. While listening to Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly this morning, I caught myself wondering who was on horn. Surprise - it's Kamasi. And now I find he's got a relatively new record out on Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label. The Epic is a remarkable work that presents three hours of challenging music coming squarely out of the jazz tradition (there is A LOT of Coltrane in his sound) that also features thoughtful choir and orchestral elements. As the summer is beginning and I'll have more opportunity to get out and check out LA's scene, I'm so happy to know Washington et al are representing this amazing, human music in Los Angeles.
“This is absurd,” I overheard a security guard mutter. Her statement was understandable given the amount of people crammed into a Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) gallery to listen to a performance of John Zorn’s “The Gnostic Preludes.” Hundreds of listeners sat on the floor, filling the space between paintings and sculptures as if the patrons of a hipster bar in Silverlake had been evacuated into the gallery and decided to take a seat—more long beards, heavy metal t-shirts, studded belts, and tattoos than I’m accustomed to seeing at a museum. Zorn was there and, cautioning the congregants to respect the artworks around them, seemed delighted. I attended all of the May 2nd John Zorn Marathon organized by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP). Like many critics of Zorn’s oeuvre, I found the ten works performed at LACMA and the later sets at UCLA’s Royce Hall to be difficult, if not impossible, to parse. Such resistance to description, for me, raises questions about the role of the composer’s authorial voice and identity as expressed via musical composition and performance in the postmodern world. To that end, I offer my thoughts regarding the marathon (organized in deference to Zorn’s 60th birth-year), through the lenses of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notion of music as mode of territorialization, Postmodern theory, and of course my own artistic and theoretical proclivities...
Many thanks to Schuyler Wheldon for his mighty editing chops! Also, if you're new to Zorn's work and have any interest at all in twentieth-century music, do yourself a favor and start digging.
Stein On Vine Music Company, 848 Vine St in Hollywood - this place is an institution and is directly across the street from your local AFM Local 47, the Musicians Union of Hollywood. Gary will treat you right.
The Horn Connection, 1507 N Gardner St in Hollywood - Manny has been recognized for his great work for decades. Check out his collection of vintage instruments!
My friend, the ever hipper-than-I performer and scholar Alex Rodriguez hipped me to Ethan Iverson's recent interview with Nicholas Payton on Iverson's Do the Math blog. There's so much great talk about New Orleans, Payton's early years, anecdotes about his mentors and contemporaries; but of course there's relevant real-talk about his notion of Black American Music (#BAM). Questions of white appropriation of black music are especially resonant with me as privileged white male who has on his CV, of all seemingly cognitively-dissonant things to even exist, a master's degree in jazz saxophone performance. The fact that the jazz tradition, which must be recognized as - among other things - a voice of black agency and dissent, has been repeatedly appropriated by white artists, white economies, white privilege, white notions of history, and for fifty years comodified by a European pedogogical model, is a topic that gets not a fraction of the critical inquiry it deserves. My undergrad mentor, John Salerno, often impressed upon me that I needed to be humble and thankful that the music exists in the first place, and secondly that as a priviliged white male in Wisconsin I was welcomed to learn about and play it. He was and is right, and I am forever indebted to the creators of the jazz and improvised music traditions that have been so important in my own life. Payton sums it up this way:
But you know, man, I often think the white cats who have benefited and had their lives changed playing Black music, they know better. They know because they were able to go in ’hoods that they probably couldn’t if the elders didn’t say, “Yo, this white dude is cool,” invited you on the bandstand, invited you into the culture. The white cats should be more vocal than anybody. You should be louder than me because you owe your life, you owe your livelihood — literally, whatever riches or whatever things you’ve established — and it’s no secret that if you look at fee structure of artists, typically white cats get better offers than black cats.
...I'm saying all White musicians who make a living playing Black music have a moral obligation to speak about racial injustice. By being silent on such issues, they are de facto supporting the supremacist and oppressive forces that enable privilege to them as White musicians while marginalizing people of color. And using Black culture to make financial gains without regard for the Black people who create it is racist.
This series of quotes and others in this lengthy interview are certainly worth your time and consideration if you're in any way working with this tradition. Payton's interview is illuminating. You may or may not agree with him, and perhaps it's not important where your opinion falls right now regarding the question about the "ownership" of the music. As long as we're thinking critically about these dynamic issues our positions on the matter will no doubt continue to evolve (as long as we do speak and act when we decide on a position). Still, perhaps the really important thing is to be earnestly engaged in that critical consideration and one's own situatedness to the constellation of issues it articulates with while paying respect where respect is due. And hey, while your'e marinating on that, why not also listen to some Payton while he demonstrates his virtuosity in the tradition on trumpet and keys. Check out this live recording of his trio dancing through I Hear A Rhapsody. He's BAD.
Yesterday (May 2, 2015) Los Angeles was visited by nine hours of John Zorn's music in performances at LACMA and UCLA's Royce Hall. It was amazing and thought provoking; I'm planning to write a little something about it but, in the meantime I'm happy to post here a performance of Naked City from 1992. This band is SO tight. So tight.
Yeah, I'm still a little fanboy for Tigran. A year after having written a review/think-piece thing about Shadow Theater for Ethnomusicology Review, perhaps it only makes sense that I dig the new record. I'm still working my way through it repeatedly, but I can't say enough about this musician's humanness and dedication to his unique vision. This isn't stuff for everyone, but for those willing to spend time with it, Tigran's music is deeply rewarding. As evidenced by his repeated yelling of "Fuck!" during the rehearsing/recording process (as you can watch in the above video), this is challenging music. And, where Shadow Theater was a sprawling affair of shifting musicians, the limitations of the trio on Mockroot (with Sam Minaie on bass and Arthur Hnatek on drums) makes the aural soundscape even more remarkable. The boundaries of what three people might be able to do with their six hands and voices are, in Tigran et al's music, remarkably violated. It's not just proggy-chops-heavy music, though. It, like all of Tigran's music, sounds old, storied, and as much as it can be an exercise in counting, is melodic as hell. It's somewhere between moody film music, proggy jazz, old-world melodicism, and remarkable post-Keith Jarrett-ish (?) pianism. I'm pissed that I missed the tour in LA (was February 20 at the Bootleg) - won't happen again.
I've recently finished with course work and am overwhelmed with "free" time. Free time in which to plan scholarly domination of the read/work/read/work ad nauseum variety until they give me a PhD. Still, can't help feeling a little bad about the "free" time. Weird. For instance, saw Godard's Pierrot le Fouat LACMA today and, though it's a wonderful critical film and at least obliquely related to my project, I can't get over actually enjoying myself off campus on a weekday afternoon. Ha. Damned midwest work ethic.
It's rather common knowledge that Friedrich Nietzsche, in addition to producing his remarkable and vast body of perspectivist philosophy, was a composer of music. Playing a large part in his work as either a referent of poetic becoming, a manifestation of Dionysian and ephemeral polysemy, a stand-in for the Heraclitean nature of time and tricky aporias associated therewith, or as a method by which to take a society's moral and ideological temperature, music was a passion of Nietzsche's. The folks over at critical-theory.com have put together a nice collection of his musical works; more than I've ever heard. The Musical Equivelant of "A Crime in the Moral World," the Music of Friedrich Nietzsche, is a short but good read and a wonderful collection of music. I'm rather charmed - I'd never heard all of this stuff, really. I definitely prefer Nietzsche's moody Wagnerisms (Chopinisms?) over Adorno's moody Bergisms any day.
The relationship between thinkers and music is a fascinating one - just get me started conjecturing about it some time when we can get a beer or five and have a few hours to burn. To that end I'm sharing a link to a review of a book on the relationships between Nietzsche, Sartre, and Barthes with their pianos - a 2012 book review by Cynthia Peck from The Vienna Review, "Book Review: François Noudelmann's The Philosopher's Touch".
I hadn't listened to the aforementioned Music as Math tracks in a while. Just checked it out again, and I particularly like the first track of the EP, "Prfct". Give a listen. If you like this stuff, go ahead and download it for FREE(!) at Dropbox. Such good memories recording this stuff, you guys. YOU GUYS.
So, I used to spend a lot of time in Chicago with my good friends Chris Ploeg and Matt Ammerman. Chris lived in a huge loft (that Jerzy Kenar's famous Shit Fountan sits in front of), and he had this ridiculous home recording setup. I stayed there with Chris for a few months when I was homeless-ish between Chicago and New York, and we'd drink beer and play music. He'd set up mics, point to one of the thirty instruments littering the place and say, "Hey, go play that thing into that mic. Pick a key. Give me puzzle pieces." I'd do that. With saxophones, clarinets, flute, guitars, electric bass, synth, found objects, an electric drill on a guitar, bottles, cardboard boxes, whatever. He'd record it and then I'd go out dancing while he obsessed on turning those noises I'd made into workable song forms. Then he'd send them to Matt who would somehow write melodies and lyrics. Out of that came the Music as Math project. And today, Chris (he's a saint) has loosed this EP on the world. Check it out and buy at any of your favorite music services (or Amazon, for instance), or, should you decide that "hey, all art should be free, man," then download the songs free at Dropbox.
I miss Chris (now in Austin) and Matt (still in Chicago) like crazy. This stuff was fun to record. Maybe you'll dig a tune or two. Maybe you won't. Still, we made this and some of the tunes are stong. Really. Check it out. Write a review. Buy me a pizza.
I'm excited to be back in Los Angeles after having spent a few weeks running around Germany. I ate way too much bratwurst and drank way too much beer. But now that I'm back in the land of kale and diet vodka, I'm sure I'll drop whatever winter weight I put on. It's a new quarter at UCLA (where I'm in my last quarter of course work for my PhD), and I'm excited to be working with musicologist Bob Fink on questions of musical canons, philosopher John McCumber on the limits of the idea of Enlightenment, and as always with my advisor, the remarkable Dr. Roger Savage, on a philosophical hermeneutical reading of free improvisation and the relevance/vehemence of aesthetic experience. All this, and attempting to work toward a practical competence with German language. It's good work if you can get it.
Also, I found that Germany really was exactly like the description featured below. Happy New Year, y'all!
Last night I had the pleasure of speaking with Tim Price for about 90 minutes regarding Joe Farrell, jazz history, general saxophone nerdery, the New York and Boston jazz scenes for the past forty years, and so much more. If you're not hip to Tim Price, check him out. Heavy cat, wonderful educator, and generous human being.
This video is obviously the product of some really, really stoned conversations, performances, production, and editing. Thundercat + Adult Swim, Eric Andre, $5K, and lots of influence from the Tumblr-verse, 80s television production techniques, and Tim&Eric? I don't know, man. So weird, but if you can dig the 80s-style irony and banality of the video, the audio track is crazy rewarding. But at what point does this kind of self-reflexive irony eat itself, lose its efficacy, and fall into nihilism? Feels as though this kind of work is teetering on the edge of that cliff.