identity crisis ... already?

please tell me i'm not the only one that feels this way....

i love so many types of music.  i love to play in a multitude of different settings.  i like leading and like being lead, learning to convey my musical thoughts yet taking others idea hook line & sinker.  i guess my issue is - i'm not sure what type of music i want to play predominantly.  am i jazz guy? an 80s pop guy?  an experimental soundscape guy?  a funk band horn guy?  a big band saxophonist?

and furthermore ... do i need to commit to one particular thing?  i saw this video of dave king talking about bands and projects and making it as a performing artist.  he really is making it, as far as i can see.  i am lucky enough that, at the time being, my mortgage and health insurance and loans are being tackled by my teaching gig at iowa state university. this affords me the latitude to not need to be stretched out seven different ways, but does it play into my uncertainty and indecisiveness when it comes to musical taste?

part of the issue pertains to the organizational side of projects (hell, that's ALWAYS the rub.)  if i want to do an electro-acoustic thing, i probably need to lead it.  who do i want to play in it?  who wants to?  where is the material?  do i need to write it all?  where can we play?  will this music get butts moving, compensate the venue in drink sales, or attract a buzz amongst the artsy fartsy?  

or... do i chase these opportunities that others may or may not provide?  should i really bone up on the history of jazz saxophone (bleh), work on my doubling, listen to a bunch of blue note shit and hang out on the proverbial stoop of working big bands and jazz combos, waiting for an opening that's not already spoken for?  and do i really want to do this anyway? i don't profess to be a saxophone junky or a jazz head.  i don't gobble up every last morsel of jazz history and rifle through patterns in my head all afternoon, and i don't necessarily want to talk with people about that kind of stuff either (i can't contribute to the conversation and lose interest quickly).  i'm far more interested in keeping my head open and understanding the process of preparation required for high-end real time composition and coloring.  do those things transfer into conventional ensembles that contain saxophone?

man... lots of questions i have for myself.  the natural inclination is to not turn down any gigs, for fear of somebody else swooping in and claiming them from hereon out.  but... i love the idea of a band;  a book of material, recognizable characteristics, continuity musically, commitment (or so you would think), the benefit of being multi-faceted, a following. the trick here, as i have learned, is to get those involved to be okay with the due-paying trials of ensemble progress and growth, patiently waiting for the good money days and the artistically satisfying music.  do i want to be a sideman?  no way.  am i good at hustling work for projects?  sort of.  am i willing to throw myself into something?  absolutely.  am i willing to push people a bit in an effort to encourage them to fish or cut bait?  kinda.

i am reminded of my quandry when i throw my iPod on shuffle. here's what was blasting through these klipsch buds while i was organizing my thoughts:

* dave douglas "the great schism" - freak in.  really cool tune, impressive that dave has so many people at his ready for his gazillion projects (count me in too, dave...)
* tortoise "djed" - millions now living will never die.  great band.  my first record of theirs.  i bought the triple disc set back in '06.  i would love to be involved in something like this, and could see myself putting together a band like this sometime.  the tunes feel right, not too heady.
* vampire weekend "cousins" - contra.  i took a chance on this during a download promotional period on amazon.  different than what i usually check out.  refreshing in some ways.
* chris batchelor & steve buckley "bracken" - big air.  i had never heard of these two dudes, but love myra melford and jim black (both on this record) and was intrigued by oren marshall's tuba work.  sounds cool, doable.
* trent reznor & atticus ross "intriguing possibilities" - the social network soundtrack.  this is my first exposure to reznor.  i saw an interview with justin timberlake, who appears in the movie, and he was saying that the music was incredible.  i really like it.  not sure how to spearhead a sound like this - a bit electronicy for my head, but i like to practice improvising over stuff like this.
* jimmy smith "the christmas song" - christmas cookin'.  i don't really listen to organ, because i usually think it's just way too busy.  jimmy has his moment here, but this is pretty swinging.  big band in the back is holding it together.
* kurt rosenwinkel "our secret world" - heartcore.  this track is nice.  man, kurt is something else.  really changing the game.  not sure many rave about this album, produced by q-tip.  kurt's approach is incredible.  the designs of his lines and scope of his tunes are thrillingly comfortable.
* sting "when we dance" - all this time.  this guy is timeless.  i rarely listen to this album.  he's so good live, earning all of my respect.  i think this concert happened on 9/11.  pretty moving when you have that backstory.
* kneebody "break me" - kneebody.  fresh fresh sounds.  i finally got around to checking out this band.  would love to see it live and observe their communication.  i love another record by these guys, doing ives tunes with theo bleckmann.

i'm ready to sprint, but am unsure as to which direction i should go.  today is new year's eve, a traditional day of reflection and reinvention.  i wrestle with this head game a lot.  something in my core is thirsting for another artistic fountain.  it starts with me - i know this.  good thing, because i will reap the most of this work and can control my involvement directly.


four months down

i've needed to take my health seriously for quite some time now.  physical health and mental health, both equally.  the latter is on the docket for 2011 (no, seriously... it is).  i have begun to get the physical end of things sorted out. after my birthday this july, i took a look at myself and thought "uggh... who am i kidding with this?"  i began to see a chiropractor, which has really helped with a bunch of stuff including my eternal battle with indigestion.  i got my diet back on track.  i started a new workout program.  P90X.  i've owned it for two years, still in the wrapper.  i started out being able to kinda do the exercises, and definitely wanted to quit.  i didn't miss any days.  i started on august 23rd (jen's birthday - she also tackled this exercise juggernaut) and finished it today on december 23rd.  i was pretty sure i wouldn't like the yoga, which turned out to be the best part. i wondered where my abdominal muscles went, and have unearthed them.  i did 42 pull-ups my first week and laughed at the thought of doing 120+ like the folks in the video.  i maxed out with 124 pull-ups and laughed all the while.

my kid sister won a big contest in nebraska several years back through gold's gym.  her before and after pics won her a lifetime membership to gold's (wonder if she'll see the hulkster) and a big sack of cash.  her photos were outrageous. i couldn't believe that she a) did the transformation, and b) actually took the pics.  i suspended my pride and had sonja shoot me in the front room of our house.  i couldn't stop laughing back in august, and couldn't stop beaming today.  i learned a lot from doing this too.  i plan to continue in january with the next series of dvds, tighten up my diet, and be ready to ... i don't know ... wrestle a bear or something.

well that's embarassing
look out ladies
ok ... now we're talking
i've grown a mustache too


duke ellington - the nutcracker suite

full disclosure - i have never listened to the real tchaikovsky original, never seen the nutcracker ballet, played this version several times, and am writing this RTR while tucked away in the top corner of the middle school gymnasium bleachers between 6th grade boys basketball games.  i'm also not much of a big band enthusiast, although i acknowledge duke ellington's stature in the history of this music and revere billy strayhorn.  as i understand it (with some insight from the strayhorn biography lush life), these two gentlemen worked side by side in many capacities.  ellington took most of the credit for the band's repertoire, earned and otherwise.  he obviously assembled the group and kept things afloat and did his fair share (?) of writing/arranging and band leading. i've always thought that strayhorn was the brains behind the brawn. he was excited to reimagine the nutcracker, and bore the brunt of the burden in the writing and arranging of this suite (man, i'm using lots of words that start with "b").  columbia records chose to feature strayhorn prominently in the art work and the liner notes.  it is said that billy preferred to be in the shadow of a dead composer (tchaikovsky), and embraced this opportunity.  i love billy, and my heart bleeds for him whenever i think of his struggles.  

there is so much joy in the writing and playing.  i can't help but love this.  toot toot tootie toot has great dry staccatos in the clarinets.  peanut brittle brigade is really swinging. the drummer is driving this band.  the balance is good, horns are in tune, and the solo moments are in character.  the ascending cascade lines in the ensemble are seamless.  is this tenor soloist paul gonsalves?  i don't recognize his sound, but am guessing based upon the year and personnel.  i don't have the knack of instant recognition that most jazz enthusiasts possess.  i wish i did.  i also wish i played trumpet so i could kiss off those high parts at the end of tunes.  

i'm sort of watching a basketball game U12 while writing this, waiting for my son's next game (he plays the winner of this matchup).  ellington's band succeeded because of the writing, the integrity of the playing, the era in which they rose to prominence, and the continuity within the ensemble.  harry carney, johnny hodges, tricky sam, cootie, and many others stuck with this band for a long time.  i imagine that if these kids on the basketball team all stick it out and play for years to come, they will have similar success - founded in continuity and teamwork and leadership and getting better because others in your troop are getting better.

the clarinet playing is dynomite.  dynamics that taper away in the entr'acte are to die for.  i like how the opening to the volga vouty is abrasive and powerful.  great execution, as you would expect.  johnny hodges on this solo?  sounds like his vibrato, yet without the slippin'-and-slidin'.   yeah!  #11 at the bottom of the voicing in carney's part.  makes me laugh. how many other musical inside jokes am i missing because i don't know the original inside and out?  when i have played this (and will do again tonight with my good friend russ kramer's band) i sub soprano saxophone for clarinet.  i hate that i do that - the color is totally not right.  i need to bone up on my clarinet playing.  there's ellington playing the #11 in the bottom several times now in chinoiserie.  this confirms my suspicions - i'm definitely missing something.  

this recording makes me like swing music.  maybe it's like sushi - people think they don't like it, and then try some really good stuff from a high end restaurant and quickly change their mind.  does this mean that i'm listening to crappy swing bands playing mediocre material?  i also think i'm not in love with playing it either, but do it on occasion to get reacquainted with it in my head and in my chops.  russ is really into good big band, but may be my only friend that digs this stuff.  he turns me on to lunceford, fletcher, oliver, maria, bobby brookmeyer, woody, and even some kenton. he has really helped me with my own big band, in terms of choosing repertoire and general concepts.  all i want to do is improvise and, while there are times for that in this type of ensemble, there are many other things to consider.  

russ is allowing me to play the 2nd book on these, which gets me just one solo for the night.  but... i get to close the concerts with plenty of space on arabesque cookie. great swing literature and some blowing space - i'm a lucky guy.  on a side note - i don't like the original cover for this album. white sweaters?  why is billy looking down, forlorn?  i guess prefer it over the reissue, with ellington alone on the cover.  


dave king - indelicate

dave king is an amazing guy.  i know him personally, and he couldn't be nicer.  he's hilarious, extremely creative, personable, and professional.  i met him when i moved to minneapolis back in 2001. he was a huge deal then, before he blew up internationally.  he is the drummer for the bad plus, happy apple, and halloween alaska.  each of these projects is unique unto itself, and extremely musical.  

this record is all king.  he is playing piano and percussion, so i think it's overdubbed.  i wonder about the compositional process.  are these tunes charted out with specific parameters or do they suggest open concepts?  as a solo artist, i would imagine that you have to fight the urge to play that same old shit you always do in that one spot.  if anyone can keep those creative lines from blurring, it's king.  

these tunes are short.  they segue quickly to the next one.  i have a difficult time sitting through longwinded songs, movies, stories, books, jokes, solos, lectures, etc.  my brain can't focus that long (i know, call it what you will...)  the first record i ever had that had short pieces like this was john zorn & bobby previte euclid's nightmare so great. each piece was around one minute in duration.  what can you squeeze into that space?  what's too much?  

bees is really cool.  i like the hodge podge of acoustic and electronic instruments.  old school electronic drum sound with the arts high boogie sounds great.  i like the funky out-of-tune piano.  a bunch of repeated stuff here - is he improvising?  listening to the unique characteristic of some of these keys?  carefully choosing his notes?  WHOA... here comes the electronic stuff.  super cool.  rock jam vibe in the drums, clever and catchy melody.  having seen him perform a million times, i can only imagine the joy beaming from his face as he is playing these parts.  the mix is interesting to me.  did he have these ideas in mind right away or did he deal with it all after the fact?  i consider myself to be a rather creative guy but know that i micromanage my music, in search of a very specific thing.  is king loose or a dictator?  and who cares, when you are managing yourself only?

the song titles are awesome.  king is a comedian, and shatters the unwritten rule that songs all need to have some super serious title.  bullshit.  highly varnished academic realism is a great choice.  the tune suddenly goes to this percussion solo thing in the middle, electric and acoustic kits improvising at the same time.  king brings back the piano clusters towards the end, revealing a recognizable form to his composition.  

he's a pretty decent pianist.  does he work on it?  does ethan help him out?  it seems that several drummers are pretty good pianists.  jack dejohnette is notoriously good.  does king write from the piano?  bill stewart is a good writer, as is matt wilson, as is jim black.  i know that brian blade writes from the guitar.  how about those other guys?  king's tunes are obvious to me in the bad plus set lists.  not necessarily thick in the harmony department, but catchy in terms of overall melody/groove/vibe.  my friend paul micich once said that tunes like that "have legs".  (he was talking about bach).

his cymbals sound great.  i wish i could play cymbals on my saxophone.  there are times when a well placed cymbal seals the deal musically.  indelicate just had some nice sampled cymbal wash, trailing a real cymbal hit, like some jacked up reverb.  very inventive.  i bet he heard that and than sought to recreate that.  i want to feel good does just that for me.

what were his influences for these tunes?  has he had them for a while or did he write a bunch of it for this project?  i hear some keith jarrett '70s meets tecmo football meets joey baron meets denardo coleman's innocence (when he was 10 with ornette on the empty foxhole).  i imagine that he considers himself to be a better drummer than a pianist or electronic musician.  which leads which compositionally?  are his weaknesses or strengths more important to him?

i love dave's stuff.  this record will need to grow on me.  it might be his fault, after all.  he is fantastic in so many settings that include other people.  i am fascinated by how he interacts with others.  it's curious to hear a solo album. did it come off like he hoped?  would mine if i did something like this?  what inspired this writing, this project?  does he suffer from the stepping-out-solo problem?  lead singers from successful rock bands make their own albums.  sometimes they are very successful, sometimes not so much.  the composite for me is enough to keep me going.  

real time reviews

i like writing.  i learn a bunch about myself by doing it.  it comes easy to me.  i can collect my thoughts, organize them, and see what they are (tough to do when they are elusively whipping around inside of my head).  i like grammar too, which has always struck me as bizarre.  

i like listening to music.  recordings, live, stuff i'm involved with, most styles. what really turns me on, actually, are the thoughts i have about life when listening to music.  i often think in musical terms initially (this is boring this is great and here's why) and quickly unleash the hounds of my imagination.  i think that the thought process the listener endures is part of the musical experience.  not everyone is going to throw their hands in the air when they hear a clever tritone sub or a random bar of 7/8 or an ellington quote or a triple c.  in fact, i would venture to say that most listeners don't think in those terms at all (could you imagine what type of world we would be living in if everyone nerded out on double bass pedals and #11s?)  

real time reviews are essentially me documenting my thoughts while listening to an album.  stipulations:  

*must be a complete album straight down, no repeats.  in the age of iPod playlists, the art of programming is in risk of becoming extinct.  artists painstakingly select tracks for their new recordings while considering flow and style change for the listener.  they are more concerned with the overall vibe and not necessarily in love with each track equally.

*must be a new artist each time (not 600 miles davis records). i fear being pigeonholed by outright committing to one style of music.  i like a lot of stuff, and they all roll together somehow and make me who i am.  

*must be an honest reflection of what's going on in my head. why do this if i'm not being honest?  i'm not out to sabotage a recording because of a hidden agenda, and nor am i planning to laud an artist's efforts regardless of its quality.  these are instant and fresh opinions on the music and life, and it is crucial that they are innocent and unmolested.