the giddy volume 5

the bad plus anthem for the earnest - conspicuous activity
this needs to be heard on headphones.  this track shows up on an album that boasts a great arrangement of chariots of fire. the cool swoop at the beginning sounds so great, nevermind the production.  i can't say enough about this trio.  they are committed to the concept of ensemble, original music, creative takes on standard material from so many genres, and are delightful people to boot.  ethan’s solo is so good, the way he weaves in and out of tonal centers while stutter stepping his phrases.  the short fallout ending is fantastic; however, my favorite part is a double dip at 5:19.  i’m digging on ethan's right hand as he scrambles upwards in search of a resolution while king joyously swings through the same break. as far as i'm concerned, this band is where it’s at.

keith sweat i want her - make it last forever
i’ll admit – i own a copy of this on cassingle.  i’ve never really understood the attraction to this guy, but have forced myself to endure repeated listens to all of his hits.  i’m this way with sonny rollins and dexter gordon too… shhh.  he sounds like a poor man’s version of that guy from cameo, who is (surprisingly enough) a julliard grad.  this tune was the jam back in the day, so it was required material for school dances.  i don't quite understand the obvious identity crisis between the sevens on the minor chord in the hook, but it works somehow.  my favorite part is the “i want I want i want i want i want” at 2:05 in the top of the second chorus. 

david berkman not a christmas song - handmade
i have had the pleasure to meet and play a couple of shows with david, a wonderfully fresh pianist and fun composer.  this was his first album to make it into my grubby little paws.  tom harrell is wonderful all over this thing, and brian blade sells me on each tune.  this cut is representative of the consistent vibe throughout the entire album – thoughtful and in control.  the trumpet solo is divine and delivered with clear tone, but the piano solo is my favorite part.  i like the dry touch in the flitting sixteenth lines and how they unfurl into block ideas at 4:36 that eventually swing out.

frank sinatra the girl from ipanema
sinatra is a widely underrated musician.  most folks think his powerful social life is fascinating (and it sure is) while looking past his musicianship.  his time, his pitch, his delivery, his phrasing – all respectful and professional.  this is an interesting album, simply titled francisco alberto sinatra & antonio carlos jobim.  jobim sounds gorgeous on this cut, with his nylon guitar and cozy portugese.  i like the stacked fourths in claus orgerman’s orchestration that follow the first a, and i fall for frank at 2:30 when he efficiently omits all of the “ands” early in the last a.

tina brooks true blue - true blue
my grad school buddy russ is a big audiophile.  he knows every minute detail about every recording that has floated in front of him.  he turned me on to tenor saxophonist tina brooks and gave me my first bootlegged cdr. this album is all gravy, and falls into that hard bop record bin that i never would have dug through.  i'm into the catchy bass figure on this cut and love the way that tina froof froofs it as a call and response in the melody.  my favorite part is at the top of tina’s blowing at 0:56.  i really dig his long tone intro and the rhythmic displacement in the first four bars.

mf doom hoe cakes - mm...food
i bought this album with a gift card at the now defunct borders store down the street.  i thought i was getting the latest mos def and somehow picked up this album.  i soon realized that mf doom is beast.  the samples are great and he keeps it real with low-fi treatment of his grooves.  i like the rising bass part after “tattoo”, absolutely love the genius way the “s” rhythmically alludes to the full “super” sample, dig the line “never let her fry the ragu”, and am feeling those changes – so refreshing in contrast to most beat tracks that have no harmonic movement whatsoever.  my favorite part of this track is where he places “kiss it”, just behind beat four at 1:55.  brilliant record and killer mask.

my wife, the family breadwinner, played a four-week run of the uber-popular broadway show wicked.  we got cheap front row tickets to the show, so the boys and I spent a saturday afternoon with both witches.  we listened real hard for piccolo and flute riffs we had heard repeatedly from sonja’s practice sessions, but were bombarded with drums and keyboards.  the best song hands-down, defying gravity, has the same type of ebb and flow i remember from teenage romantic encounters, giving me that old sentimental indigestion of yesteryear.  the vocals are vibrant and the strength of the melodies is undeniable.  i’m a sucker for “look to the western sky” from the green witch at 2:56 from this live performance at the 2004 tony awards.  my family always lets me sing that part when we blast this track on family road trips.



here in iowa, we have an ass backwards reward system for successful jazz programs.  bands learn 3 or 4 tunes early in the jazz band season, beat them into submission, place first or second place at select open invitationals, and earn a bid to the grand showcase event - the iowa jazz championships.  my high school band made it my senior year.  we played our set at 8:30 in the morning, sounded like rear end, took the group photo, and then screwed around the remainder of the day.  we were encouraged to go hear other bands, but who's gonna do that when you've got a free day in the capital city?

a few of us did peel away in the late afternoon to hear a couple of bands from the big 4A conference.  the final band of the afternoon was from sioux city and, rumor had it, they flaunted a world-class trumpeter.  they took the stage, looking suave in their navy blue sport coats and uniformed grey slacks, and proceeded to blow the doors off the auditorium.  holy smokes - this kid named ryan kisor was legit.  he was playing stuff i had never heard before.  i thought i was hot stuff back in high school, but i was immediately embarrassed and humiliated with my unfounded claims after hearing this guy.  my friend brett laughed heartily and chided "this dude is way better than you, mikey!" i wanted to rearrange brett's face.

before we got on the bus to head home, i quickly jotted down my address on a mail-order form and gave the band mom the remaining $8 in my pocket in exchange for a cassette copy of the evening concert, starring this guy from northwest iowa.  i listened to this tape over and over, still puzzled at what i was hearing.  ryan has gone off to do quite well for himself. he unknowingly sent me a wake up call, an alarm that screamed the world will not wait for you to get your shit together.

great trumpet players are hard to find, and strong high brass sections can make or break your ensemble.  trumpeters worth their salt usually cart along a sizable ego, often to the point of intolerability.  fine fine fine - i know you can pop the triple whatever and hold it longer than anybody else, just don't be a jerk about it. this stereotype doesn't apply to all.  plenty of my trumpet friends are the nicest guys i know.

i played keyboards with the des moines big band last night. the guest soloist for the event was ryan's kid brother, justin.  he scored points right away with me by humbling introducing himself to the rhythm section.  cool guy.  he played solos and features all night long, methodically lining them up and knocking them out like a bruce lee fight scene. he was very gracious, looked like a million bucks, and resisted the urge to do any grandstanding.  all the high notes were simply part of the line, and the blitzkrieg of 32nd notes were only out of necessity.  there was nothing showy in justin's game, although he would occasionally hint at what was in store like a street vendor slipping open his jacket to show off the glittering watch collection. he also won over all the hearts in the room by playing a blues with his four-year-old son.

i've never been drawn to trumpeters or jazz music per se, but justin really put it on some folks last night.  a measure of a musician is often reflected in the level of those working with him.  the guys in the band really ramped up their playing, and justin drove that bus all the way home.  every time i hear a good trumpeter do their thing, i remember that episode from the cosby show when dizzy blew his cheeks out for rudy.  and lord have mercy... lisa bonet was slamming back in the day.


teenage dream

i was a big dallas cowboys fan when i was a kid.  i mean, come on - they were america's team.  i was easy to shop for, always begging for more cowboys gear.  i used to run around the neighborhood with my paper bag slung over my shoulder, stick a copy of the creston news advertiser into a door handle, leap off that old guy's front porch and put a crazy tony dorsett spin move on the invisible defensive back while i made my away across their yard to the next house.

dwight clark and his moment in the sun nearly killed me.  i later became a bears fan (and am the proud owner of the super bowl shuffle on lp).  once they began to stink, i kinda gave up on pro football.  chris carter and randy moss sparked my interest again while we lived in minneapolis, and i have toughed it out with my vikings through thick and thin ever since (pretty thin as of late, even with adrian peterson).

i casually watch football during the playoffs.  i don't have a dog in the fight, but am still drawn to the action on the gridiron.  the play-by-play guys are great.  i like joe buck, son of the man who narrated my childhood summers.  his broadcast partner is cowboy superstar, hall of fame quarterback, and rent-a-center pitchman troy aikman.  the rapport between these two guys is great.  i'm continuously impressed with troy's style and content, concussions and all.

he had a great line during his interview the other day on the dan patrick show.  paraphrased, he said that every parent thinks their kid is the best player out there.  their son should be the qb, the one with the ball when it counts, the boy taking the shot downfield with the game on the line.

both of my boys play basketball, and we are in the throws of it this time of year.  the testosterone inside these noisy gyms flows heavier than the hot fudge river in those old school dairy queen commercials.  parents bark at their kids to knock down that jumper with three defenders in their face, yell at the refs when a foul is called on their child, and choke back the profanities when their son gets hacked taking the ball to the rack.  the anxiety that i feel while perched on those uncomfortable bleachers runs down the faces of most of these middle school ballers.  quite the social study.

i like to defer to other players when doing a gig.  the music doesn't always benefit from me taking some long solo.  i have had the luxury of being both in front of a group as a saxophonist and part of the trio as a jazz pianist.  i understand the ego that goes with being the horn player, and have also shared some eye-rolling with fellow rhythm section guys.  my teacher back in college told me to think compositionally.  i'm always trying to assess on a gig where we are at musically, and how i can best contribute.  a band i was in back in the twin cities did a live recording at this cool place in chicago.  the best tune of the set was a free improvisation at the end of the night.  man, it sounded so cool.  the guitarist was in top form, the electronics guy was pulling out all the stops, and the drummer was accentuating all the right things.  when the tune was over and the applause died down, i realized that i hadn't played one note.

i'm trying hard to not get in the way of creative space. another teacher from college always preached "serve the music".  my kid's basketball coach harps to his squad about taking our shot, not your shot.  i understand that, at times, it's probably best if i take a solo, and that often lines up with my desire to create with my friends.  however, i try to stay dialed in to the instantaneous development of the flow of ideas and quickly decide how best to participate.

and for the record, simon is getting all ball on those blocks. that other kid falls over because he's a sissy.  and while we're at it, kale is getting hacked every time he drives the lane.  you jokers just won't call it.  he's only in 6th grade, but i won't hesitate to put on his uniform.  again...


melatonin, fuzzy blankets, and infomercials

insomnia sucks.  everyone i've met that battles this would agree.  it's definitely not funny; but then again, neither was the show from comedian dave attell on comedy central with the themed title and ironic programming slot.  have you seen his latest show?  mom & dad, do NOT click on that link. interesting stuff, but you've gotta hoodwink directv into giving you showtime free (i'm not paying for this, right?)

shutting down my brain is a tough gig.  i'm up most nights with worry, wonder, and indigestion.  i ponder musical ideas, peer in on my kids as they sleep (creepy, eh?), think about death, rehash the family budget, rifle through online ads knowing full well i'll never buy anything, feel guilty about my practice routine (or lack thereof), pee a thousand times, stare out the front window and watch the world in its slumber.

one of the perks of my nightly battle is the opportunity to hear a bunch of new music.  not necessarily new, but shuffled and dealt to my headphones by my iTunes library.  listening to music is the best, and sometimes my hectic life doesn't clear out chunks of time for me to sit back and soak up interesting and different and often times wonderful music.  i've always got time for halloween, alaska or tyondai braxton but need to continue hipping my spirit to stuff from today and yesteryear.

the as-i'm-writing-and-editing-this playlist
* kronos quartet rachell's weepinge - early music
* nat king cole the late, late show
* erroll garner you're blase - body & soul
* the books we bought the flood - the way out
* tower of power what is hip? - soul vaccination
* spaghetti western string co. luna marinara - quiet mob
* orange then blue aline oro - hold the elevator
* marvin gaye i heard it through the grapevine 
* miles davis quintet well you needn't - steamin'
* louis armstrong blueberry hill 
* ralph alessi, michael caine, peter epstein egg - circa
* michael lowenstern 1985 - 1985
* the bad plus dirty blonde - give
* uri caine variation 18, canon at the 6th - the goldberg variations
* james taylor, yo yo ma, edgar meyer, mark o'connor hard times come again no more appalachian journey
* george schuller's circle wide rotation - like before, somewhat after
* grant green & bobby hutcherson django - idle moments
* matthew shipp zx-1 - nu bop
* hank mobley chain reaction - straight, no filter
* the monteverdi choir fair and fair - britten's spring symphony
* antonio carlos jobim tema de amor de gabriela - the man from ipanema
* mel lewis jazz orchestra make me smile - featuring the music of bob brookmeyer
* bjork sun in my mouth - vespertine
* abbey lincoln conversation with a baby - wholly earth
* dave douglas catalyst - strange liberation
* mark anthony turn age cut up - blood on the floor
* pat metheny group montevideo - quartet
* elmo hope trio like someone in love - the master takes
* paul motian trio one in three - 2000 & one

my weapon of choice
my back will tighten up today while i sit in the bleachers at yet another weekend basketball tournament.  i'll feel like eating comfort food at odd hours.  my eyelids will weigh a ton.  i'll oscillate between punch drunk happiness and mild apathy.  and in the wee small hours of the morning,
my brain will sure as shootin' be firing on all cylinders.

you're thinking "hey man. you posted this in the middle of the day. that doesn't count as insomnia, silly." folks - i'm no sucker.  successful writing is a combination of creative thought and correct grammar.  proofreading at 3:44 a.m. with fuzzy eyesight, a contorted position on the couch, and hallucinating weariness is not a healthy combo for giving myself the stamp of approval that would pass mr. lippold's blood red grading sickle back in english class. he wouldn't go for my liberal use of parenthesis and no capital letters.


friday the 13th

i threw together a playlist of tunes whose titles eerily accessorize today's unofficial holiday.  check out the real time reviews and, to all of the paraskevidekatriaphobics
out there, swim at your own risk...

1. voodoo - sonny clark memorial quartet.  great piano work from wayne horvitz.  not expecting ray drummond on this album. he's a good fit for this tune.  my hero john zorn playing melodies/parts in the pocket, proving that he is more than a loose musical cannon.  love me some bobby previte, especially the duo record with zorn titled (appropriately enough) euclid's nightmare. the sound is transparent, and everyone gets a taste. zorn plays a killer solo, sweet jesus. pyrotechnic chops open up the dialogue between he & himself.

2. lucky - human chain.  i love django bates.  what a creative wiz. i got this album for 50 cents at a bookstore in laramie, wyoming.  of course nobody there wanted it.  this tune needs a paul simon voiceover.  i can't really tell what the instruments are here.  all i know is that this sounds awesome.

3. friday the 13th - the microscopic septet.  listen to all of those saxophones!  cool sticking and quartet playing.  the core slowly releases methodically into open blowing.  nice little swing out of the horn collage.  drop into half time, offering up several flavors in this arrangement.  a bit much?

4. lucky for her - john scofield.  tons of my friends are big sco fans.  i like this record a lot.  my wife actually went out and bought this after we saw this band live.  a bunch of guitar effects with sco blowing over it.  reverse line-6 green box?  not a lot going on harmonically, but who cares.

5. lucky you - love-cars.  what a great rock band.  king & the usual suspects on the minneapolis scene, doing their thing.
love-cars is a fresh sound on a beleaguered rock & roll sonic canvas.  leave it to james diers to weave "a kool-aid smile" and a james brown reference into the same track.

6. sonja's nightmare - paolo fresu.  great harmon trumpet sound, and cool site.  such a gorgeous combination of piano and accordion.  so intimate and detailed.  groups like this need more attention.  and there's your picardy third.  i'm sure that my wife's nightmares sound nothing like this.
they are probably full of me bitching about money.

7. voodoo child - jimi hendrix.  the inimitable opening guitar riff.  funny - i've got the incense burning while this booms through my headphones.  jimi of course sounds incredible.  his guitar solo is arbitrarily panning around in the mix, making it even more psychedelic.  i wish people would do jimi a big favor and not play this tune.  just let it breathe on its own.

8. friday the 13th - steve lacy & mal waldron.  this is a cool album from a longstanding duo.  steve tops the list of soprano saxophonists and monk interpreters.  both are in fine form here.  mal doesn't waver and steve is clean and calculated.

9. hitchcock - russ lossing.  these chicago cats meld classical and avant garde jazz on this hathut album.  how about that big bass solo out of john hebert!  beautiful sound and strong rapport betwixt the two.   nice finish.

10. weird nightmare - elvis costello.  somehow this guy scored diana krall, so i guess there's hope for all of us.  this cut is from the hal willner presents series, featuring chuck d, keith richards, henry rollins, and an all-star cast of downtown jazzers.  eerie bell chime things (hello harry partch) at the top.  elvis is perfect for this treatment of the mingus gem.  my kids saw elvis on jimmy fallon and innocently asked if he sounded the same when he was younger.

11. nightmares - clipse.  too much neojazzsoul crooning from bilalclipse has great time and impeccable delivery, plus pharrell is behind this track.  "i'm leonardo, catch me if you can".  gimme more flow and less singing.  seriously, "p-noid"?

12. superstition - stevie wonder.  damn, stevie was 22 when he dropped this masterpiece album.  i often worry where music would be if it weren't for stevie wonder.  creative songwriting that doesn't repeat itself, and superb vocals.
the clav, the moog, the horns, and stevie on drums!
13. a nightmare on my street - dj jazzy jeff & the fresh prince.  now we're talking.  i used to have this poster up in room.  jeff killed it and prince was personality plus.  ready rock c brought the terror vocals to life on my cassette version of this album.  i still remember all the lyrics.


if it feels good, do it

i've been shackled with a not-so-cool stomach bug the past
few days.  funny how these things jump into your body mysteriously, run roughshod through your digestive system, and tear outta there with nasty exit wounds.  the only thing
i felt like doing (minus the obvious) was catching up on my newsweek magazines.  i canceled my teaching, sadly backed out of a gig with my new favorite band, and even stayed away from facebook.  the recipe for recovery was my comfy minnesota timberwolves blanket, some chicken soup, and a bunch of past episodes of storage wars that i had stashed away on my dvr.

after sleeping with one eye open, quarantined in my oldest son's bed and serenaded by the obnoxious jt the brick, i awoke feeling better.  the dynamite weather we were having was added encouragement.  i went to the building for a lesson with a kid dynamo sophomore at the local high school.  i hadn't played my horn in two weeks.  the only physical activity i had engaged in was cautiously scaling the stairs around the house.
i probably should have bagged the lesson, but the kid is cool and is getting ready for an audition.  hey - i'm a softy.

i nervously put my horn together in front of him, certain that he was going to kick my butt all over the office as we worked through an etude and some aebersold play-a-longs.  he sounded great, and i felt fantastic!!!  so weird... the horn felt good in my face.  the lowering of my shoulders helped me get centered.  the forward motion of my air as it moved through the instrument felt as if i was expunging the demonic virus that plagued me.  i was borderline understanding the oral fixation that alice coltrane claimed her husband had.

i play the saxophone because i'm best at that instrument than any other.  i have no real allegiance to it, but i do love my horn and mouthpiece and care compassionately for my reeds.  i don't listen to a lot of saxophone and don't really study the history of the instrument either.  however, i love the way it feels when i play it.  improvising on my saxophone is an incredible sensation.  hearing what i just played rattling around in my ears while strategically crafting new ideas is euphoric. the designs and visualizations in my brain that i try to translate into musical terms compete for headspace, and i often play traffic controller to my fingers to help them steer clear of catastrophe.  all the while, i attempt to keep my heart open, my head clear, and my thoughts pure.

i'd hate to think i need the hershey squirts again to remind me of my appreciation for the physical aspects of making music.  one thing's for sure - i made my contribution to the mr. whipple retirement fund this week.  you're welcome.


top ten for two thousand eleven

here is my gratuitous list of ten things i discovered in 2011 that made it a super awesome año.  in no particular order...

i don't watch too many movies.  i'm a professed tightwad, can't figure out how to run my blu-ray player, and have troubles sitting through a two hour flick anyway.  the wife and i occasionally see stuff in the cheap theater, and knocked out a bunch on our trans-continental flights.  we rented
get low from the local redbox this summer, and it was the best movie i saw.  robert duvall, bill murray, and sissy spacek were fantastic in this invigoratingly fresh story about a hermit who stages his own funeral.  the massive undertaking required to make a motion picture inspires me to tackle smaller music projects.  i am also aware of the various emotional and sensory spots a film can touch upon, and try to figure out how to weave that parallel technique into my music.

this summer, my oldest son tried out for (and made) a traveling club basketball squad.  he is now the proud member of the iowa wolves which, as it turns out, has several different packs of players in both genders and multiple grade levels.  simon and his buddy ben are the only two from their school, and the other eight teammates are from all across the state.  the vibe is super positive and encouraging, trickling down from the coaches to the ballers and even to their parents.  the sense of community is strong amongst all parties.  it's been great watching these young men give their all every minute that they log for the team, reminding me that i need to be "all in" whenever i pick up my horn.  

ever since i got started up with p90x, my favorite workout has been the yoga routine (90 minutes...uggh).  i have picked up other various yoga dvds through beachbody and other companies. i feel great every time i finish a yoga sequence.  i remember a guy from bang on a can all-stars mentioning that everyone at some point should practice yoga. i'm definitely not a whiz, but i'm becoming more flexible and take less time to get to my chi balanced.  the breathing exercises definitely help my playing and the clarity achieved through mental focus is just what the doctor ordered before i improvise or write music.

my grandma fry died this summer.  she was a wonderful woman with so much spunk and vitality.  her passing provided me an opportune moment to reflect on her spirit and worldliness, both undeniably strong characteristics that i want to further develop in my own personality.  i wasn't able to be there for the funeral (super long story), so i recorded a couple of hymns for the service instead.  playing solo saxophone from my heels in one take reminded me that making music is not always about the details and right vs. wrong.  it's about living, a lesson that bev fry still teaches me today.

i'm thankful for all of the musical opportunities i have had. the rise and fall of the 3x5, adventures in chicago, summer camp stuff, international performances, sitting in with simon estes, working with great students, shaking the trees with contemporary classical chamber music, and my recent work with john/karl/nick in workshop.  throughout these experiences, 
i have learned that a) i'm lucky to be able to do music professionally, b) participating in creative music is very important to me, c) the people with whom i do this are more important, and d) try not to take shit personally.   

i think i found my new girlfriend.  gretchen parlato is the best thing i've heard this year.  the tracks she has put out go on repeat in my ipod, especially butterfly by herbie from "in a dream" and that simply red old school jam holding back the years from "the lost and found".  yeah, she's pretty.  
and yeah, she sings with a thin (and unsupported?) sound.  
but yeah, she phrases so beautifully, collaborates with a myriad of interesting musical forces, and is steadily doing adventurous arrangements.  doesn't hurt that she's photogenic.

my good friend joel ponied up a bunch of his own rain barrel money to help sponsor the newest halloween, alaska album (which kills) on kickstarter.  in exchange for joel's right arm, he received a masterclass of sorts with their drummer dave king in exchange for his contribution.  king is such an incredible player, colorful mind, and really genuine guy.  he is literally enchanting, which sounds goofy, but those of you who have hung with the man himself know what i'm talking about. he spoke about topics that spanned from creative improvising to techy drum stuff to hilarious stories about random experiences.  occasionally i need defibulators applied to my musical chest.  this clinic with king resuscitated me.     

writing is therapeutic for me and helps me document how my brain works.  i'm not naive enough to think that legions of people are reading my musings, but solidifying ideas that i could never remember helps me form solid opinions and strengthen my philosophies.  i've eulogized cultural icons, covered the nba draft, discussed osama bin laden, found parallels in professional wrestling, and have reminded myself why i like music. this past year has definitely been my most prolific. if you have the itch put your thoughts down, i'm here to tell you that it is well worth it.  amateur tips i have learned?  read your blog out loud, be sure to proof your writing, less is more, and never publish after a long night of composing.  thanks to those of you that read this thing...

i finally took charge of my mental health (and let me tell you, it costs way the hell more than five cents).  my guy is the best.  he has helped me figure out how my head works, suggests readings that i sort of read but really pay attention to when he is talking about it, and is helping me (along with some good meds) unravel this mess inside of my head.  the roller coaster is outstanding for being creative but can also be a nightmare in everyday life.  once i figure out how to run full throttle artistically while managing to be a tolerable person in the meantime, the sky's the limit.  

i love traveling.  the wife and i spent a month gallivanting across europe.  the family road tripped for a month out west. the four of us tackled numerous week-long sojourns around the u.s.  seeing different people while staying in different places amongst different cultures while eating different foods makes me constantly reconsider the way i live.  a life chock full of experiences and subsequent surprises makes for an exciting one.  my crew is down for whatever, whenever, making us the best globetrotters this side of harlem. survival techniques we have gleaned throughout the years include; don't plan too far ahead, bring mix tapes that everyone will like, omit soda pop and fried foods, pack extra underwear and comfortable shoes, be sure your camera has batteries, snag a magnet wherever you go, and remember that cash spends slower.