Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Game On - The District

From the District - (09/23/09)

Whenever the phrase “hit jazz single” comes up and the laughter subsides, conversations often turn to the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s recording of “Take Five” before dwindling into more sedate alternatives like Chuck Mangione and Kenny G. Unlike those Costco jazzbos, pianist Dave Brubeck is a straight-ahead practitioner with a thunderous attack and tasteful approach to songwriting. His “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “The Duke” became jazz standards as soon as they were released, with artists like McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans and Pharaoh Sanders taking a crack at his refined progressions. Fifty years after the release of his groundbreaking album Time Out, Brubeck is still swinging for the masses.

Born in 1920 in Concord, California, Brubeck was the first music graduate from the College of the Pacific unable to read sheet music, something that says as much about his innate skills as it did about the college’s curriculum. While serving in the army band during World War II, Brubeck met Paul Desmond, who would become a frequent collaborator until his untimely death in the late ’70s. Following the war, Brubeck studied with composer Darius Milhaud, counter-balancing his jazz education with a wade through more avant-garde waters. By the mid ’50s Brubeck had carved out a successful living mixing the high- and low-brow for malleable minds at college campuses everywhere. His 1954 release, Jazz Goes to College, was a collection of live performances that exemplified Brubeck and Desmond’s effortless timing and smart sense of swing. It was also the beginning of his run of hits with Columbia Records.

In the summer of 1959 Brubeck entered Columbia’s 30th Street studios in Manhattan supported by Desmond (alto sax), Eugene Wright (bass) and Joe Morello (drums) to record what would become a definitive jazz classic, Time Out. Part of the elite class of Columbia releases that included Mingus Ah Um and Kind of Blue, Time Out was a swinging stroll across odd time signatures and distant harmonies that found commercial success with “Take Five,” an off-balance drum feature that was Desmond’s lone contribution, which became a Top 10 pop hit shortly after its release. (In his will, Desmond bequeathed his performance royalties to the American Red Cross.)

As much as Charles Mingus redefined the limits of a horn section and Miles Davis revealed the power of scales, Brubeck and his band rewrote the unspoken limitations of time signatures, branching out into prime-number meters that were inexplicably danceable. The album was a beatnik’s puzzle, featuring Neil Fujita’s abstract cover design and seven original compositions that wound their way through the phonograph into smoke-filled rooms across America. Songs like the Eastern European blues “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and “Kathy’s Waltz” (an ode to Brubeck’s daughter misspelled by the album designer) are memorable melodies that are entertaining and innovative, not relying on rhythmic gimmicks to carry the weight. At the time of its release the album was widely panned by critics but grew in stature, eventually becoming the first million-selling jazz album after reaching No. 2 on the Billboard pop charts.

After Time Out secured his future, Brubeck went on to tour extensively with the quartet before settling to focus on loftier compositions and raise a family. His home-grown troupe of musicians has since their teen years supported their father on stage and in the studio. Now in his late 80s, Brubeck is as busy as ever, with an upcoming itinerary that will find him behind keyboards from Los Angeles to New York before being recognized in December at the Kennedy Center Honors alongside youngbloods Bruce Springsteen and Robert De Niro. Witness a West Coast legend while he still walks the stage.


Game On @ the District

Monday, September 21, 2009

More with Cabeza de Vaca Arcestra - The District

From the District website - (09/09/09)

How did you choose to do Faust? The first time I did Faust I had wanted to do the score for Haxan—a silent Scandanavian film from the ’20s about the history of witch-craft—but it doesn’t have a big enough draw. I was given a list of silent films that do well on their own, films that fans enjoy enough to see over and over regardless of live score or not. Faust was on the list and I had been attending a lecture series at the Philisophical Research Society about Alchemy. So it seemed to make sense.

What can we expect from the upcoming show? Thirteen different takes on selling your soul to the devil. Each musician gets to sonically represent Satan at one point or another during the film. It’s interesting to see how they hear that.

How do you hear it? I created a theme that is used as a starting point but most musicians wind up using unpitched sounds at one point or another. Things like string scraping or extended techniques like multiphonics on the horns and winds, as well as effects like delay and distortion. Personally I think a catchy jingle works best. We’ll also have a taxidermy goat with us as well. I’m hoping there will be a lot of people claiming to be Alchemists at the box office to get the student rate.

What’s the best way to prove you’re an alchemist? A conversation about the subject and a jive handshake.

Who did the poster for the show? Owleyes ( My favorite contemporary artist. I cannot say enough about how much I like his work and how fortunate I am to be able to work with him. I don’t know if it’s because we are both Virgos AND Dragons but we have really good chemistry. Next summer the Arcestra will be playing some shows in Europe and I want to set up art shows to go along with them. Our music and his art work go extremely well together. The posters that he creates for our shows bring a certain amount of excitement for everyone involved in them; they tie everything together for me.

What have you been reading lately? Kafka on the Shore. I don’t know what I was expecting but I was not expecting this book to be as beautifully far out as it is. It’s my first Murakami book. I’m looking forward to reading more of his work. I bought Vonnegut’s Dead Eye Dick on a trip last month. I got through most of it during that trip but didn’t finish it, I don’t think I will. Maybe I’ll finish it on my next trip. Everywhere I go a copy of Conference of the Birds follows me. It’s Sufi poetry from the 1100s. I think the book gods are trying to tell me something.

What have you been listening to? String Quartets. Ruth Crawford Seeger wrote one of the best. You can do so much with two violins, viola and cello. George Crumbs “Black Angels” is an insane piece. The numerology behind it and the use of God’s number—7—and the devil’s number—13—is the basis for the whole piece. All of the musical material is based on the two numbers. It’s obsessive compulsive genius. I enjoy looking at his scores as much as I do listening to his music. John Fahey, Lee Hazelwood. A mix CD of Macedonian music. I don’t know the names of anyone on the CD but the music is full of so many good times, it comes right through the speakers.

What have you been watching? Recent Youtube searches: Hurdy gurdy videos. Jodorowsky interviews. Jay-Z/freemason conspiracy videos. Harry Partch videos. Giant panda in china rips off mans jacket. Kwele music. Daniel Kachamba. Tom Waits videos. Latarian Milton, 7-year-old badboy videos.

Favorite spot in Long Beach? Acres of Books: genie magazines and maps. Two of my favorite things.

Favorite Dinosaur? It’s a tie between T-rex and Donovan.

More with Cabeza de Vaca Arcestra @ the District

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Mind-Benders - the District

From the District - (9/9/09)

With his sturdy cane and no-fly-list facial hair, Jimi Cabeza de Vaca has been a fixture of the South Bay music scene for the last decade, providing ample cushioning for Joel Morales’ finely-tuned pop songs as the keyboardist for psychedelic-pop magnates dios and stringing his banjo over Red Cortez’s hard-shouting rock. Now he fronts his Cabeza de Vaca Arcestra, an auditory barrage of internal-organ-squashing feedback and unprecedented vocal swells that he unleashes upon often-unsuspecting audiences, rendering them speechless and on the verge of a panic attack.

Cabeza de Vaca started his music career crisscrossing America in a van. Dios, occasionally known as dios (malos), rekindled a pop-music love affair between Hawthorne harmonies and solid songcraft, playing loudly in low-ceilinged rooms. But after years of only occasionally sleeping on mattresses and trying to remember where he was, he yearned for a more stable lifestyle.

The sound experiments began at Cal Arts, Walt Disney’s Valencia brain farm, where Cabeza de Vaca pursued a Master’s degree in fine arts. Faced with an impending performance, he called upon a few noise enthusiasts to create a séance for a coffee table involving anointing oil, animal masks and a dream machine. The success of the performance encouraged him to take things even further.

Last spring, Cabeza de Vaca moved his Arcestra off campus to Fairfax’s Silent Movie Theatre, where he accompanied F.W. Murnau’s Faust—a 1920s silent German film depicting the less-pleasant side of dealing with the devil—to a full house and bewildered applause. Since that last performance, Cabeza de Vaca made a trip to the Faust House in Prague while touring with the Arcestra, absorbing strains of mysticism and alchemy to bring back home (alchemists receive 20% off admission!).

The onstage head count for this Friday’s performance may surpass 15, with contributions from sparrow-voiced Nora Keyes and soap-wielding Don Bolles. Among them will be multiple electric guitars, resonant brass, Tuvan throat singers and a theremin, each ebbing and flowing with every fluttering cape in Murnau’s masterpiece. Supported by an army equally educated in the classroom and on the road, the collision of sight and sound will be an intense experience that could threaten to explode into chaos, were it not contained by Cabeza de Vaca’s unflappable countenance. But if it gets to be too much, you can always step outside.


Mind-Benders @ the District

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Way I Feel About Cha - The District

From the District - (9/02/09)

There is an autobiography floating around good libraries and better bookstores entitled Bobby Womack: Midnight Mover: The True Story of the Greatest Soul Singer in the World. It is a gripping 300 pages of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And, according to Womack, “it was a lot of BS.” The book, written in the UK by various biographers, was the Oliver Stone version of Bobby Womack’s life. “When the book came out I wouldn’t promote it,” he says. “Some things were in bad taste. They didn’t get permission from me to release it. It’s not all about getting people’s attention.” A Zelig-like tale of a man who found himself in the just right place at just the right time for over 50 years of musical history, the book was only 90% true.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, 65 years ago, Womack was the third of five brothers. His father, a musician and taskmaster, pushed his sons into the music business. Originally called the Womack Brothers, they were renamed the Valentinos by Sam Cooke, who had met Womack when Womack was only nine years old. Applying the same successful transformation from gospel to soul, Cooke swapped “God” for “girls” and put them on the road with James Brown. One of their first singles, “It’s All Over Now,” became the Rolling Stones’ first number-one UK hit. “The first time I heard the Stones’ version was when Sam Cooke played it for me. He was thrilled they were cutting the song. He was thrilled because he had the publishing. ‘Why don’t they get their own song?’ I asked him. It seemed like it was just getting ready to happen for us. But when the royalty check came around I was real surprised.” Not long after, the Valentinos broke up.

Contributing heavily to the band’s demise was the death of Cooke, murdered at the Hacienda Motel in 1964. Three months later Womack married Cooke’s widow, Barbara, and found himself blacklisted from most record labels. After a few unsuccessful bids for stardom, Womack turned to his guitar, taking a position with Ray Charles. Eventually he landed in Memphis at the recommendation of another mentor, Wilson Pickett. Womack spent several years working as a guitar for hire, turning up on some of the greatest recordings to emerge from Tennessee. “Some songs they say you played on, and I don’t even remember. But I’ll listen to it and say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s me.’ I was an unknown. It’s just what we all did. We all got together and put something in the pot.” Those “pots” just happen to include Aretha’s “Chain of Fools,” Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds,” the Box Tops’ “The Letter” and a couple dozen other pop-radio standards. “I feel fortunate to have been a part of it. Twenty, 30 years later I look back and say, ‘That’s amazing.’ I just happen to have been one of the guys to be invited to the session.”

In 1969, Womack finally achieved solo success with a version of “California Dreamin’” that cracked the US Top 50. Over the next couple decades he charted with a string of hits, including “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha,” “Looking for a Love” and “Across 110th Street,” putting his distinctive growl and guitar style to more personal uses.

Last spring Womack was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the first Clevelander to be so honored. “When I went to Cleveland I really couldn’t believe it, to see how Cleveland had really grown. I was knocked out.” With Ron Wood by his side, Womack soaked up the accolades. But he went right back to work afterwards. A few months ago he lent his pipes to the upcoming Gorillaz album, and this weekend he will be headlining the Long Beach Blues Festival. “C’mon out,” he offers. “It’ll be a Sunday. We’ll be going to church!”


The Way I Feel About Cha @ the District