Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The alluring music of the Walker’s 2011-12 Performing Arts Season

Vijay Iyer by Prashant Bhargava
Reading the press release for a new arts season is like paging through the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. With the Northrop Jazz Series on hiatus and the Southern Theater in turmoil (a look at the Southern’s calendar reveals a dismal list of performances canceled or postponed, and where’s that transparency we were promised?), the spotlight shines even more brightly on the Walker's 2011–12 Performing Arts Season.

Which does not disappoint.

Notably, six new commissions. As our elected officials continue to kneecap the arts and look for more ways to raid or eliminate arts funding, commissioning organizations are more important than ever. 

Thanks to Duke Performances in North Carolina for commissioning The Bad Plus to reinvent Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for jazz trio (we heard it here at the Loring earlier this month), to Carnegie Hall for commissioning Brad Mehldau’s work for jazz quintet and chamber orchestra,  Highway Rider (which had its premiere at the Walker last November), and to the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, for commissioning Kelly Rossum’s score to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (heard at MacPhail last October).

Closer to home, props to the Minnesota Orchestra for commissioning new works by Irvin Mayfield and Evan Christopher; to the Cedar for its 416 Club Commissions series; to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for commissioning a new piece by jazz composer and big-band leader Maria Schneider, Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories, which premiered here in 2008 with Dawn Upshaw and earlier this month wowed New Yorkers at Carnegie Hall.

The Walker's new commissions include works for theater and dance. The new season is heavy on dance. No surprise; the Twin Cities are dance-happy. (There is no hiatus for the Northrop Dance Series, and the calendar for the inaugural year of the not-yet-open Cowles Center features nearly 100 performances by 17 Twin Cities dance troupes.) I’m thrilled that the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company will return to the Walker in February (Thursday–Sunday, Feb. 16–19). Merce Cunningham fans, don't go anywhere in late October and early November, when a 10-day celebration of Cunningham will include dance works, talks, workshops, performances, and exhibitions drawn from the Walker's recent acquisition of his sets, props, costumes, and documents.

But enough about dance; let's talk about the music. What I look forward to most: Vijay IyerOne of the most fascinating young pianists in jazz today, he’s coming for a two-day mini-fest in March featuring his trio (Marcus Gilmore on drums, Stephan Crump on bass), his quintet, his global chamber music trio Tirtha, and his duo with Paris-based hip-hop artist/poet Mike Ladd. He’ll also play several of his solo works. 

I wish the Walker had made room for two more Iyer collaborators: saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and pianist Craig Taborn. Still, be there or be stupid sorry. Thursday and Friday, March 1 and 2.

I’m interested in hearing Staff Benda Bilili, a 12-member group of street musicians performing as part of another mini-festival, “Despair Be Damned: New Music and Dance from the Congo,” on Tuesday, September 27.  And the 802 Tour on Thursday–Friday, March 21–22, with Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon, Doveman, and Nadia Sirota, all of whom performed at the Southern earlier this year.

On Saturday, April 14. Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 come to town. Seun is the son of Fela Kuti and, according to the BBC, more like Fela than Femi is. Egypt 80 is his father’s old band. That sounds like a no-brainer. I hadn’t heard of Seun Kuti until last week, when I met DJ Logic after his performance at Orchestra Hall with the Christian McBride Situation. I asked him what he’s listening to, and he said Seun Kuti and Brian Eno.

Friday, May 5, brings Tortoise (“Chicago’s indie legends") and something called the Minneapolis Jazz All Stars. The 312 meets the 612. (Wish I’d thought of that, but I borrowed it from the press release.) Dub dance, ambient, and minimalism plus jazz. I suspect the All-Stars will be put together for this occasion. Lucky for the Walker, there are plenty of area musicians to choose from.


Friday, May 27, 2011

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Tune to KBEM every Friday morning at 8:30 to hear me and Mr. Jones—Jazz 88 "Morning Show" host Ed Jones—talk about the week's jazz picks and more. 88.5 FM in the Twin Cities, streaming live on the Web. On Saturday night, come back to KBEM for Maryann Sullivan's "Corner Jazz" and my Corner Calendar, which airs just before 9 p.m

Calendar news: Along with being here on the blog, the Live Jazz in the Twin Cities calendar has a new home on KBEM's website.

To find it:

1. Go to the home page, jazz88fm.com
2. Look for Live Music Calendars
3. Click on Jazz

Couldn’t be simpler. Same with getting your gigs listed there. Musicians, bookers, presenters, and others, email jazz88calendar@gmail.com.

Jazz for those who are staying in town this holiday weekend:

Friday through Sunday: Eric Alexander Quartet at the Artists’ Quarter

The great young hard-bop tenor saxophonist spends most Memorial Day weekends at the AQ and we’re glad. Alexander has a big, beautiful tone, vast imagination, energy, chops, enormous musical knowledge, and considerable charm. So far he’s made 25 albums as a leader and played on 100 more as a sideman. At home in NYC, he has his own quartet with Harold Mabern on piano and plays regularly with the sextet One for All with Dave Hazeltine and Jim Rotondi. Here he’ll play two sets each night. Catch him if you can.

8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday May 27–28, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday, May 29, Artists’ Quarter ($18).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kate Nordstrum is leaving the Southern Theater

In the wake of the Southern Theater's recent financial meltdown (long story short: years of cash flow problems; a $300,000 deficit; the major no-no of commingling funds from the McKnight Foundation with operational funds, and the resulting end of its relationship with the McKnight; board implosion; cry for help and donations; disappointing turnout at annual fundraiser; staff cuts), music programmer Kate Nordstrum, who survived the cuts but with reduced hours, has announced that she is leaving.

Here's the email she sent to friends and colleagues earlier today:
After great and of course very difficult deliberation, I've made the decision to leave the Southern Theater after more than 5 years of truly rewarding work. I am especially proud of the new music program that was created less than 3 years ago, which is now so vital to the Twin Cities' music and performance scene, evidence of an underrepresented programmatic niche that I -- more than ever -- believe needs to be cultivated and nurtured. This is the work I'm going to continue to do independently and within organizations & structures that, at this time, can support artists and new projects most effectively.

To the amazing artists I've worked with closely at the Southern: Thank you for sharing your talents, creative aspirations, and performance visions with me. I am confident that my move will ultimately serve to support your work more fully.

To Southern patrons and supporters, staff (past and present), partners, co-presenters, sponsors, members of the press, and to my performing art presenter colleagues: I get very emotional thinking about all the ways in which each of you have supported, encouraged and championed the very important programming -- specifically new work, new series and festival concepts, and long-lead projects by independent artists -- that's happened on the Southern stage these past 5 years but also long before my time at the theater. Being a part of this programmatic mission has shaped me in substantial ways, and will very much remain my active focus. 

I'm very sad to hear this. It's bad for the Southern, it's bad for our local arts community, it's bad for artists (local and national), and it's bad for me personally. I had learned to count on Kate to open my ears to music I would otherwise have passed by. An email from her saying "You should hear this" was enough for me. Over the past few years of attending her shows at the Southern, I've discovered that jazz (especially free/improvisational jazz) and new music occupy the same general space in my brain. Thanks to Kate, I have more music to experience, enjoy, struggle with, and think about. We all need guides in our musical explorations, people who will kick us out of our comfort zones and get us to taste the hot sauce or ride the rollercoaster. I already feel her absence. I hope she doesn't go too far. 

Larry Englund talks with Kip Jones

Kip Jones is one of the most interesting young musicians I haven't yet written about. He plays a violin fitted with viola strings, and sings (while he plays) in Korean and Spanish. The wonderful young accordionist Patrick Harison (whose interview is still in the can...sorry, Patrick!) told me about Kip, and I heard him play the first time at Barbette with Patrick, one of their "folk music from countries that don't exist" performances. Kip gave me a copy of his latest CD, Hallazgo, and HH and I attended his CD release at Studio Z in April. We ran into him most recently at one of the Zeitgeist and Guy Klucevsek "Hammers, Horns, Skins 'n' Squeezebox" shows at Studio Z earlier this month, and he sent me another CD, K2, this one a duo with bassist Karl Doty. Patrick said that Kip was someone to watch, and he's right (as he is about many things), and you can learn more about him in an interview Larry Englund did for his radio show on KFAI and wrote up for his blog.

Friday, May 20, 2011

More from the Christian McBride interview

Bassist, composer, bandleader, and educator Christian McBride comes to Minneapolis this weekend (Sunday, May 22) to play a "Foundations of Funk" show at Orchestra Hall, sharing the bill with Maceo Parker.  We spoke the day before he left for two weeks in Europe with his band Inside Straight. Here's more from the interview that was published on MinnPost.

PLE: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me so soon before you leave. Have you finished packing?

Christian McBride: No, but I’ll pack quickly. I have it down to a science. All I need is tomorrow morning.

I’m guessing you don’t travel with your bass. How does that work these days?

I just started using a thing called a Chadwick Folding Bass. A guy in Nashville makes it. It’s a Transformer bass. Some people call it the bionic bass. It has moving parts—the neck collapses into the body. So I’m able to travel with a full-size acoustic bass again. I traveled with it the first time in March, during the Inside Straight tour of the West Coast.

I once had to borrow 13 basses in a row, so I’m trying very hard to help this company.


How does it sound?

It’s plywood, so it’s not going to have the creamy resonance of an old rare wood, like an ebony, but it certainly does the job for what you need done on stage. I can mic it and play acoustically.

I notice now that bass players aren’t the only ones who have those travel problems. Saxophone players have them, trombone players, guitar players. [Guitarist] David Gilmore was playing gigs with me. He would bring his small guitar in a tightly-wrapped gig bag, not big at all, and still have problems.

[See videos of the Chadwick Folding Bass going up and coming down, and one of McBride singing its praises.]

You advise young musicians to make a wish list of the people they want to play with someday. That’s what you did. Have you played with everyone on your list?

Not Art Blakey.

News about e.s.t.

From B.H. Hopper Management in London:

Thursday, May 19, 2011___

TONBRUKET, the new outfit of former e.s.t. bassist Dan Berglund, will release their second album next week titled “Dig it to the End” (ACT).

TONBRUKET members Johan Lindström (guitar), Martin Hederos (piano & keys), Andreas Werliin (drums) and of course Dan Berglund (bass) will celebrate the release with a concert and after-show party at Stockholm´s famous Nalen club [Stockholm, Sweden] on May 25 before they then embark on a tour of the USA and Canada in June and hit some of the major European festivals in July.

You can find the full tour schedule and sound-samples from the upcoming album on their website.

Two days earlier (May 23) the Magnus Öström Group will give their French debut with a concert at the New Morning club in Paris that also hosted some memorable early e.s.t. shows.

Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström will perform one very exclusive show together [at the JazzBaltica festival] this summer (July 2) as a tribute to Esbjörn Svensson. They will be joined on stage by special guest Pat Metheny!


I've been listening to and enjoying Magnus Ostrom's new CD, Thread of Life. Someday before too long I hope to carve out time to review it. If you're loving the lineup at JazzBaltica, listen to Track 6, "Ballad for E," which features Berglund and Metheny and will likely be the emotional center of their performance in Germany.

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Tune to KBEM every Friday morning at 8:30 to hear me and Mr. Jones—Jazz 88 "Morning Show" host Ed Jones—talk about the week's jazz picks and more. 88.5 FM in the Twin Cities, streaming live on the Web. On Saturday night, come back to KBEM for Maryann Sullivan's "Corner Jazz" and my Corner Calendar, which airs just before 9 p.m.

Thanks to KBEM for last night’s May Fest jazz party at the Loring Theater. Lots of KBEM fans and friends turned out to celebrate two new Legacy Funded radio programs (Maryann Sullivan’s “Minnesota Moments,” Arne Fogel’s “Minnesota’s Voices: Certain Standards”) and hear live music by the Bryan Nichols Trio, Patrick Harison, Chris Lomheim, Arne Fogel, Debbie Duncan, Connie Evingson, and Maud Hixson, who, by the way, looked ravishing in polkadots.

Now please take a moment to strap on your jazz jetpack; you’ll need it for the next several days.

Friday and Saturday: The Bad Plus play Stravinsky at the Loring Theater

How did The Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, bass; Dave King, drums) reduce a score written for full orchestra (100+ instruments) to a piece for jazz trio? Come hear for yourself. They play the whole thing, and it is very, very exciting. Read an interview with Iverson here and here.

8 p.m. Friday–Saturday, May 20–21, Loring Theater ($25 advance/$30 door/$50 VIP). Free parking at Emerson School a block to the west.

Bassist talks about being Christian McBride and getting along with James Brown

Originally published at MinnPost.com on Thursday, May 20, 2011

Christian McBride by Chi Modu
There are bass players, and then there's Christian McBride. Just 38 years old, he's been called the greatest bassist of his generation. He's certainly the most recorded, with nine albums as leader and nearly 300 as sideman.

It's easier to name whom McBride has played with than to guess whom he hasn't. Sonny Rollins? Check. Herbie Hancock? Check. Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis? Check, check, check. Ray Brown, James Brown, Roy Haynes, Isaac Hayes, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Billy Joel, Queen Latifah, Kathleen Battle, Sting? Check, ad infinitum. Note that he's not stuck in a particular genre.

In addition to playing and recording, McBride co-directs the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. From 2005-09, he was Creative Chair for Jazz of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. He composes, arranges and teaches. He leads three bands: Inside Straight, the Christian McBride Situation, and his big band. He hosts a radio show on SIRIUS XM's Real Jazz channel.

Chick Corea once said, "Christian embodies the whole history of jazz. He's got everything going."

McBride comes to Orchestra Hall this Sunday with his Situation, sharing a double bill with saxophonist (and former James Brown sideman) Maceo Parker. The concert is called "Foundations of Funk," and it may shake the cubes off the ceiling and walls.

I caught McBride by phone at home in New York late last month, the day before he left on a two-week whirlwind European tour with Inside Straight.

Pamela Espeland: How did you get to be the bassist everyone wants to play with? What would you tell young musicians today about building a career?

Christian McBride: When I came to New York [in 1989, at 17], I had a wish list of about 20 people I wanted to play with. I knew their repertoire. I had to — in case I got that call, I would be ready. Learning the music of those 20 people, I ended up learning the music of the people who played with those people. Young musicians ask, "How did you learn all that music?" I wanted it so bad. I say, "If you want it bad enough, you know what to do."

When I meet young musicians today, they all pretty much have the same goal. They all want gigs. I say, "It's easy to get gigs. You can get one playing in a hotel lobby or a cruise ship. What gig do you want?" Sometimes you say what you want and you get what you want and that's not what you want. I say, "Make a list of all the people you want to play with. Then learn their music." 

PLE: Tell us about the Christian McBride Situation.

CM: We have DJ Logic and DJ Jahi Sundance, both spinning turntables. Patrice Rushen on keyboards, Ron Blake on saxophone, and vocalist Alyson Williams. She's one of the pioneer artists who helped put Def Jam records on the map in the '80s.

PLE: What will the deejays do?

CM: It's the same as having two drummers. One guy supplies the beat, the other supplies the scratching and ornamentation.

PLE: What will you play at Orchestra Hall?

CM: I'll have everybody bring in something. I like to keep it as experimental as possible. But we'll have a framework so we're not completely flying by the seat of our pants. And it's going to be funky. We want to make sure to respect the tight funk of Maceo [Parker] that's going to make everybody dance.

PLE: Both you and Maceo worked with James Brown. [McBride performed with him at the Hollywood Bowl in 2006, a few months before Brown died.] Do you have a James Brown story to tell?

CM: I can't be comfortable with you saying that I worked with James Brown. Maceo really played with him. But anybody who was around James Brown for more than five minutes has a story.

I actually got to hang with James Brown more than I got to play with him. I met him right before my first CD came out, in 1995 ["Gettin' To It" on Verve]. The more we started hanging, the more my career started to progress. He didn't mentor me, but he was conscious of what I was doing.

One thing about James Brown you have probably heard: You had to constantly feed his ego. It was a 24-hour job. For him, to hear anyone in his circle talk about another artist was a big no-no. He saw it all as competition. His drummer, Mousey Thompson, once told me that Mr. Brown went on a 10-minute tirade about me, saying things like, "You all think McBride is bad, but he don't know anything. He's not as great as me." He'd start rehearsal, stop, and say, "You're not going to learn that playing with McBride." I was flattered to hear that.

Then one day I called Mr. Brown on the phone — Rule #1, you had to call him Mr. Brown, even people who had been playing with him for 30 years — and he was not in a very good mood. "Mr. McBride, you ain't got no talent," he said. "Everybody tells you how great you are, but you ain't nothing. Matter of fact, I should sue you."

The title track to my first CD, was inspired by a James Brown tune called "Getting Together." He thought "Gettin' To It" sounded too much like that.

"Mr. Brown," I said, "I gave you credit in the liner notes. Did you look at those?"

"In that case," he said, "I still love you."

[McBride is writing a book about his long friendship with Mr. Brown. Working title: "I Didn't Even Get to Say Goodbye."]

PLE: What's the latest new thing you learned about music or playing?

CM: I'm always amazed at the lack of fun I see a lot of musicians play with. If you're playing music you enjoy, if you're doing what you love for a living, have fun! When people see me play, one comment I always hear is, "Christian, you smile so much." Why is that so unusual? I choose to show it. I can't help it.

I have so much fun learning new things, playing with new people. For me, it's like being at an amusement park. I get to jump on different rides. I'm not saying all musicians need to be so outward and obvious about having fun, but it really does make the job a lot easier when you're enjoying it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jazz filmmaker and supporter Bruce Ricker passes

Jazz and film fans will be saddened to learn that Bruce Ricker has passed away.

As Steve Paul reports in the Kansas City Star, Ricker died after a long bout of pneumonia.

Ricker's many fine films as director and/or producer include Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way (2010), Johnny Mercer: The Dream's on Me (2009), Tony Bennett: The Music Never Ends (2007), Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (2000), The Last of the Blue Devils (1979) on Kansas City jazz, an American Masters presentation about Clint Eastwood (who has made a few jazz films himself, including Bird), and a documentary about Jim Hall (1998).

I first became aware of Ricker's name in 2008, when he chewed me out rather mildly for a MinnPost article on the paucity of jazz films. That led to a connection with Kevin Barnes at KBEM, who was starting a jazz film series called REEL Jazz. And that led to a special showing of four films from the Bruce Ricker jazz film collection in 2009, and subsequent showings of Tony Bennett and Thelonious Monk in 2010. Kevin has said that Bruce was very generous about sharing his films.

"The jazz community--musicians, record companies, club owners, and critics--should present an evening tribute to jazz film maker Bruce Ricker." Nat Hentoff wrote those words in 1999. Maybe now it will happen.

Rhapsody Productions, Ricker's website.

Monday, May 16, 2011

More from the Ethan Iverson interview

This weekend (May 20–21), the jazz trio The Bad Plus comes to the Loring Theater in Minneapolis to perform their version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, commissioned by Duke Performances and the Kennedy Center. I wrote a preview for the StarTribune around an interview with pianist Ethan Iverson. Because print has word counts and column inches, the whole interview wouldn't fit into the final article. Here are more highlights and insights.

PLE: When did you first hear The Rite of Spring? Do you remember what kind of effect it had on you?

Ethan Iverson: I didn’t see Fantasia until my 20s. I definitely heard it as a teenager, when I began listening to classical music.

As far as my relationship to the Rite goes, I actually knew much of Stravinsky’s other music better than I knew The Rite of Spring. If you’re a Stravinskyite, it’s almost the odd man out, first because it’s his most famous piece, and also because it sort of concludes an early chapter of his music, which is still very Russian and thick and glittering. A lot of us who love Stravinsky might form a different kind of relationship with works after that period—like Le Noce, Oedipus Rex, the Octet. Which actually remains my favorite Stravinsky music.

One of the pleasures of this project was I have gotten to know the Rite very well, of course, and it lives up to the hype. It’s one of the great masterpieces.

Did you have a second choice for the Duke project?

Not really. We came up with a bunch of bad ideas. Another thing about the Rite: It’s so well known, and it’s been so appropriated everywhere. That made it appealing. It was not as problematic in our view to do a reinterpretation of it, since ours is one of many reinterpretations, thefts, whatever. To take on Les Noces would be a problem.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Stravinsky gets the Bad Plus treatment" in the StarTribune

I'm pleased to make my StarTribune debut with a piece on The Bad Plus, a group I've seen more times than I can count, starting with what might have been their first-ever performance at the old Dakota in Bandana Square. If you don't yet have tickets for one of their Loring Theater dates (May 20-21), you might want to get moving on that.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

Veering briefly off the jazz path, this is a great series: live broadcasts of performances by the Metropolitan Opera to a movie theater near you, in HD.

Opera in comfy seats, with popcorn. Opera in a place where, when things get snoozy (and they will), you can head out into the lobby for a break. Opera that's a lot cheaper than seeing it live and brings you closer to the stage. (Not that you shouldn't go to see live opera. Of course you should.)

My theater of choice: the Kerasotes Showplace ICON at West End in St. Louis Park.

Coming up in 2011-12: Don Giovanni, Faust, Gotterdammerung, La Traviata, and more.

Go here to view the complete season and plan ahead.

If you missed last season's shows, six performances will be screened again this summer including Madama Butterfly and Tosca. Wish they were also showing Nixon in China.

Friday, May 13, 2011

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Tune to KBEM every Friday morning at 8:30 to hear me and Mr. Jones—Jazz 88 "Morning Show" host Ed Jones—talk about the week's jazz picks and more. 88.5 FM in the Twin Cities, streaming live on the Web. On Saturday night, come back to KBEM for Maryann Sullivan's "Corner Jazz" and my Corner Calendar, which airs just before 9 p.m.

A quick mention (more next week) that The Bad Plus will be at the Loring Theater next Friday and Saturday (May 20–21), playing their interpretation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. This weekend, the Minnesota Orchestra performs the original under the direction of Sarah Hicks. Where else can you bookend your week with live performances of the Rite?

Friday and Saturday: Red Planet Space Dust CD release at the Artists’ Quarter

Red Planet is Dean Magraw on guitar, Chris Bates on bass, and Jay Epstein on drums and those gorgeous cymbals of his. For those of you who know these three musicians, that’s all I need to say. For the rest of you: Space Dust is post-bop, melodic jazz-rock that embraces John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix, grooving originals and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Magraw puts on his rock god hat and burns the house down. These will be exciting shows.

9 p.m. Friday–Saturday, May 13–14, Artists’ Quarter in the basement of the Hamm Building in St. Paul ($10)

Friday and Saturday: Hammers, Horns, Skins ’n’ Squeezebox at Studio Z

Did someone say “accordion”? The new music ensemble Zeitgeist—Heather Barringer, percussion; Patti Cudd, percussion; Pat O’Keefe, woodwinds; Shannon Wettstein, keys—has teamed with composer and squeezebox maestro Guy Klucevsek (say KLOO-suh-vek) for three nights of “twisted tangos, barnstorming boogies, and other irreverent music making.” I’ve heard from people who were at Thursday’s show and loved it.

7:30 p.m. Friday–Saturday, May 13–14, Studio Z in St. Paul’s Lowertown ($10)

Friday, May 6, 2011

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Tune to KBEM every Friday morning at 8:30 to hear me and Mr. Jones—Jazz 88 "Morning Show" host Ed Jones—talk about the week's jazz picks and more. 88.5 FM in the Twin Cities, streaming live on the Web

"Corner Jazz" host Maryann Sullivan sat in for Ed this morning. It's always a pleasure to speak with Maryann. Starting tomorrow night, I'll be doing a weekly live jazz calendar on her radio show. "Corner Jazz," which airs every Saturday from 8–11 p.m.

Friday: Red Planet on teevee

Red Planet—Dean Magraw (guitar), Chris Bates (bass), and Jay Epstein (drums)—will be on Twin Cities’ Public Television’s Almanac tonight. The show starts at 7, and I don’t know exactly when they’ll make their appearance, but they might play something by Coltrane or Hendrix. Consider it a sneak peak of next week’s CD release at the AQ for Space Dustwhich happens Friday and Saturday.

7 p.m. Friday, Twin Cities Public Television (check your local channel listings), 7:00 p.m. Archived after on the show’s website.

Friday and Saturday: Atlantis Quartet live CD recording at the Artists’ Quarter

You could hear the sounds of your own hands clapping on Atlantis Quartet’s third CD. The follow-up to Animal Progress and Again, Too Soon is being recorded live at the AQ this weekend. Atlantis is Brad Wozniak on saxophones, Zacc Harris on guitar, Chris Bates on bass, and Pete Hennig on drums. City Pages recently crowned them Best Jazz Artist—2011.

Friday–Saturday, May 6–7, 9 p.m., Artists’ Quarter ($10)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Getting ready for The Rite

Stravinsky's grave on San Michele
I’m pretty jazzed about the week of May 13 when, thanks to the Minnesota Orchestra and The Bad Plus, I’ll get to hear Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring performed live twice.

On May 13-14, the Orchestra will give an “Inside the Classics” performance of the Rite. Billed as “not your typical night at the orchestra,” an “Inside” event starts by exploring the music with discussion and examples, followed by an intermission, after which the orchestra plays the whole thing. 

Violist Sam Bergman hosts, and Sarah Hicks conducts. I love the idea of learning more about a piece before I hear it—better than reading program notes, which are often unbearably dry or (worse) cursory.

Lately I’ve been listening to the Rite quite a lot, and reading a bit about that piece and Stravinsky, ahead of The Bad Plus performance at the Loring Theater on May 20-21. TBP was co-commissioned by Duke Performances and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to transform Stravinsky’s work for orchestra into a work for jazz trio. The world premiere took place at Duke University on March 26 and earned mostly glowing reviews. If you don’t feel it will spoil the surprise (I didn’t), you can hear the whole thing at The Checkout, Josh Jackson’s website.

I also listened to a recording of Stravinsky conducting the Rite (recorded in 1960 with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra), and a new recording by the young Ukrainian pianist Serhiy Salov, who arranged Stravinsky’s orchestral score for solo piano. (I learned about the Salov recording from Jason Rabin’s interview with TBP pianist Ethan Iverson, in which Iverson calls Salov a “super-virtuoso.”) Stravinsky himself wrote a piano four-hands score (two pianists, two pianos) and performed it with Debussy. I’m tempted to click the “Buy” button on amazon.com right now for the Amsterdam Quartet version.

Along the way, I listened to Liane Hansen’s interview with The Bad Plus at NPR, read a review at the Duke Performances’ blog, The Thread, and another at CVNC: The Classical Voice of North Carolina.  I checked Iverson’s blog, Do the Math, and found a post-premiere post titled “Victory Lap,” in which he noted succinctly, “TBP expects to be playing On Sacred Ground frequently in upcoming seasons.” Sounds like he was pleased.

In the NPR jazz blog, A Blog Supreme, Josh Jackson pointed out that E.S.T. had included part of the Rite in a hidden track on its U.S. debut CD, Somewhere Else Before (the track isn’t named on the CD—it’s hidden, duh—but when you copy it to iTunes, it’s called “Dark Water”). In a comment to that piece, Glenn Wood named a Red Snapper track, “Shellback,” that draws from the same source, so I had to hear that, too. (Thanks, Jonah.)

Why all of these peregrinations? Part curiosity, part preparation. I interviewed Ethan Iverson yesterday and wanted to have at least a few ducks in a row. (Over the past several years, many artists I’ve interviewed have expressed real surprise that I know something about them and their work. People, please.) Last week, I mentioned the upcoming interview to my music theory/piano teacher, Stephen Dewey, and instead of spending the hour on the Cycle of Fifths, we talked about Stravinsky. He loaned me his copy of the Norton Anthology of Western Music: Volume II, which includes the orchestral score for Part 2: “The Adoration of the Earth, Dances of the Young Girls.” 

Having never seen an orchestral score, I was able to follow along while listening to the Stravinsky recording only by counting very fast and running my finger across the page. So many staves, so many notes, so many instruments! This is the score Sarah Hicks will use when she conducts the Minnesota Orchestra.

Earlier today, I stumbled through Iverson’s Stravinsky essay, “Mixed Meter Mysterium,” in which it’s obvious he has steeped himself in Stravinsky, listening to every recording and reading every book, biography, and critical essay he could find. I imagined his personal Stravinsky library when he wrote “I opened up the score of Ode while listening to Stravinsky’s recording….”

Then I followed a link on Iverson’s blog in his post, “Read, Rite, and Blew,” to another review of the Duke premiere, this one by a roundtable of composers and Ph.D. candidates in music. My eyebrows flew into my hairline when I read these words by Aaron Johnson from Columbia University: “Honestly, projects like this always run the risk of the most pandering aspects of ‘jazzin’ the classics.’ We know jazz musicians have musical interests beyond jazz, but what do they bring to a project like this?”

While I don’t want to get into a pissing contest with Mr. Johnson—a Ph.D. candidate in music would wipe the floor with me—he might have done a little preparing of his own before making that careless comment about jazz musicians. Every jazz musician I know has musical interests way beyond jazz. For starters, it’s a survival skill. However, I do thank Mr. Johnson for later pointing out the connection between Bernard Hermann’s Psycho score and Stravinsky’s Rite. Now I’m hearing Stravinsky everywhere.


Photo taken May 21, 2006, on Isola di San Michele in the Venetian lagoon.