Frisell gig online

One of my students just forwarded me a link to Bill Frisell’s gig from the London Jazz Festival, on the BBC website – it’s a great gig, just a trio of Bill, Greg Leisz and Jenny Scheinman, playing a tribute to John Lennon. I’m told all the songs are John Lennon songs, but I don’t recognise most of them because a) I don’t own any Beatles albums and b) everything I’ve ever heard from Lennon’s solo career has been rubbish. Never ever understood the Eulogising over him as a songwriter, post-Beatles.

Still, Bill Frisell could do a tribute to The Reynolds Girls and make it worth listening to, so it’s fabulously interesting stuff. Go and have a listen!

Maybe one day I should get round to buying some Beatles albums – I used to own an early best of – I think it was called ‘A collection of Beatles Oldies’ or something. Dunno what happened to that. Maybe I should have a listen to Abbey Road or The White Album or something – I hear they’re quite good… ;o)

Soundtrack – Bill Frisell live at the London Jazz Festival.

Transparent Music

It can be a real pain in the arse when great albums go out of print – their fame doesn’t stop spreading, people don’t stop hearing them at friend’s houses, and what generally happens is that otherwise law-abiding non-CD-duping peoples start doing CDR copies for their friends.

So it’s always a cause for celebration when a classic gets reissued, especially when it happens because the artist has bought back the rights for their own work.

Such is the case with ‘Transparent Music’ by BJ Cole – a classic near-ambient album of stuff a long way from his recent excursions into IDM/Breakbeat/noisy stuff. Transparent Music is a collection of tracks that highlight the impressionistic, floaty meditative side of the pedal steel in a way that pretty much no other steel player has ever done. Listening to BJ’s arrangements of works by Debussy, Ravel and Erik Satie it’s hard not to imagine that these guys would have been writing for the pedal steel had it been invented during their lifetimes, such is the remarkable stylistic fit of the instrument’s timbre and early 20th century impressionism.

BJ’s own tracks sit beautifully alongside those arrangements, and the whole effect is mesmerising. It’s available to order from BJ’s website and I thoroughly recommend it… or you’ll be able to buy it from him at the Recycle Collective gig at Darbucka on january 12th (shit, that’s next week!)

SoundtrackBJ Cole, ‘Transparent Music.

Best Christmas records….

Robert Elms phone-in this morning on BBC London was top three christmas records. So I texted mine in which are –

1 – Cry Of A Tiny Babe by Bruce Cockburn
2 – River by Joni Mitchell
3 – Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty McCall (not the dreadful new version with Katie Melua which is only available as a download, the original which has just been re-released for a fantastic cause – – the Justice For Kirsty campaign)

there you go – post your top three in the comments.

Looperlative is back again!

My Looperlative arrived back today, fixed from my having ballsed it up last time, and with a software upgrade.

So I’ve been experimenting, and used it while teaching. I’m getting the hang of the way it operates, and am still compiling my list of things I’d like it to do – the great thing about it having the ethernet port on the back is that bob can keep the list, implement the list in order of how important the modification is or how easy it is (I think some of the things I’ve suggested are going to be very easy indeed for a man with Bob’s wikkid skillz, while others are going to take some more complex programming…) I’ve also not hit on any bugs in the software as it stands, which is a great sign. I’m still getting used to the specific things that it can/can’t do at the moment, and what the workarounds are for the things I’m used to doing on the EDP.

It’s interesting how different bits of musical equipment reflect both the personality and preferences of their inventor – the Echoplex is very much Matthias Grob’s vision, and the way it operates is clearly derived from his musical world-view. The looperlative reflects Bob’s background, which thankfully looping-wise features a lot of me. :o) So the controls and way it works makes loads of sense to me already. The feeling of this only being the tip of the looperlative iceberg is pretty big though. The possibilities are enormous.

Anyway, enough blogging, more looping! This looping in stereo lark is amazing – just been playing a version ‘Highway 1’ from Not Dancing For Chicken, and for the first time ever I’m able to loop the sparkly bit at the beginning in stereo, so that ping-pong delay keeps ping-ponging all the way through… :o)

The privilege of making gorgeous music for a living.

Had a fantastic studio session today – overdubbing bass parts on some new tunes by BJ Cole and Davy Spillane. The tracks so far feature BJ on pedal steel, Davy on a collection of low whistles and pipes, and Guy Jackson on piano and keys. The combination of just these three is pretty intoxicating – gorgeous evocative sounds whirling around each other, both Davy and BJ embellishing all the tunes so they weave in and out of each other’s space even when they are playing in ‘unison’.

It was really nice to have such a full canvass on which to put what I do – so many recording jobs are bass and drums first, so there’s no knowing what’s going to happen on top. Here, the arrangements are pretty fixed, so the spaces that I had to play in were already in place. I did some stuff where I was playing one note in a bar, just playing the roots deep down on the B string of my Renaissance fretless, and other places where I was playing melodic fills and nice twiddly stuff up the top end of my Modulus fretless 6. Much fun. Now I’m looking forward to the gigs, when they happen!

Soundtrack – The Cure, ‘Greatest Hits’.

Strike a blow for the indies

That’s indie musicians, not the west or east indies. I mean, anything you can do for those indies would probably be much appreciated too, but I haven’t got time to get into that.

This week something marvellous occurred – the current number one single in the pop charts in the UK is ‘The JCB Song’ by Nizlopi (listen to it on their myspace page. They run their own label, have been gigging doggedly on the acoustic folky singer/songwriter scene in the UK for years, and write songs about childhood experiences, not getting jiggy or bling or whatever other nonsense usually populates the upper reaches of the chart.

And for months, there’s been this rumour going round the net that The JCB Song could be christmas number one. I can’t remember where I first heard it – a whisper from here or there. They had a page done with the video on it, which is a hand-drawn childish cartoon of a kid riding in a JCB with his dad (for the US readers, a JCB is a big mechanical digger). It’s beautiful. They’ve done an amazing job of evoking childhood with both the song and the video, and they’ve somehow got it to number one.

Like Show Of Hands managing to fill The Albert Hall, this is one of the most magical moments when real music invades the world of the shallow money-driven reality-tv horse-shit that populates the charts for the rest of the year. When some genuine talent sticks it’s head over the parapet and says ‘here’s a song you might really like, even without some godawful backstory told by the X-Factor to try and convince you that I’m just a roofer done good, living out his dreams, as opposed to a third rate karaoke singer with a dreadful backing track, lining Simon Cowell’s pockets.’

So, the big news is that yesterday I bought a song while it’s at number one for the first time since 1986! the last one was I think ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ by Falco, though it might have been Spitting Image’s ‘The Chicken Song’ – either way, I’ve still got them both. :o)

If Shane from X-Factor does make it to number one, it’ll be another one of those ‘Fairytale Of New York’ moments – a song that gets played everywhere every christmas due to it being one of the finest christmas songs ever written. But can you remember what was the christmas number on the year it was released? Fairytale was number two…

It’ll be the same with this – years to come, people will talk about Nizlopi, they’ll play the song and cry cos it’s gorgeous, and they’ll rue the day that some loser who ended up playing butlins within a year was at number one instead. UNLESS YOU BUY IT. Go on, it’s 79p on iTunes, or the other download services. Go and get it, strike a blow, enjoy the song, and feel like you’ve done something worthwhile.

'yeah, I listen to everything'

the daftest answer ever to the question ‘what music do you like?’ – it crops up a lot on MySpace – people who write under their music preferences ‘everything’ or ‘all kinds of music’. That’s rubbish.

I’ve got pretty extensive taste, but I dislike MOST music… There are literally millions of bands in the world. There are probably a few thousand that I quite like, and a few hundred that rock my world. A few dozen that have changed my life. That’s a pretty poor percentage. The thing that makes special music special is that we have to track it down. We look for it, we feel great not only because of what it is, but what it represents.

If I loved all music, it’d be like air. I don’t have favourite air. I might notice the sea air as being particularly bracing, but I don’t get bags of it shipped in, I don’t trawl ebay looking for Berwick on Tweed air just because it reminds me of my childhood. No, because all air is equally fantastic. Air is an amazing thing. It keeps me alive, I’d be very dead without it, and can’t say enough nice things about it. But it isn’t ‘special’.

Great music isn’t like air. There is a lot of great music out there, but you have to hunt for it. It’s rare that a major record label releases anything ‘great’. They often spoil potentially great things by sticking their lame-assed focus-group-led coked-up-executive-with-no-clue oar into the discussion, but they rarely let genuinely great records get through. That’s what makes Hejira so special. Or Songs In the Key Of Life, Plumb, Steve McQueen, Nothing But A Burning Light – they are amazing records on major labels. Extra kudos to Joni, Stevie, Jonatha, Prefab Sprout and Bruce for managing to get past the ‘hmm better make it a bit more shit just to make sure it gets on the radio’ moment…

So stop pretending that you’re into everything, or that you like ‘most music’ You don’t! You probably don’t even like the best of most styles of music – it takes a fairly broad set of ears to deal with the, um, idiosyncratic intonation of Chinese Opera, Tuvan throat singing, Tibetan Chanting, Ana music, or even Tom Waits at his most weird.

If you’re in a band, the likelihood is that it’s not going to rock my world. That’s not your fault, it’s just the law of averages. It shouldn’t stop you sending your CD out to people – I send mine out to all manner of people, safe in the knowledge that it’s not going to blow all of their minds. I hope some of them dig it, and am particularly grateful when people who aren’t already friends email me to say they really dig what I do. Last night, I got a text message from the lovely Jane who was listening to Grace And Gratitude and it was helping her out at the end of a tough day. A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a soldier who said it helped him through the tough time telling his folks that he had to go to Iraq. that stuff is worth a thousand people saying ‘yeah, I quite like your CD’.

It’s OK to not be blown away by everything, and people who don’t like your music aren’t losers with no taste. But remember to cherish everyone who is touched by what you do – it’s a huge privilege to be able to help soundtrack memorable times in people’s lives, whether it’s music that helps them celebrate, or comforts them in dark times, or just fits the occasion – one of my proudest musical moments is when a friend of mine took my CD in to be played while she was giving birth!

Let people know if their music means something to you – that’s one of the great things about having a blog; being able to big up great music, to get the word out about fab stuff that’s out there, the things that move me. And more often that not, the artists will find it while vanity searching, and drop me an email, which is always fun.

Cherish great music – it’s an honour not a birth-right.

Soundtrack – Iona, ‘Beyond These Shores’.

Ingrid Laubrock at the Vortex

Last night was my third time at the Vortex in a week – fourth time in two weeks – this time to see Ingrid Laubrock, who was there with her quartet – Seb Rochford on drums, larry bartley on bass and Barry Green on piano.

It was a much more ‘jazz’ gig than anything I’ve been to for a while, a ‘ting ting t-ting’ gig, but with plenty of interesting moments and some really interesting compositions. It’s really nice to hear a tenor player who’s not gone the Coltrane/Brecker route – Ingrid’s sound seems closer to a Dexter Gordon/Joe Henderson sound, which her compositions are more like 70s-miles mixed with 60s Wayne Shorter and a fair dose of avante garde weirdness. All good stuff.

The main attraction for me was seeing Seb Rochford play – I did a gig with Seb a while ago ( thought it was three years ago, he says less than two years… will have to check back into my old blog…) down in Brighton, with Tess Garroway, which was a fantastic experience. He was clearly a remarkable player then, and it’s been in my mind to get him involved in something every since (I haven’t worked with a drummer on a me-project since, so it still hasn’t happened…). Since then, he’s gone on to come one of the emerging stars of the British jazz scene, with his bands Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland – Polar Bear having been nominated for the Mercury Music Award this year, and Acoustic Ladyland having been on Jools Holland’s show.

His play with Ingrid was fabulously inventive, deconstructing the implied rhythm of the tune into shards of time that bore little metric relation to the initial pulse but carried the intention of the tune forward in a way that ‘normal’ jazz drumming just wouldn’t have done. Really inspiring playing.

Both Polar Bear and Ingrid’s band are playing a Christmas party on 15th december at “The Others”, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington. Sounds like it could be an amazing night.

[edit – the gig with Seb was Sept 17th 2003…]

Soundtrack – Peter Gabriel, ‘Up’.

the Vortex

Been spending far too much time at The New Vortex this last couple of weeks – last week I was there for Dudley Philips album launch gig, then Tuesday I went to see Lleuwen Steffan and her band. Last night was the Works.

Lleuwen is the singer on that welsh hymns album I was raving about last week – still getting lots of airplay here, definitely in my top 5 of the year. The gig on Tuesday was with her band, Acoustique, which featured, unbenownst to me until I got there, my buddy Owen Lloyd Evans on bass. Their set didn’t feature any of the hymn tunes, but did have a lot of originals, sung in Welsh that sounded a bit like a more funky, acoustic Bjork. Lovely stuff. They did a couple of standards, which were fine, but it was the welsh language stuff that really shone. Definitely one to look out for and see if you can.

the Works, formerly known as WoodWorks, is Patrick Wood’s marvellous band – Patrick is surprisingly little-known on the London jazz scene, despite his band acting as breeding ground for so many great musicians in the city – the list of who’s been in the band at one time or another is nuts, from John Etheridge to Andy Gangadeen, Cleveland Watkiss to Tony Remy.

The current line-up is Patrick on keys and guitar, Mark Lockheart on saxes and bass clarinet, Neville Malcom on bass and Nic France on drums. The tunes are lovely open forms that the band jam on and stretch out live – lots of eye contact and hardcore listening going on. The small audience were much appreciative, and hopefully they’ll be playing again soon so you can go see them too!

Both these gigs are yet more evidence that the London jazz scene is producing music of a quality to rival any jazz city on the planet. the Vortex is such a vital venue, and after the sadness of the original vortex closing, it’s great to have it back with the same eclectic booking policy in a great new venue in Stoke Newington. check out their online programme on the website and go see some stuff there!

I’ll almost certainly be back there tonight for Ingrid Laubrook’s quartet, featuring the marvellous Seb Rochford on drums.

And keep an eye out for Theo and I playing there in February.

Plan for today – some teaching this morning, Theo round this afternoon to plan our february tour promotion etc. Some bass practice/R&D for the album after that, and then to see Ingrid play tonight.

Soundtrack – The Pixies, ‘Bossanova’.