New Live Album… Recorded Last Week!

Ahh, the future – it’s a wonderful place to live.

So, as I said in my last post, our live set up now has a MOTU Ultralite soundcard at the heart of it, is wired with all super-high-quality Evidence Audio Cables and on this tour we’ve got killer live sound from QSC K8 speakers. Which all adds up to us being able to record ourselves, multitracked, on every gig, and to play very well given the consistently marvellous sound that we have at the shows.

So here’s our brand new live album, Live So Far: Continue reading “New Live Album… Recorded Last Week!”

Our US Trip So Far…

We’ve been in the US nearly 2 weeks and this is my first blog post – what a bad blogger I am!

Anyway, we’ve had 4 shows so far and met up with friends old and new, having our usual fabulous time. We started out in Brooklyn, playing a house concert hosted by an American friend met in London. It was a great night, not least of all because it was a chance for Samantha (the host) to talk about The Urban Collective Project – a fabulous music industry social enterprise that has been a great success in the UK and is now launching in the US. Continue reading “Our US Trip So Far…”

Todd Reynolds' EP…

Those of you who saw Todd Reynolds play at the Recycle Collective last year already know what a genius he is, but for those of you who don’t, you owe it to yourselves to head over to the CDbaby page for his new EP and have a listen to the previews – layer upon layer of beautiful violin playing, looped and processed into a gorgeous soundtrack, bearing the influence of both his many years in Steve Reich’s ensemble and his time with Bang On A Can.

More recently, Todd’s been touring with the cooler-than-cool The Books, both opening the shows on his own, and playing with them in their set. He’s all set to become huge, and you’ve got the chance to get his EP now ($6 – that’s £3, for 3 really great tracks, which are a lot longer than your average pop single too) – go over to the CDbaby page, have a listen, but it, then come back and thank me… :o)

Steve Reich finale

Last night was the final night of the Steve Reich 70th Birthday concert series at The Barbican. As you know, I saw The Cave on Thursday, and the wonderful Todd Reynolds was working hard to try and find me a ticket for the sold out show on Sunday. Eventually I get an email telling me there’s one there for me, but it’ll be £30. Fair enough says I, £30 is a bargain to see such a fab gig.

So i arrange to meet Todd, head down to the Barbican and buy my ticket for £30. Takes a while to find Todd, at which point he tells me he’s managed to get me a free ticket! yay! So we return the £30 one and get a refund, and Todd takes me in to see about 5 minutes of a rather lacklustre performance of ‘Electric Counterpoint’ – one of my favourite Steve Reich pieces, but SO not done justice by the dude playing it at the Barbican.

After that , I settle down to watch a bit of The Bang On A Can All Stars on the free stage, but the sound is pretty rough, so Todd and I head off on a futile search for food, find none, he heads off to eat backstage, I head off to collect my comp ticket. Run into Harriet, who played musical saw on the gig with Stephen Daltry earlier on in the year, and to Catherine, wife of MKS, whose grandfather had provided the poetry for the Gavin Bryars piece being premiered… ’tis a small world, to be sure.

Anyway, enough waffle – the gig. Three pieces, cello counterpoint, live cello to 6 or 7 pre-recorded cellos (with video in this case) – started shakily, suspect intonation etc, got much better as it went on. Daniel Variations – the Reich piece commissioned for the festival – for his usual chamber orchestra and four voices, which was excellent, a lovely piece of music. The words seemed rather superfluous (one of the Daniels referred to it the title was Daniel Pearl, the reporter kidnapped and killed in Iraq, and the ‘tribute’ to him was to use the words ‘my name is Daniel Pearl’ – sadly, that phrase as a standalone to an english audience will often end up in the last two words being substituted for ‘Michael Cain’.) – didn’t seem to offer any real tribute to Daniel, or comment on his death or anything. But I guess I don’t listen to Steve Reich for the lyrics.

Which, in the case of ‘music for 18 musicians’ is probably just as well – it’s Reich’s masterpiece, and his best known work, and it’s incredibly hypnotic, a total monster of a piece to perform (the marimba ostinatos are swapped between a number of musicians, as I don’t think one person could keep up that for an hour). Anyway, it was fantastic – I’m told by a couple of people who’ve seen it a number of times that it wasn’t a great version of that piece, but it sounded good to me!

the aftershow was a nice affair, nice to chat to Todd, Brad, David Sheppard (former StevieStudent who was doing an incredible job of the sound), and then to catch the last tube home… All in all a great night out, and lots cheaper than I’d planned too!

Steve Reich – the Cave, The Barbican, last night.

A lovely evening last night, spent with Todd Reynolds – violinist extraordinaire, who’s in town playing violin as part of Steve Reich’s ensemble in the concert series celebrating Steve’s 70th birthday. Last night’s show was The Cave, a multimedia piece based in interviews with Jews, Muslims and Americans from lots of backgrounds about Abraham and the story of his first two sons – Ishmael and Isaac. The music is all based on the rhythms and cadences of the voices, and as such changes time signature, key and tempo every couple of bars. Without doubt some of the most insanely complex and difficult to perform music I’ve ever come across. I can’t even begin to imagine how they pulled it off. The conductor, Brad Lubman, was outstanding, conducting in different meters with each hand, cueing the singers, seemingly random piano chords, and the rest of the ensemble. By no means an easy experience, largely due to it’s length and the changes in time, the music itself was actually fairly accessible, probably because the vocal cadences humanised the whole thing.

And once again, it confirmed for me what an incredible musician Todd is – having now seen him play with his former quartet, Ethel, with Joe Jackson and Todd Rungren, play solo at the Recycle Collective, improvising at the RC, playing ‘lead guitar’ with the Michael Gordon band, and now this crazy music with Steve Reich, he’s clearly one of the most remarkable musicians I’ve ever encountered. And one of my favourite people. Leo and I went down early to meet Todd for dinner before the gig, which was truncated by a 6.30 soundcheck, but after the gig Todd and Conductor-Brad both came over to the pub for a drink before heading out to Steve Reich’s birthday celebrations. A marvellous evening all round, great people, amazing music, out of this world playing and conducting, and fantastic company in the form of Leo, Todd, Brad and Julian (Seigel – top sax bloke who was at the gig too, and met us in the pub after). Great stuff.

There are a few more Steve Reich gigs on – go if you can. He’s America’s most important living composer of New Music, and a huge influence on so many people – when I was 17 and studying music AS level, he was composer of the week radio 3, and I recorded it every day and listened to those tapes over and over, writing a series of minimalist-style pieces, including a serial minimalist piece for cello and marimba, that I remember being quite good, but my memory is pretty much certainly better than the actual thing… Still, the shifting textures of so much of Steve’s work is there in much of the loop stuff I do, so it was great to finally see some of his music live.

Good times, bad times..

My what a mixed up week!

Starting with the screwed up car – bad times.

Then Tuesday I had a rehearsal with Julie for our gig at the National Theatre on the 31st – got lots of songs done, including songs by Green Day and The Cure. It’s going to be a fab gig. – good times.

Wednesday was another great rehearsal, this time with Andrea Hazell – Andrea’s only improv experience before this was onstage at Greenbelt last year with me, so she came round for a run through before thursday’s RC gig. Working through various ideas we found that Dido’s Lament by Purcell worked beautifully when looped and layered over ambient mush! – good times.

Which leads us to Thursday and the RC gig. The day started with renting a car – Enterprise do a scheme where they pick you up for free as well, which was nice. I then set off to pick up Todd from Peckham. When, after an hour and a half I hadn’t reached the river, I had to admit defeat to the traffic and head back home, leaving Todd to get the bus to the gig! – bad times, but at least I got to have a listen to the whole of the new album on the in-car CD player and check out what it sounds like in another situation. it’s pretty damned fine sitting in traffic music!

Anyway, came home, loaded the rental car, with gear and TSP, and headed down to Darbucka. Got there nice ‘n’ early, got set up and sound-checked, and even the sound check was sounding lovely. It’s safe to say, that this Recycle gig was one of my all time favourite gigs. Y’all know by now the the RC is ALWAYS stunning, but this perhaps even eclipsed the others. I started solo, with a glitch-free version of ‘Behind Every Word’ (first time that my opening tune at the RC has gone off without a hitch)… However, the loop gremlins just hid until my second track – some weirdness going on in ‘FRHU’ but it was still fun. Followed that with ‘Grace And Gratitude’, then got Andrea up to join me. We did two long pieces – the first a wordless improv, and the second was the Purcell – the purity, clarity and power of Andrea’s voice makes for a completely unique duo experience. Like so many people, the harshness of bad opera has left a bad impression on me, but working with Andrea shows just how good operatic vocals can be when performed by a world class singer. A total joy.

After the break, Todd Reynolds was on. I already knew Todd was amazing, world-class. I wasn’t quite prepared for just how awe-inspiringly amazing he would be as a solo performer. This was, without a doubt, one of the greatest virtuoso performances I’ve ever seen – it’s hugely inspiring to watch someone play who has obviously dedicated such a super-human amount of time, energy and love to being right at the top of their game. I can count on one hand the performers I’ve ever seen of equivalent levels of skill and beauty in their playing – Gary Husband, Show Of Hands, Antonio Forcione, Michael Manring… it’s a tiny tiny select group that serve as a wake-up-call to the rest of us to up our game considerably. I don’t think I’ve ever heard violin played like that live, even on video. It was a fairly small crowd for the RC, but every single one of the people there got a major treat checking out Todd’s magic.

And then the improv bit at the end, the musical equivalent of a 70s wrestling ‘royal rumble’, only a bit more gentle and considered. For this, the three of us were joined half way through by Julie, and the transition from the layers and layers of Andreas’ huge expansive voice fading across to the intimate exquisite layers of humming from Julie was definitely one of my favourite improv moments ever.

How lucky am I? Definitely Good Times.

And then today. I took the rental car back, they found a stone-dent in the back door (was it there when I got it yesterday? I didn’t see it…) and charged me £75 for it, making a grand total of £105 for the day’s car rental. Bollocks. Bad times. Then, just as I arrive home, the garage calls and tells me my car’s ready – £666,69. I’m not sure if the number’s significant, but it’s certainly an evil amount of money. Still, they are a fantastic and trustworthy bunch of guys, and it was really nice to get back in our car. It’s the first time ever that the switch from rental car to own-car hasn’t been a disappointment. This is one lovely car, and even with the blown gasket, I’m still hugely grateful to the lovely G and J for selling it to us for a solo-bass-wages sized sum. So bad times on the cost, good times on getting it back.

Then I come home and finally start to tackle the monumental task of tidying my office. – scary times. The problem is, I’m halfway through and need to somehow make it so I can teach in it tomorrow! arrrrggghhh!

Good times, bad times, you know I had my share…

Two gigs

one mine, one not mine.

Thursday morning I get an email from Todd Reynolds – the amazing violinist who’s doing the RC gig next week – asking if I wanted to go and see him playing at the QEH with the Michael Gordon band that evening. Of course I did!

Got to the gig slightly late due to lack of parking spaces, but walked in to the lovely sound of Max De Wardener and his band. The fact that he was playing Cloud Chamber bowls (a Harry Partch-invented instrument) warmed me to the group anyway, but the music was sublime. Really gorgeous ambient, occasionally minimalist contemporary classical stuff, but with a kit drummer which gave it a post-rock feel at times. Magical stuff.

And Michael Gordon’s band similarly occupied a space between chamber music and post rock, but way more to the RAWK end. I was actually quite surprised as how conventional the assignment of the roles in the band was – bass playing low notes, drums playing typical kit rhythms, keyboards playing pads and ostinatos, guitar doing big guitar and twiddling and violin as the dominant solo voice… not much swapping around within that, but I guess those are the parameters that Michael has set himself to work within, and the music was fantastic. At times majestic, scary, subtle, gentle, bombastic and very clever. A most enjoyable gig. Definitely the kind of thing that would appeal just as much to fans of God Speed You Black Emperor or Sigur Ros as to those of Michael Nyman, Philip Glass etc.

Friday was the me-gig. Well, not just me – it was a duo gig with lovely saxophonist, Andy Williamson. The gig was at Merton College in Oxford, where Andy had studied some time in the late 17th century, and was part of their arts festival.

Merton College is a gorgeous place, though it definitely looks more like Hogwarts than a place to learn modern stuff. I was half expecting to see Prof. Sprout or someone wander out of one of the ancient doorways. The big strangeness was being around students again – the thought that they’re almost young enough to legally be my kids was very strange, particularly when Andy and I nipped into the bar (£2.10 for a G&T and an orange juice???? how do they make any money at all??)

Anyway, the gig went very well – we only had half an hour to play, and the set list was –

Grace And Gratitude (me solo)
Amo Amatis Amare – (andy joined in, doing a fab job on this)
Scott Peck – (a rather different version with extended sax ending with lots of loopage that faded out and left Andy to wander up the venue playing a GORGEOUS unaccompanied sax solo, using the natural ambience of the room to mesmeric effect.)
Lovely – (Andy learnt Theo’s sax line note for note, only played on tenor instead of soprano. Another great job.
and to finish, we did People Get Ready, which we’d played together at the Edinburgh Festival last year.

All in all a top gig – Andy acquitted himself admirably, played a blinder, and the audience seemed to enjoy it. Much fun, hopefully to be repeated fairly soon!

Weekend of musical friends

So, Friday was the last commuter jazz gig (or ‘computer jazz’, if you’re the chief exec. of the South Bank) before the big refurb kicks in at the end of Meltdown at the end of June. Peter King was playing, and was marvellous – very fine saxophonist, even if he does play alto (not a big fan of alto, generally – it’s just a tenor sax for kids) – and the aforementioned malapropism-prone chief exec. did a lovely speech about lady jazzshark who as previously mentioned has been booking bands at the RFH since prehistoric days, and will be much missed.

So, naturally, sharky person had a big party afterwards, at a friend’s GORGEOUS flat overlooking the Thames along by Blackfriars bridge. That’s one hell of a view to wake up to each morning, for sure. Much celebration took place, and by all accounts no small about of debauchery, though I left at 10.30, so thankfully missed all that.

Saturday was a fun day – started by meeting up with the wonderful Todd Reynolds – an outstanding violinist, and truly lovely wonderful person. Todd and I have exchanged emails and been reading eachother’s posts to Loopers Delight for years, but hadn’t met, so it was great to put a face to an email address and spend the day filling in the gaps. We went back down to the RFH Foyer for the last Saturday gig before the closure (and therefore JazzShark’s last saturday gig) – many fragile hung over people there from the party the night before (fools… ;o) ) – and a lovely short film about a couple in their 70s who meet at the free gigs in the foyer to dance together.

After that, gave Todd the shortened tourist trip round central London (interesting that my tourist trips never take in Buckingham Palace – maybe my anti-royalist sentiments are spilling over into my appreciation of what’s valuable to see in town. I always take people past Downing Street and along Whitehall (the seat of our sham-democracy) and Trafalgar Square (site of many a kick-ass protest) and down to the South Bank (home of the arts), but ignore any of the Royal nonsense, unless it’s for a quick walk round St James’ Park.

I digress… A fantastic day spent wandering round with Todd, all in. Top bloke, fun day.

Then home, to pick up TSP to head out to Lizzie’s leaving do, only TSP is behind on writing work (TSP is high powered celeb journo, interviewing the great and good about all things healthy), so I leave cinderella at home and head off to the ball on my own.

Lizzie is one of life’s lovely people – a fantastic photographer/photo journalist, and very funny lady. Party was full of lovely people, naturally, with no repeats of Friday night’s debauchery (totally different group of friends here…) So good send off for Lizzie, but crap that she’s moving (only to Bristol, so we’ll still see lots of her, but still…)

Sunday – head off to church, but it’s an ‘away match’ (meaning that a family from outside the church are having a christening – though it turns out they were from the church, I just didn’t know them – major black mark against my name for not having said hi to them!!) anyway – decide to go for fry-up at nice cafe on the Holloway Road was Gawain instead. Gawain is a marvellous producer/programmer/musician who has got heavily into community music education and is doing amazingly well. Very inspiring to talk to, with lots of plans for collaborative stuff.

Then home, domestic stuff, drop mixing desk off at St Luvvies to be used at Soul Space service before heading to Finsbury Park tube to meet up with BJ and Juliet to go to Joe Jackson/Todd Rungren gig at Hammersmith homebrew Apollo or whatever it’s called this week.

The reason BJ and I are at the gig is that the lovely Todd Reynolds who I met up with on Saturday is playing with his amazing string quartet Ethel as opening act and collaborator with Joe and Todd (BJ played with Todd in John Cale’s band in the 90s). Juliet had a ticket anyway, so Todd got her an aftershow pass and we all piled down to the gig together.

Ethel kicked out – wow. Incredible energy and performance, and great gig. They looked great, played great, the music was magic and the audience were captivated.

Then Joe Jackson came on – now I’m quite a fan of Joe’s singles collection (playing at the moment, in an attempt to rescue my memory of his music), but the gig was poor. Very poor. The sound was very compressed, and solo voice and piano versions of his uptempo stuff didn’t, to my ears, work at all. The new material was particularly bad. Some of his piano playing was lovely, but the overall feeling was one of big disappointment.

So a lot was rest on Todd Rungren’s shoulders. And he didn’t rise to the occasion either. The songs all sounded thrown away, I couldn’t remember one snippet of melody at the end of any of them, his guitar sound was possibly the worst I’ve ever heard at a ‘big’ gig, and again I was left contemplating self harm as a more pleasant sensory experience than the assault my ears were currently being subjected to.

Then, all change once again. Ethel come back on, and we’re back to the gig being amazing – a Gilbert and Sullivan tune, a couple each from Joe and Todd and an encore of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (after Todd’s solo set I wanted to rename it ‘While My Guitar is Gently put through a wood-chipper’) – I’ve never seen a couple of aging rock stars so outrageously upstaged by a string quartet in my life. If the gig had been 40 minutes of Ethel, followed by 80 minutes of all five of them on stage playing a mixture of hits and misses, it could have been a breathtaking gig. As it was, it was two hours of dire self-indulgent horse-shit topped and tailed by two exquisite but far too short sets.

Ethel were a revelation, and are destined for hugeness. Please go and buy their CD, I guarantee you won’t regret it.

After all-too-brief chat with Todd after the gig, with just enough time to introduce him to Juliet and blag a copy of the Ethel album, it was time to hop on the last tube home.

Soundtrack – Joe Jackson, ‘Stepping Out – The Best Of’.