Tuesday, October 12, 2010

this and that

I've been losing readers by not updating the blog, so I guess I have to get back into if I want the blog to stay alive. I generally post when I have a new album coming out, and I do. It is called "Jazz Brasil" and features 2010 NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron, along with Nilson Matta, who co-produced it, on bass and Marcello Pellitteri on drums and percussion. The picture is of the guys at the session. That's Nilson to my right, Marcello up front and the jazz master, in fact as well as in name, Kenny Baron on other side of me. The timing couldn't be better. The album was actually recording in 2009 before I recorded "Timbasa." After listening to both recordings, Randy Klein the president of Jazzheads, decided to put "Timbasa" out first since my last album for the company "Lua e Sol" was Brazilian jazz. I agreed with him since I was sure that "Timbasa" would be well-received and reconnect me with the Latin jazz radio stations that had pushed "Con Alma" up to number one on the radio play charts. Waiting to release "Jazz Brasil" ended up being perfect timing. Hopefully the album coming out soon soon after Kenny got the Jazz Master award will give it that extra boost.

Not that it needs is. I think the music stands on its own two feet. I felt a lot of pressure playing with Kenny, but you would never know it from the finished product. The album is relaxed, swinging and musical throughout. Playing with Kenny Barron enabled me to return to my bebop roots and he loves playing Brazilian jazz, a motivating factor in his doing the date with me. Kenny is a complete professional as was everyone else and the session went like clockwork. Once again, no rehearsals, head arrangements in the studio and a natural blending of very compatible players. We played a mixture of jazz standards by Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, some originals and tunes by the best of the Brazilian composers, Ary Barroso and Jobim. We also did a cover of one of Herbie Mann's biggest hits, "Memphis Underground." I spent few years playing with Herbie when I was a trombone player and Nilson played with and loved Herbie Mann. It was his idea to play a Herbie cover, something I would have never thought of doing. It's worth remarking that the Brazilian musicians who played with Herbie really love him . Romero Lubambo calls him 'my American father.' Both he and Nilson say that I remind them of Herbie when I play. I can't see the similarity; my concept, playing world music with the best musicians I can get is straight out of Herbie's playbook. I see him as the source of how I see the flute in jazz, but honestly, I don't see myself as sounding like him at all. Part of it is that I can't swing as hard as he did. Very few people can. Herbie could swing and bring an audience to its feet. The album I recorded with him called "Standing Ovation at Newport" is a case in point.

One of big crowd pleasers we played was called 'Mushi, Mushi,' which is how you say 'hello' on the phone in Japan (Herbie was very big in Japan). It featured Patato on conga and the two bones. It was the last tune on our set at Newport. But instead of stopping the tune when it was finished, Herbie kept on playing by himself. The band had ended big, but before the people could applaud, there is Herbie standing in front of microphone, doing his patented hip-movements, and playing air. That's right AIR. He is just blowing into the flute, making no sound other than the percussive effects of his tongue and the air into the microphone. Actually Jimmy Guiffre, the clarinetist, did that on a few recording, using air, tonguing and key clicks in a very subdued and almost hypnotic way. Herbie, on the other hand, was kickin'. Patato went to the apron of the large Newport stage and started clapping on 2 and 4. The audience picked it up, a perfect rhythm section of thousands of people, and not with a rock drummer slamming back-beats, but with Herbie Mann swingin' the shit out of air. They wouldn't let us off of the stage, which was slightly embarrassing as the next act was an all-star band led by Earl 'Fatha' Hines, and featuring greats from the 30's and 40's. Herbie certainly could swing.

I on the other hand am obsessed with what I call 'saxophone' standards, to play changes and make a harmonic as well as melodic contribution. I recorded "Memphis Underground" on bass flute to keep comparisons with Herbie to a minimum. Another tune we recorded also has a strange history. Nilson played with Joe Henderson and he suggested we play "Isotope," a favorite of his when he played with Joe. I also played with Joe when he had a big band in New York in the 60's It was right after Thad Jones/Mel Lewis became a big Monday night draw at the Village Vanguard and another west village club, the Half Note, started to use big bands one night a week as well. I played with a number of big bands there, Clark Terry, Duke Pearson and Kenny Durham but playing with Joe Henderson's big band was something else. For one thing we only had about a half dozen arrangments so to play a whole night, Joe had to figure something out. For one thing he played duets with Lee Koenitz, when of the all-time most transcendental experiences of live music I have ever experienced sitting on the bandstand (another was Chick Corea accompanying Johnny Hartman when Herbie's band played the Apollo Theatre). Joe's charts were all tenor sax features and Joe would open them up the last set, letting other members of the band be the featured soloist. My feature was on "Isotope." What goes around comes around.

The album with Kenny Barron will be available shortly (its release date is November 9th) although we won't be doing promotion until after the first of the year. I'll talk more about the date when I have the recording and put up some tracks on myspace.

The other reason that I have for writing another blog is that a live video of me surfaced. I played a concert at Montclair State University with Jeff Kunkel who is head of the jazz department there. Bill Mooring is on bass and Rogerio Boccatto is on drums. I'm playing the melody on bass flute and solo on alto. The tune is an original by Jeff.

There may be something weird with the video on your screen. I noticed that although the entire video shows on the preview page, the right side (with me) is cut off on the webpage itself. If you double-click on it it goes to myspace and you get to see me as well as the other guys.

I have something else to report, although it is not related to my music. I finished a first draft of a book based on my recent work in logic and reflecting a number of earlier publications. The reason I'm mentioning it is that it is a significant accomplishment and one that I have been putting off for years. Pressure from my job gave me the basic incentive and my son Jack, the philosopher, showed me how to do it. He said, 'guys who publish aren't smarter, they just do the work.' And so I did the work. The funny thing is that I get totally into writing when I do it. Basically, when I'm home I'm at my desk practicing. I keep the computer on, occupying myself during endless long-tones and scales by reading the news and etc. I keep track of emails that way so that they don't build up, using small tasks like answering mail to break up the practicing into reasonable units without taxing my chops. But what has been happening since I got back from giving logic papers at conferences this summer is that I sit down at the computer in the late morning with my flute on a stand next to me and if I open a file for a book chapter I get completely engrossed. When things were coming to a head with a chapter I would find myself in the evening without having touched my flute. I have completely lost track of time for over 8 hours in the past several weeks while I became totally absorbed in writing. I find myself not even having started to practice at 10pm or later, having spent a whole day in 'logic land.' It is a strange place to be in. Totally absorbing. And strangely, no matter how difficult it is, and I have been dealing with technical stuff far above my pay grade (catching up with the latest developments in logic with skills from the 1970's), it is far less of a struggle than articulating in the lowest half octave on the flute. Philosophy comes very naturally to me, and music has always been hard work. Yet, my whole self-concept, my aspirations and my desire to make a lasting contribution are all involved with being a jazz musician. Strange to say, although philosophy has been very good to me and I think that my work is reasonable important, music is still at center of how I see myself and ultimately it is what I see as the accomplishment of my life. Go figure!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

what I did last summer

I haven't posted a new blog in quite some time, but "I'm back," as they say. I didn't post for a number of reasons. For one thing I wanted the post on "Timbasa" to stay up since the album was doing quite well on the Jazzweek radio charts and I wanted the discussion of the session to be available. Interest in "Timbasa" is still strong as evidenced by a recent interview. But the main reason was that I didn't do much during the summer. I worked a few gigs but didn't move on any major projects. For the other thing I was very busy doing a lot of different and time-consuming things. I contradict myself, I'm allowed; my PhD is in logic (actually formal philosophy of science).

I never talk about my other life, except tangentially when I discuss the topic of this blog, my dream to make a contribution to jazz as a flutist. But my other life, my PhD and my full-time job as a professor in a department of educational foundations is an integral part of the whole story. For one thing it pays me a middle class salary and being tenured, the money just keeps on coming in (unless something happens that forces me to retire-- my greatest fear at this point in my life). Plus being divorced and with grown children I can spend my salary anyway I want to, and I want to make records. That is not to say that my recordings aren't a business venture, they are. They are just about the lousiest business venture imaginable. Luckily there is no law in the tax code that says you have to be a smart business man, or even a reasonable one. Only a damn fool expects to make money selling jazz records. But there are lots of us out there trying, musicians putting every available dollar into recordings and jazz record labels willing to accept a marginal return on their investment of time and money for love of the music. My records sell, and I record for a wonderful label, Jazzheads, which has even received the recognition due to a company that earns a Grammy nomination (for Bobby Sanabria's album "Kenya Revisited Live!"). All that said, it is my full professor's salary that fuels my music habit and so a significant part of my life is dedicated to teaching and the requirement that any self-respecting academic must publish.

This summer, like every summer I taught a full schedule to earn extra money, but I also had a number of conference papers to give in the areas that I publish in, logic and argumentation theory (practical logic as evidenced in people reasoning together). That meant that I had to write papers and do some traveling. Nicely the conferences were is great places, Corsica and Amsterdam. The Amsterdam conference on argumentation meets every four years and I have been to every one since the late '80's. I love Amsterdam and I got to celebrate my 70th birthday in Vondelpark, nicely toasted playing my flute. But I also had to do the work and the paper (elaborating the history of the Periodic Table of Elements as an example of argumentation that leads to truth), required quite a bit of work since I needed to support my position with historical facts as well as logical analysis. The paper in Corsica was pure logic, the application of a theory of truth that I have been actively presenting for a number of years to the problem of counter-examples to scientific generalizations (evidence that goes against a seemingly correct theory). Piece of cake!

Corsica was the sort of adventure I loved when I was younger. The trip included a flight, a ferryboat ride across the Mediterranean, a ride along the coast in a narrow gauge railroad and a bus that went pretty much straight up the mountains, going from a hot sea-side climate to a high mountain town surrounded by bare mountain peaks and moving through pine forest and Alpine meadows all in the space of hour. But at 70 and traveling by myself I was full of trepidation. Worse, there was almost two weeks between the conferences and that meant not playing for almost 3 weeks, unless I could go somewhere where I could get together with musicians. I looked at a map and Israel seemed next door to Nice from where I was taking the ferry for Corsica (actually it turned out to be a long flight since all of flights in expedia.com within Europe and heading to to Tel Aviv seem go through Riga, Latvia a hub in Eastern Europe).

I had never been to Israel despite my deep involvement with Judaism. One reason was that like all Jews I have mythologized Israel and I was afraid of the emotional impact of my trip and the consequences it might have if I really felt drawn to the land. The contradictory emotion was that, as a long-time left leaning kind of guy, I was appalled by the political situation especially in the last decade as Israel skidded hard right in response to the second Intifada. I just let a tune of mine from an old album of Jewish jazz called "Shifra Tanzt" be used for a compilation CD called "Klezmer Musicians Against the Wall," although I required that the following be included on the album back cover.

That's a scan from the prayer book I use after eating. The cool parchment effect is actually grease stains from my hands over the years.

Anyway, Israel proved just the ticket since a dear old friend who lives in Jerusalem was friends with Steve Peskoff. Steve, a guitarist and native New Yorker, has lived in Israel since the 80's, is extremely active performing and a faculty in a number of jazz programs in Israel. Steve knew of my recordings and we both were looking forward to doing some playing. The trip to Israel was wonderful and playing with Steve as a high point both musically and personally. I made a video playing alone in a park overlooking the old city and one of the reasons I delayed in writing a blog was that I was waiting for the video so I could post it with my description of the trip to Israel. That is still in process so I'll save Israel stories for my next blog.

When I returned from my trip I was back to an intensive summer of teaching. I teach methods of empirical research to graduate students and although the teaching part is easy, reading and assessing student papers is very involving and time-consuming. The six week summer course meant putting all music projects on hold, although as indicated earlier I did get into local clubs and out door venues a few times. But nicely as things work out, my break between the summer and fall semesters was just the time that Aruán Ortiz was free and so we scheduled the recording sessions to finish "El Cumbanchero," my charanga project, for the last week in August.

The picture at the top of the post is the string section with Aruán and me in the center. The string players are (left to right) Everhard Paredes and Francisco Salazar, violins, Sam Marchand, viola and Brian Sanders, cello. Here is a picture of the rhythm section.

Again, left to right, Mauricio Herrera, timbales, conga and quiro, me, Aruán Ortiz, Yusnier Bustamante, conga and Yunior Terry, bass.

The session was rather difficult. Aruán's arrangements were complex rhythmically and harmonically and the musicians were not available for rehearsals, so we did a lot of preparatory work during the session. Teaching the rhythm section the charts took hours and the basic rhythm tracks took 11 hours to record. But the result was impressive. Aruán brought in three charts. The title tune, "El Cumbanchero," was a fast conga with a long flute solo. Another Cuban classic, "La Mulata Rumbera" was an innovative take on a classic tune which moved between a danzonet and a rumba. And an original tune, "Aruán's Co" which moved between rumba and conga and featured the latest addition to the rhythm section, Yusnier, who played quinto over Mauricio's conga (which was done after Mauricio laid down the basic drum track on timbales along with a bass drum played with the peddle ). Mauricio added an additional two tracks playing bomba (low drum) patterns on tom toms. Aruán played a wonderful piano solo which complemented the alto flute flute solo. Although the tracks were swinging and the drummers magnificent I didn't get the full effect until a few days later when Aruán brought in the string players to add the string parts on top of what we had done.

The string recording went a bit faster since the string quartet had rehearsed before hand. But, as always, the strings had problems playing with the tracks and struggling to play the complex harmonies and counterpoint that characterizes Aruan's writing for the date. And, as always, intonation problems required many takes before the string sound was as good as it needs to be. Aruán did not write standard charanga string parts. Using the string quartet gave Aruán the possibility to do some serious writing and his arrangements move the charanga concept to another level. The session took another 9 hours, but the result is amazing. Along with the two numbers, "El Cumbanchero" and "La Mulata Rumbera" (Aruán's original was without strings) Aruán brought in an arrangement for string quartet and bass flute of a Cuban classic, "Perla Marina," a deeply moving bolero melody by Sindo Garay played without drums, another break with tradition.

The session recorded last year included Aruán's rearrangements of two classic compositions from the repertoire of Arcaño y Sus Maravillas, "Doña Olga" and "Armoniosas de Amalia," plus two original compositions, one a danzón whose name is not finalized and a Latin jazz tune, Av Pintor Tapiro, which Aruán wrote when he was a student in the Conservatorio Municipal de Música de Vila-Seca, in Spain, as well as a lovely bolero, "Contigo en la Distancia" that I play on alto flute. These five and the four tunes recorded last week complete the album.

I began the process of mixing in the spring and faced a serious musical problem that I have yet to resolve to my satisfaction. Charanga bands generally have very simple string parts (Arcaño's arrangements written by Cachao are notable exceptions) generally written in unison or with simple harmonies and the strings support the flute rather than predominate. Aruán's arrangements, on the contrary, are complex string quartet writing, often reminiscent of Bartok. And so my tendency is to spread them out across the stereo spectrum and make them the focus of the music. But then where do I put the piano and drums? Latin music, whatever else it does, has to swing. And the rhythm tracks swing like crazy. But the string quartet changes the entire complexion of the music. Finding the right balance between the two will take time, and time costs money. So those full professor payroll checks are going to get a working over before this project is ready for public consumption.

Monday, January 18, 2010

here comes another

"Timbasa" is coming out! The release date is February 9th and Chris DiGirolamo who does promotion for Jazzheads is beginning to send out press releases and CD's, so I might as well do my bit. Timbasa is my 6th record for Jazzheads, the record label of my dreams. Total artistic freedom, emotional and musical support and a deep conviction that my music is worth putting out-- record after record in any genre that suits my moods and my abilities. Although I have recorded a wider range of music than my records on Jazzheads indicate, Randy Klein, Jazzhead's president, has never asked me to moderate or alter my recordings in typical jazz record company fashion-- make the same record over and over again. Instead I have been given the rare freedom that reflects that afforded to some of the very best musicians in the 60's, freedom to follow my muse and develop my music using as a wide a palette as the availability of musicians permits.

My first record for Jazzheads "Algo Más" was a radical departure from standard forms, mixing Afro-Cuban folkloric music with the contemporary electric guitar of master guitarist Jean Paul Bourelly and a choir of flutes. My next album, "O Nosso Amor" switched concept and venue, moving to Brazil for a quintet album of Brazilian standards and originals. It was a jazz album, but rooted in authentic Brazilian forms played by the best Brazilian musicians in New York, Romero Lubambo, Nilson Matta, Paulo Braga and Guilerhmo Franke. It was followed by an album of mainstream Latin jazz, "Con Alma," with Latin Jazz veteran pianist Mark Levine, a straight-ahead album "Straight No Chaser with guitarist Dave Stryker and most recently, an edgy Brazilian album with percussionist Cyro Baptista opening up a range of new possibilities for Brazilian jazz.

But there are continuities. Both "Algo Más" and "Con Alma" drew upon the brilliance of Pedrito Martinez, a master of Cuban drumming in all of its forms and the winner of the Thelonious Monk Award for hand-drumming the only time such an award has been given."Timbasa" is a album that Pedrito made possible. He picked the musicians from among his closest associates and led them through 16 hours of non-stop recording of some of the most amazing Afro-Cuban Jazz that anyone has ever heard. First the guys:

That's Mauricio Herrera who played drums, timbales and guiro, Ogduardo Diaz who played bongos and batá, me, concert, alto and bass flutes, pianist Axel Tosca Laugart, Pedrito who played congas, batá, timbales, bell and chekere and Panagiotis Andreou who played electric bass with vocals.

The recording came about because of mutual attraction. Pedrito suggested I do another project with him and I jumped at the chance. We had run into each other a few times, at a memorial service and Marty Cohen's (the founder of LP Percussion) birthday. I was over my head in recording. I had just recorded Jazz Brasil with Kenny Barron, Lua e Sol had still not been released and I was already thinking of recording tangos (a project that has morphed into two albums, as I will indicate shortly). But I could not resist Pedrito's interest in following up "Algo Más" and "Con Alma" with something 'completely different' as the Monte Python folks like to say. My response to Pedrito was that if he could find a piano player and bass player who played as good as he does, I'd be open to another project. He assured me that he had exactly the right people. I told him to bring two other drummers. Within a few days Pedrito was back to me, we could get the guys he wanted for two days, March 30-31, 2008. Two days before the session, Pedrito called me and told me he could only get the musicians for the 30th. I asked him whether he was sure we could record in one day ("Con Alma was also recorded in one long session) and he assured me we could. The musicians he picked were not only the best musicians around, but they were his musicians, the guys who he played with regularly. And furthermore, he had some material already worked out with the drummers that would be the spine of the project.

I decided that I would leave the details to be provided by the musical context. That is, we would just go into the studio and play. I told Pedrito that the musicians could bring in original material and I picked a handful of my all-time favorite Latin Jazz standards. The result is a strange and yet familiar album. The standards we ended up playing are as familiar to Latin Jazz enthusiasts as any songs could be, 'Milestones,' 'Footprints,' 'Watermelon Man' and 'Caravan.' Axel contributed a Chucho Valdez composition, 'A Ernesto,' Pedrito, two originals, 'Encuentro' and the title track 'Timbasa,' plus my tune from the original Cuban Roots, 'Just Another Guajira' and an Afro-Cuban rendering of classic Turkish folk melody suggested by Panigiotis that we call, 'Kavlakari Cubano.'

The musicians are on fire. The drum routines are complex and precise, the soloing spectacular and the swing is just killing. Beyond superlatives, I can't hope to describe the music, and fortunately I don't have to. The record is there for everyone to hear for themselves. I'll be putting up a few tracks on myspace on the release date. Until then you can click on the link and enjoy the tracks I have up from my album with Omar Sosa, "Tales From the Earth" and revisit tracks from "Lua e Sol" and "Straight No Chaser."

Bobby Sanabria was kind enough to write the liner notes, which he ends by saying, "Mark's musical encounters continue. As you listen to this CD he is already working on the next one, and the next..." How right he is! The project that I have been calling "Todo Corazón," the album of danzones and tangos written for me by Aruán Ortiz and Pablo Aslan, has morphed into two albums. The danzones sound so good that I can't resist doing an entire album with strings, and the only thing to do with half an album of tangos is do the other half. So the tango's will be "Todo Corazon" and I'm waiting for Aruán to write more arrangements for an album that will be called "El Cumbanchero." For those who recognize the name of the tune the direction for the rest of the album is indicated, burning, up-tempo charanga!