Archive | March, 2009

Bad Poetry for Tuesday

31 Mar

i may be getting on in years
but i’m no grandpa yet;
though all the same i’m shocked by all
the things that i forget

i forget my watch, forget my keys
forget my wallet with worrying ease
and anything else related to
my day-to-day activities

i forget to turn the light off,
i forget to dim my screen
i forget to kill the power;
it ain’t easy being green

i forget to check nextmuni
when i take the 6 parnassus
and so I wait, and when it comes
i forgot all my fast passes

i forget to double-knot my shoes,
and when they come unlaced,
i just hope that i forget to trip
and fall flat on my face

i forget to tune my horn up
i forget to wet my reed
i forget to check the roadmap
i forget to check the key

the actor with the claim to fame,
the star athlete
who won the game;
to my distress,
they’re all the same -
they slip, they slide, they won’t remain
within my fast-collapsing brain.

and though we were just introduced,
it seems that i’ve forgot your name.

sorry!

Do you ever wonder…

29 Mar

…where my favorite place to get a sandwich is in San Francisco? Or the name of the studio where I most enjoy recording music?

Well, thanks to Karen Palmer at the SF Examiner, now you know.

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The answer to that first one is a resounding "Kezar Bar & Grill."

Austin McMahon’s Album “Many Muses”

28 Mar

austinmcmahonSometimes I think it’s just nuts how many amazing musicians I know.  For real – it’s nuts.  At any given moment in time, there are at least four or five albums that require my attention, released by various players I went to school with or have played alongside in SF.  They’re all off the beaten path, ranging in genre from modern jazz to Baltic improvisation to dream-pop to hard rock. And to a one, they are all really, really good.

So, I decided that I’d take the opportunity to write a bit about some of them, to try to put into words just what I like about each album so much. My intention is not to post criticism or reviews, just to share a bit about some of my friends and the music they make.

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The first one I’ll tackle is a new album by drummer Austin McMahon. His debut solo record, it’s titled “Many Muses,” and holy balls, it is great.  Austin and I were in the same year at UMiami; well, I should say we started the same year. Austin was one of those overachieving types who showed up flush with AP credits and got his undergrad and his master’s in 5 years.  During that time, he became probably the most sought-after drummer at school, and it wasn’t because he had amazingly burning chops (he did), or because he could juggle his sticks while wailing on the double-bass pedal (I have not seen him do this, but I’m sure he can); it was because he was so musical in his playing, so deft and supportive with his choices, that he made anyone he was playing with sound better.  I’ve never heard a drummer so in tune with the bigger picture, so aware of the contours of the band around him – and neither had anyone else.

So, yeah. Austin is a freaking awesome drummer. His playing is on display on several other of my friends’ albums as well, each of which deserves (and will have) its own post on this blog. He plays beautifully on Kenji Shinagawa’s album “Perhaps, Drawing Again,” on Landon Knoblock’s record “The Heartbeat, The Breath,” and he plays his ass off on Carmen Staaf’s new disc “Reflection” (Carmen also plays piano and accordion on “Muses”).

But here’s the thing about “Many Muses” – while there is plenty of great drumming on this album, at its heart, this record is all about Austin’s compositions. More so than just about any record I’ve heard recently, this disc is a collection of melodies, tied together by an uncluttered and uncompromising vision and performed with an unbelievable level of dexterity and clarity.  These songs are really, really fucking good, with precisely-structured layers and wonderful, logical melodies.  I have heard Austin’s compositions before, and have always thought of him as a really musical dude, but this album has blown my reckoning of the man to a new level.

Take the opening track, “Vidrio.”  Does it get any cooler than this?  It’s got this awesome, lurching melody, and it just develops, develops, develops.  Or hell, listen to the ballad “Strife,” for an undiluted melody, played, appropriately, by Austin himself on the melodica, along with clarinet and arco bass.  Want to hear the drums take the melody on themselves?  Check out “I.O.U.”

It’s also cool that Carmen is playing on this record, since “Many Muses” feels a bit similar to her most recent record; it’s got clarinet, Austin on drums, intricately composed tunes, and has a number of shorter “interlude” pieces that make listening to the album much more of an experience than listening to any one track. Going along with the argument I made a few months ago, it stands to reason that as long as artists are making albums with this much consideration put towards the flow and experience of the record as a whole, the album as a musical form is not going anywhere.

This is an album I really like, made by someone I’m super-proud to know.  Do yourself a favor and buy this disc – it is an absolutely amazing work, loaded with beautiful melodies and outstanding, delicate musicianship.

Things I Am Loving Today

27 Mar

1) My AKG K240 Studio Headphones

I truly hope that no one needs my attention at the moment, because it is focused squarely on you, My AKG K240 Studio Headphones.  When I put on your large, soft, circumaural ear cups, the outside world melts away! Everyone says not to look for perfection in a partner, but with you, I don’t feel like I’m settling in any way – you really ARE perfect!  From your wide stereo field to your removable mini-XLR plug, you are the full package, My AKG K240 Studio Headphones.  What’s more, I could wear you all day, and never get listeners fatigue or sore ears. And now that you’ve been discontinued and replaced with a twice-as-expensive, worryingly different-looking “Mark II,” I cherish you all the more.  Would that I’d known, I would have bought five of you!  But alas, there is only you, My AKG K240 Studio Headphones; lucky you, you’ll get my whole heart, and both of my ears.

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Mmm, baby. XXL Transducers, indeed.

2) Trader Joe’s Columbia Sumatra House Blend

Roses are red, violets are blue, coffee is various shades of brown, and I love grinding you up and straining you through water! Oh, Trader Joe’s Columbia Sumatra House Blend; the thought of your delicious flavor gets me up in the morning, and your high level of caffination keeps me up! I have tried many roasts of coffee in my time – TJ’s Bay Blend, French Roast, some of the smaller sumatra cans, not to mention various roasts and blends from Harbucks, and none can hold a candle, or a coffee grinder, to you.

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You also make a great hand-drum.

3) Patterns For Jazz by Jerry Coker

They say that true love never gets boring, and you never cease to surprise me, Patterns for Jazz by Jerry Coker!  Whenever I want a method book that will surprise me with its puckish, irascible nature, I reach for you, and you never let me down!  One minute, I’m running my major 9th arpeggios by whole-steps, and then, surprise!  You rascal, you’ll make me do them in minor thirds! You so crazy! And it makes me crazy with love. Before I can wipe the bemused smile off of my face, you’ve had me play the same pattern five different ways, inverted, or rhythmically flipped, or, oh ho!  With a new chord tone!  You have so many ways of making your first fifty pages interesting that I wonder if I’ll ever make it through to the end? But when a journey has been as deep and rewarding as ours, well, Patterns for Jazz by Jerry Coker, can you really blame me for never wanting it to end?

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My love for you will never be diminished, or even half-diminished.

4) The Sun

Hello, The Sun.  I’ve been waiting for you.  I know you were always there, lurking just out of sight, thinking of me like I was thinking of you… in my heart I knew this was true, but seeing you again, it still feels so good! Now that you’re back in my life, every day is a wide-open window, a fruit salad in the breeze, a long afternoon jog.  Sure, you may be a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees, but, The Sun, you’re my mass of incandescent gas. Now is the springtime of our love; let’s make the most of it, before the long, foggy days of summer come to steal you away from me again.

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Only a middle-sized star, and the only star of my heart.

Full-Court Press

24 Mar

So, yeah, I haven’t been posting that much this past week.  Here’s why:

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Spreading the word is, unfortunately, using up all of my words, and I’ve none left for Murfins.  I should be back to writing bad poetry, semi-creepy lists of things I admire about people, and a bunch of mea culpas about Lost, Resident Evil 5, and Dollhouse, shortly.  Time to lick some stamps.

Gigs With Really Famous People

21 Mar

79569142_c6dd159404_oTonight, as most folks head out for their second weekend of St. Patty’s day partying (right?  Is that what people are doing this weekend?  I have no life), I’ll be hitting the stage with none other than the lovely Petula Clark.

She’s doing a show one night only at the Castro Theatre, and it’s gonna be a doozy.  I’ve played in her band before – we did a show at the Herbst Theatre a couple of years ago, and it was really cool. Going into the gig, I didn’t know anything about her music (0ther than “Downtown,” of course), and I was really impressed with her, both in terms of her material and her vocal chops. In addition to all of her own stuff, she did a solo piano version of The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” that was absolutely beautiful.

What’s more, it was a challenging gig! I remember feeling under-prepared, particularly in the flute department.  I was playing in a horn section with trumpet maestro Dave Scott, who is the picture of perfect professionalism, and it was a great kick in the ass, musically.  Needless to say, I’ve been shedding flute all week, and am feeling much more prepared.

I’ve also been reflecting a bit on these sorts of gigs. Playing with Petula, or at the Castro with Connie Francis, or sitting onstage behind Joan Rivers… it’s always an interesting deal. Performing with a superstar from another era is such a weird, cool treat – there’s nothing quite like stumbling onstage with someone who is literally the most successful female pop musician in British history, (Really!  She’s in Guiness!), playing a couple of sets, then going home to relative obscurity. I think that the conflict arises from playing professionally with someone who you know academically is a really big deal, but who has never been a really big deal in your life.

castroWhat’s more, everyone’s there with a job to do, and you’re all doing it, so the band’s professionalism overshadows the fact that one of the people in the room is a universally adored music icon. A bunch of my friends are on this gig – Ross Grant is playing guitar, Darren Johnston is playing trumpet (along with Dave), and last week’s person I wanted to be, Daniel Fabricant, is usually on bass (he put together the band, but subbed out the actual gig this time). The familiar faces add to the contrasting feelings of relaxed professionalism (I’m onstage with Ross, I’m reading sax charts) and nervous nervousness (That’s Petula Clark! She’s a big deal! Woah, the theater is totally sold out! The audience is going nuts!).

I don’t do too much casual gigging anymore, but when I do, I prefer these sorts of gigs, I think.  I’m looking forward to tonight, and hope that I’m more comfortable with the music this time around.  Also, that I don’t piss off Petula’s hardass of a musical director. (eek!) But more than anything, I’ll try to relax for a bit and enjoy getting to sit onstage behind a music legend, playing my part in a show that will make a lot of San Franciscans very happy.

Monday’s Person I Want To Be

16 Mar

jeff-richmond1This Monday, I want to be none other than Jeff Richmond, the man behind the music on 30 Rock.  I’ve been watching some episodes streaming on Netflix lately (did you guys know that it now works on Intel Macs?  I feel like they should have made a bigger deal out of this), and while I’ve always loved the music on the show, I feel that I’ve only recently had a chance to give it a considered listen.  And damn, is it good.

According to Wikipedia, Richmond got his start writing for Second City, then went to SNL, and from there, headed to 30 Rock. I’m not sure if he was ever a comedian, or whether he just wrote funny songs, though I guess that anyone who can write “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” or “Muffin Tops” is pretty much a “comedian” whether or not that’s what he does for a living.

Anyhow, I’ve had a chance to sit with Richmond’s cues and episodic scores, and I’m so, SO into them.  To start with, he uses an awesome group of musicians – the band is driven mainly by reeds, with clarinets and saxophones featured heavily.  There are some great percussive high-notes, as well, usually coming from a set of bells or a mandolin, and he uses a jazz choir and brass section really effectively.

What’s more, the sound of his band is far from the uber-tight, “studio” sound that Hollywood is so capable of producing. The players play a little bit out of tune sometimes, but it actually adds to the casual, goofy energy and vibe of the performance.  The band sounds like a bunch of old pros who’ve gotten together for an informal jam in the studio, and the playing has a busk-y quality that’s really appealing.

He does groovy things with the show’s main theme, too.  In its usual form (like, during the credits), it sounds like this:

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But, as each episode goes on, it’s remarkable the ways in which he twists and skews that theme.  I’m not sure I can think of another show that uses a single musical motif in so many different ways (I’m not really counting the slap bass in Seinfeld). The most common of Richmond’s variations is whenever something is “brewing,” or someone is being “evil,” the low strings play the theme, but streeeetttched out, and loooow, and the result is an sneaky, slinking line that conveys “mischief” just perfectly.

Richmond does a fantastic job, as well, of keeping the rhythm of the episodes moving along.  He does this both by interspersing his musical cues with some really swinging drumming, and by constantly modulating the music on the fly. Drums pepper so many scenes on the show – four on the floor, brushes on the snare, and as people talk, or walk and talk, the groove keeps things moving, and in between bits of dialogue, the horns and strings kick in and transition the actors from line to line. Standard stuff, as far as TV cues go, but really, really well done.

He’ll also step outside of his standard themes to come up with some episode-specific gems. I recently noticed a really good one in the season 2 episode “Greenzo.”  I’m not sure if this theme had made its way into the show’s music before, though it’s since become a recurring motif.

greenzo-theme

Oh, man!  I can’t tell you how much I dig that progression and melody.  I’m sure that literally no one out there will sit down with their piano or guitar and play the above line, but if you can, I recommend it.  It’s very, very cool.  As the episode moves along, the band plays that theme, quickly modulating it up a half-step every time the scene changes.  In the closing credits alone, the music goes from Bb to B to C to C# to D.  Between the creative re-orchestrations and the constant key changes, the music has a sense of momentum that really, really works.  Plus, it’s catchy as hell.

So, yes. This week, I wanna be Jeff Richmond. He’s a total pro, gets to work on one of the funniest shows on TV, and has a really, really good band playing his stuff.  And I know there was another reason… hmm… something else… maybe something relating to his personal life?  Maybe let’s look at the full version of that picture:

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Oh yeah, that’s right. He’s married to Tina Fey.  Some people have it pretty good, I tell ya.

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