Archive | August, 2009

At The Movies

31 Aug

District 9District 9– I went in to D9 with no idea what to expect, other than a few images I’d gleaned from the ads.  Actually, I tried to turn off the sound or look away from the ads, too, since I got the feeling that I didn’t want to know too much, anyway.  I was anticipating some sort of mind-bender, with a crazy twist that the mysterious ads were keeping from us, and what I got was a rock-em, sock-em action movie with cool guns and lots of great ultraviolence.  Okay, that’s cool, too!  It wasn’t the game-changer I had expected, but it was really intense, and a lot of fun to watch. Sort of  Children of Men meets The Fly meets Cloverfield meets Predator. Even cooler was that the whole time I was watching, I was convinced that the story was based on a graphic novel or a book or something, but it turns out, it was a wholly original Sci-Fi idea! Wow! How long has it been since one of those made its way into theaters?  The Matrix?

pointbreakPoint Break– The roommates and I have been going through our house’s (frankly, really impressive) VHS collection, watching old movies whenever we’re all around with nothing to do.  The most recent of these screenings was of Kathryn Bigelow-directed “Point Break,” which is about as awesome as you remember it.  What I didn’t remember about the movie was how gorgeously shot all of the surfing scenes are, and how much the film felt as much like an homage to the lifestyle, and to nature, as it did a cop movie.  I think that it’s almost entirely due to Bigelow’s influence – when I saw that she just directed the (by all accounts amazing) “The Hurt Locker,” it made me want to see it even more.

Miller's Crossing HatMiller’s Crossing– For a long time, I was the guy who said that this was my favorite Coen brothers movie (at least, until Yiddish Policemen’s Union comes out).  Re-watching it, I think that in the years since I last saw it, Lebowski has maybe edged it out a bit, only in that the Dude, Walter, and Donnie’s words are never far from my day to day life, and you gotta respect that.  However, Miller’s Crossing is just so effing good.  Especially after watching so much In Treatment, it’s a blast to see Gabriel Byrne in another role, and to see that the Coens clearly saw the same amazing leading-man qualities in him that many in Hollywood never did. That slow, climbing hero-shot in the end!  When was the last time a director practically made out with his leading man like that?  The whole film is so deliberately old-fashioned in tone and style, and the amazing way that Joel Coen gets those tracking shots make it feel fresh.  God, did I just write that?  What is this, an intro to film class?

the_final_destination_4The Final Destination 3-D– Timmy and I went and saw this on Saturday – full disclosure: we went expecting a pretty shitty movie.  And that is exactly what we got.  Man, the 3-D was fun and everything, but whatever spark of originality the Destination movies had is long gone. I’m fairly certain that they weren’t all always this bad – the first one had Ally Larter, and the dude from Candyman, and Stiffler, and that freak-out with the bus killing the chick… I just remember it being really fun to watch, dark and funny and a trip to realize that the slasher in this slasher film was Death itself. The second and third ones (though they kinda blend together in my mind) were also cool, with callbacks to the original, and some rad gross-out deaths.  This fourth one just felt phoned in, and they even had the balls to call it “THE Final Destination.”  Based on that title, was it too much to expect something awesome? There were a handful of cool gross-outs the whole time, and the script and pacing were so lame… I could go on, but whatever.  It was crappy.  If it comes out on DVD not in 3-D, it’s not even worth looking at.  Drag Me To Hell, even rated PG-13 and in normal 2-D, rocked this movie into next year.

NickNora_1lgNick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist– So, a year after this big music movie came out, I finally saw it.  Hmm.  I dunno, I have the sneaking suspicion that I just watched a 90-minute ad for a bunch of bands from Sony’s record labels.  The movie itself didn’t really… exist?  Though I’m actually willing to forgive a lot, since it sort of just floats along, with two really likable leads talking and flirting and being cutting and winning and sarcastic the whole time.  Sort of a lot like American Graffiti, which isn’t a bad thing, so much, and all of the songs features did sound very nice. Kind of a lot like Garden State, you know, depressed mopy indie dude meets weird, cool girl and they realize they’re meant to be while great bands that the director thinks You Should Know About play in the background. But I liked Garden State, too. I guess I’m more on the Stephanie Zacharek side than the Roger Ebert side.  Though the “sex” scene in the recording studio seemed kinda gratuitous.  What was that all about, exactly? Staying true to the source material or something?

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Wow, this was a pretty great summer for movies – Star Trek, Up, Drag Me To Hell, District 9… and I didn’t get to see Half-Blood Prince or Ponyo, either. Add to those earlier releases like Coraline, which I thought was bloody awesome, and Watchmen, which was also freakin’ sweet, and the year so far looks even better. I just saw Joe’s Low Resolution list of the best films of the year so far, which reminded me of even more movies I really want to see – The Brothers Bloom, In The Loop, Inglorious Basterds, Away we Go, The Hurt Locker, and Humpday, and damn! 2009’s been a pretty good year!

Drumming, Drumming, Drumming

28 Aug

Kirk Drums1Whew. It has been an exhausting week.  I’ve spent half of my time getting ready for the big show next Thursday, which is going to be… epic. I’ll write more about the band next week, but if you’re in the bay area, you should really, really be there!  The other half has been spent getting ready for the school year to begin at Urban – though I only teach there a few hours a week, this time of year is one of the most intense/rewarding for me, since I get to attend workshops with all of the other teachers, catch up with everyone, and basically act like a for-reals educator for a week.

The flip side is that I have been extraordinarily busy.  Like, so busy I can’t write blog posts, or watch TV, or hang out with people… or exercise or eat properly.  But, one thing that I have found time to do, among my comings and goings at Urban, is practice the drums almost every day.  And dudes, I’m getting pretty good!  Basically, I’m Dr. Worm.

The more I play, the more relaxed I am when I play, and there’s just something so right about how the drums feel when you’re all warmed up… wow.  I can’t wait to get my dad’s 60’s Ludwig kit out here and find a band to play with.  In the meantime, my practice routine focuses on two things – doing exercises out of Charles Dowd’s amazing A Funky Primer for the Rock Drummer, and playing along with my favorite drum-centric recordings. I thought I’d put together a list of my favorite tunes to play along to, in the order that I usually play them.

The Kirk Hamilton Drumming Workout

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51C6XB0EKXL._SS500_Belle and Sebastian – “The Blues are Still Blue,” “Funny Little Frog,” and “For The Price of a Cup of Tea,” all from The Life Pursuit. I love, love, love this album, and if years ago, you’d have told me that this band would put out an album so funky that it would be this much fun to drum along with, I’d have thought you were nuts.  But here it is – Richard Colburn has really worked it out, and all three of these tunes are a total blast to play along with, and are great warm-up tunes.

SteelyDan-TwoAgainstNature-FrontSteely Dan – “Janie Runaway” and “Gaslighting Abbie” from Two Against Nature.  Speaking of great warm-up tunes, Ricky Lawson is like a clock on this record, and plays with such a precise groove that it’s impossible not to feel it.  I really, really like this album, and these two tunes are my favorites.  Partly because of Chris Potter’s solo on “Janie Runaway”… never a bad thing to feel like you’re playing along with Chris Potter.

23569048_1The New Pornographers – “Use It” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” from Twin Cinema. The most drum-heavy of the band’s albums, these two tunes have a lot of really fun things going on, particularly the 12/8 in “Use It.”  Never not fun to play with, especially when I really work it out and nail the fills.  Kurt Dahle is super, super good at the drums, huh?  Really creative player.

[AllCDCovers]_spacehog_the_hogyssey_2001_retail_cd-frontSpacehog – “This is America,” and “A Real Waste of Food” from The Hoggessy, “Mungo City” from The Chinese Album. Jonny Cragg did some really creative work with this band, and all of the band’s tunes had a really fun sense of swing to them… “This is America” is a real work out, superfast rock up until the giant half-time coda… I usually hit this stuff once I’m pretty warmed up.

Queens Of The Stone Age - Songs For The DeafQueens of the Stone Age - “No One Knows,” “First it Giveth” “Song for the Dead,” from Songs for the Deaf. Now we’re cooking.  Dave Grohl’s playing is without a doubt my favorite part of this album, and the tunes are perfect to play along with, a great blend of repetition, creative soloing, and groove.  The intro on “Song for the Dead” is the first drum solo I’m transcribing, and when my right foot is warmed up, it’s pretty fun to keep up with his kick drum.  I haven’t figured out the tom rolls on the chorus of “First it Giveth,” but hey, there’s always room to grow.

Me'Shell Ndegeocello - Peace beyond passionMe’Shell NDegéocello - “Leviticus: F@ggot” and “N***erman” from Peace Beyond Passion. Okay, first off, let me say freaking thanks, Me’Shell – the two tunes that I play along with on your album forced me to almost write two words that have never been written on this blog before.  Sheesh.  I’ve edited them just so that google won’t direct any hate-speech searching people here (you should see some of the search strings that already wind up here) …but I digress. These two tunes groove so hard – Gene Lake, man.  They’re usually tunes I play at the end of a practice session to bring it down.  Getting even close to Gene’s pocket is something that would take a lifetime, but you gotta start somewhere… ye gods this record is good.

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So, those are my current favorite albums to play along with.  If any drummers out there have good suggestions for new records to try, I’d love to hear them!

If you’re heading to outside lands, have fun, and look for Switzer, who’s playing trumpet with a number of bands on all three days, or Dan A, who is interviewing Dave Matthews.  That’s right.  You heard me.

Have a great weekend, and keep next Thursday free!

Kirk Drums 2

Pretty.

Mad Men’d (Finally)

23 Aug

This week, I got a new computer, and with it, a version of Flash 10 that allows me to:

1) Read the flash charts on WordPress
2) Watch Hulu/YouTube videos full-screen
3) Stream audio from Myspace and Facebook music pages
4) Use the AMC Mad Men’d-erizer

And all at the same time. Hooray for functioning technology!

So, a week late, I created my very own Mad Men alter ego.  If I could travel back in time to 1953, then allow myself to age ten years, in 1963 I would look about like this:

Kirk Cosgrove

HA.  As if you even had to ask which Mad Men character I’d be. I’m so totally Ken Cosgrove, it’s ridiculous.

You’re going down, Campbell. If it’s any consolation, I’ll be super nice about it.

Adam Theis’s Hip-Hop Symphony, This Weekend @ Yoshi’s!

20 Aug

Adam Theis's Brass Bows and BeatsI am really stoked to go see ami d’trombone Adam Theis put on an encore performance of his bloody incredible “Brass Bows and Beats: A Hip-Hop Symphony” tonight at Yoshi’s SF!  I saw the premiere at the Palace of Fine Arts back and was totally and utterly blown away.  It should be so much fun to see it performed in a smaller space, and to be able to take all the people who didn’t get to see it last time!

It’s this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at Yoshi’s in SF – there are two shows each night, one at 8 and one at 10. I highly recommend getting tickets in advance (which you can do through the Yoshi’s site here), since the show will most likely sell out.

If you want to be sold on going, check out my exuberant, (frankly, overwhelmed) reaction to the premiere, or check any of the show previews at KTVU, JamBase, The SF Examiner, and East Bay Express. You can also preview tracks from about-to-be-released recording of the symphony at the Jazz Mafia Website.

People. For real. GO TO THIS.  It’s more local talent than you may ever see on one stage again, but even more importantly, it’s an incredible amount of fun.

Adam's Hip Hop Symphony Photo by Bill Evans

The Amazing Camerawork of Mad Men

19 Aug

Mad Men Meeting 1“Sorry I’m late.  Did I miss anything?”

Mad Men Meeting 2“………………”

Mad Men Meeting 3“Oh.  It’s that meeting. Sorry about that.”

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HA. Man, I’m seriously, the shots they get on this show are just amazing.  As great as Mad Men is at writing and characterization, I think that half of the show’s appeal lies in the extraordinary framing of the shots and the incredible, still-life quality that the DPs manage to capture.  Each scene has a tangible, meditative air that’s super fun to watch.

Mad Men Bert's Office Framing

Nice.

Fun Tim Schafer-Related Things

18 Aug
Guybrush Threepwood

"My name is Guybrush Threepwood, and I want to be a pirate."

Game designer/writer Tim Schafer is enjoying a bit of a “That Hansel” moment these days – along with the re-release of his point and click adventure game classic “The Secret of Monkey Island” and the impending release of his seventh original IP, the Jack Black starring “Brutal Legend,” he’s already in the press quite a bit.

There’s more to it, however, but I know that a lot of y’all have no idea who the guy is, so let me explain him a little.  He’s, like, the Wes Anderson of games, or maybe the Robert Altman… he’s the closest thing that the world of gaming has to a true auteur.  Since he started making games for Lucasarts 20 years ago, he’s made only seven original games, but every single one of which is an incredibly polished gem of comedy, heart, and beautiful design.  From the Monkey Island pirates who swordfight with insults and witty retorts instead of their blades (“You Fight Like A Dairy Farmer!”  “How appropriate.  You fight like a cow.”) to a Dia de los Muertos- influenced tour through the afterlife, complete with beatnik accouterments and a killing jazz score (this would be the one and only Grim Fandango, possibly my favorite game ever made), Schafer’s games are far, FAR more than what people think of when they think of “video games.”

So, it was pretty dang cool when they re-released “Monkey Island,” on the iPhone!  It was actually released on a bunch of platforms, but the iPhone was the one that I have, so I got it there. From my trip to Minnesota until now, I’ve played it off and on, moving at a pretty rapid clip, since I already know how to solve the puzzles.  *Use* “chicken with a pulley in the middle” on “hanging cord.”

Guybrush and Elane Never Pay More Than 20 Bucks

"This experience has taught me something, Elaine."

After I negotiated the game to its classic conclusion (“Never pay more than 20 bucks on a computer game”), the credits rolled.  This re-released version was created by a new team and featured updated graphics and, even cooler, re-recorded audio.  The songs from the first one are, like, burned onto my eardrums (I know I’m supposed to be this jazz snob, but when I was 12, I would listen to the soundtrack to that game on my CD player over and over), so hearing new versions of the old MIDI tunes, performed by actual musicians, was really fun.

And the coolest thing of all was that, as I watched the credits roll, the contributing musicians rolled by, and I saw that Mike Olmos played all the trumpet parts!  Amazing!  Mike’s a player in the city that I know a little bit – he’s totally great, plays all over the place, runs the monday jam session at Grant and Green, plays with a bunch of Jazz Mafia bands, the CJO, etc.  I guess it shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise that, since they’re based here, Lucasarts would get San Francisco based musicians to play on their stuff, but all the same, I couldn’t get over how cool that was.  Mike got to play on the soundtrack to Monkey Island! My god, I might be the only musician in San Francisco who thinks it, but that just may be the Coolest. Gig. Ever.

Manny_Calavera_200_130341a

Seriously. Put this on a t-shirt, and it will suffice.

I heard that they’re going to also re-release Tim’s other games, and if they do, and someone who works on the games is out there, I will SO play on the soundtracks.  Flute, clarinet, saxophone, just say the word.  I’ll kill it, and I’ll do it for cheap.  Just give me, like, a Grim Fandango T-Shirt and a couple hundred bucks.

So, onward and upward for Tim Schafer.  His new game is a heavy-metal-themed brawler starring Jack Black, and I think it’s going to be, well, just as amazing as all of Scafer’s other games.  It will, at the very least, be hilariously funny, and feature a truly epic soundtrack. The complete track list actually just got leaked, then confirmed, and it is amazing. Anvil, Mastodon, Dokken and even Deathklok… plus lots of Sabbath and Judas Priest, naturally.  Some way or another, I’m gonna have to find a way to check this one out.

Saxophones! Jazz!

15 Aug

Lisa_on_saxLast week was a pretty outstanding week for me in terms of live saxophone music. On Tuesday, I hit up Coda on Duboce to see Spaceheater play, and on wednesday, my old friend Sam’s saxophonetastic indie-jazz band Blue Cranes at Blue Six in the mission.  It was exciting and energizing to hear so much great reed playing in such a short period of time, thought I’d share a bit about both bands.

Spaceheater at Coda

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Coda is a brand-new bar/restaurant/jazz club that is now hosting the temporarily-nomadic Jazz Mafia Tuesdays. It’s a really classy space, with high ceilings, brick walls, and a wide, open main room, onto which the main stage opens. They’ve only been open for a few weeks, so they’re still finding their groove – especially wrangling the sound in the room with the high ceilings and all the glass – but on the whole, so far, so good.

Spaceheater is a latin/dub/funk band led by saxophonist/flutist Evan Francis, and they are very cool.  Their personnel is rounded out by Marcus Stephens and Kasey Knudsen on tenor sax, Patrick “Pdub” Korte on drums, and Josh Hari on bass. They were also joined by a percussionist, but the two other names on their myspace site – Scott Thompson and Matt Lucas – are both famous comedians first (Thompson from Kids in the Hall and Lucas from Little Britain) and random singer/songwriters second (Thompson a guitarist from Michigan and Lucas a Christian pop singer).  Sigh.  There are too many people in this world, and not enough names.

Pdub Korte

Pdub

Anyhow, the band was tight as hell – not a surprise, considering that they’re getting rhythmic support from Pdub Korte, who also plays with several other Jazz Mafia bands, most notably the Shotgun Wedding Quintet. If you’ve ever seen one of these groups play (tell me you have!), you know – not exactly a shortage of groove going on.  I don’t know Josh, but I really dug his bass playing – he and Korte clearly play together quite a bit, and it shows.

One of the most fun things about watching this group (and other jazz groups that fall under the Jazz Mafia umbrella) is seeing how these great players shift themselves to play so many roles.  When Evan and Kasey played with the Nice Guy Trio last month, it was all modern chamber saxophone, open and vulnerable, but also remarkably free.  When they play with Spaceheater, it’s a much more relaxed approach, rooted in the floor and easy to listen to.

So, yeah, everyone sounded great.  Kasey and Marcus are bangin’ players, and the rhythm section, as I mentioned, was killing it. What really stands out to me about the band is Evan’s writing and playing – he’s got a really interesting approach to horn voicing and composition, all parallel lines and close harmonies, usually voiced by two tenors and a flute.  It looks like the group has involved tenor, trombone and flute in the past, and I could see that working from a similar place, voicing-wise.  As it stood, the reed-centric horn section really had flow, and on a few of the tunes, in particular, Evan’s arranging just worked. And what’s more, the guy is just a really cool dude, and a burning flutist (he tore it up at Adam Theis’s hip-hop symphony) and it’s totally fun to watch him play.  This is what I’m talking about:

Spaceheater plays all over the place – they’ve got a residency at Yoshi’s SF on the first tuesday of every month and it’s only $3! They’re out front, not onstage, and I bet that’s a great place to see them.

Blue Cranes at Bluesix

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Oh, man, this band.  Blue Cranes is an experimental sax-fronted quintet out of Portland.  And they rule.  Seriously.  Sam Howard, an old friend of mine from UMiami, subs on bass with them quite a bit, and has actually been down this way on tour before, but I hadn’t seen them until Wednesday night.  Before the show, I was asking him what they sound like, what the term “Indie Jazz,” which he’d used to explain their sound to me in the past, really meant.

“You know when Britney Spears shaved her head? It sounds like that.”

britney-shaving-2

So... pretty much like this?

Blue Cranes’ setup involves a fairly standard jazz rhythm section – upright bass, drum kit and keyboards (both standard piano sounds and a synthesizer) played by Sam, Ji Tanzer and Rebecca Sanborn, and fronted by Joe Cunningham (“Sly Pig”) and Reed Wallsmith on the tenor and alto saxes, respectively.

What is less than standard about the band is the music they play, and the way they play it.  Basically, they play inside, triumphant pop melodies mixed with free-jazz explorations.  It’s not the template of all of their tunes, but several times, I was struck at how effectively the band would pivot from a driving, lyrical section of ones and fours and fives straight into a wide-open free-blowing situation, bringing things sometimes to an utter standstill before building them back up.  It was incredibly well implemented, particularly on their second tune of the night, “Love, Love, Love,” (by Seattle composer Wayne Horvitz), which came down to an almost impossibly sparse improvisation by Sly Pig and the band before building its way back to a ferocious ending.  You can see a video of them performing the tune here:

What’s more, by adding Sanborn’s Hanne Hukkelberg-esque synth (or, if you prefer, Napoleon Dynamite-ish), they really do get a sort of “Indie” sound that, when combined with the strong saxophone melodies, makes for a listening experience that is quite unique.  Other highlights from the set included an inspired cover of Sufjan’s “Seven Swans,” a punk-rock tune that played like an exercise in rhythmic displacement (Drums and bass on two and four!  Now one and three!  Now two and four!  Now back!)  Sam mentioned to me that they’ve been doing a lot of shows with punk bands, and that when they do a lot of this material, it’s about 200% louder than it was at Bluesix.

Inside Bluesix

Inside Bluesix

Which is cool, but man, as much as I dug the playing, and the writing, perhaps the thing I enjoyed most of all was the dynamic contrast that Blue Cranes brought.  From the quietest whisper to the loudest, fullest saxophone roar, it was just so engaging to listen to music that displayed so much contrast.  A good deal of this owes to the great room – I’ve never been to Bluesix before, but it is an absolutely fantastic place to see live music.  It’s quite a bit like the Red Poppy, actually – a listening room/art gallery with a small wine bar and a close, warm vibe that encourages focused listening.  I have never been to a bar where Pig’s solo on “Love Love Love” would have been possible.

Bluesix is run by bassist/rennaissance man Joe Lewis, a big, super-nice guy who plays around town with a ton of groups.  His dedication to music, and to running a room where great, uncommon music is possible, really shows – I really loved the club, and hope to play there soon.

I am, of course, not really doing either of these groups justice with my writing, but I hope that by telling you a few of my thoughts and impressions that you’ll check them out.  Spaceheater plays all over the city and features really groovy writing and some amazing horn arrangements.  Blue Cranes comes to town not infrequently and are doing some of the most interesting, rewarding, and exciting acoustic jazz I’ve seen in a long time.  Check them out, support them, and go see ‘em live!

Blue Cranes

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