Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for August, 2007

Somewhere There’s Music
(How Sweet the Tune)

August 31st, 2007

Exciting local news: Toronto trombonist and all-round swell fellow Scott Thomson writes to say that he is opening a new performance studio where improvising musicians and artists from other disciplines can rehearse and perform.

He’s named it Somewhere There, I assume referring to Sun Ra’s oft-quoted remark, “We came from nowhere here, why can’t we go somewhere there?” In this case, “there” is 340 Dufferin Street, the corner building one block south of Queen or north of King (entrance from Melbourne Ave). With the recent decline in the numbers of jazz-and-related clubs in Toronto, this is particularly happy news. It may please the unintrepid who find it awkward to get to the Arraymusic space in Liberty Village (or who don’t frequent the Tranzac due to … NewZealandphobia, perhaps?). Having the Arrayspace and Some’there in shouting (or horn-blowing) distance from each other, one can envision series or festivals crisscrossing between the two spots, and fantasize about lower Parkdale developing into the Skronk District, a destination spot for musicians and lovers of outward-bound sounds. (You could think of Greenwich Village or something, but I prefer to compare it to going to Chinatown for dinner and deciding on a restaurant when you get there; or knowing that if you need cheap electronics you can stroll up Yonge and comparison shop.)

Says Thomson: “Programming will start in mid-September. I’ve already set up short- term residencies with CCMC and Geordie Haley, and have starting booking shows by special guests from out of town. A full September lineup will be announced very soon, and a web-calendar will be launched in short order.”

Meanwhile, he’s hosting two inaugural open houses to spank the baby and get it breathing, and let us all satisfy our curiosity and start dreaming up events that could happen there. Somewhere There will be open for lookyloos this Monday (Labour Day) from 7 to 10 pm, and again next Sunday, Sept. 9, again 7-10 pm. Thomson adds: “If you have folding or stacking chairs, coffee tables, floor and table lamps or useful miscellany that you are willing to loan or donate to the space, then by all means contact me.” (The email is somewherethere at inorbit dot com.)

(How Sweet the Tune)">5 Comments

Look at this Showroom, Full of Fabulous Prizes
(Vote Feuermusik!)

August 30th, 2007

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News today from the glamorous land of Canadian music awards.

First, SOCAN (the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) has announced the shortlist for the second annual Echo Prize, a $5,000 competition for the Canadian song of the past year by an independent artist. (To qualify, the nominees must not be signed with any of the four major labels and/or cannot have sold gold-record numbers, which in Canada means 50,000 copies.) The focus here is on songwriting rather than performance though that distinction’s obviously a blurry one. I was one of 10 panelists from across the country that nominated three songs each, and then ranked our top 5 each among the 30 nominees - a painstaking process, as that amounted to several hours of music, much of it (refreshingly!) unfamiliar, to audition and re-audition.

But the results are ace - an unpredictable and varied shortlist compared to the Polaris album prize, as I discussed when those nominees were announced. And the Echo process also has a bit more built-in fun - the final winner will be determined by votes from you, the people. Or at least the Internet people, as the poll runs through the SOCAN website. Their listen-and-vote page isn’t in operation yet is up now, and you can also follow the links to the artists’ MySpaces below to hear most of the contending songs. For your consideration:

Pedal Pusher, performed by Abdominal
Devastation, performed by The Besnard Lakes
Dopplespiel, performed by Feuermusik
Scarecrow, performed by Nathan
Graveyard, performed by Chad VanGaalen

Among this group of, respectively, hip-hop, indie-rock, avant-jazz, country-rock and folk-rock tunes, the only weak link for me is The Besnard Lakes, whose special appeal eludes me, but they don’t require my approval, what with the international-press buzz and a Polaris nod (VanGaalen is the other double nominee here). But particularly cozy to my cardiac is Toronto sax-and-buckets, ecstatic-jazz duo Feuermusik, one of my nominations in the initial round, whose album Goodbye Lucille I’ve been starry-eyedly plugging for a full year. I suspect that for many judges it was their first time hearing F’musik, since it’s an independent release with scant national distribution - a real testament to how captivating their Coltrane-on-a-skateboard sound is. Next on my list would be Abdominal’s Pedal Pusher, a unique entry in the rap canon - an unapologetic ode to non-motorized two-wheeled transportation from the not-so-mean streets of Toronto.

(Incidentally, my two initial picks that didn’t make the final cut were Frog Eyes’ epic Bushels from Tears of the Valedictorian (see my Pitchfork review) and Eric Chenaux’s However Wildly We Dream from Dull Lights (see my Globe and Mail article).

Congrats to all, but again, please vote Feuermusik.

Meanwhile, a minor announcement as well from the Polaris camp: The performers at the Sept. 24 gala at the Phoenix in Toronto will include these five nominees: Julie Doiron
“who will reunite with members of Eric’s Trip for this performance”), Miracle Fortress, Patrick Watson, the Joel Plaskett Emergency, and Chad VanGaalen. (So no Arcade Fire or Feist? Gosh, who’d have guessed. I’m crushed that my beloved Junior Boys won’t be performing, though. And the other no-shows are the Dears and Besnard Lakes.) The ceremony’s to be hosted by CBC Radio 3’s Grant Lawrence, whose party-pumping (and ass-kicking) talents were well in evidence when we were together on last year’s final jury. None of which matters much to most of you, as the event is invite-only, but speaking of the jury, here is juicier grist for speculation and oddsmaking - this year’s distinguished and honourable roster of deciders:

Stuart Berman, Eye Weekly (Toronto)
Laurie Brown, CBC Radio 2 (Toronto)
Ben Conoley, here magazine (Fredericton)
Mike Doherty, National Post (Toronto)
Stephanie Domet, CBC Radio 1 (Halifax)
T’Cha Dunlevy, Gazette (Montreal)
Robert Everett-Green, Globe and Mail (Toronto)
Cam Lindsay, Exclaim! (Toronto)
Stephane Martel, VOIR (Montreal)
Sandra Sperounes, Edmonton Journal (Edmonton)
John Sekerka, XPress (Ottawa)

PS: Vote Feuermusik.

Braxton in Session:
‘Go to F as in ‘fox’ - but not as in Fox News’

August 29th, 2007

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I was privileged along with a dozen or so others this morning to attend a partial open rehearsal conducted by Anthony Braxton at the Arraymusic Studio on Atlantic Ave. in downtown Toronto, with a large ensemble of musicians from the Association of Improvising Musicians Toronto, who will be performing with him a week from Friday (Sept 7) at the Guelph Jazz Festival. Braxton, of course, is the reed player, teacher, theorist and composer best known for pioneering the fusion of 20th-century modernist composition with jazz, beginning in the late 1960s. (And, more recently, punked-out noise.)

The “AIMToronto Orchestra” has been rehearsing with Braxton for just a couple of days now (though they worked on the scores on their own before he arrived), and the level of fluency, precision and musicality with which they were playing these spidery, unpredictable pieces was remarkable. I’m always struck by how the presence of an admired visitor - in this case, of course, something of a living legend - can galvanize Toronto musicians, shaking off some of the stiffness that can be our local curse and calling forth what they’re truly capable of. The ever-affable Braxton seemed impressed, too - at one point he joked that he’d “already alerted Wesleyan University” (where he’s a professor) that he was “never coming back.”

Unfortunately, the fact that they were doing so well meant that we only got small glimpses of Braxton in directing-and-teaching mode - most of the time, he was animatedly conducting, his shirt drenched in sweat (the Arrayspace is a rather boxy, attic-like, un-airconditioned place, despite its other charms), rather than speaking. If we’d hoped (which I confess I kind of did) to find out what Braxton would be like chewing out Scott Thomson for blowing a trombone cue - well, I suppose that’s why they went back into closed session after the first 90 minutes. Otherwise he didn’t cater to the fact that there were auditors, so Braxton didn’t provide any context or commentary on the compositional intentions and techniques involved in the pieces, as I’m sure he’d already done in their initial rehearsals.

Nevertheless, it was revealing to watch him in action. In particular, hearing his minimal directions to the ensemble, which partook somewhat of the arcane myth-science language for which Braxton is notorious, helped make more sense of that language for me - it feels more organic in a musician-to-musician conversation than when it’s removed from that context. It was a bit odd to hear him say “I’m not hearing gravity radiance there” and then, after another runthrough of the section, “Very nice, I’m hearing good gravities.” But in relation to the music you could guess what he meant much more than when you hear him speak that way in the abstract. Towards the end, he told the group, “I’m hearing some body time now - it’s coming in, it’s coming in,” which seemed of a piece with his instruction that when they re-entered after pauses, they should not speed up but play as if they were speeding up - “to keep things on the upside of the pulse.” Gradually it dawned on me that without coming out and saying it, he was telling them - in this clustery, spikey music in which even to detect a rhythmic tick is a challenge - to swing. And soon enough they were pulling it off.

The other main comments from Braxton were little politics-and-current-events jokes made off-the-cuff along the way, usually when telling the group what section of the piece to go to - “F as in ‘fox’ - but not as in Fox News!” he’d say, or, “Now let’s try section V again - but we’ll keep Michael Vick out of it.” Or on the subject of that almost-swing - “I will not use the language of General Petraeus and say ’surge’ - but bump it up a bit.” Besides injecting a bit of levity, these one-liners served an artistic purpose (consciously or not), I think - helping to keep the real world in the room, to remind the players that for Braxton, these highly abstract compositions are still hooked into the social and political dynamics of the society and era in which they were created.

We heard the orchestra playing sections of Braxton’s “Composition 91 for creative orchestra” (1979), a partly-notated and partly-improvised piece (available on the 1989 Black Saint release Eugene), and seemingly more through-composed pieces “Composition 305″ (recorded on Braxton’s 2002 Duets (Wesleyan) record with cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum; you can hear a sample here) (sorry, my notes were in error there - please see the comments) “Composition 306″ and “Composition 307″ (which he plays alone on the four-CD set Solo Live At Gasthof Heidelberg Loppem 2005, some of which you can hear if you scroll down to it in the Aquarius Records catalogue). Obviously the latter two pieces sounded quite different with an 18-person orchestra than on those recordings, though. I didn’t get a chance to eyeball the scores to see what the notation was like, although from a few rows back it was evident that it was on a conventional musical staff rather than the completely graphic notation style that Braxton’s known for (note: please see the comments, again, for a clarification of this) - but that doesn’t mean that up close the staff wouldn’t look like this. Comp. 306 (if I’ve got the title-to-piece order straight) was particularly entertaining, with the wonderful vocalist Christine Duncan (of Barnyard Drama) regularly breaking in to the music with quick melodic verbal interjections, such as, “The old gang got together last night, and we talked about you somewhat,” “The IRS is killing me!” or simply, “Yes. No. Maybe. Maybe.”

Chatting at the break with bassist Rob Clutton, he said of the work with Braxton, simply, “It’s a gift, a real gift.” I couldn’t agree more, and the audience in Guelph next week will be counting its blessings too.

The AIMToronto Orchestra is: Anthony Braxton - woodwinds, direction; Ken Aldcroft- guitar; Parmela Attariwala - violin; Victor Bateman- double bass; Kyle Brenders- saxophones; Rob Clutton- double bass; Christine Duncan- voice; Colin Fisher- tenor saxophone; Nick Fraser- drums; Tania Gill- piano; Justin Haynes- guitar; Tilman Lewis- cello; Rob Piilonen- flute; Nicole Rampersaud - trumpet; Ronda Rindone- clarinets; Evan Shaw - alto sax; Joe Sorbara - drums, percussion; Scott Thomson- trombone; Brandon Valdivia - percussion.

PS: Most of the group, by the way, will be taking part in a “company”-style improv session at Arraymusic on Friday night in the Leftover Daylight series. There’s been no hint that Braxton might sit in, but one might wonder….

‘Go to F as in ‘fox’ - but not as in Fox News’">12 Comments

Midnight is another Jail Guitar

August 26th, 2007

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If, like me till today, you haven’t made your way to Brian Wilson’s website to hear his new song Midnight Is Another Day, part of his forthcoming collaboration with Smile partner Van Dyke Parks, That Lucky Old Sun (A Narrative), get your mouse off its ass and motorvate. It’s a glory. As always these days, Brian’s vocals are a bit of a sticky gate to pass, though his worn-down tone is moving in itself; but by the end of a listen, I only wanted to hear it again. And again.

In the newspaper this weekend, my colleague Elizabeth Renzetti had a good column on the Jail Guitar Doors program in the UK, named for the Clash song and fronted by our beloved Billy Bragg - the idea is to get instruments to prisoners, as a humanitarian and rehabilitative aid. As Liz tells it in the piece (in case you can’t get to it in the Globe’s paid content section, like maybe because you’re in prison or something): “When Malcolm Dudley of the rehabilitation-through-music group Changing Tunes wrote to enlist Bragg’s help, he mentioned that the inmates he worked with at Guys Marsh prison in Dorset had precisely two guitars: one belonging to the warden and one to the vicar. They both went home at night. He also cited a statistic: Almost two-third of inmates reoffend, but among those who had been through Changing Tunes, which teaches everything from composition to recording skills, the figure is between 10 and 15 per cent. That number caught Bragg’s attention. ‘It’s not that I don’t believe in prison,’ he says. ‘I do believe people should go to prison for their crimes. I just don’t think we should throw away the key. I want them to come back to society.’ ”

The mechanism is simple enough: They hold a fundraising concert, use the cash to buy guitars, bring them to the jails and help those caged birds sing. (Sorry.) Last weekend a Washington, DC, group put on the first non-UK Jail Guitar Doors show: “It’s something any musicians can do, raise some money to buy guitars,” Bragg says. “It’s just an idea. But it’s a good idea.”

A good idea that maybe some local “any musicians” might pick up (in Ontario or wheresoever “local” for you might be).

PS I am digging on the new Weakerthans album, Reunion Tour, coming out in a few weeks. More on that soon.

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Sexasaurus Rex: R. Kelly’s Tightrope Act
(And the Serialized-Single Revolution)

August 22nd, 2007

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Jody Rosen has a great piece on Slate today about R. Kelly’s turn from love-man to “meta-love-man.” (Though I have to mourn the missed wordplay-op there - maybe Jody couldn’t decide between plain “metasexual” and “meta-ro-sexual”? I’m having the same problem. And also now on the hunt for a situation that would justify the use of “retro-sexual” - maybe the carryings-on in Mad Men.) I agree with Jody that Kells is now playing up his sense of humour, and that this is a refreshing thing in pop music, particularly in the over-earnest realm of R&B - and it’s also an impressive lover-man move, as surely being able to joke about sex is a helluvalot more potent display of sexual confidence than male R&B singers’ standard boasting and overbearing come-ons. The clearest precedent is Prince at his best, but generally Kells is stepping into the underrecognized lineage of perv pop, the boudoir music made by men so louche that coming on to you is almost a redundant formality - they can say any ridiculous thing and it all means “… and then we shall fuck.” Serge Gainsbourg is probably the paradigmatic case, as New Zealand musician George D. Henderson argues in the above-linked blog (and as The Teenagers, No Bra and even Flight of the Conchords know). But Henderson’s list should be balanced out by the long line of jelly-rolling, lemon-squeezing, backdoor-knockin’ blues musicians whose comic flair helped furnish Kelly with his metaphor-slinging modus operandi.

For all that in principle I want to give kudos to Kells’s vaudevillian turn, I have my hesitations about it, too. Kelly’s humour has always been most effective when he leaves us guessing - when he plays the “is he kidding or is he actually such a crazy motherfucker that he means that?” game. It’s not an easy effect to pull off - and there are times when people’s inability to credit Kelly’s comic awareness seems to spring from plain racism - but he is most able to fascinate when he teeters on the edge of self-parody without letting himself slip all the way over. It’s a tightrope act. That’s also a way of charging up the magnetism of the songs - jokes, after all, wear thin with repetition, but a song that winks at you so subtly that you’re not sure whether you really saw it is going to pull you in back over and over again, to try and catch it in the act. So I confess I’ve been hesitant to watch the new episodes of Trapped in the Closet, because I felt like at the end of the first set the humour started getting really broad, and any illusion that Kelly believed in his characters started to collapse - moving from irony into camp into farce. After that, Kelly can only play the “how far do you think I can take it?” game, which is enjoyable, but a bit less mesmerizing.

The other conspicuous fact about Trapped is how sui generis it is; but I’m actually a bit surprised that it’s remained alone in its category since Kelly launched it in 2005. The basic idea - a series of interlinked singles, released gradually online, with some kind of structure of narrative and/or suspense built in - is a perfect response to the changing conditions of the music industry. Naturally nobody should dare to make an imitation Trapped (unless it’s Weird Al, or South Park, or some kid with Sims), but the basic template offers the potential for a wider variety of approaches. The singles-serial could be to the 2Ks what the concept album was to the ’70s… Ah, right, maybe that’s the problem. But still.

Mind you, Kells’ penchant for seriality is not due to the existence of iTunes and YouTube, however much it suits them. He’s been horsing around in the pastures of “to be continued” ever since his debut album when he introduced Ronald Isley’s Mr. Biggs character. There aren’t many other contemporary performers - except Eminem, at his peak - who seem so comfortable with creating ongoing characters. But that’s not the only possible way to link a set of singles: Just think what Jack White, or Bjork, or Andre 3000, or Lil Wayne, might do with the form.

Jody’s piece included a link to this performance I hadn’t seen before, by the way - Kelly doing a kickass a capella live rendition of his new song Zoo - just earnest enough to make you laugh and hot you up at the same time, and as any would-be seducer knows, that’s a consummation most profanely to be wished.

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Welcome to the Neighbourworld

August 18th, 2007

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Toronto cellist/electroacoustic musician Nick Storring has launched a laudable addition to the music-blog world, which (though I’m not keeping up as much as usual due to the book deadline) feels like a rare occurrence lately. Nick’s blog is called “End(-)Of(-)World(-)Music,” dedicated to his adventures in non-western musics of all sorts. It opened strong with a thoughtful polemic about the uselessness of the “world music” designation, a couple of entries sharing specific discoveries (complete with YouTube videos) and most recently a reflection on the aesthetic/ethical profiles of two projects in which North American independent/underground sensibilities and global sound exploration meet, the labels Sublime Frequencies (which I’ve written about at length here) and the newer Drag City offshoot Yaala Yaala, which was new to me. While I’m not convinced it can be done, I found Nick’s attempt to rehabilitate the term “exotic” from its colonial associations thought-provoking. He’s got me hooked.

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Guest Post: A Canadian Remembrance of Tony Wilson

August 16th, 2007

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Canadian readers will probably know Kim Clarke Champniss (above left) from his days on MuchMusic and his other TV appearances as a figure on the national music scene for decades. He got in touch the other day and said that he’d written up this appreciation of the late Tony Wilson (above right), the newspapers hadn’t bitten, and might I be interested in putting it up online? So here it is. While for many readers it might be retreading some overly familiar subcultural ground, I like its evocation of the new-wave era of Kim’s youth in Vancouver, and its reminders about the roots of things like Nettwerk Records which would go on to be institutions. Hope you enjoy it. - C.W.

I was saddened to hear that Tony Wilson of Factory Records fame died of a heart attack brought on by kidney failure. I’m sure the British music press will be all over the story singing the praises of one of the most important men of the new-wave scene of the 1980s and the “Madchester” scene of the 1990s, one of the most influential men on the British indie scene, who broke such bands as New Order and The Happy Mondays. But his importance, or more accurately, his record label’s influence on the worldwide scene was crucial. Even here in Canada, Tony Wilson influenced our musical heritage.

I am a case in point. Tony Wilson released Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart on Factory Records. That song, that band, that wonderful artwork, changed my life forever. It caught a moment in time, never to be repeated. And I was not the only one profoundly affected by the music and the art. At the time that record was released in 1980, I was living in Vancouver and a deejay at the notorious new wave nightclub, The Luv-a-Fair, arguably the most influential new-wave club in North America at the time.

The international music scene was in the post-disco, post-punk period. Joy Division, the flagship band of the fledgling label, had a dark, romantic sound. The graphics on the album, designed by Peter Saville, and the whole packaging of Factory Records product, were an artistic statement in themselves. Coupled with the mysterious, brooding music and lyrics of Joy Division, they were a profound statement. Every transmitter needs a receiver, and Tony Wilson, who was overseeing this music and art of his label, connected with many of us in the Vancouver scene.

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Unleash the Press Hounds

August 15th, 2007

Two scraps of information worth noting that came across the e-transom today:

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1. Lit-jazz. I go reeling back to the halcyon days of the ought-four “lit-rock” debate courtesy of the news in a press release that New York-born, London-resident jazz singer Stacey Kent’s new album Breakfast on the Morning Tram includes four songs with lyrics by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, including the title track. (Kent’s husband, saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, wrote the music for them.) It’s difficult to guess how much the songs reflect the Booker-nominated writer’s signature mix of repression, class and barbed social criticism, though the name of the opening track, “The Ice Hotel,” is suggestive. Of course the jazz/literary crossover tradition goes back much further than the rock/literary one, and doesn’t piss off anybody whom jazz doesn’t piss off on principle in the first place. Then again, jazz doesn’t involve so much pretending to illiteracy (though no doubt there’ve been plenty of illiterate jazz players in history, likely more than there ever were illiterate rock singers). To be fair, though, jazz is a more yielding and flexible medium for words to slip into. The next-most-prominent contributor of songwriting to the Kent album, by the way, is Serge Gainsbourg, and Kent also contributes to the accumulating consensus that Stevie Nicks’ Landslide has attained stone-cold standard status. (None of this should be taken as an endorsement of the Kent album - to my knowledge I’ve never heard her sing.)

2. Kershuffle: The further adventures of Evan N. Inspired by the Harper government, no doubt, the local music industry is rearranging some deck chairs: The ever-more-burgeoning force of Canadian distributor Outside Music has been buttressed by the absorption of the Baudelaire Music label (speaking of literary-rock interreference), home of Jon-Rae & the River, the Diableros, Tangiers/Jewish Legend and others, but more to the point, home to iconoclastic A&R guy Evan Newman (see Zoiluses passim), whose artist-management skills are the main quarry of Outside’s poaching expedition here, as Outside is starting up a mortgage loan, oops, I mean, in-house management division. All interesting developments in the gradual mutation of the Canadian music industry: As major labels increasingly shrink down to the status of distribution companies, distribution companies start bulking up into multi-service-style labels… Newman generally has been a useful caller-of-bullshit among the more mainstream walkers on the indie/mainstream borderline so it’ll be worth watching his role evolve.

‘He could produce genuine surprises’

August 14th, 2007

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Excellent obituary over the weekend in The Guardian of the late European free-improvisation pioneer, trombonist Paul Rutherford, who died last week. Rutherford was one of the founders of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, which would include the likes of John Stevens, Trevor Watts, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Maggie Nichols, Peter Kowald, etc. Although I think the article does bend over backwards just a bit: It would be less “fanciful” to “trace the beginnings of European free improvising” to AMM, which I believe began prior to the SME, not to mention Joe Harriott’s “free form” jazz. But that’s quibbling. The obit is well worth reading.

Knee Plays

August 13th, 2007

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A couple of weeks ago I told you about Cathy Gordon’s public divorce-ritual project On My Knees, in which she is crawling across Toronto on hands and knees in her wedding dress to mark the end of her eight-year marriage. Well, it’s happening today, right now. You can follow her progress via her website from now till the end of the afternoon, although I am finding that the Flickr photo stream is proving the most efficient live-update source. (Though don’t let the photo #’ing confuse you; it’s deceptive.) If you are in Toronto and want to greet, toast and console Cathy at the end of her journey, you can rendezvous with her either at the Jameson Pedestrian Bridge (at Jameson & Lakeshore) around 6:30 pm or at the final of the eight “stations” on the journey, the small beach by the Canadian Legion Boating & Sailing Club (the “Water Heals All Wounds” station) at 1391 Lake Shore W, around 7:30 pm.

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