Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What the thought of death brings out in me

It's been a strange week. And it's only Wednesday.

I was driving around yesterday when I heard on the radio that Hank Jones died. All I could do was take off my beret and salute him. It's sad - he's the last of three Jones men of jazz to go, with brothers Thad and Elvin before him. But then, Hank was 91 years old. And he played like he was 60. I saw him last year at the Detroit International Jazz Festival and although he did sort of look his age around the eyes, he was eternally young around the fingers. All I can say is I'm glad I caught him before he split.

Of course, the world lost Lena Horne last week too. There's no need for me to rehash what's been written about her over the past week, but suffice to say, she was always one of those artists that I just kind of took for granted. I never owned any of her albums until about eight years ago when I found two RCA records at a flea market. Whoa, goddam. That's what I felt after listening to her. She's freaking amazing, with a ton of fire power. No wonder Cecil Taylor loves her.

Plus I love the fact that she was on Sesame Street a few times and once, she helped Grover overcome his shyness and he told her she was a great kisser. Lucky monster.

Tonight I finally wrote a review for Blurt of Susan Cowsill's latest album, Lighthouse. Normally I wouldn't tell you anything about it here and urge you to read the online review. But for one thing, I haven't sent it to them yet. (I always sleep on it, unless I'm right on a deadline.) For another thing, there's one song that's been heavy on my mind lately that I feel the need to write about. "River of Love" was written by Susan's brother Barry who was in the Cowsills with her. The song has a lost-love theme where the singer hopes they'll be reunited again by the river of love. But considering the theme of loss that runs through this album, it's clear that the song is now more about Barry, who drowned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and wasn't found for about four months. His own song is a tribute, a wish to him. That's heavy enough but Susan got her surviving brothers Bob, John and Paul, and sister-in-law Vicki Peterson Cowsill (yes, that Vicki Peterson, my fave Bangle), to join her on the chorus and lift the bandstand.

And boy, do they ever. The song makes me fucking cry every time I hear it. It's like "The Bleeding Heart Show" by the New Pornographers, except that this time the emotion is based on real events. And the music has all the trappings of a perfect pop song.

Death has been on my mind lately. I was worried that if death always comes in threes, who would be the next jazz person to leave? Please not Sonny Rollins. Not Cecil either. Then I remembered Ronnie James Dio was gone, making Hank #3. Small consolation, but I needed it.

Last night a longtime friend was telling me about going to Lillydale and trying to communicate with her dead grandparents. It sounds like she did, but it wasn't the conversation she had hoped to have. It was just kind of typical, average conversation. There were no over-arching pearls of wisdom, just some random everyday observations.

While it bothered her - and me, in a way - it did make me think that these methods of communication can probably happen but that we can't expect to get major insight from talking to the dead anymore than you could've gotten immediate changes in yourself from talking to John Coltrane when he was alive. He wasn't an actual God. He was a guy, albeit one that was extremely talented. And the dead... are the people who loved you and you love them. They're just in a different place now. That sounds sad, but the best was to keep from feeling sad is to go on living.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

CD review: Rempis/Rosaly - Cyrillic

(482 Music)

Horn and drum duo sets can explore any number of different formats: balls to the wall honking, screeching and splattering; pointillist dots of sound that may or may not yield a complete statement; or a strong dialogue that gives the impression that at least one of the musicians is hearing a full band in their head and using that as a guide.

Saxophonist Dave Rempis and drummer Frank Rosaly draw on a little bit of each of these ideas, which keeps their duets flowing and makes sure that they won't lapse into anything too familiar. Of course, they aren't exactly strangers either. Rempis (who also plays in the Vandermark 5) has lead a quartet that includes Rosaly as one of its two drummers. The saxophonist changes horns on each track, playing alto, tenor and baritone. Different instruments bring out different ideas in his playing, although his baritone tracks seem to feature the most diversity, going from long, vibrato tones to the one track that seems to possess a stated, almost staightforward theme. Frank Rosaly, whose shows up on a myriad of Chicago sessions, begins the album in a most unorthodox manner - considering his background at least - and acts like the in-tune partner throughout, listening closely to Rempis's developments.

On that opener, "Antiphony," ("anti-phony" or "an-TIF-o-nee" - you be the judge), Rosaly's drumming begins by emulating what sounds like the classic "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" drum riff, and taking a detour into waltz time before finally playing a heavy backbeat towards the end. Over this relatively fluid action, Rempis emits short bursts of ideas that blend well.

The other alto showcase, the nearly 16-minute opus "How to Cross When Bridges Are Out," indicates the duo uses time wisely to build and rebuild on ideas. Rempis blows a mix of fast lines, crazy trills, and upper register panic, before his partner takes a solo marked by fast rolls, rim shots and crashes. There is a minute when things get too noodly, but they lock into a wail fest before attrition sets is.

On tenor, Rempis takes a stab at the "classic" free jazz attack on "Tainos" and lands a hit, running fast and wild, with Rosaly moving all over his drum kit to goad him to take it ever higher. "Don't Trade Here," features a lot of staccato tenor, as well as what sounds like a passing reference to Monk's "Evidence."

Only one track fails to break from the meandering. "Still Will" is full of baritone honks and splats and cymbal clicks that plumb the instruments' sonic possibilities, but it doesn't fare well in the momentum department. But otherwise, Cyrillic, which ends with the relatively melodic "In Plain Sight," delivers a focused set of duos.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Love Letters latest show

Just got back a little bit ago from a Love Letters gig. We played at Rock 'n Bowl, which takes place at Arsenal Lanes in Lawrenceville. People pay $8 to bowl all night and they get to have us serenade them from Lane 14, which gets covered up with a blanket so we have a nice non-slippery place to stand.

The last time we played there, I was in an awful mood. It was about a week after the big snowfall in Pittsburgh. Highland Park was still under siege, with a lot of snow still in the middle of the streets, making it hard for us to load out and get to the show. A layer of ice was forming as we unloaded equipment. I was all out of caffeine, so everything was bugging me. Then at the end of the night, after playing to uninterested bowlers and four friends, we were paid pretty handsomely. It was kind of a trick ending to a bad night.

Tonight was the opposite, at least in terms of the set up. We got there way early, had time to set up in a leisurely manner, and played everything we knew, in the form of one set list. And we sounded really together, the tightest I think we've been since we started. There weren't as many bowlers there but a few friends showed up too so it was pretty worthwhile.

By the way, in case you didn't know the new New Pornographers album came out yesterday. Guess who was the first person to by it at the local new record store! C'mon guess.............