Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Yesterday's Errands & the weekend of the Westerlies

Monday is typically a day where I can blog about the weekend's events since it's usually a day off. But yesterday was so action-packed that I didn't get a chance. In the morning, the city was a sheet of ice (and it still is in front of my house because there's no rock salt to be had in all of the Pittsburgh; apologies to my neighbors) so there was a two-hour delay for the kid's school. The weather also killed a coffee date I had with a friend of mine. 

Later that afternoon, I went to Donny's school for Read Across America Day, armed with Ezra Jack Keats' John Henry. I chose that book because, when I was a second grade, the Arrow Book Club (from whom we ordered books at school) had a record of James Earl Jones reading the story, which I ordered. His voice still resonates in my head when looking at the words on the page. I'm no James Earl Jones when it comes to orating, but I did a pretty convincing read for the class.

At 4:30, the phone rang and on the other end was Mark Stein, organist extraordinaire of Vanilla Fudge. We talked for about half an hour and I felt like it could've gone on longer. Much of what he told me is probably subject matter he has to rehash over and over, so it was nice of him to do that. He said upfront that he doesn't like talking about The Beat Goes On, their second album and a failed concept album. Still, he spoke his mind about it, and about the new stuff the band is doing. The results of that interview will appear on the Blurt website hopefully sooner rather than later, because Vanilla Fudge's new album comes out this week. 

Finally, yesterday, Ma Shanley got back into town and I had to meet her at the train station at 8:00 to get her home. She had a good time with brother and his family outside of Philadelphia. 

Rewinding back to Sunday afternoon, the Westerlies performed at Carnegie Library, essentially kicking off what I consider to be two months of serious jazz shows. Below is a picture of the band, left to right - Zubin Hensler, Riley Mulkerkar, Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch. (Remember that thing that's in the background? A good, old fashioned card catalog. Not sure if it's still in use or if it's just moved to this room to be dealt with at a later time.)

Last year the Westerlies released an album titled Wish the Children Would Come On Home, on which they played a whole set of compositions by Wayne Horvitz. He might be known to many as "the guy who played keyboards in John Zorn's Naked City" or as a former downtown New Yorker. But he taught the guys when they were living in Seattle, before they all ended up moving to New York for college.

Horvitz's writing starts with a bunch of musical strains and winds up being something pretty unique. Jazz, Americana, modern classical - it also seems to factor into it, but you can't lay a finger on one particular element. (A few years ago, an article in JazzTimes mentioned that there was some particular descriptor that sent him through the roof. I think it was "iconoclast." It's easy to see why it could be affixed to him, but also why he didn't approve.)

As rapturous as the Westerlies album is, seeing them in person was even more exciting. The way the four of them blend together creates a full sound that goes beyond what could be expected from a quartet. Not only are their harmonies really tightly voiced (especially with the trombones, who handle harmony and a lot of rhythmic stuff in de Koch's parts), but the pitches catch your ear in a way that seems to get between the notes. Thoughts of the Microtonal Festival (which had also been going on all weekend) might have been influencing my thoughts during the set.

When the group invited up a former teacher and the head of the concert series to sing with them, things sounded even richer, the voices blending with the horns, occasionally getting overpowered by the brass but still sounding strong. Donovan, my seven-year-old companion, who seemed pretty interested throughout the one-hour set, said he liked this part best. Because he was with me, and because we needed to get a book before the library closed, there wasn't time to hang out and chat too much with the group. But hopefully they'll be back again.

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