Quaint ramblings and occasional reflections of a journeying Aussie musician...

28 February 2006

Mike's Top Ten Albums - Notable Mentions

Just back from Amsterdam, so full write up on the way! Incidentally, I only just managed to figure out how to put links on the page, so look to the right for some mate's blogs and some I've picked up - more to come.
In the meantime, thanks to all who have enjoyed my previous raves over the music I love...the following was originally going to be part of the second five(ish) but it turned into a bit of a thing itself, so here 'tis:

Notable Mentions:

Joao Bosco

I only own one album, a compliation, but this guy is the real thing - Brazilian singer-songwriter-guitarist, used to write for Elis Regina (?), and then after her passing came into his own light. Some of it is cheesy pop, but there is loads from an early 80s live solo concert, one track of which, 'O Bebado E Equilibrista', is my favourite recorded piece of music in the whole wide world (so there you go!). Compared sometimes to Gilberto Gil, and admittedly their live shows are kind of similar, but it goes without saying that each has their own thing. I used to own a Gilberto Gil compilation, so I'd probably be more into his studio albums - Bosco can definitely leave the super-studio trash at home. Anyhow, the first major gig I went to see when I got here in London was Bosco at Jazz Cafe, and it was by far, once again, one of the best live musical experiences I've ever seen.

Black Eyed Peas - Bridging the Gap

Okay, so we're entering a bit of nostalgia-tripping here....this is Mike's party time album number 1, as it always takes me back to the early sharehousing days with Z back in the lovely easygoingness of Canberra's inner North (pre-yuppiefication, right Z?!). Any bunch of deliberately fashion-consciousless blokes who word their way around classic samples, with some cute chick singing the chorus, has got my thumbs up fur shuuuure!

Vivaldi - 'Four Seasons', Bach - 'Brandenburg Concertos'

Another nostalgia call....my Mum used to play this stuff in the car all the time....those endless harpsichord and violin lines are totally interweaved with memories of family drives through winding country roads....endless fields of yellow wheat stretching to rolling hills on the horizon...cotton wool clouds, porcelain blue sky....

Steely Dan

More nostalgia I'm afraid, but with a twist....this is what my Dad used to play in the car, and it's definitely for that...I seem to remember it mostly on family holidays down the South Coast...originally I dug the 70's rock sounds of the band as a kid, getting into it because my mum and dad were...then, after moving to Melbourne and discovering what the music 'scene' is really about, I came back to it and finally got around to reading (and thereby understanding) the lyrics!
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are the supreme storytellers of a certain brand of people us musicians get to know. After a certain time dealing with the numerous difficulties of plying our trade on the scene, we start to encounter the people surrounding the music, those characters that don't quite fit in with normal society but are totally in their element in that often shadowy nightworld of nightclubs and bars, as it allows them the license and freedom to indulge in whatever pursuits they desire....the fringe-dwellers.
Glowing example of this - selected verses from 'Deacon Blues', second track on 'Aja'. It's essentially about the Beat Generation, but it could also definitely apply to a few people I've come across along the way:

My back to the wall / A victim of laughing chance....Sharing the things we know and love / with those of my kind / Libations, sensations / that stagger the mind...
I crawl like a viper / Through these suburban streets / Make love to these women / languid and bittersweet...
I'll rise when the sun goes down / Cover every game in town / A world of my own / I'll make it my home sweet home....

Gold! And the chorus?:

I learn to work the saxophone / I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long /And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world / I want a name when I lose.....Call me Deacon Blues

'Kid Charlemagne' is about an adventurous drug dealer - 'Everyone's Gone To The Movies' is about a pedophile who shows porn flicks to teenagers - 'Throw Back The Little Ones' is about a guy who's not welcome in a particular neighborhood - 'Home At Last' is a reference to Homer's Odyssey, for goodness sake! Terrific stuff - a highly unique chapter of pop music not to be missed.

Okay, that's enough of that! I'm sure you can find most of this stuff on Amazon for dirt cheap...that's what I've been getting stuck into lately....I've only just discovered that you can actually buy CDs with your credit card on the Net....and how long has it taken me!?...... But in all seriousness, my sincerest hope is that, in whatever musical output I may engage in, whether it be composition or live performance (or even just raving on about stuff I love to listen to), I can somehow honour the great work of people like these, that I can somehow pass on the love, happiness, karma, collective consciousness or whatever, that I have drawn from these recordings.

21 February 2006


The kiddies sure worked me out this morning. My first three classes were hell-an hour and a half of over-excited seven year olds yelling and screaming, not even giving me a chance to show them anything....it's not like I'm trying to drill meaningless musical concepts into them. I've actually got fun stuff that I've planned, but they won't have a bar of it! Two of them are almost on the way out (I can do that if I want), but I can't help wondering if it's partly my own fault, like I'm not disciplined enough with them, or I need to be more assertive or something. I feel like I'm turning into the sort of teacher I had on occasion when I was at school...nice guy, knows his stuff, but can't discipline the class. Thing is though, that was at high school - I never played up this bad in my primary school years.
And then of course, when I thought it couldn't get any worse, my last class were gems. I started off with the C major scale, and they all magically did what I said - in an Arvo Part-type moment*, I was suddenly blessed with the sounds of multiple ascending and descending C major scales and arpeggios....and then we moved onto the clapping and singing that I do, to lead them into the cool swingy bass riff I'm showing them, and they got it, and got it good! I couldn't believe it. Most importantly, the kid in my last class that I've been having trouble with, he had a go at C major scale two hands, and for that he was awarded a 'Flying Fingers' certificate - the quiet smile on his face was golden.
Proceeded to St John's Wood to pick up music and CDs from crazy Brazilian woman. In a long and tedious story, I was all set to join a Brazilian dance band (with a troupe of well fit dancing girls), but it didn't happen...and then it was going to happen, and then I thought it wasn't happening again, but turns out they want me that bad, so like the trooper I am I agreed to meet her at the tube just up from Abbey Road studios (apt?) to pick up the material.
It's a bit of a musical neighbourhood there...just down from the station is the aforementioned studios, where people hang out and take photos of the crosswalk which I indeed crossed on my way down to Maida Vale for some lunch while I waited. Passed a couple of those circular blue plates littered around London telling you what famous people previously lived there, and they were classical musicians. Got down to Maida Vale shops, ducked into a nice little cafe (appropriately named 'Intermezzo') and got a reasonable coffee and bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese...honestly, I wish I'd invented that stuff!
Crazy woman is 20 minutes late, which for her is quite early. She pulls up, I get in...she starts her disorganised ranting about how we weren't able to hook up the previous night....this woman is so STUPID and vague and I can literally hear the cogs in her head turning whenever she speaks, but there I am, staring out the windscreen, keeping my mouth shut, nervous of course at the potential of any conflict should I speak my mind and let her know what I'm really thinking....reminds me of one of my favourite songs...you may know it?:

'And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say, "Man, what are you doing here?"'

...that is, what am I doing in still subjecting myself to dealing with such airhead people who run these sorts of things? I sit there, put up with it, take the charts...it starts to hail as I open the door, and for an instant I somehow get my foot stuck in between the car and the gutter.
Diving back down into subterranean refuge, I quickly rig up the discman, and from Gonzalo Rubalcaba's remarkably understated introduction, the holes in my battered persona (the kiddies, this woman, the bloody hail!) are filled to overflowing....if anyone owns 'Nocturne' by Charlie Haden, that album is me, right here, right now....
So I've signed up to this band, mostly for the hot dancing girls and hanging with Brazilians, less so for any musical stimulation. The more I deal with people like this woman, the less inclined I am to put up with them and their crap. Let's just say, after a long time, this skin is thickening....
....but not thick enough of course to resist the acupuncture I received later on in the afternoon, on my second visit to a brilliant osteopath near Baker Street. A long-time nerve trouble has sprung up again, but this guy is really working it hard, and it's actually a form of tendonitis....electrodes, massage, four pins and an hour later, I thank him but am feeling a little out of it on my way to my next engagement....forget where the restaurant in, finally find it next to the little pagoda in China Town, an eagerly awaited meet with Dr H and the loverly Fraulein. They are getting married in the summer....we talk of music and the world, inhaling our laksas heartily. You know when a meal transcends the food you actually eat and becomes a spiritual experience? When you can feel the love in your belly? The guys at China Inn have almost got that going.....
So I'm flying to Amsterdam this afternoon! Not really sure what I'm going to do there, but I guess I'll just wander around and get into adventures....until next time, my love to you all, whoever you are!

* 'Cantus In Memory of Benjamin Britten'

17 February 2006

Friday On My Mind...

Been getting into this Internet dating agency thing...the site I was part of wasn't doing it for me, so I decided to up the ante and found a more, let us say, romantically-oriented one? (Yes, there is still some nerd in me)....so I'm flicking through photos and stuff and a couple of ladies catch my eye, and so I sent them a 'virtual wink', whatever the hell that is! Like Sherds and GigPig have discovered, it's a hefty price to actually become a member and send them a message, but at the moment it's fun, you know, I'm just taking things nice and easy!
Anyhow, here's four random things I saw about town today:
* - Bounding down Edgware Road this afternoon, I passed two women holding babies, asking random strangers for money....for me that's a new one....
* - On the tube, a dog....kind of strange really....bit of a crap place for a dog to go, and it and the owner kept getting in everyone's way....dunno why it was there, felt a bit sorry for it....
* - Also on the tube, someone reading a book called 'How To Succeed', you know, one of those get rich quick thingys....I had to laugh, as I borrowed a book from housemate B entitled 'The Automatic Millionaire', and we joked about taking it on the tube and making exaggerated facial expressions (big eyes, nodding, smiling) of agreeance with it's (I'm sure) lofty principles...
* - The photo on the back of today's Metro (tube rag) of English skeleton sledder Shelley Rudman winning a silver medal at the Tornio winter olympics....if you skip past the double-page spread of the failure of Kyoto (complete with photos of polar bears and our 'impending 1000 year disaster'), there's Shelley, only been sledding for four years, looking totally ecstatic at being on the podium....in an age where we're used to ginormous sporting egos freely acknowledging how much the world loves them, here's someone who looks incredibly happy just to be there....bit of a treat, and she's kinda cute too....

Ahem, well, it's off to another bachelor friday evening with housemates, beer, last night's curry, maybe going out, maybe even talking to girls...Woo Hoo!

Mike's Top Ten Albums - next five(ish)...

Cheers to all those who enjoyed the first five and let me know about it....and so, here's the next five, once again, in no particular order:

Wanderlust - Wanderlust

Initial release from amazing Australian 'world-jazz' group (I guess you gotta call it something). I read a blurb once that described the band's outlook as something along the lines of embracing the many musical cultures and traditions of the world in order to produce a uniquely Australian musical outlook. And for me it couldn't be more like that - there is one track in particular, 'Dakar', obviously entitled after the African city, but whenever I hear it, I am strangely always reminded of an infinite memory of evenings in the Australian summer - baking hot, rapid dusk, cicadas, crashing waves on the beach in the distance somewhere...ah, the homeland! In the long journey to discover one's own musical and cultural identity, such an outstanding release from an accomplished band with such a strong, forward-moving concept continues to be an source of inspiration. One of the best gigs I ever saw was these guys at the now live-musicless Tilley's, Lyneham, Canberra - the live group interaction was extraordinary, and that wasn't even with the original bass player! Without a doubt, one of the best gigs I've ever seen. M, the band's 'leader', is one of my musical gurus, and also happens to be a good friend of mine. Their first release was one of four so far, all well worth a listen.

Peruchin - Piano con Mona

Ruben Gonzalez describes in his liner notes to 'Introducing...' about the emergence of Cuban piano soloists in the 30s and 40s and mentions beside himself two other names, Lili Martinez and this guy. But unlike 'Introducing...', which captures a handful of the classics in a throw-together session (also taking into account Gonzalez's arthritis, old age, and no piano at home for ten years!), 'Piano con Mona' features a founder of the tradition this incredible album is from the same vein but of a player at the height of his powers, supported by a killer band! The overflowing list of tracks seems to be handpicked from what must have been an enormous band repertoire, and the turbo-charged band energy suggests a seasoned, well-experienced unit with a long history of playing together. Israel 'Cachao' Lopez talks about recording his famous Descarga sessions at 3 o'clock in the morning, that is, directly after everyone's gigs were finished for the night! Listening to this album, I wouldn't be surprised if these guys did the same. The other thing about this album is that whenever I've played it, whoever I've played it to, it always instantly captures people's attention, uncannily, unlike any other album I own.....freaky!

Marvin Gaye - What's Goin' On

Motown with a social and political conscience...originally rejected by the management, Marvin Gaye's release of the title track brought them around, after which he recorded the rest of the album. Over the new year, I went through a two week period of listening to this album non-stop everyday, with my first thought each morning being that I was thankful to be alive simply for the reason of being able to listen to this music.

Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage, Headhunters and others...

Where do I start!? The original multi-guy piano-keyboard player - no, simply 'player' is too weak a word to describe this musical giant. The 50s and 60s Blue Note catalogue has always held an almost mystical element for me, and 'Maiden Voyage' ascends even that: it becomes one of those albums that cannot be described as Jazz or modern or post-bop or any other similarly useless terms. It is simply itself, it is simply....music. And Headhunters? How can an album be such a breakthrough, such a statement of the times, and never sound dated (even with all those 70s synth sounds)?

Stevie Wonder - Inner Visions

All about faces on the scene, plus some love songs, plus some socio-political commentary, all with those pumping keyboard basslines, incredible arrangements, advanced 'pop' harmony, and indestructible grooves that only someone like Stevie can do. This was one of a whole bunch of absolute gold cuts he did in the 70s..."couldn't put a foot wrong," I read the period described as once. Apparently most of the instruments on most of the tracks he recorded himself, making him (as far as I know) probably one of the first people ever to do something like that (with Prince and D'Angelo coming to mind). Being a working musician, I could readily associate with some of the characters in the songs, i.e, the girl in 'Too High', and I used to work for a guy who could only be best described as 'Misstra Know-It-All', about whom I'll be writing a little further on down the track...

Radiohead - OK Computer

Introduced to this band through a former girlfriend, definitely that melancholia thing resonated...I started listening with 'The Bends', where they totally had their thing together but the weirdo electronica stuff was already starting to come in. And then, through best mate Z back in Canberra, I was introduced to this...the program of tracks is incredible (even the computer voice one), and the incorporation of electronics in with rockin indie guitar and Thom Yorke's ghostly vocals gets me going whenever I hear it. 'Kid A' and 'Amnesiac' took it somewhere else with a painful beauty equally as engaging, but this was the first one, the original, the leap-taker. Cheers Z!

Believe it or not, there's more to come on this subject, so stay tuned!...

14 February 2006

Here Comes The Sun II

There's way more sun going on here at the moment. Okay, so we had a lunchtime hailstorm, but the sky and clouds are quickly opening up and the breeze is playing along down the street, and that spring is in one's step again. The air is definitely warming up...it's that slightly uncomfortable feeling of realising you have too many clothes on, followed by the immediate excitement of what that means seasonally...
I was talking about it all to bassplayer Steve on our Valentine's Day engagement last Tuesday at Quags....same old scene, financiers and businessmen and their glammed up ladies, so about the most interesting thing going on there WAS our conversation about the weather.
"The sun is too high in the sky for this time of year," he said with furrowed brow.
"What are you talking about?"
"It's definitely five or six degrees higher than usual, ever since the tsunami....I know, I've got a south-facing garden."
So, I'm inferring from this that cataclysmic tidal movements are now somehow the cause or effect of a movement of the earth's position in the solar system? I'm hoping Steve's going to get back to me on that one!
Maybe it's this change in seasons that are making the folks down at my local Pret's even more friendly than they usually are. I can't believe those guys, and it's in every branch - for non-Londoners, Pret-A-Manger is this city-wide fast food sandwhich chain that does bloody good sandwiches (today I had Italian Matured Cheese and Avocado, with Tomatoes and Pine Nuts), and whenever you buy stuff there, all the staff always look really happy - they even talk to you sometimes. Are they just pleased to work there? Or are they all hooked up to cameras and electrodes with a guy upstairs that flicks a switch the moment a frown appears?
Or maybe they're all on special happy drugs - wouldn't be surprised, as apparently the place is owned by McDonalds, which I feel a bit bad about since I buy my lunch from there pretty much every day....I figure Maccas had to do something for the age group I'm currently part of, because whenever you watch the ads, it's all little kids and oldies, i.e, people with no teeth (another one of my mum's skeptically astute observations!)....
Yes, well, back to the seasons...I know it's going to be the pale English comparison to the Aussie skin-cooking variety, but I'm fired up for it in a way like never before...bring on the summer!

Black Hole Sun

I made it in no time, down High Holborn, past Smithfield markets, past (shudder) where I used to work, and to the imposing concrete fortress that is the Barbican. Despite it's gloomy, overbearing appearance, more resembling a castle-like housing estate than Europe's largest cultural centre, already in my year here I've seen some of the best live music there in the concert hall, and tonight was to be no different.
Reaching the other side of the huge yellow rectangular tunnel running underneath the whole thing, I quicken my pace to a Wetherspoon's a few blocks up the road. It's okay for chain pub grub, it's relatively cheap, and I know the menu. Carefully locating a good vantage point, I fold my coat and scarf carefully over the rail nearby, make my order, and when my steak comes out I indulge in a slightly unusual but strangely welcome occasional habit of eating a meal in public, by myself.
Don't get me wrong, food's to be shared with laughter and wine and wild stories and future adventures out there in the night to come, but now, in my single, largely self-serving, not-too-lonely bachelor life here in the big city, the odd dining experience by oneself is to be enjoyed now and then. If I did it every week I'd start to wonder if there was something wrong, but a couple of times a month is not so bad.
Inhaling a satisfactory steak and salad, I rush back down the street and into the queue for returns at the Concert Hall. Thanks to a generous stranger bypassing some strangely inefficient ticketing procedure, I was given a free ticket to the balcony with minutes to spare to see the Brad Mehldau Trio.
Brad's always been a funny one for me. There are times when it's totally my thing and it's forward looking and all that, but there's other work that leaves me a bit cold, and this concert seemed to move in periods between these two states. Some songs just left me for dead, but others, the one's where he did his thing, totally enveloped me in his darkly beautiful world. Evolving counterlines between hands, a harmonic knowledge from another galaxy, and top support from long-time partner Larry Grenadier on bass and (surprise for me) the extraordinary Jeff Ballard on drums, relative newcomer to this group, combined for a subtle and intense evening.
Most of the material was from a new album, so I only recognised a couple, but Radiohead's 'Knives Out' was superb, and the real treat of the evening was 'Black Hole Sun' by Soundgarden. First encore was some glorious country-infused waltz thing which I'm guessing is the title track from the new album - I'm a sucker for those kind of tunes, and I would have been happy to leave on that one, but the crowd wanted more and they sure got it - Brad whips out this insane extended intro into 'Countdown' at Ludicrous Speed (a la Live at Vanguard volume 2), and then they took it into free playing before the out! Too much for me - it's like, "Okay, you want more, so we're gonna give you some Coltrane changes...now GO HOME!"....anyway, terrific stuff, glad I caught it....

Note: for those unfamiliar with the Jazz knowledge I just referred to, 'Coltrane changes' is a certain system of harmony which, well, let's just say it's complex in its simplicity, and for these players to do with it what they did...it's enough to do your bloody head in!

13 February 2006

A Time For Love?

Anyway, enough romantic musical musings, now on to something probably far more interesting to y'all....been reading about Sherds and her mate GigPig's various adventures with internet dating....always wondered, but been a bit reluctant...and then totally out of the blue, I get this SMS from a site I joined about six months ago, from some girl in Venezuela, and I figured that it must have been a sign, so on the PC at my day job I looked up the site, updated my profile, put a photo up there and went a-looking....was a little nerve-racking at first, but sure enough, a certain girl popped up who I thought I might like to drop a message or send a text, and there it was, I was into it!
Of course, as I always seem to do, I've approached the whole thing quite earnestly and perhaps a little seriously, but I figure that's only for now....I'm thinking maybe down the track just going nuts and messing up my profile and writing bent stuff, you know, get in some crazy Internet adventures...."but hang on Mike, shouldn't you have some respect here, I mean, look at those photos, these are real people"....or are they?....

Until next time, as always, my love to you all....

I Love A Piano...

Played Gatsby again last Saturday night...there seemed to be twice as many gorgeous waitresses as last week! Either manager Nick's got the eye or it's just another world out there past the M25....was kinda talking to one young girl pulling beers, but it's a tough one with waitresses as they're working, and I had two trains to catch...oh well, I'm sure I'll be back out at Berko sometime down the track!...

Inhaling an early morning cawfee and two bits of half-cooked toast, this morning I bounded out the door, up the street and round the corner to catch the 6 into Edgware Road for a mid morning practice session. In amongst the chain cafes and kebab shops of central London's Lebanese district is a handsome-looking piano store with a whole bunch of practice rooms that G-Man referred me to (more about him later)....

This morning is my first of the mid-term week away from the teaching - any chance I can get away from nailing seven year olds to a chair for more than three minutes at a time is always welcome! Couldn't help but feel some sort of sense of occasion, if only privately, like the morning was yet another small step in a slow but steady process of getting my music back on track, after what has seemed like an interminable period of wandering....

As I got off the bus and looked back up the long, wide, straight road (always a rarity in central London), with it's broad walkways and tall apartment buildings, the long-distance focus thing with one's eyes happens again, and I felt reminiscent of a place I've never been, where the streets have no name, a place I'd very much like to get to someday...also reminiscent of the history of this town two millenia in the making, as this used to be Tyburn Lane, the ancient Roman road leading north-west out of the village...did they know what this place would become?....

I plunge headlong into the showroom, it's gleaming lines of cedar and mahogany always a welcoming sight...led down into the basement, I pass a couple of concert grands, nine-footers you could almost take sailing they were so big! and then into the room.

My mistress this morning was a Kawai (Don't they also build bridges ;-D), and she was not disappointing in any way at all...no rickety honky-tonk upright, no Oxo baby grand where I need a fork on standby to jimmy stuck keys out of the keybed mid-tune! This was the real thing, in every way imaginable...

I placed my hands on the keys, noodling out a few impressionistic chords like I always do, to test the richness of the instrument's tone, and all at once I knew that this one was going to do exactly what I wanted it to, but in that gentle way that only a superior piano can....in fact, it was one of those instruments whose capabilities bring to attention the player's own deficiencies, which of course was part of the reason I was there...

And then, in the excitement of discovery, I hit only the sustain pedal, and there's that electric zing of all the dampeners raising at exactly the same time, the zing you're sometimes lucky enough to hear on the best pianos on the best recordings played by all the best players on all your favourite albums...a gateway to a sea of possibilities, the promise of the musical infinite....

Right away I tucked into the rough practice program I'd laid out for myself the night before, and it was a glorious, soul-enriching two hours, as I knew it would be...I'm back there every morning this week...and then, stepping out onto the street, with the light cloud cover and the light all around, this place, this 'alien glob dropped on an ancient settlement', once again didn't seem so bad after all....

10 February 2006

Mike's Top Ten Albums

Some of my entries have been a bit dark and inward-looking lately (probably the bloody weather's got something to do with it), so in an effort to keep it a little more light-hearted and outward-looking, I thought I'd put together a list of my most absolutely favourite music in the world, the stuff that really gets me going. And so, the first five albums are listed below, in no particular order:

D'Angelo - Voodoo

Think hip-hop meets gospel and funk and all the greatest elements of Afro-American popular music from the US and mix it with something amazing from another planet - this album is totally off the scale in so many ways. Vocal harmony overdubbing madness combined with an incredible band that couldn't sit back on the beat any further if they tried (or could they!?)...striking lyrics telling tales of ghetto life and relationships and homage to musical gurus....'Brown Sugar', his first release in '95, is also well worth a listen, but this plus a live at Jazz Cafe makes a total of three albums in six years. I'm not up with the full story, but apparently it's something to do with his extra-curricular activities...come on mate! leave the drugs at home and start pumping out another ten of these! This music is too amazing for there to be so little of it.

Afro Cuban All Stars - A Toda Cuba Le Gusta

In my humble opinion, this spinoff from the Buena Vista Social Club album is a far sight better than the former. Great program of tunes ('Maria Caracoles' never fails to get me dancing), all-star cast of old 'son' singers with new badass young guys...the Cuban thing doesn't get much more real than this. Back in the early days when I was just discovering Latin music, this was a great accompaniment to all the latest Timba stuff, 'Salsa Cubana', coming out of Havana these days...

Bill Evans Trio - Portrait in Jazz

If 'Explorations' was the vibe album, and 'Sunday at Village Vanguard/Waltz For Debby' was the live experience, then this is the demo. This is what this trio could do - young giant Scott La Faro, while playing also at the time with Ornette Coleman, is terrifying, sounding more like a ultra-low guitar on some stuff (check the solo on 'Witchcraft'), and Bill is suitably inspired in melody and line ('What Is This Thing Called Love') as well as harmony ('Spring Is Here'). Sadly, these four albums are all that remain of such a groundbreaking trio, together for a little over two years...one of the many stories of Jazz folklore is the tragic tale of Scott La Faro's untimely death in a car accident on a remote country road, about a week after the abovementioned live recordings were cut. Bill Evans spent the next twenty years (so the story goes) looking for someone comparable, whom he finally found in Marc Johnson, about a year before Bill's own untimely passing in his early 50's.

Vinicius Cantuaria - Tucuma

Intriguing album from self-exiled Brazilian in New York. Cantuaria's playing style is strongly from Joao Gilberto (but then, who in the Brazilian singer-songwriter-guitarist tradition doesn't?), and this is the core of the experience, surrounded by electronics, spoken word, shades of the avant-garde, but still strongly Brazilian and Bahian, and played by a fantastic band including Joey Baron and Bill Frisell. The perfect accompaniment for that overwhelming melancholia of post-relationship blues!

Harry Connick Jr - 20

Back in the early history of it all, when I was just starting to ask the question, "What is this thing called jazz?", Harry was (and in some ways still is) the man - this charming (and similarly terrifying) solo album with guests demonstrates his highly successful and entertaining amalgam of all the styles of the great Stride and Swing pianists, plus a bit of Monk and his own left-field, slightly frenzied musical imagination, and all done barely out of high school! In a lot of ways, I still want to play like this, one day...

More soon....

09 February 2006

Song Song

I get funny periods in my day now where I'm just feeling...okay, like I'm just living. I was catching the tube into work the other morning listening to Jeff Buckley (believe it or not), and I guess it was a bit of a cliche, but just standing there in the tube, staring out the window, I felt...okay. No ruthless self-examination, no constant dissection of past events in one's personal history, no bubbling excitement of going to a gig, no...nothing. Just okay. And a bit neutral, like it's all going a bit tooooo well.....hmmm, is there something missing?

08 February 2006

London Calling VI - The Bodgy Factor

Tuesday, after midnight - just had a lovely dinner with dear friends....making the late night trip back from Angel to Willesden Green, a bit of a tricky one sometimes as that particular journey doesn't follow the normal transport corridors littered throughout north London. Coming off the bus at Swiss Cottage, I drop out of warp to dive down a dark staircase and into another small, barely noticeable entrance to a tube station. I register the fact that there are two large signs either side of the gate, but the half open gate fails to stop me.
Assuming my quickened stride down the corridor, I get a little further on and suddenly notice piles of construction materials and equipment carefully laid out, taking up the left hand side of the walkway. Great, so what happens if I'm some crazed loon and I decide to take a nose dive into those silver pole thingys over there...instant litigation, court battle with City of London et al....
Passing the glares of three construction workers in hard hats and orange vests, I reach a second closed gate...turning to go back up the corridor with an annoyed but complicit smile, one of the workers goes, "There were signs at the gate, you know...but don't go back, you've come all this way." And so as I turn again to open the second gate, he calls back, "There were signs, you know," and then someone shoots back, "Yeah, but the gate was open, mate." I open the gate, stride on down but the guy calls back, "Shut the gate!?", and before I can fight the impulse I turn and shut the second gate for him (it is the country code I suppose)...
So how is it that between two large signs and three guys in vests and hard hats that a hurried commuter like myself is allowed to walk past potentially dangerous construction equipment?
This place is frayed at the edges - a sense of bodginess pervades throughout the city:

* - Crossing the street at traffic lights, the green man lights up and you walk, and then as soon as he disappears the lights change and traffic starts to come at you....
* - For the country that was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, how is it that the Tube is regularly delayed and breaking down due to things like signal failures and lack of safety measures?
* - And how is it that in one of the financial capitals of the world, on any given day in central London, about half the cashpoints are actually working?

I'm whingeing again I know, but when you live daily amongst all this stuff it just adds up....is this place turning me into a whingeing Pom?

On a much more positive and totally unrelated note, I had an awesome out-of-town gig last Saturday night at a place called Gatsby in Berkhamsted (see photos)...formerly a 30's era cinema with all the Art Deco trimmings, chandelier sprouting from a pressed tin ceiling...extraordinary! The whole place had such a great vibe...cranking bar out the front for the punters, with a few stairs up to a swish dining room up the back, and in the middle of it, a white baby grand (it's been a while!). Three sets, the last one being a little more animated, with applause (!!) at the end of the set...food looked great, friendly management, gorgeous waitresses....what else is there!? Berkhamstead (or 'Berko' as it was referred to by some local ladies who accompanied me on my walk back to the station) is a rich little village on the way to Birmingham, about an hour by train from my place, so it was an easy little jaunt out of the M25, and it was so noticeable that everyone looked a little healthier and happier...the crowd felt a lot more human than some of the central London herds I play for. Put in a good word to the guy who depped it to me (the day before), and it looks like it could happen again. Just gotta line up a couple more of them a week and I'd be home and hosed!

03 February 2006

On The Trail...

Thursday night, Oxo Tower, 6.30pm. I'm a little early, and my partner in crime for the evening is still on his way, so in the middle of another busy week, I hit an oasis of calm, a period of inactivity. Hunched behind my second house red of the evening, the brasserie looks a little thin on the floor tonight, bringing the spectacular view even more into focus, in the mind's eye especially....
But wait, there's a little commotion in the perihperal vision. In the corner, a table of seven or eight are closely clustered around themselves, and then I glance across to see a couple both sitting on the same side of their table a few metres away. 'City boy' is sitting parallel to the river, boofed up grey hair, jumper - leaning back in his chair, legs crossed, nonchalant, confident in his economic and social standing. This is his scene, after all.
'City girl' has her back to me and is sitting a little too close to City Boy, facing him, legs spread, and she's rabbiting on in his ear about something or other with great gusto, shrugs of the shoulders and such. From the other side near the register, two of the service staff are looking on with interest and amusement, and I realise that there may actually be something of interest to watch.
One of the staff is now standing with the couple and City Girl is giving her a right serve about something, almost loud enough for me to make out words. The staff member's receptiveness and apologetic nature are not quite in tune with her glazed over eyes; not another rowdy bunch, and it's only 6.30.
I exchange an amused look with the manager who is dining at the table across from me. He's curious, but totally unphased - all part of a night's work.
Another more senior staff member is sent over, this time polite but much firmer and City Girl is still raving on at him. Eventually the compromise is met, the staff member leaves, and City Girl complies with a plastered smile. City Boy hasn't moved or said a thing.
I get rankled when people want to mess with the hardworking men and women of the hospitality industry. The long hours, the hierarchy - they've got enough to deal with before having to put up with arrogant customers trying to throw their weight around. Fair enough if the service is dodgy, but I can personally attest to the crew at Oxo doing a pretty good job.
Regardless, eventually the other player, Colour, a great guitarist, turns up, we polish off the mackerel and have a great time across the four sets of the evening. I've been looking forward to this one for a while, and we talk about the scene and Oz and here and people we know and albums and music and it turns out to be a really great night on the trail....