Tag Archives: jazz

the lowliest cello

2 Feb

Watch Erik Friedlander make the cello sound as if it’s never been to the symphony. Those triplet runs he does at 1:10 are fantastic.

timberbrit: tragic circus

15 Dec

I spent the majority of my afternoon yesterday watching videos from the semi-staged production of Timberbrit, an opera by Jacob Cooper that tells the fictional story of Britney Spears’s final hours, in which Justin Timberlake comes to win her back / save her.

Here’s why I’m interested: the opera is constructed from the music of Spears and Timberlake, single lines time-stretched until they lose all resemblance to the original song. Behind the wavering vocals is original music that ranges from free jazz to shoegaze.

The conceit might bore or annoy you, but I can’t escape the ache in the music. Slowed down, the songs become the soundtrack for the tragedy that is popular music. And Britney Spears.

Watch the music video for “Worst Fantasy” below and you’ll see what I mean. The real footage they included almost makes me weep.

manipulating time

29 Nov

Jazz clarinetist and composer James Falzone challenges our notion of time:

“It feels like it’s going faster—even though it’s not. There’s no pulse going on. One of the tricks of music is that we’re manipulating time. There was never a pulse anywhere on Saturday night. So was I playing faster? You can’t say I was.”

He’s referring to a performance last spring, in which he played by himself for fifty-some minutes. And he’s right. There was a part that did feel faster. But there’s no empirical way to make that statement. We were all outside of time for a while, even though the clock kept ticking.

framed space: meditations on two tracks

20 Sep

The saxophone sets the scene. 1950s suburbia. The kind of place I only know from television and movies. With new lawns being cut by new lawn mowers that scrape along the concrete of new curbs. The song, or couple of songs—“Protect From Light (I)” and “Protect From Light (II)”—also get their period feel from the album’s art, a hand-drawn illustration in which two dames with hairstyles circa 1955 operate the switches of what might be a spaceship. They sit precisely the way they would at a switchboard, as if they were suddenly beamed into the future, command deck controls spliced into where there had been an innocuous panel of blinking lights. Up in the corner of the pale green drawing: blink. Followed by The Architects. The first is the band, rendered always in lowercase and with that period after—a command: blink.

It’s only for a second that I feel I’m in that suburban front yard, because this isn’t really nostalgic music; it doesn’t sound like the 1950s, not after that first flutter. Instead the camera pans back and I realize the town was only a TV set, and then that even the set was just green screen. And the music, a rare blend of electronics and jazz, somehow feels old and playful and simultaneously futurey, kind of like The Jetsons.

There’s only a few melodic moments with real phrasing, which gives those moments power. Outside these is just texture. It’s interesting texture though, alien landscapes that might be what suburbia looked like back then to those poor chaps who were lucky to see anything again at all.

The songs remind me of a place that I often visit over lunch. A cast-iron structure, just past the office towers and condos of Chicago’s downtown, built over a walkway that leads into a formal garden not far from the lake. It’s not a structure so much as a four-sided gateway, a shell of what might’ve been built.

Perhaps the best way to describe it is to say that it’s not really a building in the same way that a cube drawn on paper is not really a cube. It’s simply an outline. And it frames space the way the pencil lines frame the shape. Adding to its depth, the cast-iron frame is porous, with wide ornamental gaps in its walls and roof, flooding the walk with sunlight and confusing my senses: am I inside or out? I’m aware it’s the latter, yet my body also feels contained within a finite space, completely unlike standing free on a sidewalk, or in a field, or even under a tree. That’s what this music is like. It is framed space. Architectural but without structure. Truffles of rust dotting its walls like pennies. A gateway to something more important than itself.

:: :: ::

Listen to “Protect From Light (1)” here.

avant-garde ecclesia

14 Apr

An excerpt from my latest piece for Alarm:

Though Falzone is a man of faith, he doesn’t have a background in liturgical music. “I’d only had a moderate background even going to church,” he says. “I’d never played music in church, and I kind of stayed away from it, to be honest.” But after being approached in 2002 by his friend Bob Reid, the pastor of Grace Chicago, Falzone decided to try it. He set to crafting arrangements that defy much of what church music has become. In any given arrangement, he is toying with both traditional hymns, contemporary styles of world music, and improvisation, and what he’s doing is resurrecting ancient practices.

A hymn’s words and music used to be separate — any text could be matched with any tune. Hymnals were arranged with indexes in the back, so that songs and words of the same meter could be easily combined. He’s broken these two elements apart again, pairing 15th Century religious texts with a Hindu folk song, for example, or adding an original coda to a centuries-old hymn.

lloyd miller + the heliocentrics

10 Apr