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livestream at smalls: gilad hekselman, sam anning, and ari hoenig

Smalls jazz club in New York provides free live video streams from their club every night 7:30pm to 3:30am (ET). Because of this discovery I was able to watch two of my personal heroes, Ari Hoenig and Gilad Hekselman, perform live without having to buy a plane ticket (actually as of writing this sentence, they are coming on for their second set – I may have to take a break to watch again).

Hoenig, Hekselman, and Anning began with “In the wee Small Hours of the Morning” (at least, I think they did, any setlist inaccuracies I blame on my internet connection, and the fact that I was cooking dinner when this began). The head was played slowly and sweetly: a move that few would risk in front of what was a noisy bar crowd just moments before. Yet they managed to command the attention of the entire room. Beginning with Hekselman’s solo break, a gradual crescendo in dynamic and intensity of feeling ensued. By the peak of the guitar solo, it was as if a whole different piece was being played.

Flying flawlessly from form to form, changing not only tempo, but feel and groove, and even harmony and chord changes is the theme with Hoenig and the groups he brings to Smalls. Hekselman and Hoenig are so eager to catch each other’s rhythms that their playing is positively telepathic. Anning is right there with them when they suddenly lock into a new groove.

There is a constant energy as they play, shifting restlessly from groove to groove, often in different directions. It is the energy that really unifies the group, allowing them to be constantly trying out new things without losing focus. I imagine that it gives them the freedom that lets them happen together on a completely different feel or tempo.

Towards the end of the set they played “So What” by request. In many ways this performance epitomizes the entirety of their live performance. Anning and Hoenig took the head together. Anning on bass shifted the phrases by a beat back and forth, and Hoenig obliged by playing with him. The result was a melody that stayed in time, but seemed to constantly lose or gain a beat between phrases. Hekselman’s solo began demurely quoting Miles’ iconic playing. It quickly graduated to freer use of chromaticism, again gradually building into a roaring crescendo, with the entire band on fire. Hoenig took a solo recognizably quoting the melody on his drums though displaced in pitch and meter. On the out head, Anning led the telltale changes in meter, keepig it fresh, even after his creative take on the in head.

On the whole, I am overjoyed at discovering I can take a peak on Smalls every night from my internet connection. If I ever make it to New York, I know this is going to be a must see destination for me (probably most nights that I can make it), especially to see Gilad Hekselman and Ari Hoenig. They are doing everything in the trio setting that I wish I could when I perform and it is such an inspiration.

Rupa and the April Fishes at Union Square

Posted on August 26, 2011

Rupa and the April Fishes

I had the pleasure of seeing Rupa and the April Fishes for free at Union Square courtesy of SFJazz’s free summer concert series (sponsored by Macy’s I think).

To say the least I was impressed. The energy never let up in the entirety of the performance. The musicianship was spot on in the effortless changing of feel and tempo, and in the rich harmony in the singing. The style was an eclectic mix from all over the world, yet all of it seemed to come form the heart of each musician. It is amazing that Rupa could have assembled a 7+ piece band that could share so many musical tendencies.

If you want to be further regaled at the amazing multiculturalism and scope of the band you can find them in other reviews. I am satisfied to say that this is a great band: you can’t deny the power of a group that can draw a crowd on a weeknight in the fog and rain.

Hiromi: Voice

Posted on August 24, 2011

Hiromi

Hiromi is one of my favorite pianists. To say her technique is incredible is an understatement, and yet her music does not suffer an over-reliance on technical feats. You can tell that very line, chord, and rhythm she plays has a very extra musical meaning behind it. It is not that her technique that informs what she can play, but that she can manifest any emotion or mental image, effortlessly as if she were actually speaking. Hence the title of her album “Voice.”

All of the elements of a Hiromi album return here. An incredibly fun and sometimes poignant mixture of funk, rock, swing and blues, Voice could be very easily be compared to much of Hiromi’s previous output, especially with her “Sonicbloom” and earlier efforts.

There is another interesting trend that seems to have finally materially manifested itself with this latest release after years of fermenting in the background.

I would say four out of the nine tracks overtly display classical influences (specifically romantic era), just in terms of harmony (ok including the Beethoven Sonata is a little bit of cheating). Voice begins with a minor progression over a descending baseline, sighing with suspended chord tones (a harmony professor’s dream). Labyrinth tributes Liszt’s delightful ornamentation, and Haze mixes together the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, with the melodic sparseness of Satie.

But it is not just, the harmony and style that draws a classical influence.

Hiromi goes deeper. She composes and performs with a very conscious idea of texture. Billing her compositions as “Music of ‘Three-piece-orchestra'” should have clued me in. My old orchestration professor stressed that “orchestration was not just instrumentation.” Hiromi, in putting together her trio, demonstrates the difference. In her compositions and arrangement, she brings out the best from whatever group she is in, both in texture and interaction, much like a master orchestrator. Even in her own playing, composed, and improvised, Hiromi achieves just the right kind of piano texture for the mood. The difference between the impressionistic “Haze,” the rich “Now or Never,” and the frenetic “Voice” demonstrates these changes nicely.

I originally became a fan of Hiromi because of the theatricality of her technique. I saw a musician who had no barrier between the excitement in her soul and the sound that she made. Being able to watch her career unfold is a pleasure, as each year I learn to listen better and uncover the subtlety behind what makes her music great.

Kickstarter week 1

Posted on

pre-order a cd through kickstarter

This whole kickstarter flew by much faster than I had thought it would. I honestly did not think that I would get supporters at the 250 level, but I got three! That accounts for 75% of my goal, which was achieved in less than 4 short days.

I am really grateful for the support. This means I do not have to kick and push and shove for ~100 backers, which is what I thought I was going to have to do (100x$10 each in order to reach $1000). I now have enough money coming in to cover the cost of producing physical cds. Unfortunately I cannot order them early, just on the off-chance that someone wants to back at the 100+ level. I promised those packers a mention in the cd jacket, so we have to wait the full 30 days.

The campaign is still going for a number of reasons.

1. kickstarter policy: can’t change the end time of the campaign.

2. I figure this would be a good way to do cd preorders. While I do have to cover shipping cost, this is probably the avenue in which I would get the most money from each individual online sale (CD baby takes $4 out of every cd you sell, and selling digitally you also lose a cut to whomever you are going through).

3. kickstarter and amazon together will get about 10% of what gets raised, so having a little bonus will help make up the difference. Having a lot of bonus will help pay back the cost of recording and shipping the cds (though I had already resigned this venture to a money sink: the value I am getting out of doing this is definitely not financial).

4. It would be nice to have some time to figure out cover art, avenues of distribution, and other such things.

It’s been an exciting week though. Thank you everyone for that.

Don’t forget. Vessel Gallery in Oakland this Saturday!

[tl;dr just go to my kickstarter page here and preorder some kickass music for $10.]

Originally I was not sure if I was going to release a cd. I did not even consider getting professional recording and mastering done until a few months ago.

The Honors Trio project was so successful that I decided to go for it and get the best band I ever had professionally recorded. I was not really entertaining the idea of selling cds. I figured I would get a really nice demo, and something I could slap on a CDR and sell or give away at the cafes and bars I was not even sure I would be playing.

The recordings ended up turning out great. I won’t lie and say that it was a breeze and that our amazing chemistry exhibited itself stronger than ever for our last performance and we churned out amazing take after take. For a couple tunes that was true (ie First Day rarely comes out poorly, and is usually pretty different each time we play it). But for others it took quite a few takes to get something clean, where everyone was fully locked in, and the music did not leave a bad taste in our mouths (Play me a lullaby, which I thought was the easiest piece to play, took seven takes before we had one we could all stand by. I really almost gave up before that last take). But the persistence paid off. I am embarrased to say that I listened to the first mixes enough times to sing along with most of the tunes (Forrest’s solos and mine, and Benny’s energized drumming as well) while we were mastering. When I got the masters and compared them to the quick mixes, the difference was phenomenal. I even wondered how if I could listen to the unmastered versions again.

But what do with the masters?

Originally I was thinking of printing 300 cds, giving most of them away, and seeing if I could recoup the costs through cd baby and digital sales through iTunes. Charlie, our engineer and all around recording guru, pointed out that it was way more cost efficient to order at least 1000, and the quality would be better. When each cd costing less than a dollar, I could be way more free in giving it out as a demo, or as promotion. He is the one that also suggested raising money through kickstarter. After showing me a few successful campaigns, $1000 suddenly did not seem like a lot of money. Just 100 people had to preorder a cd for $10 each. Between Benny, Forrest and I, I figured we had 100 willing friends.

I will admit that I am still a bit uncomfortable with the idea of “releasing” and “album.” I wonder if I will lose credibility (as if I had any to begin with) if I self-release, and what it would mean to support it without any kind of management to back me up. At the risk of being arrogant, however, I have to say the cd sounds great. It is something I can stand behind if I push it out to press, bookers, or anyone who would be judging me professionally. It is something that I think is definitely worth $10 for a pretty physical copy, and is a deal at $5 for a digital copy.

So yeah, I am releasing an album. Help me raise the money to release it on my kickstarter page. I promise it is worth it.

In other news, catch me at Momi Toby’s this Sunday. 8pm. No cover, just a lot of fun. Last time I was there things were crazy.