kneebody masterclass

Posted on November 28, 2011

Kneebody did at masterclass at UC Berkeley (my alma mater). While I thought I already knew most of what I could know from reading hearing interviews I was mistaken. Their approach to having a band in particular is very different to the majority of jazz groups – even ones that have stayed together for as long as they have (11 years).

I was most excited to hear about their system of cues. It turned out to be pretty much exactly what I thought – different melodies that can be played at any time – that signify different “commands” such as: start/stop playing, change tempo, change key, do something different. They way they put it was that they were simply “talking to each other” but in a musically way rather than yelling out words. Something I thought about, but did not fully realize until I saw it was the sheer amount of musicianship this system requires to pull off. The cues themselves are like licks you learn in every key – but it still seems like an accomplishment to me that they can fit them into pretty much any situation – key, tempo, free playing – and still have it sound natural and integrated in the music. The transposition cue impressed me the most because on top of the complications of playing and recognizing the cue, you also have to recognize the interval relationship and then be able to instantly transpose to the new key. I guess it’s time for me to work on my ear training again.

I imagine that learning all their tunes by ear (and consequently having them memorized) has something to do with their ability to play in any key or tempo on a dime. Taking the time to rehearse and memorize each tune is also indicative of the level of commitment that the members have for the band and the collective spirit under which they operate. They emphasized that Kneebody is leaderless and that everybody shares in the administrative duties, such as booking gigs and organizing tours, as well as the costs that a leader would usually have to carry by him or herself.

I keep spinning in my head what it would be like to have a band that clicked as well as the guys from Kneebody, who loved the band enough to keep it going for ten years, have all the tunes memorized and all of the other miraculous things I saw. I forget though, that they also mentioned that it took a while to really get going, not just in terms of gaining a following and finding a place to play their genere defying completely “unmarketable” music, but just to gel as a band. I think it was Adam who said they started out doing standards at jazz clubs and that it just was not working out very well, and they all agreed that it was a long process getting the band to be where it is today.

Music has taken over my life

Posted on November 6, 2011

Music has taken over my life, in case there was any doubt. This week I saw four concerts, went to two jam sessions, and bought the Heernt album.

Last Saturday I saw the Keith Jarrett Trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. I got a ticket at the last minute, and ended up with a seat at the very rear of the balcony and on the very far right corner, which was probably the worst seat in the house. Regardless, the performance was incredible. I confess that I had seen this trio once before a couple years ago and had zoned out for most of it. I guess I just was not ready at that point in time, or primed to notice to the stories that Jarett could tell, and the incredible interplay between the members of the band. While it seemed like Jarret led the whole time, I noticed him reacting with Peacock’s and DeJohnette’s interjections. Together the three really fit together an interlocking, overlapping, and thoroughly complementary performance. Despite playing two long sets, they came out for an encore, and then a double encore “When I Fall in Love,” which Jarrett introduced “This is dedicated to someone I have recently fallen in love with.” The whole night was this beautiful.

On Sunday I went to Yoshi’s in San Francisco and saw a “Kabuki Cabaret,” which was pretty much the The Asian American Orchestra with story telling by Mark Izu’s wife Brenda Wong Aoki. It was really entertaining: I would definitely recommend it to anyone. I do wish There was more singing by Moy Eng, but I suppose I should just try to catch her at one of her own gigs if I want that.

Wednesday I saw the Chester Thompson quartet. My teacher Brian Pardo was on guitar, which was a treat for me to see. Also, Howard Wiley was playing tenor saxophone. One thing I could definitely say about Chester is that he can really put together a well crafted solo. Laying down bass with the organ pedals, he worked the crowd with his chops over the changes, deep pocketed feel, dynamic control, and mastery over the tone of his hammond B3.

After the set, Brian encouraged me to stick around in the lounge and participate in the jam session hosted by Chris Amberger. I am really glad that I did. The night pretty much became a guitar showcase of another of Brian’s students (a 16 year old with much better chops and command over changes and repertoire than I had even in college – she has definitely already put in a good amount of practice), myself, Brian, and Brian’s friend Dave (I can’t recall his last name at the moment). Playing and listening was great – Chris was very encouraging, and the band was really good about supporting the soloist, no matter what level. What made the night for me, though, was getting to talk to all of the musicians and hear them reminisce about old times, past sessions, who was played with who then and now, and feeling them project their young selves onto me and Brian’s other student in their encouragements. Slowly I feel like I am becoming a part of the “scene” here in the bay area. If I can get my chops up and keep a high profile maybe I can develop some relationships and be a part of the regular crowd of players that I always tend to run into whenever I go see a gig.

Friday I saw a concert at San Francisco State University called In Post-Chromodal Discourse with Hafez Modirzadeh, Amir ElSaffar, Vijay Iyer, Ken Filiano, and Scott Amendola. Despite the overly academic title, the group played some really deep and soulful music, albeit in a free jazz, open improvistory kind of way, which may not be accessible to most people. Vijay Iyer’s playing on alternatively tuned pianos was incredible to hear. He seems to have mastered the keyboard so thoroughly that even when the keys are changed to completely different pitches, he is able to extract the sound he wants and bring life to expressive and meaningful music.

The set started off kind of slowly. The beginning of Wolf, Warp and Weft seemed kind of stiff and over composted, like too much contemporary classical music. The musicians eventually warmed up and infused the written material into their own interplay, putting the jazz back into the program. Hafez’s own composition Post Chromodal Facets seemed to better blend the two, utilizing written bridges, backgrounds, and basslines as a way to bridge extended cadenza like solos that featured each musicians. I had come to see Scott Amendola, and especially Vijay Iyer, but it was the whole experience that really impressed me. I have a new found hope for music that is happening in academia.

Finally Heernt. I know I am about half a decade late to the game, but I have to say: It is good. Mark Guiliana put together what I think of as an incredible vision. Listening to the tracks, you know the group had to have been led by a drummer, every element fits together so well.

So much to do. I had a teacher once tell me that if I went to a concert, that my playing should be influenced immediately for days. It should be such that I couldn’t help but incorporate the elements I heard into my own playing (“otherwise you are just a guy that likes music” are his exact words). I feel like I am getting closer and closer to that point, my listening has been much sharpened in the past few years – but I do not know how I am to react to all of these disparate yet, incredible influences. Maybe I need to slow down.