Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This is Our Music: 2009 (Pt. 2)

10) Charles Rumback, Two Kinds of Art Thieves
Rumback is a tremendously giving, supportive drummer, the kind that fades into the wallpaper if you're not listening closely. But pay attention and you'll be rewarded by the way he buttresses the horns (Joshua Sclar on tenor and Greg Ward on alto) and bass (Jason Ajemian). Rumback debuts as a leader here, but he's far from green, and it comes across. The result is warm, open, loose. And yet again, Clean Feed is the platform for a winning record; the label that can't lose.

9) David S. Ware, Shakti
I retain no residual doubt that Ware is one of the most important musicians of his era, and Shakti confirms it anew. That the saxophonist felt the draft from Death's scythe earlier this year is perhaps more reason to appreciate this disk, and the others that preceded it in Ware's discography. That he is intact, new kidney apparently operating smoothly, lends promise to the hope that we'll have more of his music to treasure in the years ahead.

8) The Raveonettes, In and Out of Control
If all pop music were like this I would listen to commercial radio with a fervent mania bordering on religiosity, the way I imagine people once did on balmy summer nights in topdown cars while cicadas hummed and the sweet pinegum air was thick and warm. We would all know consensus on our favourite songs, and our futures would look as bright as all our yesterdays.

7) Vandermark 5, Annular Gift
Vandermark the yeoman. Vandermark the workhorse. Vandermark the champion. Vandermark the blue-collar intellectual. The band (Dave Rempis (alto and tenor sax); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics); Kent Kessler (bass); Tim Daisy (drums)) hums along like a well-oiled, many-headed automaton, and a staggering run continues.

6) Sonic Youth, The Eternal
Nearly thirty years, 15 albums, endless experimentation, a devotion to stylistic restlessness, scores of followers who don't deserve the comparison, and you have to say this much for Sonic Youth: their Sonic Youth impression is bang-on.

5) Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Slick and smooth, poppy and damn-near perfect. This is the music I want to hear in car commercials, and in the iPod era, I can (God bless the invisible hand of the marketplace). I heard this while strolling the aisles of IKEA the other day, and it sounded right. I bought three Billy bookcases.

4) The XX, XX
Sexy, detached, effortless, cool. Can I dance to this? Is that cool? Or will that trip up my brooding? Because really, I could go either way.

3) Rob Mazurek, Sound Is
An abundance of space and atmosphere. A very interesting musician gets even more interesting.

2) Phosphorescent, To Willie
Matthew Houck unearths the essence of the Red Headed Stranger. If there's blood in your veins, chances are decent it'll be thinner before this record's over. Substances and self-loathing; outlaw country by way of Williamsburg. This initiates the countrified left hook-right jab combo at the top of this list, and they're close, man, close. But they serve different purposes: this one's for drinking and feeling low. Oh, and singing along with my three year-old daughter, who took a shining to "that "Reasons to Quit" song" as soon as she heard it. I chalk it up to the harmonies, not the lyrical content. Right?

1) Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
If Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (the better album, but probably only because "Star Witness" is a perfect song) was a revelation, Middle Cyclone is a confirmation. There is more blood, heart, fear and desire in Case's music than you can bear. Take heart, son; crying's the only natural response. The country-to-pop ratio's about the same as on a Taylor Swift album, but the country's a bit realer, and the pop is a thousand times smarter. Does God have taste? If so, he'll see to it that Neko's name is still spoken in a hundred years.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

This is Our Music: 2009 (Pt. 1)

25) Tony Wilson Sextet, The People Look Like Flowers At Last
24) St. Vincent, Actor
23) Japandroids, Post-Nothing
22) The Big Pink, A Brief History of Love
21) Young Galaxy, Invisible Republic
20) Deer Tick, Born on Flag Day
19) The Twilight Sad, Forget the Night Ahead
18) Obits, I Blame You
17) The Wooden Sky, If I Don't Come Home You'll Know I'm Gone
16) Great Lake Swimmers, Lost Channels
15) Francois Carrier and Michel Lambert, Nada
14) Joe Pernice, It Feels So Good When I Stop
13) White Rabbits, It's Frightening
12) Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love, Chicago Volume
11) Grizzly Bear, Vicketimest

Monday, December 7, 2009

Allow me to re-introduce myself...

THE DEADBEAT, never-present stiff who only occasionally checks in with a token gesture: that’s been me of late. I could plead busy! or distracted! and those things would be fully true, but only half the story. Disinterested! might be more accurate.

For a while there it seemed to me the most exciting thing I’d heard for a while was recorded in either 1982 or 1986 (take a bow, Mark E. Smith). That didn’t do much to stoke the fire that usually burns in me this time of year: the annual display of wankery that is the Year! End! List! I was, in a way that I’ve rarely been before, down on music. There were only a few stock pieces in the collection that I fell back on, mood pieces mostly, music for sleeping. Nothing new grabbed me.

Ah, but then Ron stepped in. I saw him on a recent trip to Ottawa, and he gave me a box of CDs (how many friends would do that?), the still-thriving fruit of our dormant enterprise. The contents of The Box, while not uniform in quality, were all new to me, and so they performed the neat trick of rousing me from my stupor.

THEN, STRANGE RUMBLINGS from Glenn Branca, of all people, opining that we’ve reached the End of Music; there’s nothing left to create! Maybe Branca’s out of ideas. Roses from dung: the piece served to awaken an anger in me (and others – check the comments) that someone would have the shortsighted nerve to declare such a thing. And it put my doldrums in perspective. It, along with the box of music Ron gifted, put me back on my course.

THE BOX was largely divided between three labels: Toronto’s Barnyard Records, Vancouver’s Drip Audio, and Chicago’s venerable Delmark (with a pinch of Long Song and a smattering of Altrisuoni). Of the first I was almost wholly ignorant; with the second I had only a passing acquaintance; with Delmark I was rather chummy. There were records by artists I’d lost track of, a few I’d been looking forward to hearing, and a bunch I’d never heard of. It was a good mix.

BUT THE POINT, really, is not that I was exposed to specific recordings, or discovered this artist or that label. The point is that, for the first time in a while, I was excited about music. And that brings us to now – December -- and to this blog’s reason for being. Heading into November of 2009, I wasn’t really looking forward to the annual exercise, something I’ve never felt before. Enter Ron, and The Box, and a revival of my enthusiasm.

Of the 20 or so CDs in that carton, only a couple will make it onto the list, but the wider point is that the gift, all that music, woke me up. So a debt is owed, Ron. Thank you.

SO, being as it is a bit late in the game, and that I find myself knee-deep in sawdust, paint, and IKEA kitchen components, this year’s exposition will be slightly truncated. Expect a lower word count, but all of the love. I’m thinking that the first, oh, ten or fifteen entries on the List will be devoid of explanation. I’ll save my verbiage for only the very top.

And to those of you who usually receive a CD: maybe January?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Iconoclast

Rodrigo Amado

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Now's the Time: The Finale

So, this is it. I hope you'll join us tomorrow night (Thursday, August 27, 2009) for the very last episode of Now's the Time. Tune in at 93.1 FM in Ottawa and environs, and at everywhere else. It's a supersized dose of NTT; Mark Kiel, our good friend and host of Infinite Ceiling, has donated his time, literally, so that we can all sit around for an extra hour and get maudlin and self-aggrandizing about how great a show we of the Improvised Music Collective thought NTT was. It should all prove nearly unlistenable, but I'm looking forward to it.

So, for the regular time slot, that is 8:30-10:00 PM EST, I'll present the fifth (and final, obvs.) installment of our Francois Carrier series. And then, from about 10:00 (or whenever Ron, Mark, Aidian and Jim decide to show up) until 11:00, some or all of us will play tracks, tell stories, and get a bit weepy, one suspects.

Tune in. This is your last chance.

--> UPDATE: Here it is. Well, most of it. We never got around to pressing the REC button on the boombox for that last hour. But the first bit, the part where I go on about me and my fondness for Francois Carrier, that bit's recorded, and you can hear it here:

Now's the Time, the LAST EVER SHOW: Francois Carrier, Pt. 5 - Listening

You can also read about more about it here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Used to Like That Song

Joe Pernice rocks Stars Hollow, CT.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hear This

My good friend Ron over at Sound and Fury has been posting great stuff recently (well, he's been posting great stuff since day 1, but he really seems to be on a roll of late). He crowns it all with audio from Coltrane's last appearance at Newport. Essential downloading.

And speaking of Ron, and my other fellow IMC members, it is with both regret and happiness that I report that our little show, Now's the Time, will soon reach its conclusion. Several of the guys expressed a desire to devote their time and energies to other pursuits, and so we've given the bigwigs at CKCU 93.1 FM our notice. Our last show is slated for August 27th, and it promises to be a doozy; Mark of Infinite Ceiling, the fearless prog-oriented program which normally follows ours, has offered us his slot, meaning we'll be delivering a massive shot of NTT before we lower the curtain. That'll be 8:30 - 11:00 PM EST. The first part of the program will be my scheduled conclusion to our Francois Carrier series, and the last hour-ish will be a grand send-off -- think The Last Waltz, only grander in scope -- featuring the full complement of dues-paying IMC members.

And as one door closes... there may be changes afoot here at TiOM related to the demise and death of NTT (Long live NTT!), and I'll post news here if/as it develops.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Something greater than everything." (Updated)

Blow the bad stuff out: Gideon et al. (not pictured: Francois Carrier)

I am hooked on the music of Montreal-based saxophonist, composer and improviser Francois Carrier; so much so that my IMC brother Ron and I have devoted 5 episodes of Now's the Time to Carrier's work. Thursday sees me take a bow for part 3, "Something Greater that Everything," an examination of Carrier's music in a spiritual context.

Curious about how Carrier links to Gideon and his 300 trumpet-wielding men? Of course you are. Tune in and find out:

NTT airs Thursday night, 8:30-10:00 EST on CKCU 93.1 FM in Ottawa, and at everywhere else.

The episode will also be available for DL after it airs (I'll post info here). So, no excuses.

UPDATE: And here it is:

Now's the Time, July 23: "Something Greater Than Everything" - Spirituality in the Music of Francois Carrier

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Crazy On You

Nancy Wilson and Roger Fisher

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Don't Give Up On Us

I REMEMBER having a conversation with a friend one night in a noisy, crowded club, the sort of place I can’t imagine stomaching now, though back then it was something akin to a natural habitat. I knew this friend and I shared musical tastes – in fact it was a time in my life where that was pretty much a prerequisite to friendship. Now it seems to have been replaced by a need to find people with young children, like my wife and I do. That’s the fucked up way that your life determines your relationships. Anyway, this friend and I somehow started talking about the Replacements, I think because I’d been telling him about a course on the history of popular music I was taking at university, an elective outside my regular course of study in history (though for me the two were, and remain, very much connected of course, popular music sitting squarely in the pocket of my personal theory of cultural history, which I’d be happy to elaborate upon over a beer, if you’re interested). I had a paper to write, and I think I was telling him that I was thinking about make the ‘Mats the focus of that paper. I can’t fully replicate the conversation – some of it is lost to memory, other parts of it I never heard in the first place, buried as they were beneath rivers of bass and wailing treble (remember the setting) – but I do know with absolute certainty that we discovered a deep common love of Westerberg and Co., and I know that my friend said this: “The Replacements helped me survive high school.”

I GUESS I EXPECTED, if indeed I ever really thought about it, that songs like “I’m in Trouble” and “Bastards of Young” and “Here Comes a Regular” and “Can’t Hardly Wait” and would mean less to me by the time I hit my early-mid-thirties. I anticipated outgrowing the mix of crushing doubt, intense desire and unsubtle antipathy which supply the lifeblood of the Replacements’ music by the time I was married, had a child and a mortgage in a place geographically (if not spiritually) removed from the sodium-lit streets of my upbringing. So why do I need those songs now more than ever? Is it a simple, and paralyzingly depressing case of an early-midlife crisis?

Look, I’m ripe for depression these days. There’s no sense denying that. We moved to a new town last year and the truth is I haven’t taken to it so well just yet. It was a big change, and we were primed for it, sincerely hopeful. I also kind of felt like I had pretty well scotched things in Ottawa, why not try someplace new? And Peterborough is a good place, a nice town. But I haven’t really settled in yet, haven’t met anybody, haven’t joined anything. I stay at home with our daughter, take her to the library, the YMCA, talk to other parents, almost exclusively mothers. We live in an enlightened age, I know, and Peterborough’s a thoroughly liberal town, but a stay-at-home father’s still an anomaly. There are emotional barriers to forging friendships with those mothers. To boot, the move has exposed to great relief those guarded aspects of my personality; I don’t make friends easily (it doesn’t help that I never know what to say). So here I am, spending most of my days speaking only to my wife and our toddler. Night falls and I consider heading downstairs to my basement office to do some writing, but damn it, I’m tired, so a beer and a ballgame on TV is just about my speed. Then wham, it’s 11:00, I’m braindead exhausted, and I hate myself for wasting another evening.

Those are my days.

I’m isolated, treading water. And yeah, that’s got me down. So anything with the rosy tinge of the past, the faint whiff of a time when I felt more hope, is bound to appeal to me right now, and I get that. But with the Replacements, it feels like it’s more than that. It has something to do with the feeling that you’re running out of time.

MY WIFE is good to me. She basically understands what I’m feeling these days. She knows that while she’s landed in a new job and worked her way into a social circle, for me there isn’t the same joy concerning our new situation as there is for her. So when I say, “I need to head out to a movie tonight,” she’s fine with that. And when I said, “I think I need to get away for a weekend, by myself,” she was fine with that, too. She didn’t have to say, “Watch your budget,” because I understood that. It wasn’t as though I thought it would be prudent to fly to New York City for the weekend. But a short, economical road trip around Lake Ontario? Yeah, she was alright with that.

So Google Maps and I devised an itinerary: I would hit Buffalo, rattle around, have a bite and then take in a ballgame on Friday, all before the big prize, Rochester.

When I was a kid all our American network TV came from Rochester. I was raised on Rochester TV, so it’s maintained an undeserved air of nostalgia and mystery. I knew neighbourhoods, street names, business and personalities. I had this sense that, even without ever having gone there, I could find my way around the city; might actually feel a little bit at home there. Drive the streets, see the sights, go to a ballgame, and then cap it all with a visit to the great House of Guitars.

If you’re not lucky enough to have been in broadcast range of a station showing commercials for the HOG, then I pity you. They were fantastic. The proprietors, brothers Armand and Bruce Schaubroeck (who opened the store in ’64), and one or two employees (I guess) would clown it up in front of a camera, repeat the motto “The Store that Ate My Brain,” and hock instruments, records and tapes. Sometimes one of them wore a costume. In one version, somebody in a bunny costume spent the whole commercial saying “Hop, hop. Hop, hop.” It doesn’t sound like much, maybe, but they made an enormous impression on me as a kid, and they made the House of Guitars seem as though it must be pretty much the coolest place on the planet. If you absolutely need to see them I assume they’re on Youtube; otherwise it’s enough to take my word for it.

So I loaded up a box full of CDs, packed some clothes and left on a Friday morning. A beautiful day, the music loud. Had a good time in Buffalo, then drove to Rochester Saturday morning, visited the photography museum, then drove north through town to Irondequoit where the House of Guitars, in an old house-cum-storefront, like somebody’s basement shrine to rock ‘n roll, sat among the dry cleaners and butcher shops and tailors and video rental places.

I TOOK that picture, the one people put on Facebook, of themselves with the co-subject, in this case the store, visible over their shoulder. I held the camera at arm’s length, peered at the bulbous lens and fired. Then I did it again, to be sure.

Up the steps and into the store, greeted by walls of guitars and amps. I don’t know why I expected anything different. Glass cases with guitars leaning upright like statuary. I don’t know what music was playing. There were people everywhere trying guitars, talking guitars, looking at guitars. A sign must have caught my eye, because I began walking with purpose toward the back of the room, past the wall of amps, and then down a little stairway. RECORD STORE DOWNSTAIRS. A-ha.

First you come to a wall of framed photos, members of KISS and autographs from blues legends, stuff like that. A mugshot of David Bowie from when he and Iggy Pop were caught with weed in a Rochester hotel room. Then you come around the corner and there are the rows, the unruly rows, CDs stacked everywhere. Above you, on the high peaked ceiling, more posters, flags. Every inch of wall space bears more memorabilia, most of it autographed. Everywhere piles of stuff that make no sense, bear no order. Just chaos.

That’s when I did that thing, the thing which annoyed me perhaps most of all when I was a record store employee and customers would do it to me: I completely blanked. I had no idea what I was looking for. I had come here with the vague notion of picking up something new to listen to on the ride home, just to get something because I was here, but that constant running list of CDs that I want, that list which never actually gets written down, it completely disappeared on me. And so I wandered around like some music buying novice, feeling stupid and overwhelmed. Suddenly the camera around my neck felt very conspicuous, too.

First thing I pulled out of my head was the Replacements, for those reasons I alluded to above. I was hoping to find some of those shiny reissues. But the shelf was empty, or rather, the general alphabetical area where the Replacements should be, while incredibly crowded, CDs in their longboxes (I know!) jammed into too tight a space, was bereft of anything by the band in question. I wander over to the jazz section, and there I discover that it is perhaps best to stick to rock when shopping at the great HOG, for their jazz section is, well, a token jazz section. Back to the rock section.

Did I mention that this whole time, the store’s stereo is blasting Sabbath? Did I say that?

Hey, I know, how about some Zombies? Yes, the latest Odyssey and Oracle remaster/repackage/reissue. I’ll take that. Then I see the New Release section, or rather, the cardboard boxes sitting atop other stock, dates Sharpied onto their sides, filled with releases from last Tuesday, and the Tuesday before that, etc. At the HOG, this is as organized as it gets. But there was nothing in there I cared to drop $15 on, so I decided to scuttle this visit. I took the Zombies disc up to the cash.

I was pulling my wallet out and trying to downplay the presence of the Olympus E-410 hanging around my neck when the woman at the cash – short, 40s, dressed in black, with black hair, looked like she’d worked in the store since graduating high school 25 years ago – asked in that practiced, offhand way, “Were you looking for anything else?”

“No chance you have any Replacements in stock?” I said. “There wasn’t anything on the shelf. That I could find.”

“Oh man,” she said, “they’re like my favourite band.” That was a good sign. “I think we got those reissues in. They can’t be sold out.” And with that she raced out from behind the counter and led me toward the section. Here she came up empty, too.

“They might be in the back,” she said, and we charged off to a pair of storerooms (closets, really) tucked in the corner. In typical HOG fashion she had to go back and forth from one to the other a few times, because nothing was where it was supposed to be. She asked me which one I was looking for. I said might as well start with Sorry Ma… Forgot to Take Out the Trash. Finally she hit paydirt. She was smiling as she handed me the disc. “Oh man, thanks,’ I said. On the way back to the cash I put the Zombies album back on the shelf (budget, remember).

As she was getting ready to ring up Sorry Ma… she said, “God, I love these guys.” Then: “Wait, you gotta see this,” and again she raced around from behind the counter. In a second she was standing in front of one of the building’s columns, moving a very dusty pile of vinyl. She moved pieces of the stack until she found what she was looking for: a pair of framed shots of the Replacements, one Warner press shot and one snapshot of the band signing autographs in the HOG, probably around 1985 or ’86. Both photos were autographed. I said to her, “Mind if I get a shot of these?” I turned my camera on and fired away.

Back at the counter I paid for the disc, refused the plastic bag, and was on my way when she jerked a thumb over her shoulder and said, “That’s them too.”

And there, chicken-scratched on the wall in black marker, among the band's signatures:

DON’T GIVE UP ON US – Replacements

My head rang. There it was, the meat of those records, and their continuing – rising – appeal to me. Distilled to their essence. Because that’s it: that’s the pulsing, bloody, ragged heart of these songs, and of their effect on me: Don’t give up on us. Meaning: take our stance of disinterest with a grain of salt, but see beneath it; see that what we need is to hope for something bigger. We encrust it all in these layers of bullshit losers’ sloganeering in case, as we half suspect, there’s no point in hoping for something to deliver us. We’re steeling ourselves for the fall we’re almost certain awaits us if we strive. But without the slim hope, the minute sliver of a chance that somebody else is also holding out hope that we might be worth something – anything – we might as well be fucking dead. If you give up on me, I give up on me, and it’s over; I can just sit and wait to die.

I had come all the way to Rochester, to goddamned Irondequoit, to see this, to receive this bit of hope, like a grain of rice. I put it in my pocket and I headed home, back to my wife, my daughter, to my 30s.

I PLACE too much stock in music, depend too much on epiphanies gleaned from Westerberg and Coltrane and Joe Pernice and David S. Ware. I know that. If we’re all running around in 2009 creating self-contained worlds for ourselves and inventing the religious systems therein, then I’m taking musical performances as my scriptures. It might not be healthy, I suppose, but I’ve come too far, done it for too long to stop now. Something about the act of listening (the art of listening?) opens me up and renders me fertile for the seed of goodness. This sounds trite, but it’s true. It’s true that there are times when I simply don’t feel pure enough, good enough, in some way worthy enough to listen to John Coltrane. In those times I have to redeem myself with mind-blanking hard work, or a sincere act, before I feel right enough to listen to “Spiritual” or “Afro Blue” or, most religiously of all, A Love Supreme. There are also three or four pieces of music which have the power to centre and calm me, physically and mentally. Those are the things I plug into as I lay in bed at night, and the things I hum to myself when I feel anxious. With the Replacements, I knew they were right for my mindset, but before I saw that graffiti on the wall of the House of Guitars, I don’t think I could sum up just why, or what it was they said to me. Now I know: Don’t give up on us.

There is music for every emotion, for every longing and for every need, from ecstasy to lust to blackest depression to bemused indifference, etc. At different times I have need for all of it. The music of the Replacements is dear to me, is something I need more often than many others, because it says something I so badly need to hear, because it takes me someplace I desperately need to go: a place of hope amid the bullshit. For a couple of years now I have placed all my hope in my daughter – that’s what parents do, what they should do – but lately I have realized that I must reserve a small bit for myself, too. And that’s what the Replacements have helped me rediscover: the hope that we might be measured not as the people we are, but as the people we want to be.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lady Gaga and Me: My short, thankless career as a wedding DJ

When one of your dearest, closest friends asks a favour, you agree. When he is getting married and asks you to serve as one of his groomsmen, you accept. When he says that the groom's party will be wearing off-white suits, you dutifully run to your nearest chain menswear outlet and rent an ivory tuxedo with champagne accents. And when he asks if you and your other old, dear friend, Miss Imperial, will handle the music for the ceremony and reception, you fire up your PC and scour the hard drive for appropriate songs.

In the final weeks before the big day I prodded the bride-and-groom-to-be for direction. “What kind of music do you want?” I asked. The answers indicated to me that what they were looking for was music to shake their rumps.

But the first challenge was the first dance. “No Celine” was all the input I got for that one. No problem; after a few days of indecision I came up with “I Love You Because” by Elvis Presley, and they loved it.

But what to play after that?

Miss Imperial and I put our heads together and came up with a vague direction, and I went to work putting together a four-hour set that we figured would appeal to folks of our age and mindset. It ranged from old favourites to hip hop to reggae to the Clash to modern dancefloor rockers (Justice, LCD Soundsystem), with a lot of funky detours along the way. It was a good set. We would load the MP3s into Miss I's laptop, create an iTunes playlist, add a few songs from her library, then press PLAY and walk away to join the party.

Everything started well. We had tested the PA system and it worked fine. The ceremony music – JS Bach's Orchestral Suite in D Major, Air for the processional, and the Beatles' “Here Comes the Sun” for the joyous recessional – had gone beautifully. The outdoor ceremony, beneath shading trees and just feet from the banks of the Mississippi River in Carleton Place, Ontario, was airy, sun-dappled, fragrant and just about perfect. Then all retired to the Canoe Club, in the hall on the second floor with the balcony overlooking the river, for dinner, cake, and then dancing.

Fed, watered and increasingly relaxed, we began. I looked around during the first dance: smiles. Then a second slow song, “Loveable” by Sam Cooke, in case anyone else wanted to be rocked gently. Then we gradually increased the tempo. “To Love Somebody” by Nina Simone got my three-year-old daughter to the floor (during the ceremony she had been the escort of the flower girl, a chihuahua in a wedding dress), and she was joined by a few others during the Stones' “Get Off My Cloud.” All seemed to be going well. An upward trajectory in the dancing population was a good indicator, Miss I and I felt.

But then it plateaued, and soon it began to fall. Before long the dancefloor was a sparsely populated region. We started to panic. Maybe the Pixies, scheduled next, wouldn't get quite the reaction we had anticipated. We axed that. “American Girl” by Tom Petty was only mildly successful. Everywhere you looked: unimpressed faces. This was bad.

Then teenaged Cousin Jeffrey pranced up to the table. He handed us a CD. No case, no liners. “Lady Gaga,” he said. “Play track four.” We did so. It was “Pokerface.” Family members, young and old, flooded the dancefloor, danced exuberantly, climbed up onto the stage. Cousin Jeffrey knew every word. There were high fives, smiles, laughing, shouting. Oh heavens.

This, Miss Imperial and I knew, meant trouble. It was an extremely humbling moment.

Maybe, if you're of a certain age, you know the precise moment you first realized that you were completely irrelevant, but probably you don't. For me, that moment occurred at a friend's wedding, on Saturday, June 27, 2009, at the Carleton Place Canoe Club. It was early evening, warm and close, the sun dazzling as it set over the river. I was surrounded by good friends, my wife and daughter, even my parents. I was thirty-two years old, and in the realm of youth, relevance, with-it-ness, I no longer mattered.

We scrambled. Luckily, Miss Imperial has a deep iTunes library. We scored with the Peas' “Boom Boom Pow” and Beyonce's “Crazy in Love” (a classic, apparently). But our choices grew slim. “How long can we keep this up?” I asked her. She looked worried. Improbably, Justin Timberlake cleared the floor. But as the evening wore, older disco stuff kept the people moving. Cousin Jeffrey was judgemental, folding his arms and scowling when something wasn't right, laughing and clapping like a circus seal when we got it right. Over the course of night we would play Lady Gaga's “Just Dance” and two or three more from The Fame that I can't now name. Every damn time they filled the floor. My faith in humanity was rocked, and I was reminded of the Sean Paul Rule, which was taught to me several years ago when I became a product buyer for an HMV store in Ottawa. Soon after landing the job I happened to run into an old friend who was doing the same job in Toronto, and I asked him if there was anything I should know. “Just don't run out of Sean Paul,” he said, “and you'll be fine.” And he was right. (Cousin Jeffrey also requested Sean Paul, coincidentally, and it too was a hit.) Likewise, as a wedding DJ in 2009, just don't run out of Lady Gaga, it seems.

I need to step back here and thank Miss Imperial profusely, if she reads this. It was her, six-months-pregnant belly and all, who took over the laptop and saved the evening, remaining chained to the table and constantly fretting over where to go next. She eased us into the disco (Cousin Jeffrey seemed particularly taken with Diana Ross' “I'm Coming Out”) and from there, into the '80s stuff, where were in something of a comfort zone, and from there we were able, finally, to steer ourselves into material we felt closer to, the night having fallen and many of the guests having taken their leave.

When the night was darkest, we knew that anyone left on the dancefloor was probably loaded or old like us, so we had some more freedom, though I never did get my Horace Andy-Toots and the Maytals- Skatalites-Clash-MIA set in. Finally we were able to hand off responsibility to the groom's brother, plugging his laptop into the PA and letting him take things in a Diplo-and-hip-hop direction while we packed up and joined all our friends (minus the bride and groom) in heading back to the motel for the after-party.

There things were nice and comfy, all thirty-somethings who were fairly appreciative of all the stuff we had chosen. We put the playlist on random and sipped bourbon and coolers (though not the pregnant lady, of course), ate salty things and chatted into the small hours. By my fourth bourbon, after several gin & tonics back at the Canoe Club, I had more or less forgotten the trauma of coming face to face with my own old-and-lame nature. But there was a residual sting, and it lingers still.

In retrospect it's hard to imagine what I had been thinking in assembling that playlist. What fantasy gathering would I be attending where the guests would enthusiastically greet music by Steinski and the American Princes? Who exactly was going to shout “Oh snap!” when I dropped that Editors remix right after the Chemical Brothers and Justice? What the hell was I thinking? It would have been the wedding reception that I longed to attend, wearing through the soles of my replacement shoes (no way I could dance in those rented plastic things) as we all pogo'd, skanked, vogued and bopped the night away, but it bore no resemblance to reality.

So here I am, days later, gradually coming to accept my folly and the commentary it provides about me and my life. I don't mind being old. My friends are old, and for the most part we're happy. But I worry for a future populated by people who could find something appealing in the music of Lady frigging Gaga.

PS (July 1) - I've just spent a few minutes ruminating on the rich tragedy that is the fact that I didn't even get a chance to play "Losing My Edge," when in fact, that's exactly what was going on. Losing my edge. Huh.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Father and the Son (Updated)

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UPDATE: For more info on the show as it aired, read the Official IMC Myspace Blog. To download the episode, load it onto your iPod, drive out to your childhood home, knock on the door, hug your dad and tell him that you love him, plug said iPod into his stereo, and spend 90 blissful father-son moments on Sunday, go here:

Now's the Time, June 18, 2009: Fathers and Sons

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Father's Day next Sunday; bought that tie yet? (Do fathers still wear ties?) In honour of that, Now's the Time (Thursday night, 8:30-10:00 pm EST on CKCU 93.1 FM in Ottawa, for the rest of you) will be devoted to father-son teams in jazz. My co-host, co-programmer and partner in crime this time around is my own dad. It's all recorded, cut and uploaded, so there remains nothing but the airing. Once that's done with I'll post download information here.

You might guess at the selections: Marsalises a-plenty, the Freemans, Monk and his boy, Coltranes named John and Ravi. Lots of good music.

Happy Father's Day.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The 21st Century never done me no favours.

Over the weekend my wife and I were doing some housepainting, and in the course of choosing some music to soundtrack the chore she said to me, "Let's relive 1995," and proceeded to throw some Verve, Cardigans, Massive Attack and Superchunk into the deck (yeah, we were those people). It was an enjoyable excercise, but yet another in a string of moments that make you think, Will I ever be relevant again? Which is to say, have I discovered all the music I'll ever love?

Fast forward to today, a rainy Monday, and my daughter and I were futzing around the house, making guacamole, hacking up a watermelon. These activities required musical backing, so I fired up a bunch of MP3s. None of which were from the current century, as it happened. None.

The culprits: Fela Kuti (pictured), Charlie Parker, Woody Shaw, Tlahoun Gessesse, Otis Redding, Mongo Santamaria, Toots and the Maytals, the Lovejoys, Eric Dolphy and Tony Allen.

Maybe the 20th Century didn't make any sense, but the '00s make even less. I miss "sir" and "ma'am." Rotary dial. Looking it up in a book. Formalities.

And right now I'm watching a ball game, Diamondbacks-Dodgers, and digging it because Vin Scully is doing the play-by-play, and I love Vin Scully. Why do I love Vin Scully? Because he works alone, and because he sounds like 1950.

All of which begs the question: Am I a man out of time?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ain't there one damn song...?

Ain't there one song that'll block out all others for an afternoon, a day, a week? One song that I'll sing over the music on the radio, the TV? The song I'll hum while making coffee, and belt out while driving? One damn song that my daughter will sing with me? Ain't there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The (Downloadable) Braxton Problem

Over at IMC World HQ (aka Myspace) you'll find the details and the download coordinates of last Thursday night's first part of a two installment profile of Anthony Braxton (assembled and hosted by yours truly). The show and accompanying blog post have already generated some discussion (but no kudos -- what gives?), so be sure to weigh in on the controversy that Mr. Braxton seems to inspire everywhere he's known.

If you're lazy and looking for gratification with fewer clicks, here's the link to the fully downloadable episode:

Now's the Time - April 9, 2009: Anthony Braxton, Part 1

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Braxtonian Musings

Tomorrow night's installment of Now's the Time (8:30PM EDT - CKCU 93.1 FM in Ottawa, elsewhere) is the first of two shows dedicated to the music and career of Anthony Braxton. I'm going to try something new, in that instead of blathering on like I usually do I'll keep my on-air commentary to a minimum, squeeze in as much music as I can, and then use the forum provided by the blog on our myspace page to impart my thoughts on the riddle that is Braxton and his music.

Part two will air May 14. The music for both programs is to be taken from Braxton's 2007 release 9 Compositions (Iridium). Heady stuff.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chris Cawthray Trio Recap

Chris Cawthray (l) and Glen Hall

A lucky few patrons of The Spill had a unique opportunity to witness the improvisational prowess of a hell of a good band on Saturday afternoon. Peterborough isn't yet a jazz town, but if more people knew what they missed over the weekend, it just might turn out to be. (Did that make sense?). Over the course of about an hour, Chris Cawthray (d), Glen Hall (sax) and Simeon Abbott (keys) ran through a set that encompassed a Cawthray original, Steely Dan, Bob Dylan, Sonny Rollins, Beck, Rob Price and Wilco (I think Abbott's warm keys and Hall's inside --> out solo made their version of "Jesus, Etc." even more enjoyable than the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot original).

Full set list:

Hope Song (Chris Cawthray)
Mouse Game (Rob Price)
Showbiz Kids (Becker/Fagen)
Blessing in Disguise (Sonny Rollins)
Ballad of Hollis Brown (Dylan)
Paper Tiger (Beck)
Jesus, etc. (Wilco)
Untitled improvisation (Chris Cawthray Trio)

We at the IMC aren't licked yet, so pay close attention for news on upcoming shows in both Ottawa and Peterborough. (It is possible that that was our last matinee, though.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Your Final Reminder

Should be a good time tomorrow afternoon in Peterborough, with music supplied by Chris Cawthray, Simeon Abbott and Glen Hall. I'm also told, though I can't yet personally verify, that the evening act, a group known as Carpe Noctem, are worth your time as well. So consider clearing your schedule and joining us for a jazz day-night doubleheader.

Monday, March 16, 2009

In Rotation: To Willie

What? To Willie by Phosphorescent, Matthew Houck's reverent ode to Willie Nelson, and therefore to plain old regret, doubt, the pain-muting qualities of various substances, and the fresh regret engendered thereby.

Why this? Why today? I can't fully explain it, but something about spring run-off invariably sends me scurrying for the comforts of country music and its off-shoots. Recent days have seen me cozying up to Neko Case and Merle Haggard, but this is the one that sticks, the CD that gets carried from the car to the house and back again. It stirs memories of pre-adolescence, when my dad would mumble along to Willie's albums (cassettes) and I'd try to figure out just what there was to be so damn sad about. Now I'm older, and I understand. So does Matthew Houck.

This was a test, in a way, this season. I mean, if in fact this is spring, because who the hell knows around here, but the sun's out, the snow's all but gone, and we're up to our armpits in mud. If we don't have a snowstorm in the next few weeks, we might even start to see shoots. But this is the first urban spring I've experienced in eight or nine years, and I wasn't sure it'd be the same. No flooded fields, no overflowing ditches, no gravel road turned into a mudpit. I wasn't sure I'd have the same musical impulses. Would I open the windows and bleat along with Gram Parsons the same as I used to? Happily, yes.

What's strange is the degree to which my two year-old daughter has taken to the record. Thing is her favourite song is "Reasons to Quit" (sample lyric: "...the coke and booze don't do me like before...") and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Marked Urgent

Boogie on over to CKCU post haste to catch my ninety-minute take on the history of Black Saint and Soul Note. It's impossible to fit it all into an hour and a half, of course, and unfair to even try, but I'm funny like that. If you can't make it there tonight (8:30-10:00 pm EST) I'll put up download information here once it's available. But with music by Billy Harper (that right up there is the very first release on Black Saint, from '75), the original Air, the World Saxophone Quartet, Jemeel Moondoc, the String Trio of New York and Mal Waldron -- among others! -- there's no reason to spend your Thursday night doing anything else. Am I right?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Cawthray & Abbott

Simeon Abbot (keys) and Chris Cawthray (drums), two-thirds of the band appearing March 28 in Peterborough.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Know Thy Demographic

There's no sense denying who you are is the way I see it, and who I am is a guy who's a sucker for a particular brand of indie-approved classicist rock. And they know that -- they frigging know that. Need proof? Here's something that is so squarely in my increasingly worn pocket, my tiny-getting-tinier corner of the musical universe, that it might as well be personally addressed to me. Me and a hundred thousand other aging white whatevers. Ready? Alright:

The Hold Steady covering Springsteen's "Atlantic City."

Holy shit, right?

But not covering it in the way that any ponytailed coffeehouse hack would, which is to say faithful to the original as it was released, i.e. strummy acoustic and solo voice. No, the full band gets into this, and it works. Oh god does it work. Witness:

A large bouquet for Miss Imperial for the tip, by way of Stereogum. And yes, I intend to track down that War Child compilation.

Friday, January 30, 2009


No idea who or what that picture shows, but do a Google image search on "now's the time" and it's among the top returns. Sometimes context is overrated.

ITEM: Last night's edition of Now's the Time (the radio program) was supposed to be a whirlwind tour through whatever part of my brain stores memories related to the music I've been listening to recently, but technical difficulties overruled that. The program should air on February 19th. Check local listings.

ITEM: The Steinski career retrospective What Does it All Mean? is great headphone fodder while washing dishes, and paints a superior alternate universe where Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers never happened, but where that Steinski shit blew up large. History's full of what ifs.

ITEM: Good review of Mary Halvorson's Dragon's Head over at Bagatellen.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January Miscellany

Always playing catch-up, I'll sandwich together my last several ideas for posts that never came to fruition. Let's go!

Freddie Hubbard
I'm overdue in mentioning this, but the great Freddie Hubbard (pictured) passed away on December 29. Hubbard's is an incredible body of work. The chances are, if you have anything resembling a jazz collection, you've got some Freddie in there even if you don't know it. Check the sleeves -- he was all over Blue Note in the '60s. There's nothing I could say here that my friend Mark-O isn't already saying better -- like right now, on Now's the Time on CKCU 93.1 FM.

Putting 2008 to Bed
In the interest of not dragging things out too long (too late?), and maybe beginning to concentrate on 2009, here's the last bit of '08-related chatter you'll hear from me. My favourite reissues (interpret that however you will) of the year that was were:

The Big Lie (a.k.a. Fuck Wynton)
The guys over at the always excellent Destination: Out have been doing their level best recently to shed light on the oft-misunderstood 1980s in a series of posts, but the most provocative note struck concerns the work and legacy of Wynton Marsalis (who must be mentioned if you hope to come to grips with that decade). The deeply, deeply conservative trumpeter is an incredible talent, no question, but there's little sense in denying that he's used his prominence to advance some ugly non-truths about The Music. We've debated this on Now's the Time before, and as I recall we had trouble reaching a true balance in our presentation of the argument, which boils down to Inclusiveness and Innovation (aka The Facts) vs. Wynton's Hagiography (oops, there I go again). Not one of the five of us could get behind his selective blindness. Anyway, head to D:O to read more.

Ginger Baker: All Kinds of Crazy
The prospect of crossing the Sahara to sit in on a few percussion-heavy jam sessions in Nigeria is crazy enough, but to do so in a pair of leather platform boots is plain batshit nutty. Then to seemingly get as baked as humanly possible before recording the echo pedal-aided voice-over for the documentary film which chronicles the journey is way, way beyond what most any of us mere mortals would ever in our lives consider doing. Ever. Still: entertaining.

I'll be repping the IMC and hosting Now's the Time next Thursday, bringing a grab bag of things I've been listening to of late. Download info to follow.

The IMC Presents the Chris Cawthray Trio

Our initial foray into "show facilitation" in Peterborough finds drummer Chris Cawthray and his trio appearing at The Spill on March 28th (note that it's an afternoon show). More info as available, but please, if you're within earshot (or walking/bussing/driving/training distance) come on by. No tickets, but we'll pass the hat until it's full, dump it out, and pass it again.

Who's Responsible?

The Spill

Chris Cawthray

The Improvised Music Collective
/ CKCU FM (Ottawa)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Best of 2008: Songs (Part 2)

Portishead, “Plastic” (from Third)
One of the strengths of Third is that it doesn’t ride from obvious single to obvious single; it’s an album, in the most cohesive sense of that word. Extracting any one song from the front-to-back flow of the thing robs both of some of their power and grace. That said, several songs do stand up on their own, and “Plastic” is one of them. In its prematurely-truncated drum sample rests the crux of Portishead’s continuing power: the interplay of the authentic masquerading as the artificial and the artificial muddying the waters of authenticity.

The Raveonettes, “Hallucinations” (from Lust, Lust, Lust)
“Downstairs on the sidewalk I kissed Stella some more – those cliffhanger kisses, you know, when you feel as if you’ll drop to your doom if your tongues untwine – before she sank into the seat of her car and disappeared. Then I stood there for a long while, my heart a sparkler spraying light across the sidewalk.” – Johnny Miles, Dear American Airlines

The Walkmen, “On the Water” (from You and Me)
Song of the year. No point in repeating myself. Read all about my gushy love here.

Sun Kil Moon, “Tonight the Sky” (from April)
Sometimes it just takes a song ten minutes to properly unfold. Don’t rush a guy.

The Funkees, “Akula Owu Onyeara” (from Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Nigerian Blues, 1970-76)
A token inclusion from one of my favourite reissues of ought-eight (more on reissues in another post). Seems that compilations of Nigerian music are a dime a dozen these days, but this one shook my ass on several occasions. Also, I just watched Ginger Baker in Africa (more on that in another post) and I feel the need to include this. I know nothing about The Funkees, but this shit is crazy.

Dave Douglas and Keystone, “Kitten” (from Moonshine)
Awesome how Adam Benjamin makes his keyboard sound like a fuzzed-out guitar, no? That’s right: no guitar.

The Vandermark 5, “Speedplay (For Max Roach)” (from Beat Reader)
The world in seven minutes. Long live Vandermark.

The Peggy Lee Band, “Scribble Town” (from New Code)

DJ/rupture and Andy Moor, “One Hundred Month Bloom” (from Patches)
Notable for the sample/interpolation of “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins. Also notable for incredibleness.

Bill Dixon and the Exploding Star Orchestra, “Constellations for Innerlight Projections (For Bill Dixon)” (from s/t)
I defy you to make sense of the spoken word bit. The song’s strength is as a showcase for this amazing ensemble, at once expansive and agile. They turn on a dime, rise to deafening heights, turn inward, crash upon themselves as though they were a single player.

Mary Halvorson Trio, “Momentary Lapse (No. 1)” (from Dragon’s Head)
Looking forward to her next release.

Matana Roberts, “Nomra” (from The Chicago Project)
Wonderful player, wonderful band.

Francois Carrier, “Experience” (from Within)
Not as monolithically impressive, perhaps, as “Core,” the (aptly-named) forty-minute centerpiece of Within, but a beautiful piece of group improvisation nonetheless.

Angles, “Every Woman is a Tree” (from Every Woman is a Tree)
Stylistic similarities to On Cortez by Dragons 1976 – a group of contemporary players mining the fertile nexus of hard bop and free music as you might’ve found on mid-‘60s Blue Note (think bands featuring Jackie McLean and Bobby Hutcherson), while still finding new directions to push the sound. I can’t recommend this album enough.

The Bitter Funeral Beer Band, “Chetu” (from Live in Frankfurt ’82)
“A bit drum circle-y,” said Mark-O. Maybe so. But I keep getting drawn further and further into this space where world and free music meet.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Best of 2008: Jazz/Improvised

Tonight I convene (telephonically) with my IMC peers as we run down our picks for the best improvised recordings of 2008 on Now's the Time. It's on CKCU at 8:30 pm EST, or head to our myspace page after the fact for a recap. We'll record it, too, so watch this space for DL information.

My picks, of course, were laced in among the rock and pop stuff throughout December's 25 posts, but I'll try to elaborate on air, and probably play a couple of tracks from my top 2 or 3 choices.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Best of 2008: Songs (Part 1)

Those of you already in possession of the much-coveted TiOM year-in-review CD will have anticipated this post, and it will prove as anticlimactic as snow in winter. But we soldier on.

Every one of the previously-posted album picks is represented by a song here, as are a few strong-but-not-top-25-strong albums. When it comes to the improvised stuff, the songs chosen, while all very good examples of the artists’ work, are often concessions to the length of a CD-R rather than the track I enjoyed most.

In order of appearance on the CD (that is, the order dictated by flow, and not a hierarchical ranking):

Love is All, “New Beginnings” (from A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night)

I’m a sucker for anything this spastic and unhinged. The addition of saxophone seals it. Big inning, indeed.

Vampire Weekend, “Oxford Comma” (from Vampire Weekend)

The Oxford Comma, also known as the Serial Comma, provides the basis for one of the catchier songs on VW’s debut.

Ra Ra Riot, “Ghost Under Rocks” (from The Rhumb Line)

If I’d put together a top 26, Ra Ra Riot’s The Rhumb Line would’ve squeaked onto the list. A buoyant and catchy collection by a band prominently featuring cello and violin, Rhumb has worked its way into increased rotation at TiOM HQ in recent weeks after laying neglected for a couple of months. Danceable and only slightly twee, RRR crib from the right set of notes, namely New Order, Kate Bush and the Flying Nun roster.

The Whigs, “Hot Bed” (from Mission Control)

Was the Whigs’ Mission Control as front-to-back strong as the rest of the albums on my list? No, no it was not. Do I love “Hot Bed” because it shows the band at their Replacements-aping best? Yes, yes I do.

The Night Marchers, “Closed for Inventory” (from See You in Magic)

Keep doing how you do, John Reis.

The Hold Steady, “Constructive Summer” (from Stay Positive)

God bless Craig Finn for his ability to toss off a line like, “Me and my friends are like double whiskey-coke, no ice.” When Stay Positive began this strong, it was clear Boys and Girls in America was no fluke.

Titus Andronicus, “No Future, Part II – The Days After No Future” (from The Airing of Grievances)

Absolutely perfect for late night air drumming while sitting before your PC and assembling a list of your favourite songs of the past year.

The Dodos, “Red and Purple” (from Visiter)

Visiter [sic] in a nutshell: clangy, tuneful, good.

Plants and Animals, “Bye, Bye, Bye” (from Parc Avenue)

By roughly the three-quarter point of Parc Avenue, I found myself overcome by the scent of patchouli, but “Bye, Bye, Bye” is grandiose and bombastic enough to disarm my defenses.

The Gaslight Anthem, “Miles Davis and the Cool” (from The ’59 Sound)

Mid-tempo longing and regret from Jersey Boss-worshippers.

The Baseball Project, “Past Time” (from Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails)

“Past Time” contains all of the Baseball Project’s DNA, acting as something of a sampler plate of the tracks that will follow. Half the fun of the album, and this song in particular, is sussing out how many of the names and stories you’re familiar with already, and how many you’ll have to look up at

Bon Iver, “Skinny Love” (from For Emma, Forever Ago)

Hands down the best use of a warbly, multi-tracked falsetto in 2008.

Frightened Rabbit, The Twist (from The Midnight Organ Fight)

Perfectly evokes to the sense of unease and tension in the moment described, until it builds toward something approaching confidence and the narrator declares, damn it, I want you to want me.

The Constantines, “Million Star Hotel” (from Kensington Heights)

One of the highlights of Kensington Heights, about equal with “Trans Canada,” I’d say, but the space and tension of “MSH” was better suited to my purposes.

Wolf Parade, California Dreamer (from At Mount Zoomer)

I think we can all agree that indie and prog now share a bed, and sometimes it’s an uncomfortable arrangement, but often, as when Wolf Parade drop in that bubbly electric piano, it delivers pure pleasure.