Macon Miracle Presentation – Podcast

From the Bibb County Board of Ed. Website

I brought my recorder to the Bibb County Board of Education’s presentation of Superintendent Dr. Romain Dallemand’s Macon Miracle plan on Friday, February 10th at the Macon Centreplex. The event was part information session, and part celebration of a plan for ambitious and controversial school reform that has yet to pass a Board of Education vote. I captured the events in the auditorium, and was also able to interview a number of people as they left the convocation. Tensions were high — as people have very strong opinions about the strategic plan — but my interview subjects were all gracious, insightful, and open in sharing their opinions with me. I hope you enjoy listening as much as I did putting this podcast together. Running time is 11 minutes and 50 seconds.

Aside

Georgia College and State University’s fifth annual Global Citizenship Symposium hosted a diverse group of speakers over three days, February 6-8, 2012. Topics ranged from the AIDS epidemic, the juncture of health care and religion in Africa, global food shortages, building local food economies, and a host of others. I got a chance to attend on Tuesday night February 7th, and recorded speaker Joel Salatin’s hour-long speech, along with a Q&A afterward with fellow symposium speaker Danielle Nierenberg, who is the project director for Nourishing the Planet, a Washington D.C.-based environmental think tank. Hit the play button below for my podcast that includes an introduction to Salatin’s career and a lightly edited version of his speech.

Guitarist Anders Nilsson’s “Night Guitar”

Swedish-born and New York-based experimental guitarist Anders Nilsson produces music that is at once bracingly direct and utterly unclassifiable. My review of his wonderful new album “Night Guitar” appeared in the January 2012 edition of The New York City Jazz Record. 

Photo: Philippe Dollo

Listening to this deeply focused and atmospheric solo performance again and again, it’s hard to escape the notion that Night Guitar is more than a little biographical in nature.

Guitarist Anders Nilsson isn’t shy about sharing the details of his musical journey. On his website, the young guitarist recounts his upbringing in Sweden, his love of — and subsequent disillusionment with — Swedish shred guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, his move to New York a decade ago, and achieving musical liberation while busking in Manhattan subway stations.

These experiences permeate the vignette-like movements of Night Guitar, often in surprisingly direct ways.

On “Meet Me In The Back Alley,” Nilsson opens with a moody bass drone that he quickly adorns with plucked scale tones and micro-tonal string bends. Transitioning to a second mini-movement, he introduces a rhythmic chordal pattern that is quickly overtaken by overdubbed, and overdrive-laden distorted guitar chords. The effect is shocking, and even comical, but it’s clear that schtick is not Nilsson’s game. He’s simply integrating the sounds of his life without the filter that limits most artist’s sonic choices.

The distortion effect — a clean, highly condensed tone that nods toward guitarists like Malmsteen and sonic experimenters like Sonny Sharrock — reappears throughout the album, almost always without warning — a reminder not to get complacent on this shape shifting and emotionally resonant music.

 

On “Breakfast Boogie/Nightmare Ballad,” — which can be heard above in a music video by Arrien Zinghini — Nilsson’s considerable skills as a cinematic composer are apparent from the first ostinato bass notes, which establish the foundation of a structure that remains throughout the tracks careful edits and overdubs. You can almost imagine a shadowy figure flickering across a screen as the crosshatched patterns and effects Nilsson conjures make way for pulsing, bent high note punctuations, just as the piece grows from a tangle of interconnected phrases into a sprawling and diffuse panorama that somehow never loses its tense, claustrophobic feel.

Equally foreboding is the album’s episodic closer, “The Journey Beyond,” which manages — more than any other track on Night Guitar — to blend Nilsson’s vast sonic influences into single composition. The result is an epic, and often melodramatic, performance that tests the bounds of genre bending without losing its laser-like compositional focus.

Ben Allison @ Carnegie Hall

This Friday, February 3rd, is a milestone date for Ben Allison. The free-minded bassist and composer will make his Carnegie Hall debut at 10pm, and, if the lineup is any indication, it will certainly be one of his most memorable shows.

Joining him at Zankel Hall will be his latest quintet with guitarist Steve Cardenas, saxophonist Michael Blake, guitarist and banjoist Brandon Seabrook and drummer Rudy Royston, along with newcomers — but veterans in their own right — percussionist Rogerio Boccato and vocalist Joey Arias.

I’ve been a fan of Allison’s music since discovering his album Third Eye in the early 2000s. His music linked the worlds of Ellington, Mingus and Andrew Hill with the hard-edged and worldly downtown music scene in New York City, while managing to sound utterly original. Additionally, his focus on texture and timbre as an element on equal footing with melody and harmony make for singularly compelling music.

Ben does a great job of explaining the origins of his compositional style here:

Over the last 15 years, Allison has stayed true to his M.O. as a bassist, composer, and bandleader, releasing ten studio albums that map the steady refinement of his sound and style. Since I started seeing his bands live around 2003, the bassist has largely pared down the relative harmonic complexity of his early compositions in favor of melodically, rhythmically, and texturally rich compositions that compliment the styles of his carefully selected collaborators.

Saxophonist Michael Blake, drummer Rudy Royston, and guitarist Steve Cardenas have been close compatriots of Allison for years, and know his music inside and out. Brandon Seabrook is a relative newcomer who contributed on a pair of selections on Allison’s latest album Action/Refraction, a stellar collection of crafty cover songs.

Rogerio Boccato is a versatile and well-respected artist who has performed with the likes of John Patitucci and Hermeto Pascoal. This video — also from the series that Carnegie Hall produced in anticipation of the concert — gives a glimpse of the musical connection Allison and Boccato have already fostered:

To my ears, Ben is at his absolute best when writing for, and performing with, a group that includes a unique, non-traditional solo voice — 2002’s Peace Pipe, a collaboration with Malian Kora master Mamadou Diabate is a great example  — and the addition of vocalist Joey Arias is another reason this concert is a must-see.

Arias, who is probably best know for his important collaboration with the operatic performance artist Klaus Nomi, has made a name for himself as a performance artists, cabaret singer and drag artist over a career that has spanned nearly 40 years. I have never heard him perform with Allison, but given their shared penchant for blurring boundries — musical and otherwise — it’s hard to imagine the collaboration being anything but thrilling.

11th Hour Column #2 — Allan Evans, Tanosweg, Xavii, and Floco Torres

I was lucky to hear some great music around Macon in the last two weeks, but the standout event was getting a chance to meet the Macon-born and European-based opera singer Allan Evans during his holiday stop in town to visit his family.I got the opportunity to research Evans’ career and profile him at length last year, and was amazed at the story of a man who grew up at the height of Jim Crow, but managed — with the help of family and a bevy of dedicated teachers — to become an internationally known opera singer.

Evans was a classmate of Otis Redding at Ballard Hudson High School in the late 1950s, and by the time Redding was climbing the popular music charts in the early ‘60s,  Evans was studying at The Juilliard School in New York, and planning a move to Europe to pursue his career.

Since settling in Germany in the late ‘60s, Evans has established himself as one of the world’s preeminent bass-baritone singers, and in 1996 he was awarded the title of Kammersanger, or chamber singer, which is one of the highest honors the German government bestows on distinguished performers. He has performed many of the so-called “heroic baritone” roles — among them Don Giovanni, Dr. Schön in Alban Berg’s Lulu, and the Norse god Wotan in Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre — that define the role of the bass-baritone singer. Evans still performs and teaches regularly in his adoptive hometown of Mannheim, Germany, but manages to visit Macon regularly to visit his family and perform.

Despite Macon’s sterling record of celebrating hometown musical heroes like Redding, Little Richard, and The Allman Brothers, Allan Evans has never received the recognition he deserves here. Granted, it’s hard to imagine an opera singer garnering the adulation that a popular rock or soul musician would in Macon, but it is certainly high time that the city officially recognized Evans’ incredible life and career.

On the 20th, I caught the ethereal trio Tanosweg along with the rhythmically progressive Xavii, at The Hangar Bar and Grill on Houston Road. The inscrutably named Tanosweg features vocalist Meghan Dowlen along with guitarists Dustin Murdock and Zack Matthews performing original compositions that often pair earthy vocal harmonies with unpredictable guitar lines, and a range of percussive effects. Stripped of the rhythmic and harmonic tumult inherent in much of their earlier work together in bands like Xavii and The Polygraph Event, Tanosweg focuses heavily on dramatic melodies building toward catharsis. I’m looking forward to hearing an album from them sometime soon.

Xavii has firmly established its reputation as the foremost purveyor of rhythmically sophisticated rock music in Macon, and their set at the Hangar Bar was typical in its unrelenting drive and carefully crafted abstraction. Murdock and Matthews lead the band as composers and musical instigators — lending a mercurial edge to the group’s sound with their veering guitar lines and effects — but the heart of the group’s rhythmic power lies in the tandem of bassist Clark Bush and drummer Steven Ledbetter.

Moments after I arrived at The Hummingbird on an otherwise quiet Thursday evening last month, a succession of short, bass-laden samples erupted from PA as Floco Torres walked to the front of the stage and delivered a series of explosive rhymes. The samples were a warm-up for Torres, but his focused delivery certainly felt like the real thing. “We’re gonna take our time,” Floco remarked as the last sample faded out and  his band joined him on the stage, “because we’re gonna be up here all night.”

Throughout their focused set, Floco and his band — featuring new members Shawn Williamson on guitar and Justin Cutway on bass, along with drummer Travis Reeves and D.J. Montalban who have been with the group for over a year — covered pieces from their latest album, Floco’s Modern Life with a freshness and intensity that is often absent when a group has been covering the same material for months. It has been a milestone year for Torres on a number of professional fronts — the release of his album and an important collaboration with the organization Gateway Macon stand out — and that has only added to his confidence and ability as a bandleader and performer. These factors, and the cohesion of his new and improved band, made for a riveting set of music.

Immersed – 11th Hour Column #1

This column is the first installment of a bi-weekly column that I have been asked to write for the 11th Hour in Macon. I am really happy to be reaching new readers with this series, and I look forward to many more columns.
 
A lesson I learned shortly after moving to Macon from New York City a year and a half ago was to never miss an important show. In New York, I could step back — take a short hiatus from seeing live music — and confidently assume that I could play catch-up.  Here in Macon, the touring bands swing through infrequently, and the local acts need the support now — not next week or next month.

This idea took a little time to get used to, but it has paid off in a number of ways.

I have heard beautiful music in Macon that I would have never sought out elsewhere. I’ve seen arresting art work on the walls of The 567, and the Contemporary Arts Exchange, and have witnessed wonderful theater and dance performances at Macon State College and Mercer.

Granted, I have also seen some performances and works that I would just as soon forget, but they are the exception, and a small price to pay to participate in a fledgling, unpredictable, but excitingly diverse artistic scene.

As an 11th Hour reader, you most likely share similar views on the importance of supporting artists, and the bars, performance spaces, galleries, and theaters that host them, and in this column I will make every effort to avoid preaching to the choir. Instead, I will report on the performances and exhibits, artists and club owners, fans and  — ocasionally — detractors in the hope of inspiring conversation and — more importantly — participation.

In the past two weeks, my efforts to be present have been truly tested by a hectic work schedule and the frantic lead-up to the holidays, but I was able to catch some great performances around town.

On First Friday at Roasted — the coffee shop by day, bar and performance space by night — I caught ClarkAfterDark a.k.a Clark Bush coaxing jazz and pop loops from a paperback-sized sampler, patching in beats and fragments of song with a touch of the finger to perfect a groove. The diverse and appreciative audience took in Clark’s ethereal blend of Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Joanna Newsom while sipping beer and perusing artist William Dantzler’s mixed-media works hanging on the walls.

DJ Roger Riddle closed out the night with a supremely soulful set that mixed nineties staples by the Fugees and a sample of an Eminem tune with classic soul strains from James Brown and Bill Withers. By the time Withers’ soaring, ecstatic final chorus on “Lovely Day” came across the speakers everyone was on their on their feet.

Last week, I also got a chance to hear the David Milligan trio perform an inspired set of jazz and Christmas standards at the Vineville home of Edward and Priscilla Esser as part of the Jazz Association of Macon’s annual Holiday Jam. Since the mid-1980’s the Jazz Association has fostered the appreciation of jazz in middle Georgia through concerts, classes and community outreach. Their holiday party was low-key — especially in comparison to their annual Jazz and Arts on Riverdale festival — but was a great opportunity to hear swinging music and meet some fellow music lovers.

Sam Rivers – 9/25/23 – 12/26/11

“I play the history of Jazz, because I’ve been through it all.” – Sam Rivers in an interview for NPR’s Jazz Profiles.

Word is trickling out this morning that the great multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers passed away yesterday. I have been a lover of his singular music since I first heard his 1964 masterwork Fuchsia Swing Song in high school, and I have followed his career with great interest as he continued to perform blistering, uncompromising music well into his 80s. Rivers’ incredible career spanned more than sixty years, and his remarkable tenor technique embodied the hard-swinging but luxurious approach of players like Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas, along with the technical breakthroughs of Charlie Parker, but always remained wholly original.

Rivers belongs in that rarified group of musical polymaths whose style remains deeply rooted in tradition, while constantly incorporating, and often anticipating, the innovations of younger generations. Rivers played free jazz before that loaded term even entered the lexicon.

My favorite Sam will always be his Blue Note masterworks from the mid-1960s — notably Fuchsia and Contours — followed closely by his mind-blowing contribution to Miles Davis’ live in Tokyo LP, his ecstatic collaborations with Dave Holland, Barry Altschul, Thurman Barker and others in the 1970s Loft era in NYC, his rewarding later-life work with young innovators like the Danish drummer Kreston Osgood, and, of course, Rivers’ long-time iconoclastic work with his Orlando-based big band.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Sam backstage at The Iridium in NYC around 2006 where he signed my well worn copy of Fuchsia Swing Song. We didn’t talk long, but it was clear that the warmth that radiates from his often thorny music was also an inherent part of his personality. Moments later, he took the stage with Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille blew us all away with a gorgeous rendition of his signature piece, Beatrice.

You will be sorely missed, Sam.

In 2007, I covered one of Sam’s performances at Columbia University for Jazz Notes. You can read my review of that show here.

Also around that time, I was hired to write a biographical piece on Rivers for the site Jazz.com. You can read that piece here.