Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Interviewed on "Destination Out"

Mike Johnston, host of the great experimental jazz program "Destination Out" on WCMU Public Radio and bassist for Faruq Z. Bey & The Northwoods Improvisers, called me the other day for an interview and to have me read some poetry for his show.

The interview will air as part of his next broadcast, Sunday, November 16; 11:00 pm (Eastern Time).

If you are in mid- or northern Michigan or the Algoma District of Ontario, you can tune in on one of these stations:

89.5 Mt. Pleasant
90.1 Bay City
91.7 Alpena
95.7 Oscoda
96.9 Standish
98.3 Sault Ste. Marie
103.9 Harbor Springs

Otherwise, you can listen to it online here: http://wcmu.org/radio/listenlivepage.html

We discuss the link between jazz and poetry, current politics, and I read several pieces from both The Moon Cracks Open: A Field Guide to the Birds and Jihad bil Qalam: To Strive by Means of the Pen.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

New on DVD: The Synesthetic Madness of The Process

“We’ve been possessed by this otherworldly soul that this band has.
It pulls us along. It’s got a spirit of its own; beyond us.”
–Dave Asher, discussing his band, The Process,
during a 2001 radio interview by Marc Beaudin
(CAGE Sessions – On the Air, WUCX 90.1 FM)

It’s been a lot of years, a lot of shows, a lot of recordings, since I first saw The Process perform in a mid-Michigan bar back in the late-late 80’s. But what immediately hooked me at that initial show is just as evident today: These guys mean what they play. They mean every note, every word, every drumbeat and guitar riff. They mean every ounce of muscle and soul that they freely spend each moment that they are on stage.

To be in the audience at one of The Process’ shows, is to have your mind, heart, and body taken apart and put back together in a slightly better way. Your senses merge and you see the music; hear the lights bouncing off the walls; taste the moment.

The next best thing to being there in the flesh (and soul) has recently been released on DVD: The Process: Live at the Vassar Theater.

First of all, I want to commend the seldom-thanked in the music business – the folks behind the scenes of this production. The technical aspects of this release are extraordinary. From the direction of Gary Bredow, to the live mix by Art Bissonette, the live recording by Lavel Jackson, the camera work by Bredow and Per Franchell, the lighting and sound by Bissonette Sound, the filming and editing by Big Bang Films, the cover art by Steven Gotts, the photography by Rick Morrow, and the production assistance by Tim O’Brian, Chuck Harrington and Seth Payton; every part builds perfectly to a Whole, which provides the optimum showcase for the talents of the band.

And what a band. This recording offers a seamless sound and energy created by four people who, by all indication, share a common soul. With David Asher on vocals and guitar, Garrick Owen on lead guitar, Bill Heffelfinger on bass, keyboards, programming and backing vocals, and Gabe Gonzalez on drums; they are, individually and as a group, at the top of their form. Mature and consummate musicians who’ve lost none of the edge and passion of their younger days.

The DVD consists of a concert of 10 songs, old favorites and new gems both, and it kicks off in signature Process style: a blaze of lighting and fog effects through which bleeds their hopped-up rendition of Wendy Carlos’ haunting and exhilarating “Title Music to A Clockwork Orange.” Glimpses of the musicians are seen in ultraviolent flashes of light. The relentless drumming; like a jet engine preparing for take-off. The tension builds.

And just when you are about to either rush the stage or run like hell, the music breaks into “Blood Runnings” from Craven Dog. A man appears with a skull for a head and covered in a brilliant Rasta robe, like an ancient, long-dead Ethiopian King. He stares into the audience – into and through each person – and now it’s clear: there’s no turning back. The concert has begun.

Song after song, culled from the vast library of Process material, is expertly and whole-heartedly presented. The evolution of each is remarkable, and it seems that their original studio versions were blueprints, and these are the fully-realized structures: architectural masterpieces; holy temples and towers of defiance against all negative forces – all evildoers, downpressers, and craven dogs. The songs are history lessons, incantations, and calls to revolution – danceable social justice and rockin’ revelations. The musicians push their instruments beyond the boundaries defined by standard rock or reggae. They’ve fused these along with funk, rap, and jazz, and raised up a new entity – something that can only be described as “Processian.”

My only issue with this DVD is that the transitions from song to song could be smoother. I would prefer if the camera were kept rolling to capture the incidental material between numbers – to give us more of a live concert feel, and more of a glimpse into the personalities of the band. But this is a small complaint that is quickly forgotten once each song kicks in.

The recording closes also in signature Process style: the resurrection of “Pigman.” Part myth. Part nightmare. Part parable. … He possesses Garrick. The guitar becomes a weapon. … Twenty-seven dogs run wild in the woods. … Death, mayhem, and badass rock’n’roll. … Oink. Oink. … Pigman’s in heaven.

And so are you.

[Buy The Process: Live at the Vassar Theater on CD Baby]
[Visit The Process online]

Friday, October 31, 2008

The History & Appreciation of Classical Music

First there was Bach. Then came Mozart. And later, there was Beethoven. And a bunch of other guys were thrown in among them. Brahms and Paganini, most notably.

In all of western music, only jazz comes anywhere close to classical’s ability to hear and translate the voice of God, though in the best jazz, it’s more the voice of the Devil, yet no less sublime. Paganini and Mingus were fluent in both languages.

When you go to a symphony concert, don’t try to sit up front: those seats are reserved for the people with too much money to need to really hear the music. The front row of the first balcony is the best: here the sound is at its most full and balanced. And no one will be able to turn around and see your tears.

And always remember: Cabernet for pieces in a F, C or G; and Merlot for D and B-flat.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tribute to Patrick

The Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra's Tribute to Patrick Flynn: dear friend, comrade, fellow-traveler, inspiration. ...

The world lost an important part of the Song with his passing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Rwanda" by Faruq Z. Bey & The Northwoods Improvisers

There are lions and oribi roaming through the savannah during the opening mystery of this song. Dark birds of prey follow their movements.

Mike Gilmore, Nick Ashton and Mike Johnston create a percussive landscape filled with shadow and flashes of light. The flutes of Faruq Z. Bey and Mike Carey begin the journey like winds over the tall grasses and rolling hills, heading toward the volatile waters of Lake Kivu.

When the bass of Johnston thunders into being, you are moving across the surface of the lake, feeling each crest and trough of the blue-black waves of Kivu. The flutes are now calling the barefoot fishermen to dance, dreaming of barbel, catfish and tilapia.

The Tenor Sax of Bey first, and then Skeeter Shelton, pull you into two worlds: you’re still on that deep and dangerous African lake, but at the same time, you are now viewing the streets of Detroit from the backseat of a slow-moving Buick. It’s late summer and the windows are rolled down. The tires hiss and the streetlights flash across your face.

Gilmore’s marimba solo brings you back to that Rwandan plain. Though now you are the lion, stalking the oribi. The saxes come back in, this time with Carey joining the drive and leading the expedition.

Finally, your are returned to the opening mystery. The bass and percussion dissolve the water and land into ethereal winds, and those dark raptors rise in widening circles until they disappear into the silence.

[Faruq Z. Bey & the Northwoods Improvisers Website]

An excerpt of this song is featured in the book trailer for The Moon Cracks Open:

Find more videos like this on Book Marketing Network

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Process Release Performance DVD

Michigan's highly-acclaimed and long-lasting "rock-reggae madmen" are back again with another release of their unique and masterful musical energy. Scanning my shelves, I count eight CD's from these guys. You can find most of them on CD Baby (watch out for other bands using the same or similar name), but if you've never had the chance to witness the mind-blowing, highly theatrical stage show; you won't know what you're missing. This DVD should help fill in the gap. ...

[The Process Website]
[The Process at MySpace]

from The Process' blog on MySpace:

For Immediate Release:

Reggae rock group THE PROCESS will release it's live DVD
"THE PROCESS: LIVE VASSAR THEATER", filmed at the historic venue last March.

The release party will be held at Whites Bar (2609 State St Saginaw, MI 48602),
Saturday October 11th at 9:00 PM.

The DVD features blazing performances of some of the groups best known songs,
as well a a spectacular film and laser light show.

Opening the event will be guests Ben MacArthur and Friends.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us


Blood Runnings
Jah Made the Herb
Craven Dog
Rising Up
Mist Of Time
Rasta Soldier
Run Them Down
Spread the Money

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Two Degrees of Greg Klyma: Rust Belt Vagabond

The gods of the mail smiled on me today: I received a small package from Buffalo, NY. I opened it to find the new CD by my good friend Greg Klyma, Rust Belt Vagabond. Pulling it from the envelope, I felt instantly I was in for a treat: The hauntingly beautiful cover image – a snow-dusted, lonely, winding road lit ethereally in red – indicates precisely the mood and depth of the ten songs within.

I dropped the disc into the player, opened a beer and stepped out onto the porch. Leaning back in a decrepit rocker, feet kicked up on the half-painted rail, I watched the first western stars pull themselves from the rags of cloud cover over the mountains and listened to the first few tracks.

What I heard was the testament of a man with more miles behind him that most singers twice his age. When you hear a Klyma song, you can never be sure if you’re hearing something brand new or some long-forgotten song that has been a part of the American Folk psyche for generations. As the songs continued to roll out of the speakers like a slow moving train or river barge, it became apparent that Rust Belt Vagabond is Klyma’s Magnun Opus; at least, so far – one suspects, and hopes, that there will be many more.

I defy anyone to try to listen to “Suicide Blue” without being haunted or “Add a Little Love” without smiling and tapping a foot or “Two Degrees in Buffalo” without feeling that he’s singing about your home town or any track on this album without riding waves of nostalgia and empathy.

My favorite line from the Jarmusch film Down by Law is spoken in broken English by Bob (Roberto Benigni) to Zack (Tom Waits): “Is a sad and beautiful world,” he says. That line sums up the reality of life as well as any I’ve heard; and it describes Rust Belt Vagabond as truthfully as could be imagined. Sad and beautiful, indeed – and the exquisiteness of the latter owes to the deep honesty of the former.

Visit Greg's Website, Klyma.com
Buy Rust Best Vagabond at CD Baby

Requiem for a Friend

My day began with hailstones thundering down from the Absaroka mountains. Strange and agitating dreams dissolved as I watched the icy spheres bounce off the garden beds outside my window. Once the hail turned to rain, I made a dash from my cabin to the main house. While a pot of coffee was brewing, I thumbed through a well-worn copy of Ed Abbey’s Down the River. In the book, Abbey describes Henry David Thoreau on his death-bed being asked if he’d made his peace with God. Thoreau responded: “I’m not aware that we had ever quarreled.” His final words apparently were: “moose … Indians.”

Back in my cabin with a steaming mug, I checked my e-mail, and saw a message that I was now MySpace friends with the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra. When I lived in Saginaw, the symphony concerts were among the greatest events I had witnessed. Hearing the superb live performances of Mozart’s Piano Concerto #23 in A Major, Bolling’s Suite for Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Piano Trio, and Beethoven’s Third Symphony, are moments that I will never forget. I was lucky enough to be able to use selections of SBSO recordings in my production of Amadeus at Pit and Balcony – the music easily stood alongside recordings by some of the world's most famous orchestras.

I navigated to the SBSO website and watched videos of Patrick Flynn conducting and being interviewed, and thought about what an amazing talent he is and what a great thing for the symphony and for Saginaw to have him as conductor. Patrick and I spent many hours over the last few years at the Red Eye discussing music, politics, theatre, poetry, and a hundred other topics. A conversation with him was like an entire college humanities course condensed into minutes, mixed with an acid-witted, irreverent stand-up routine that could rival Bill Hicks or Lenny Bruce. I remembered the two of us vaguely discussing a nebulous idea of a performance combining poetry with symphonic music. Or maybe it was an idea I had always meant to bring up, but never had the chance – I don’t now fully remember which: we talked about so many things; jumping around topics as excitedly as the hail had been earlier in the garden. I thought maybe I’d give him a call today, catch up with each other, and see if the idea of a collaboration might someday go somewhere.

When I turned on my phone, there was a text message waiting: “Patrick Flynn died this AM in CA!” I had to reread it several times before I could believe it. Even now, after most of the day has passed, after discussing it over the phone with a couple friends and reading two news articles online about it, it still seems impossible that a man with such energy and passion, with a larger-than-life presence and boundless soul could be gone. That a person filled with such music could be silenced.

The skies here are still moody and rain drips erratically from the roof. I’ve been listening to my SBSO CD’s all day – at the moment Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Hal Grossman’s violin moves in the same way that these clouds flow down the mountainsides like grey rivers in slow motion. I can picture Patrick drawing out this music, almost painting it across a living canvas. The question Thoreau was asked on his death-bed about making peace with God, doesn’t even make sense in Patrick’s case – whenever Patrick stepped onto the podium, God stopped what he was doing to listen peacefully to what would follow. He was never disappointed.

Neither were we.

Originally published in The Saginaw News
[Visit the SBSO]

T-Chicks Flood Indian Barry’s – No Survivors

Technically, it was a scene often repeated: a local band releases a CD with a show at a local bar. Friends, family and fans flock in to show their support. I buy a disc (or score a freebie or trade a book for one), and proceed to drink too much for my own good.

But when the Thunderchickens took the stage at Indian Barry’s in Bay City to celebrate the release of Straight from the Coop, it was immediately apparent that this night was going to be far from a typical show. Very, very far.

From the moment the music started, it occurred to me that one doesn’t merely listen to or watch the Thunderchickens, one travels with them. They take you and you go – no questions. No hesitation. No doubts. You know that even though you have no idea where you’re headed, it’s exactly where you need to go.

It’s a rare band that can achieve such textures, such depth and richness, with only a four-piece. If you close your eyes, you will swear that there must be 7 top-notch musicians, 3 stellar vocalists, the ghosts of Gang of Four, Velvet Underground, Nicolo Paganini, and X, as well as 96 whirling dervishes and a bottle of the finest scotch ever spilled – all up there in epic synchronicity.

And this was only the beginning.

The songs continue; pounding into you and changing not merely your opinions about music, but the way you hear music – the way you hear everything. That’s the journey you are now on. They conjure up a sonic tidal wave. A surf breaking rocks (what surf-rock should have been). Jekel ravishes his guitar (think the grittier portrayals of “Leda and the Swan”), and Matt Kramer on drums and Justin McKinnon on bass carve cliffs and reefs riddled with the perches of screaming seabirds. Melissa May, in the center of it all, makes love to that ocean of sound. Offers herself to the sea with no fear of drowning. But it would be a mistake to write her off as merely a sexual force of energy – it is her words, her voice, her violin that make her a gifted artist who makes you willing to kill or die to have her there on that stage.

And now, a week or so after that night, I haven’t taken the disc out of my CD player. Every track grows richer and fuller with each listen. These songs have something to say, and what they say will haunt you.

Originally published in The Review Magazine
[Visit The Thunderchickens Here]