Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Back on the Blog

My blog got away from me all year. But, I spent a lot of time making music with friends, old and new.
Here's a brief recap of the year behind and an update on what's going on now and for the year ahead.

I am fortunate to have had many wonderful experiences in 2012 and I should start with the recording and release of some new music. 'In the Grand Scheme of Things' (Songlines) and 'Union Square' (A-beat) are radically different albums and I am very happy about how well these albums sound. They also look great and I'm especially proud to release my second CD on the fine Canadian label Songlines. They've also been receiving positive reviews. The best piece about my music in along time comes from Will Layman at popmatters.com. Another one worth mentioning was just written about Union SqWe have a FREE TRACK you can listen to from In the Grand Scheme of Things. Esoterica is a piece we recorded at the first recording session and although it didnt make it onto the CD it is a lovely moody piece.

Recently I've come across many discussions on social networks and jazz blogs about music (Jazz and the American Songbook for ex.) being dead. How can any music be dead? I will never understand that argument. Music is something that elevates our lives and lifts us above our basic shortcomings as humans. No matter how lousy or great you might feel in any given moment there's most likely a piece of music that fits in and helps (or simply accompanies) us through that experience. And now we have the convenience to select whatever we want to accompany our lives. Sure, certain music may become unfashionable but it's impossible to kill it.  Like Frank Zappa said, "Jazz isn't dead. It just smells funny".

Blake, Knoblock, Ritchie and Bates
Another recording session this past year yielded some great tracks. Instead of selling an album or CD I will offer these tracks as singles and just put them out like that. One of the first of these single releases will be a track I'm producing as a fundraiser for my friend Scott Harding (aka Scotty Hard). The music is still a work in progress featuring special guests John Medeski, Miles Arntzen, Billy Martin and many others. The bed tracks were recorded with my Band with whom I'll be releasing the other singles.

I also recorded a few CD's as a sideman. One is coming out on Fresh Sounds/New Talent with the Michael Bates/Sam Blaser group. I enjoyed working with Sam so much I invited him to play with my band in China. We were all sorry our bassist Peter Scherr wasn't able to make the tour but we decided to go for it anyway. Playing without any bass or chord intruments really opened us up. Jazz is still really new to a lot of people there but when they come to listen they are electrified by the music.

One of THE BEST gigs I ever played in ever was at the Shenzhen Jazz Festival
Sam Blaser, Blake, Michael Sarin

Outside my hotel room in Shanghai

TV show in Changsha. They wanted soemthing more...passionate.
(ie George Michael's Careless Whisper)

Sam and our host trying to catch a cab in Beijng

The Minus One (Tommaso Cappellato, Stefano Senni and myself) released 'Live in Pisa' on Punto Rojo from our tour last year. A gig in Tremezzo (Lago de Como) really showed what this trio is capable of. We were on FIRE!

Not too shabby....
The Minus One: Senni, Blake, Cappellato

In my element

I also toured in Spain with bassist Arthur Kell. Great music, venues, audiences and food!

LtoR: Blake, Nate Radley, Arthur Kell, Mark Ferber in Gijon, Spain

The year started off with a very successful reunion of Kingdom of Champa at the Manzoni Theater in Milan. Then a few weeks later I played with bassist Ben Allison's band at Carnegie Hall. Another highlight was last weeks Jazz Composers Collective 20th Anniversary at NYC's Jazz Standard. What a pleasure to play with and hear my fellow composers again! Of course there were many other experiences that I was very happy to be a part of. Here's a photo of myself and my buddy trumpeter Steven Bernstein at the Siena Jazz Workshop concert with the great altoist Greg Osby. This was my 4th year teaching there and the faculty, and students were better than ever. The week finished off with a recording session with the wonderul pianist Alessandro Giachero and his trio. I was super tired that day but their music inspired and energized me.

I will be touring in Canada in January from Jan 18-Feb 2, 2013. The dates are almost locked in but still some last minute gigs coming in for the last leg out East. World Time Zone and my Band are playing the Cornelia St. Cafe during APAP on January 12th. More info about these events coming soon!

Time to go but before I do, here's another anecdote from the vault...

Weirdest Gigs Ever!

#4. Harvey Keitel's wedding reception at Robert DeNiro's loft. Loved seeing these guys hanging out and especially Christopher (Bruce Dickinson wants more cowbell!) Walken. DeNiro wasn't around because he was,"Upstairs making the sauce". Another Keitel quote while his bride-to-be adjusts his 'walk down the aisle', "We're not even married yet and she's already giving me direction". Enjoyed the entire party but a highlight was getting the thumbs up from Al Pacino. Note: we were subbing for John Lurie's National Orchestra. Thanks John!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Year of the Dragon starts early for me!

NewYear's has landed and for me it came in at 55bar in NYC's west village with one of my favorite bands: The Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout! Now that I see the chinese new year coming along I'm even more excited becasue I am a dragon and it is our year! This one kicks off with a reunion of one of my favorite works "Kingdom of Champa". Recorded by Scotty Hard, produced by Teo Macero, this critically acclaimed debut album put me on the map. The story, the vibe and the musicianship all adds up to a hair raising journey. The suite will be played at Milano's Manzoni Theater on Sunday, January 22nd at 11am as part of their Appertivo in Concert series. Already 500 tickets sold and counting...!

My interview with Lifegate radio will be on air Sunday, January 15th at 11am and Monday, January 16th at 7pm.

Kingdom of Champa with: Michael Blake (tenor and soprano saxophones), Nicole Mitchell (flute). Clark Gayton (tbone). David Tronzo (gtr), Steven Bernstein (tpt), Bryan Carrott (vibes), Rufus Cappadoccia (cello), Tony Scherr (bass). Billy Martin (drums/perc), Hamid Drake (drums/perc)

Last weekend my band Hellbent participated in NYC's Winterjazz Festival. This event, co-produced by Brice Rosenbloom and Adam Schatz, showcases a wide variety of creative music. The NY Times review emphasizes that this is not a corporate sponsored event and in fact the only plug was for Six Point brewery in Brooklyn where a group of musicians (including myself) infused the signature jazz brew. So here we have a festival devoted to non commercial music, employing hundreds of musicians (jazz, free, improvisors, rock, hiphop) supported by a large audience who get it all for a reasonably priced ticket. I admit the music business is a mess, the recording industry is a mess and music intellectual property rights/distribution is a huge mess BUT we musicians are doing it, promoters and directors are doing it and people are going out to hear it! Makes me proud. You can see how much in this picture. 
             Hellbent at Winterjazz: Charlie Burnham, Marcus Rojas, Calvin Weston, Steven Bernstein, Michael Blake

There are a few other dates happening early this year (you can peruse my Upcoming Gigs list for more info) but a highlight will certainly be Ben Allison's Band at Zankel Hall on February 3rd at 10pm. I have played on probably half a dozen of Ben's albums and we have been close friends and collaborators for 2 decades so I am honored to participate in this, our Carnegie Hall debut!

Also in 2012 my new CD "The Variety Hour" will be released on Songlines Recordings. I am so happy with the results of this album! The band is based in Vancouver (a town ripe with talent) featuring new compositions played by Dylan Ven der Schyff (drums), JP Carter (tpt) and Chris Gestrin (rhodes/moog). I'll be sending out more info as we get closer to a release date. 

More CD's expected out this year with drummers Tommaso Cappellato (trio w/ Stefano Senni on bass) and Scott Neumann (trio w/ Mark Helias on bass) as well as the Michael Bates/Samuel Blaser Quintet.

Thank you all for your support!