19 August 99 -- Saw at outdoor performance by the Indian-flavored fusion group Facing East at the Freer Gallery steps on the Washington, D.C. Mall. A local group lead
by John Wubbenhorst on the bansuri flute, there were some nice exchanges between the tabla player and the bassist. I was not quite in the mood, though, to listen to long pieces,
all played in the same key.
The element that anchored (and perhaps limited) the music was the droning twang of a tampura. I was looking around for it, but none was to be seen. Afterwards, someone pointed out a "sruti box", a device that looked like a radio - cassette player with speaker. Apparently it was from India, because printed on it were the words, "Sur Sagar, Digital Tampura, Shvimaal Electronics." It was the sruti box that had been emitting the tampura sound.
After that I headed over to the Eleventh Hour club, because I wanted to catch 2 Filipino bands. The first group was the speaks, from the DC area. They're mostly an
alternative or modern rock group that played a lotta covers and some original pieces. They definitely had the predominately Pilipino crowd rockin' with them. (I didn't
realize that so many of the pinoys and pinays listen to the local modern rock station, WHFS, whose playlist the band drew from extensively). The singer, Raf, didn't have
to do much to get the crowd to sing out or shout out lyrics.
After 2 sets from the Speaks, it was time for the second group p.i.c. (philippine island crew). Not being hometown favorites (they're from New Jersey) and coming on stage so late (1 a.m.) were setbacks. While p.i.c. has got a more original sound than the first band, the combination of rapping, horns, bass, keyboards, scratching, and drum loops all converged into a muddy mix. To top it off, part of the power to the stage was cut off after the first or second piece, resulting in no beats. What a bummer for them! The band had surely not come all the way from Jersey for this kind of experience.
28 August 99 -- Boram - Makihara - Rapport (guitar/piano; percussion; reeds) at the Red Room in Baltimore. Improv music at its wackiest! At one point, Tom Boram was really working his guitar and got into a maniacal mood. He
approached the fellow sitting next to me (we were sitting in the front row), leaned over him, and commanded him to lick the guitar strings. I decided not to take a snapshot of the
perverted act to protect the victim's privacy. (Hey! This website tries to be discrete.)
As for Toshi Makihara, he was mischievously zany. He used all sorts of devices, objects, and utensils. At one point, he placed a stuffed animal, the cartoon character Wiley Coyote, in his lap as if he was teaching it how to drum. He held its paws and his drumsticks at the same time and struck his drum kit repeatedly. That brought a laugh from the audience, no doubt recalling their own childhood play with stuffed animals, dolls, and action figures. (Developmental psychologists and pop culture theorists would have a field day!)
23 September 99 -- Listening to National Public Radio news this morning, I heard story about the world's oldest playable musical instrument. It was a flute made from the hollow wing bone of a crane that had been discovered in China (along the Yellow River) in the 80s. Only in this week's issue of Nature has it been reported outside of China. The American scientist who helped analyze the radiocarbon data to fix the flute's age found it to be 9,000 years old. And the flute had 7 or 8 holes, allowing it to produce a pentatonic scale, according to a musicologist.
11 October 99 -- Visited the "Taste of DC" street festival to take pictures of the band, Hiroshima. Their performance was well-received by the crowd. The spokesman, reed player Dan Kuramoto, said it had been 3 years
since they last visited. This time, they came with a new vocalist, Terry Steele. He's a Black male from L.A., and his smooth voice fits in well with Hiroshima's music. (I've lost count of the number of female vocalists they've run through, over the years.)
(More comments, to follow...)
4 November 99 -- Attended a free drum clinic by Akira Jimbo at a Baltimore-area music store. When I saw the ad in the paper, his name didn't initially ring a bell. But when I read that he'd been a member of Casiopea, a
famous fusion band in Japan (not sure how big they were outside of the country), I knew I had to check out (peep) the free event. I forgot to bring my camera, but I did bring one of his solo album's to autograph. (I've a bunch of the
Casiopea albums on vinyl, but I'm not sure where I put them.)
He sounded pretty good and the audience was quite appreciative. I didn't realize how skilled he was, until he started explaining how he's developed his style and started demonstrating how he coordinates playing different beats with his hands and feet. (The "independence thing," he called it.) Some of his comments during the Q&A period:
13 November 99 -- The performance by the Beijing Trio at the Library of Congress' Coolidge Auditorium drew a full house, although not everyone arrived promptly (more on that later).
The trio consists of Jon Jang (piano), Jiebing Chen (erhu), and Max Roach (drums). Of course, Roach's place in the pantheon of jazz is secure. In fact, when he first came out on stage, some of the audience rose to their feet to applaud him.
The trio could use some coaching. To my ears, the general way that the pieces sounded, the way that most of the pieces came together was pretty much the same. To be sure, Roach explored a variety of textures and timbre, but the interplay between him and the others was repetitive and static. His rhythms weren't always in sync with Jang's arpeggiated riffs and Chen's long phrases. (Oftentimes, they didn't seem to be engaged on the same plane as one another. I'm not sure whether to blame that on the playing, the compositions, or both.) The best cohesion came in the last movement of the commissioned piece which was being premiered. Written by Jang, it's titled "The Temple of the Drum (an offering to Max Roach) for Erhu (or violin) and Piano."
At the end, Roach and Jang each made a few remarks. Roach said something that cracked up many in the audience. He lauded his fellow trio members by saying, "After working with Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie... this is really refreshing!"
[A note about the audience: It was quite racially mixed, with whites, blacks, and Asian (the last probably being mostly of Chinese ancestry). I usually tend to associate the Coolidge Auditorium with chamber music concerts and the like). Perhaps the unfamiliarity of the venue to some, was the main reason for a constant trickle of people taking seats throughout the first half of the performance. (One couple took their seats during the applause ending the first half of the program -- inotherwords, right before intermission!). On second thought, it could be that standby's are only let in a few at a time. Aggravating the situation were the short pauses between works. The trio would begin playing before people had been seated. Or people seemed to continue trickling in after the playing had resumed.Whatever the case, it was distracting.]
18 December 99 -- There was a full audience to hear pianist Margaret Leng Tan (MLT) perform on the free concert stage (Millenium stage) at the Kennedy Center. She played George Crumb's "A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979" and "Makrokosmos, Volume II."
MLT is an avant garde pianist, originally from Singapore, who lives in NY. One of her better known cd's is one where she plays on toy pianos.
I have pictures I'll post of her removing her adhesive performance notes that she'd stuck on the piano action (mechanism).
12 January 2K -- Recently learned that the Asian American Jazz Orchestra, led by drummer and musicologist Anthony Brown, has been nominated for a Grammy. Specifically, it's their recording (and version) of "Far East Suite" by Duke Ellington that's up for an award.
(For more info., check the Asian Improv label's website.
Also got word to be on the lookout for a special music issue of the journal Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 17.1, 2000 edited by Sanjay Sharma and John Hutnyk. Articles cover the 'Asian Underground', translating or not translating Bhangra, Marxist rappers in Italy, Asian Dub Foundation and Naxalite-Maoism, and jazz and fascism in Europe.
18 January 2K -- Caught the latter half of a radio piece on NPR's Morning Edition about Vietnamese singers and music producers operating out of Little Saigon (Westminster, Orange County, California). What I heard was mildly informative, but didn't provide any revelations.
(On further thought, I suspect whatever interesting information that may have been collected by the reporter, Gerry Hadden, was probably washed out by his editor in Washington, D.C.)
The report focused on a quarterly video program, distributed on cassette, called something like, "Paris at Midnight". It's a stage variety show full of Vietnamese singers doing syrupy Vietnamese pop. It's pretty formulaic and makes people below a certain age want to gag, but I s'pose it appeals to nostalgia of the old folks (urbanites, that is). The radio piece seemed to suggest that such a program and such music were likely to disappear soon, as the diasporic audience (certainly older generation Vietnamese in the States) dwindles with the passage of time. Whatever audience there may for it in Vietnam is not profitable for the entertainers, because the music and videos are only sold on the black market, there.
28 January 2K -- The past two weeks I've received mailings from music clubs located in Indiana. One is called Ritmo y Pasión and the other is called Columbia House Classical Club. Both of them share an interesting characteristic - offering lots of CDs that do not seem appropriate
to the main focus of the club. (One is supposed to be devoted to latin music and the other to classical.) I'm starting to suspect that something is going on in Indiana, and I won't be able to officially proclaim a conspiracy until I receive a third similar solicitation from a music club
located in that state before the end of winter.
If I don't receive one, then I think there is a business opportunity to start a Cambodian pop music club based in Indiana, that will include such famous Cambodian popstars as Elton John, Michael Bolton, Cher, Mariah Carey, and the Backstreet Boys.
(One of the probable reasons why these CD clubs are located in Indiana is because Sony has a big CD (and DVD) manufacturing plant in Terre Haute.)
6 February 2K -- Saw the documentary, Genghis Blues, a hit at last year's Sundance Film Festival. It was worth seeing despite the rough production and post-production values.
After all, where else can one see footage of the land of Tuva* and its capitol, Kyzyl? And where else can one see a description of Tuvan history with archival images and film footage?
But this documentary is mainly about the quest of a flind, Bay-area musician, Paul Peña, to visit the land whose throat singing and bits of language he'd taught himself. Even if I'd hardly heard of Peña before this film, I'm certainly familiar with the hit rock song he'd written, "Jet Airliner" (Steve Miller Band - circa late 70's?).
The film indicated this in a matter-of-fact way, and confirmed it near the end. By that time, there'd been enough glimpses of Peña's musical talent, that you could only regard him with awe.
This cumulative realization was one of the more successful effects of the film. On the down side, the filmmakers' lack of experience (this was the Belic brothers first full-length film) showed in ways that threated to derail the story. At times the camerawork and editing seemed rough and haphazard, especially the flashback scenes near the end.
But to repeat my overall reaction, I found this film, on the whole, worthwhile.
*To answer my own question... I did see a scene shot in a Tuvan valley. The scene was in a 8 or 9-hour long documentary on Mongolia. I doubt most people would be willing to submit theselves to such an extreme film-watching experience in order to see the part about life on a remote reindeer ranch in Tuva.)
25 February 2K -- It seems I see Jin Hi Kim perform every couple years. I've lost track if this is the 4th or 5th time. [to be continued...]
9 March 2K -- Saw Yeah No at the 14Karat Cabaret in Baltimore. Dynamite outfit led by reed player, Chris Speed. The glue and propulsive force is Jim Black on drums. But the guy I wanted to talk with was trumpeter Cuong Vu. He said he has a new cd coming out in a couple days. It's called Bound and it's
on the new Omnitone label.
And over the next 2 years, he's contracted to do 3 releases for the Knitting Factory label. It may with his trio (Stomu Takeishi on bass and John Hollenbeck on drums), if I'm reading my notes correctly. It seems the toughest part of making albums, he said, is coming up with titles for the pieces and names for the album and group.
A bit of background on Vu -- grew up in Seattle (Bellevue h.s.), went to New England Conservatory of Music, and lives in NYC. Lately, (before this latest tour) he's been listening to stuff like Buster Rymes, Missy Elliot, and Björk. What's interesting about his listening preferences and those of his colleagues is that they listen the least to jazz. Groove, funk, pop, and contemporary classical seem to take up most of their listening time.
He mentioned that Black and another guy in the Yeah No group have been checking out a lotta drum 'n bass. I could hear that influence in the third piece they performed.
1 April 2K -- Saw the Japanese female jazz trio, Groovin' Girls, perform at the free Millenium Stage at the Kennedy Center. Takana Miyamoto (piano), Noriko Ueda (bass), and Masumi Jones (drums) are based in New York.
2 April 2K -- The final night of the "Japanese Jazz Jam" at the Kennedy Center in DC drew a 3/5 - size crowd on a damp night to see an ad-hoc quartet of professionals and an amateur big band perform. First up were Akira Tana (drums), Kei Akagi (piano), Kiyoshi Kitagawa (bass) and Terumasa Hino (trumpet).
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