Friday, December 28, 2007

Holiday Recomendations, cont.

I guess my last few posts are kind of holiday recommendations. I'm not down with the all-pervasive commerciality of the holiday season, but nonetheless I find myself recommending ways to spend money (at the movie theater, buying a TV show on DVD, buying books). Oh well, here's another one. What can I say.

Noted scholar and jazz critic John Szwed recently sent me a copy of his book, So What. I had heard about when it came out in 2003 and just hadn't been reading much in the way of music biography at the time, so it slipped through the net. His engrossing "meditation" on Miles is balanced and myth-debunking, equal parts celebratory and thoughtfully critical. Highly recommended.

Dexter's not too bad

If you've got some time to kill, check Dexter out. The Shield its not, The Wire it definitely isn't, but as cop shows go its not bad. Its not really a cop show. Well, it sort of is...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Actually worth the $12

Saw No Country for Old Men last night in a theater. First time I've been to a movie theater in a while, and boy was it worth it. If Roger Deakins doesn't win every award out there for cinematography for this film than he'll have to win it for another that I look forward to seeing over the holidays home with the family in Toronto. Talk about a career year!

Pretty much uniform praise for NCFOM at Meta Critic.

NY Times reviewer A.O. Scott makes the good point that “'No Country for Old Men' is purgatory for the squeamish and the easily spooked. For formalists — those moviegoers sent into raptures by tight editing, nimble camera work and faultless sound design — it’s pure heaven."

Colour me a formalist.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Friday, December 7, 2007

December stuff

First day off in awhile! Time for a post:

At work on a new site with web designer, guitarist, composer, sound artist, crit nonpareil Noah Phillips. Feedback would be most welcome.

Check out the new home page here. Should be up in January at some point.

Interesting gigs coming up:

December 9
Sara Schoenbeck/Jason Kao Hwang/Ken Filiano/Harris Eisenstadt
Jimmy's, 7pm, 43 E 7th st., NYC, NY, $10

December 16
Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day
with Chris Dingman, Matt Bauder, Nate Wooley, Eivind Opsvik
The Living Theatre, 8pm, 21 Clinton Street, NYC, NY, $10

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Martin Puryear, Edward Albee, Bill Pullman

Sara and I took in a couple amazing events this weekend while the folks were in town.

If you're in New York, get to MOMA before the Martin Puryear retrospective closes. Jaw-dropping (mostly) wood sculptures!

Saw a powerful play by multiple Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Edward Albee called Peter and Jerry. Starred the father of one of my former students in LA, the wonderful Mr. Bill Pullman. Great to catch up with him and great to see him kick ass on the stage! Spaceballs/Lost Highway/Independence Day this was not. There's a great Q&A about the play with Bill here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Nov21 10 PM at The Stone
Dave Ballou - Trumpet
Ben Gerstein - Trombone
James Ilgenfritz - Contrabass
Harris Eisenstadt - Drums

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Creative Music Tuesdays October 30: Barry Altschul Trio + HE CD5

"Barry Altschul, a drummer of broad experience and sharp instincts, digs in with the saxophonist Hayes Greenfield and the bassist Ed Schuller in an early set. Then the drummer Harris Eisenstadt leads an exploratory group he calls the Canada Day Quintet."

- New York Times

"Percussionist Harris Eisenstadt’s Creative Music Tuesdays at Spike Hill is off to a great start, presenting a wide array of experimental luminaries. Tonight’s edition is all about the drums, with Eisenstadt’s own group, as well as a trio led by the brilliant veteran Barry Altschul, who worked with just about every progressive-jazz bandleader worth hearing in the ’70s."

- Time Out New York

8pm Barry Altschul Trio
Hayes Greenfield - alto sax
Ed Schuller - bass
Barry Altschul - drums

9:30pm Harris Eisenstadt Canada Day Quintet
Nate Wooley - trumpet
Matt Bauder - tenor sax
Chris Dingman - vibraphone
Eivind Opsvik - bass
HE - drums, compositions

Creative Music Tuesdays at Spike Hill
October curated by Harris Eisenstadt
$10 cover per set

Spike Hill
184 Bedford Avenue (@ N7)
Brooklyn , NY 11211
(718) 218-9737

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Creative Music Tuesdays October 16

8pm Steve Swell's Slammin the Infinite
Steve Swell- trombone, compositions
Sabir Mateen - woodwinds
Matt Heyner - bass
Michael Wimberly -drums
(tentative) John Blum - piano

9:30pm Angelica Sanchez Trio
Angelica Sanchez - electric piano
Michael Sarin - drums
Lisle Ellis - bass


Creative Music Tuesdays at Spike Hill
October curated by Harris Eisenstadt
$10 cover per set

184 Bedford Avenue (@ N7)
Brooklyn , NY 11211
(718) 218-9737

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Creative Music Tuesdays tonight

8pm Eyal Maoz' Edom
Eyal Maoz- guitar
Shanir Blumenkranz- bass
Yuval Lion - drums

9:30pm Michael Sarin Trio
Michael Sarin - drums
Brad Jones - bass
Brad Shepik - guitar


Creative Music Tuesdays at Spike Hill
October curated by Harris Eisenstadt
$10 cover per set

184 Bedford Avenue (@ N7)
Brooklyn , NY 11211
(718) 218-9737

Located on the corner of Bedford and North 7th, with
delectable pub food, gold-standard Guinness, pristine
sound and two full bars, Spike Hill has flourished
into a staple among the area’s clubs while still
maintaining its intimate atmosphere.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Creative Music Tuesdays tonight


Wayne Horvitz/Briggan Krauss/Brandon Seabrook Trio

Radio I-ching: Dee Pop, Andy Haas, Don Fiorino


Creative Music Tuesdays at Spike Hill
October curated by Harris Eisenstadt
$10 cover per set

184 Bedford Avenue (@ N7)
Brooklyn , NY 11211
(718) 218-9737

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Babies of Wackiness

Time for a post on recent goings-on.

Caught the inaugural night of the Columbia Harlem Festival of Global Jazz a week ago. An ambitious and multifarious festival... kudos to George Lewis and all involved for putting this excellent 10 days or so together.

Joelle Leandre's octet and Globe Unity Orchestra opened the festival at the stately Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Information Center.

It was an engaging and varied evening of music. I had mixed feelings overall about the music's success and the acoustics in the space were detrimental for Globe Unity, but am so glad that these groups were presented in New York. Very long overdue!

Steve Smith’s review at Night After Night is here.

Globe Unity trombonist, musical compatriot and all-around good bloke Jeb Bishop’s comments at Night After Night are here.

Hank Shteamer’s wonderfully-titled review of the evening is here.

The next night I went down to Cornelia St Cafe to hear Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra. Good fun, great compositions and inspired ensemble/individual performances all around.

That was Friday. My ears took a day off Saturday from concertizing and then I made it out to a Sunday afternoon concert of two gorgeous pieces for brass ensembles by Anthony Braxton as part of the FONT festival. What a treat to hear two pieces of Braxton's from the early/mid 80s performed by crack ensembles that included two of my favorite musical compatriots, FONT co-curator Taylor Ho Bynum and Nate Wooley. And what a pleasure to watch Mr. Braxton conduct. So clear and with such intention!

I'll be heading down to the Abrons Art Center this Sunday September 30 to hear Nate's FONT-commissioned piece with Paul Lytton and David Grubbs. Should be a great night. Bravo to Dave Douglas, Taylor, and all the other FONT organizers for presenting another diverse, challenging, killing festival.

Creative Music Tuesdays completed its inaugural month at Spike Hill September 25. Tomas Fujiwara brought a wonderful trio with Keith Witty and Shoko Hikage. Sara Schoenbeck's and my duo Saris played after them.

Here's the complete listings for October, which I'll also include as a separate blog at the beginning of the month. Come on down if you're in the NYC area.

Creative Music Tuesdays at Spike Hill

184 Bedford Avenue (@ N7)
Brooklyn , NY 11211
(718) 218-9737

October curated by Harris Eisenstadt
$10 cover per set

Located on the corner of Bedford and North 7th, with
delectable pub food, gold-standard Guinness, pristine sound and two full bars, Spike Hill has flourished into a staple among the area’s clubs while still maintaining its intimate atmosphere.

8pm Wayne Horvitz/Briggan Krauss/Brandon Seabrook Trio
10pm Radio I-Ching: Dee Pop/Don Fiorino/Andy Haas

8pm Eyal Maoz's Edom with Shanir Blumenkranz, Brian Marsella, Yuval Lion
10pm Michael Sarin Trio with Brad Shepik and Brad Jones

8pm Steve Swell Slammin the Infinite w/ Sabir Mateen, Matt Heyner, Michael Wimberly, with John Blum (tentative)
10pm Angelica Sanchez Trio with Lisle Ellis and Michael Sarin

8pm Jason Mears Trio with Kato Hideki and Harris Eisenstadt
10pm Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone

8pm Barry Altschul Trio with Hayes Greenfield and Ed Schuller
10pm Harris Eisenstadt Canada Day Quintet with Matt Bauder, Chris Dingman, Eivind Opsvik, Nate Wooley

On the visual front, Sara and I watched a crazy movie that Jason Mears lent us: Mail Order Bride. Check it out. Its out.

Been struggling through Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland for a couple months. Was glad to find this link to help me on my way. Perhaps my most simultaneously engaging and difficult reading since Nabokov's Pale Fire and Joyce's Ulysses as an undergrad. The title of this post is one of Pynchon's hilarious turns of phrase.

Final word for now. I patiently but vigilantly await the fifth and final (HBO, you're really bumming out) season of The Wire.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Creative Music Tuesdays begins at Spike Hill

Her's the press release for a new Tuesday music series in Williamsburg:

Creative Music Tuesdays at Spike Hill

184 Bedford Avenue (@ N7)
Brooklyn , NY 11211
(718) 218-9737

September curated by Harris Eisenstadt
$5 cover per set

Located on the corner of Bedford and North 7th, with delectable pub food, gold-standard Guinness, pristine sound and two full bars, Spike Hill has flourished into a staple among the area’s clubs while still maintaining its intimate atmosphere.


Aaron Alexander/Julian Priester duo
- 25 years ago, Aaron Alexander and Julian Priester met in Seattle as student and teacher. While visiting Seattle early in 2007, Alexander invited Priester to join him in the studio for an informal recording session. They recorded spontaneous compositions and were struck by the ease of which the structures emerged and the feeling of being deeply heard by one another. Priester was planning a trip to New York for the summer, and a follow up recording session was arranged. Once student and teacher, now both professionals, the two musicians present a concert of new and spontaneous compositions. This concert will be a memorial tribute to the great drummer Max Roach and may feature some special guests.

Adam Rudolph (hand drums and percussion, with Charles Burnham (violin) and Brahim Fribgane (oud & percussion)
- Composer/percussionist Adam Rudolph invites frequent collaborator multi-instrumentalist Brahim Fribgane and freewheeling violinist Charles Burnham for a set of soulful improvisations dedicated to the late master artist/musician/drummer Max Roach.


Aaron Siegel, percussion and Sam Amidon, woodwinds
- Drums, violin, banjo, dancing, singing, tom foolery and
earnest tunes for the new day of mountain improv.

Andrea Parkins (accordion, electronics)
Ches Smith (drums/electronics)
- Frequent collaborators Andrea Parkins and Ches Smith meet up for some duo mayhem.


Tomas Fujiwara's The Hook Up
with Shoko Nagai – keyboard, Keith Witty - bass
- With a "quiet energy that propels" (All About Jazz) and a style that is "both volatile and watchful" (New York Times), drummer Tomas Fujiwara leads a group of like minded musicians through a set of his original compositions. With inspiration ranging from Wayne Shorter to Haruki Murakami, Fujiwara's pieces deal with the intersection of composition and improvisation as well as concepts of shifting roles within an ensemble.

Saris (Sara Schoenbeck – bassoon, Harris Eisenstadt – drums)
- Saris formed in 2000. They have toured the US and Europe, and play compositions by both members and some of their favorite composers. Sometimes they invite guests to play with them.

Friday, August 17, 2007

RIP Max Roach

Check out Max playing "Big Sid" and other drum solos in this, one of so many incredible Max Roach videos on Youtube. I learned parts of Big Sid early on while transcribing Max's solos (along with Elvin, Roy, Philly Joe, Tony). Had the pleasure of playing parts of Big Sid with Adam Rudolph and Big Black while living in LA in both of their groups.

I've been watching/listening to/reading about Max Roach all day. Its moments like these that make me very thankful for Youtube and internet radio streaming. Sad that the death of a master is usually what it takes to precipitate extensive, cathartic re-investigation, but hey, at least the resources are out there.

There are so many people listening to WKCR's tribute broadcast to Max here that the stream keeps being interrupted. Frustrating, sure, but its a wonderful thing that this many people are tuning in. And WKCR will be playing Max's music for a week!

Its been said very eloquently here and here and here how important Max Roach's legacy is. From these links you can find your way to many other Max treasure troves.

Max Roach will forever be a great inspiration as an Artist, as a Musician, as a Drummer. He was a supreme melodist who played with astonishing clarity. He was a forward-looking innovator who continued to challenge himself and his audience throughout an almost 70-year career.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

RIP Paul Rutherford

Got word this morning that Paul Rutherford, seminal British trombone innovator/improviser, has passed. Very sad news. Had the good fortune to spend a couple weeks on the road with him and bassist Torsten Muller January 2006. I feel blessed to have spent that time with Paul, and to have met him on several other occasions in Vancouver, LA, and in the UK. I love Paul's incredible humor, razor-sharp wit, and complete disdain for b.s. He will be missed by many. He should be celebrated much more than he has been so far.

Above are a couple photos from the 2005 On the Outside Festival (Newcastle UK). He sounded incredible!

Esteemed Attendees

Great couple sets last night at The Stone. 8pm set was an improvised first meeting with Charles Burnham and Shanir Blumenkranz. We've played in other contexts but this was the first as a trio. Had a lovely time and what a treat to see my friend, the fantastic Cuban bassist Yunior Terry in the audience. Think he ended up there with a friend of Charlie's; great to re-connect.

The second set was my horn band, Gewel, with Michael Attias,
Taylor Ho Bynum, Russ Johnson, and Nate Wooley. Three trumpets (well, two and one cornet) and bari sax. Oh yeah. First gig for this group; we played my arrangements of Senegalese sabar drum ensemble music plus some transcriptions of old-time Senegalese pop music (mbalax). We had a quick 1.5 hour rehearsal the day before and all things considered, the music came off fantastic. Kind of sparsely attended as much of New York is on vacation, but had the good fortune to look out in the audience and see a couple good friends, composer/percussionist Aaron Siegel and Bjork trumpeter Sylvia Hlynsdottir who had come straight from the airport, plus the esteeemed composer/performer Henry Threadgill. A true honor to have Mr. Threadgill there.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Twice Told Tales, Upcoming Gigs

Photo by Scott Friedlander, tireless audio/visual documentarian of the creative music scene in New York for some years now. Taken at South Street Seaport gig a week or so ago with Tony Malaby, Louie Belogenis, Mark Helias. A fun one.

Some interesting gigs coming up:

Aug5 8pm The Stone

Vinny Golia Trio
Vinny Golia - woodwinds
Reuben Radding - bass
Harris Eisenstadt - drums

L.A.-based multi-winds/composer extraordinaire comes to town for a rare trio hit.

Aug5 10pm The Stone

Vinny Golia Quartet
Vinny Golia - woodwinds
Nate Wooley - trumpet
Reuben Radding - bass
Harris Eisenstadt - drums

L.A.-based multi-winds/composer extraordinaire comes to town for a rare quartet hit.

Aug7 8pm The Stone

Charles Burnham - violin
Shanir Blumenkranz - bass
Harris Eisenstadt - drums

First meeting for this improvising trio.

Aug7 10pm The Stone

Harris Eisenstadt's Gewel
Michael Attias - bari sax
Taylor Ho Bynum - cornet
Russ Johnson - trumpet
Nate Wooley - trumpet
Harris Eisenstadt - drums, compositions

All-new arrangements of Senegalese sabar and mbalax repertoire for horns and drums. First time this band has played since 2003.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Played, Playing, Heard, Read, Seen

Couple interesting gigs I have taken part in/am taking part in New York:

j a z z a t t h e s e a p o r t

seaport district cultural association performance space Front Street at Beekman Street (South Street Seaport)
fridays at 8:00 pm - 2 sets - admission $10

july 13 - daniel carter, reeds and piano; louie belogenis, tenor saxophone; hill greene, bass; harris eisenstadt, drums

july 20 - twice told tales
tony malaby, tenor saxophones; louie belogenis, tenor saxophone; mark helias, bass; harris eisenstadt, drums

subway: 2,3,4,5 to Fulton Street or A to Broadway/Nassau

Have heard/seen some lovely gigs this summer in New York. Two I'd like to make mention of:

- Taylor Ho Bynum and Positive Catastrophe at Zebulon, June 26. Wow, almost a month ago now. I've really not been blogging! Better late than never. The band included THB (cornet, conductor), Matt Bauder (tenor sax, clarinets), Michael Attias (alto, baritone saxes), Mark Taylor (french horn, mellophone), Raul Navarrette (trombone), Evan O'Reilly (guitar), Keith Witty (bass), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion), Abraham Gomez-Delgado (vocals, percussion), Jen Shyu (vocals, violin, erhu). Great band, fantastic arrangements of Sun Ra compositions, and a joyful feeling amongst the band and in the room. Very enjoyable and I think the first gig for this group.

- Basya Schecter (voice), Ayelet Rose Gottlieb (voice), Jon Madof (ac. gtr.), Sebastian Noelle (ac. gtr.) & Shanir Blumenkranz performing music from John Zorn's Book of Angels at Bowery Poetry Club, July 15. First gig for this band too and they sounded wonderful. Zorn's compositions were soulful and the group's arrangements effective - a particular treat to hear two excellent vocalists working together. Nice one, folks.

Just started Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Incredible ideas. Complicated but decipherable for non-professional urban planners. Sincere and humanist. More about this true VIP in future posts.

James Clavell's Gaijin is finally over. Not that I didn't love the swarthy, adventure/romance novel meets Dickens-loving prose, all 1000+ pages of it. "Back to feudal Japan, which now enters the modern world, from the master of the three-decker behemoth..." begins the Kirkus review here. They're not kiddding. I've read all of Clavell except Whirlwind and I must say I was overjoyed when I ran across Gaijin in the stacks at The Strand. Perfect reading on the bike at the gym. Oh how the time flies. I'd previously valued Clavell as great road-reading, that is, long sprawling epics that go down easy on trains in Europe, on planes to Asia or Oz, etc. I almost wish I'd saved it after buying it for future travels, but hey there's always Leon Uris to get into. Gaijin is not as good as Tai Pan or Shogun, probably comparable to Noble House, different than King Rat so hard to include K.R. in the list. I guess its number 3 for me Clavell's Asian Saga. I'm a sucker for feudal Japan. Written the year before he died, and I must say the book kind of runs out of steam a few hundred pages before it ends. Thoughts on this, anyone?

Wizzed through Israeli author Amos Oz' mid-career Black Book from 1988. Excellent NY Times review by Mary Gordon here. Oz is always a joy, and I recommend his conflicted, peace-loving, realistic authorial voice to any baffled by the prospects of peace in the Middle East. Not that his novels that I've read propose any concrete solutions; just that you get a sense that if his already-prominent voice were heard more along with similarly-inclined Palestinians, and whoever else had something of real value to say, maybe some peace could actually be achieved.

Been watching The Sopranos and Deadwood of late. I hadn't watched much Sopranos before the past few months. I've been watching many episodes, trying to get caught up. I know its very popular, and just ended, and blah blah, but as it turns out it actually is fantastically-layered storytelling. Great acting too, pretty much across the board. Somehow actually not over-the-top for the most part. Its been fun, and a great way to get my hours of rudiments-on-practice-pad time in, but it is not as singular nor as epic as Deadwood. And there were only 3 seasons of Deadwood to the Sopranos' 6, so thats saying something.

I've watched the 3 seasons of Deadwood slowly over the last couple years. I intentionally spaced them out for a couple reasons. First and foremost, I am a on-line or on-DVD TV viewer so have had to wait long periods of time for each successive season to be released on DVD. Second, because there are only 12 episodes per season, they tend to zoom by and I wanted to savor as much as possible. Third, and less significant, I spaced out my viewing because such a large percentage of the show's wonderfully-poetic dialogue is made up of swear words. This ends up taking a toll on my own vocabulary. What can I say?

Anyways, I'd just like to reiterate (i've mentioned it in this blog several times) that Deadwood is on my extreme short list of television-watched. Desert island? Give me this before Lost any day. My only real complaint (and corresponding deep sadness) is that there will not be a 4th season due to "budgetary concerns" from HBO. C&#ks&$kers! (Apologies for the profanity; its entirely appropriate considering the subject matter and hey, at least I censored it).

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

African Music as Social Fabric at

Just published a long piece at Bill Shoemaker's excellent on-line journal. Check it here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

6/27 WKCR Musicians Show 6-9pm EST, 7/1 HE Canada Day 5tet @ Bar4 8:30pm

6/27 WKCR FM New York 89.9 Musicians Show 6-9pm

Please tune in on-line at:

or in New York the old-fashioned way, on a radio, at 89.9 FM.


John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman - "They Say its Wonderful"
Tony Williams Life Time - "Two Pieces of One: Red"
Andrew Hill Point of Departure - "Dedication tk.1"
John McLaughlin Extrapolation - "Extrapolation"
Dave Holland Conference of the Birds - "Conference of the Birds"
Julius Hemphill Reflections - "The Hard Blues"
Chick Corea 3 Quartets - "Qt.2 Pt.2 ded. To Coltrane"
Henry Threadgill Song out of My trees - "Grief"
Thomas Chapin Sky Piece - "Night Bird Song"
Steve Coleman and Metrics - "Slow Lane"
Wadada Leo Smith Golden 4tet - "Dejohnette"
David Murray Ming - "Dewey's circle"

plus selections from my new release "The All Seeing Eye + Octets" on Poo-bah records.

7/1 HE Canada Day 5tet at Bar4 444 7th Avenue (@15th Street) Park Slope 8:30pm

Sara Schoenbeck - bassoon
Matt Bauder- tenor saxophone
Chris Dingman - vibraphone
Keith Witty - bass
Harris Eisenstadt - drums

From this week's Time Out New York:

Just back from a residency in West Africa, Toronto-born avant-jazz percussionist Harris Eisenstadt - who has worked with the likes of Sam Rivers and Paul Rutherford - is celebrating a new release, "The All Seeing Eye + Octets." This disc pairs a reverent yet risk-taking spin through a classic Wayne Shorter set with two lush multipart works by Eisenstadt, which skillfully reconcile spacious groove with textural intimacy.

- Hank Shteamer

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Empire in Africa

Recently watched the deeply unsettling documentary The Empire in Africa. It was released the same day last year as Blood Diamond, the Hollywood drama/thriller about civil war-torn 90s/early 00s Sierra Leone, in an attempt to bring attention to the tragedies that had befallen this resource-rich West African country. See my previous post about Blood Diamond here.

I knew that this was going to be some hard viewing, but I was amazed and horrified at the footage of Sierra Leone as the struggle between the rebels and army forces went back and forth, catching civilians in the middle in graphic, awful ways. Its difficult to keep track of who the guilty parties are, and in the end it becomes clear that everybody who was there has to take some responsibility for the atrocities to varying degrees. Ultimately the film implicates the UN and Western interests. Though confusing in the staggering amount and nature of victims, rebels, army, and political figures' testimonials, The Empire in Africa is a sobering, difficult, and important documentary.

And then I open the BBC on-line news and the top headline reads: "World failing Darfur, says Rice." Sad and true.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The All Seeing Eye + Octets Reviews

First two "The All Seeing Eye + Octets" reviews here and here. Check 'em out.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

RIP Kurt Vonnegut + Catch A Fire + Accordionology

Too many of my recent posts have been tributes to great people who have passed. That being said, I've got to shout out to Kurt Vonnegut, who passed a couple months ago. Hey, better late than never.

Just finished God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater. This lovely, short novel is a fine example of Vonegut's mix of satire, black comedy and science fiction. its actually been quite awhile since I read Vonnegut, and I was impressed by his humanism. He manages to be very instructive without being overly didactic. No small feat.

Set in early 80s South Africa and beautifully shot on location there and in Mozambique, Catch A Fire is a powerful film about Black-White relations at the height of Apartheid. After sitting through Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, and The Interpreter, its a relief to see a Hollywood film about Africa with an African character actually carrying the bulk of the screen time. While Tim Robbins does a capabale job as a morally-ambiguous police officer in the co-starring role, he is not on-screen nearly as much as the quietly burning Derek Luke, playing Patrick Cherusso, a man accused of a crime he didn't commit. Maybe the strongest performance of the entire film comes from Bonnie Henna, who plays Cherusso's wife. Mistreated while detained, Cherusso is pushed over the edge when the Boer police beat and detain his wife as a way of withdrawing a false confession. He is released and joins the African National Congress's struggle against the Apartheid government. See this one before any of the films mentioned above.

Playing the cool, thorny tunes of accordionist/composer Art Bailey's Riboflavin tomorrow night Friday June 15 at 7pm, with Reuben Radding and Michael Winograd as part of the Accordionology festival at Barbes this weekend. Come on down if you're in New York and read this before then.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

RIP Ousmane Sembene

Just read on the BBC that Ousmane Sembene has passed. I just blogged about this seminal Senegalese filmmaker last weekend. Didn't realized he'd been battling a long-term illness.

Congo, Goray, Butch Morris

First things first, saw a very important film recently, Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death. It tell the story of Belgium's King Leopold II and his genocidal operations in the Congo during the 19th and early 20th century. Director Peter Bate casts modern-day Congolese in historical re-enactments of actual events at times, which is at best distracting, at worst very unsettling. But nonetheless, he and narrator Nick Fraser have produced an extremely important document. As they lament, Leopold II destroyed much of the evidence and accounts of what happened in Congo during his reign. Therefore, Leopold II's apologists have forever had a way of escaping the truth. The only solace, Bate and Fraser conclude, is that during Leopold II's state funeral, his casket was booed as it was on parade. Still, statues of Leopold II can be found in Brussels and Antwerp, and official Belgian history portrays Leopold II as a civiliser. See this film and see for yourself what happened on his watch.

Burned through Satan in Goray, by my man Isaac Bashevis Singer. Beautifully translated by Jacob Sloan, Singer tells the story of a 17th century Polish town making preparations for the messiah. The villagers of Goray believed fervently that the messiah was coming in the form of Sabbatai Levi, a charismatic preacher from the Middle East. When word reached Goray that Levi was the messiah, that God was going to open up the heavens, save all the Jews and smote all their oppressors, the villagers' lives changed drastically and for the worse. Believing pre-ordained salvation was just around the corner, they abandoned their pious ways and lived immorally and savagely under the spell of a hypnotic pro-Levi rabbi who'd come to town. Turns out he's an incarnation of El Diablo, and before they know it the town is worse off then it ever was, the messiah Levi is exposed as a fraud, and his champion who swept up Goray in his charm is exposed as a dybbuk, a malicious spirit in Jewish folklore. I'm always completely enamored by Singer's magical realism, and feel a deep sense of connection to his Eastern European settings and characters. Read him, whatever your background. He's as important as Garcia Marquez and Nabokov.

Been playing with Butch Morris every Monday at Nublu. Always a rewarding challenge to play for Butch. I think the only other bandleader I've ever worked for who brings the same intensity as Butch is Wadada Leo Smith. There's a lot of similiarities playing for them, most importantly that you have to keep your eyes on them the whole time. In both of their cases, the musical landscape changes so quickly that if you're not looking at them before it happens, you've missed it already. Its been great with Butch; I've been playing either drumset or sabar. Very diferent endeavors of course. There's a couple regular drumset players who've been doing it for years, Kenny Wollesen and Brazilian Girls drummer Aaron Johnson, so I play kit if they're not there, and sabar when they are. Its a nice challenge to fit sabar into the mix. Since I almost always play sabar in the context of traditional Wolof music, it forces me to think about it differently. Good, challenging fun.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sembene, Richler

Watched La Noire de... (trans: Black Girl) by Senegalese author/filmmaker Ousmane Sembene recently. Sembene is considered by many the father of Sub Saharan African film. La Noire de... was the first film by a Sub Saharan director to receive international acclaim, and its actually an adaptation of a Sembene short story. After an already-successful career as a writer, Sembene decided to make films as well as continue to write so he could reach a wider audience. Black Girl's main character, Diouanna, is brought to France by her employers officially as a governess, but quickly realizes she's there effectively as a slave. She's not literally incarcerated, but in a culture where she understands more French than she speaks, doesn't read or write and doesn't know anybody, she is essentially captive to her verbally abusive (wife) and indifferent (husband) employers. A powerful short film, I can only lament that things are still not so different for many West Africans given the "opportunity" of working as domestic "help" in European homes, over forty years later. Or, for that matter, much different than many situations for people from the Caribbean and Central/South America working in North America.

Been enjoying The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler. I didn't read this book as a high school kid in Canada and I'm not quite sure how that happened. Richler's story of post WWII Montreal is a well-written, tragicomic story that reminds me of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. Richler is one of Canada's most accomplished and famous authors, and ...Kravitz is probably his best-known book. Just filling in the holes in my Canadian lit. background one classic at a time I guess. Recommended reading for Canadians and the rest of you too!

RIP Take Toriyama

Take Toriyama passed tragically earlier this week. There is an excellent post on Darcy James Argue's blog that has a great video of Take playing and other information. I never had the good fortune to meet or hear Take live, I'm sorry to say. I've heard him on record, though, and remember being blown away by his touch and uncanny musicality. New York's creative music community has lost an important contributor.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

RIP Rod Poole and more

On an incredibly sad, tragic note, Rod Poole died last Sunday. Rod Poole's music is singularly beautiful. I had the good fortune to hear him several times in LA over the years - solo, with the Acoustic Guitar Trio, and with Chris Heenan I believe. The circumstances surrounding his death are terrible and senseless, and the new music community has lost a distinct musical personality.

On a more uplifting and life-affirming note, from last Friday May18 at noon until next Friday May25 at 9pm, the great Columbia University radio station WKCR is having a Sam Rivers Festival. All of Sam's discography including tons of never-before-heard music. Who else would do something like this? Talk about a much-deserved, long-underrecognized master getting some props. A week... wow wow! Its been a pleasure to tune in on-line when I wake up in the morning, come home in the afternoon, evening, or before going to sleep. And insightful interviews - I'm listening to Hal Galper being interviewed about Sam's Boston days and his impact on Tony Williams at the moment. Bravo WKCR.

I feel blessed to have recorded Vista with Sam and Adam Rudolph in LA in Adam's beautiful backyard studio in the fall of 2003. Sam's incredible musical spirit and good nature were a joy to be around. We talked about making a record the night before it happened. I picked him up the morning of at his hotel, and we spent the afternoon and early evening recording. It was one of the greatest days of my life.

Jason Mears Trio gigs with Nate Wooley this week at Goodbye Blue Monday (May 22) and Lucky Cat (May 24). Jason's a fantastic, totally individual saxophonist/composer who's just moved back to the US from Japan, where he lived for two years. Great to have him back, psyched to play with him!

Then we'll all play Nate's Large Ensemble gig later this week. The group is called Atack, Adorn, Decay and features a stellar cast of players, as part of the New Languages Festival. Should be great.

Just finished Let it Come Down by Paul Bowles. What a beautiful, despondent book. Bleak in a lot of ways but inspiring ultimately in Bowles' gorgeous prose. Slow going, but worthwhile. I should check out his music; I'm guessing the same slow, careful architecture at work.

Tearing through Absolute Friends, John Le Carre's 2004 bildungsroman novel. As in a previous post when I discussed his more recent The Mission Song, bravo to Le Carre for his recent work. I know some old guard aren't into it, but I am! I look forward to what comes next... may it be 2008 at the latest.

Been watching Prison Break, Lost, and 24. What can I say, they don't even deserve to be hyperlinked. Crack central! None hold a candle to HBO classics like Deadwood, The Wire, and Carnavale. But hey, gotta get the time on my practice pad in each day and this has been a good way to do it.

A couple kinda so-so films as well, The Good Shepherd and The Illusionist. The Good Shepherd is overlong and Matt Damon et al make for an extremely boring cast (apparently this is the point?), but the one saving grace was the cinematography (good work director De Niro, you hired a great cinematographer in Robert Richardson). The Illusionist was ok, but for recent turn-of-the-century magic films check out The Prestige. Less sappy, plus a film-making turn by David Bowie as Nikolai Tesla. Was glad to see my colleague in the blogosphere Hank Shteamer give props to this film a little ways back.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The All Seeing Eye + Octets

First still photo I've figured out how to post, thanks to my friend, bansuri maestro and webmaster Dave Philipson.

I'm happy to announce the release of The All Seeing Eye + Octets on Poobah Records. The label is sending out promo copies this week so reviews should start rolling in this summer.

The producer Don Was turned me on to an amazing engineer Krish Sharma. Krish hooked up Paramount Studios for the recording and got a great sound. Thanks to them both and mostly to Poobah for putting the record out.

I'll include my portion of the liner notes for a little back story:

As it turns out, The All Seeing Eye + Octets is the last recording I made while living on the West Coast. It was a very fruitful period from 1999-2005/06. I lived in New York on and off in 2005, and moved for good fall 2006. I feel very fortunate to have had many wonderful musical opportunities while in Los Angeles. I’m proud that this recording features a broad cross-section of creative musicians there.

At first it was my intention to record the 5 songs from Wayne Shorter’s The All Seeing Eye and leave it at that. Seemed an ambitious enough undertaking. I’ve been inspired by that music for years, and wanted to pay tribute by re-imagining it with new forms and different instrumentation. In the process of preparing for rehearsals, performance, and recording, I realized that I had at my disposal an ensemble of vast instrumental range and skill. I decided to arrange two large ensemble pieces of mine, Without Roots and What We Were Told, for octet, and added a second trumpet and conductor. We went into Paramount Studio C, a wonderful old Hollywood live room full of wood and stone, and recorded The All Seeing Eye + Octets in one long, fulfilling day.

The intention is for the listener to approach this music as two separate programs. Listen to the 5 tracks that make up The All Seeing Eye. Take a break. Then listen to Without Roots and What We Were Told. I chose to steer clear of the saxophones and trombone from the original 1965 recording and instead decided on a woodwind trio (clarinet, bass clarinet, and bassoon). I wanted to blend the inner voices in the ensemble as much as possible, and to balance that much wood with just the right amount of metal: trumpet(s) and vibraphone. The balance made for an ideal mixture; sheer and lush at the same time. String bass and drumset provide the underpinning. The only clear strategy was to approach the music in less of a hard-swinging, quiet interludes, solo-after-solo sort of way and more as open-ended chamber music with grooves, which ends up mirroring the overall structure of my two octets.

Without Roots and What We Were Told were both written for large ensembles originally (21 and 15 musicians respectively). Arranging them for octet offered the chance to streamline the compositions, so by the time of the recording session the pieces were in fighting trim. Thanks to conductor Marc Lowenstein, who expertly paced the music such that written and improvised passages co-exist unhurried but on point. Each solo space follows its logical arc then backgrounds appear. Structured improvisations flow from one to the next organically. Tempi and dynamics swell and recede.

Thanks to the wonderful musicians involved, who brought their creativity, patience, and skill to the music. Special thanks to Chris Dingman, who helped with the Shorter arrangements immensely. The All Seeing Eye is about form, freedom, and balance. All these concepts should inform one’s life-view as much as one’s compositional palette.

- Harris Eisenstadt, Jersey City, 2007

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A bunch of stuff. After all, its been 3 weeks since my last...

Its been almost a month since my last post. A whirlwind... seriously. Haven't had a moment to blog. Now's a good time to get back to it.

After lovely gigs with Steve Beresford et al (see previous post) I went to California for a week of various work.

Lovely Saris (duo with Sara Schoenbeck) concert at Trummerflora's Spring Reverb Festival in San Diego.

Wonderful, productive day at Bakersfield College teaching drumset lessons, music appreciation and ensemble classes for my good friend Kris Tiner. Showed videos from West Africa in the appreciation class and brought transcriptions of 70s mbalax and afromanding tunes for ensemble class.

Had a cracking CD release concert for The All Seeing Eye + Octets, out now on Poobah Records, in LA.

Then I flew to Portland Maine to start an 8-gig tour with The Bill Horvitz Band, with myself and ROVA mofo/great guy Steve Adams.

One of the stops on the tour was Toronto. Was great to play for family and friends. I realized I hadn't played in Toronto since 1999! Canada's national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, ran a nice feature article on me here.

That culminated in three days of rehearsals, performance and recording of the Bill Horvitz Expanded Band. We played program of music in tribute to Bill and Wayne's youngest brother Philip Horvitz who passed about two years ago. It was a deeply touching, sad and joyful concert. Bill wrote some beautiful music and put together an incredible band.

Last night Sara and I had the good fortune to go see/hear Bjork at the Apollo Theater. A friend of a friend was in the band, and so graciously put us on the list. Thank you so much Sylvia! What can I say... It was an astonishing live performance and we were 10 rows from the front of the Apollo Theater, stage right. Wow wow! They played their asses off. The touring band consists of two electronicists, drummer, keyboardist, and an all-Icelandic, all-lady brass tentet. Bjork rules! She brought out Min Xia Fen and Antony (from Antony and the Johnsons) each for a tune. Respek! And she played Hyperballad. I'm a sucker for Hyperballad.

Watched The Last King of Scotland recently. I don't know, Forest Whitaker is incredible, but I'm not down with the fictitious white co-lead. The implication being that Hollywood and North American/European(?) audiences need the vantage point of a white character to legitimize the film... to understand it... to go to the theater at all? Frankly I would like to have seen more screen time for Whitaker. I know he was all over each scene that he was in, but I wanted more. Oh well, congrads Forest. You definintely rocked it. I'm just not down with whoever greenlighted the script.

Been reading Paul Bowles' Let it Come Down. More as I get into it but a pleasure so far.

Been enjoying listening to Sade's beautiful record Lovers Rock. Think I might have mentioned it in a post from Dakar. I imported it from my friend Mohammed Sao who incidentally turned me on to tons of killin' Afromanding, Mbalax, Afro and more as we dug through his incredible vinyl collection one night a month and a half ago. Lovers Rock has been getting a lot of spins. The production is impeccable, the songwriting is fantastic, and her voice (like Bjork's) is so powerful.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Audio/Visual, Books

British pianist/multi-instrumentalist Steve Beresford is in town for a couple gigs. Had a lovely one last night at Barbes (trio with Nate Wooley) and a Company-style evening tonight with Jason Hwang, Jessica Pavone, Peter Evans, and Reuben Radding at Rose Live Music. Info below:

april 18 8pm barbes

steve beresford trio
nate wooley - trumpet
harris eisenstadt ˆ percussion

april 19 8pm rose live music

steve beresford and friends
jason hwang - violin, viola
jessica pavone - violin, viola
reuben radding - bass
steve beresford - piano
peter evans - trumpet
harris eisenstadt - percussion

Took in two films this week that shared excellent cinematography, editing, and plot devices: Blood Diamond and Children of Men.

While I was somehow disappointed to find that Blood Diamond was not shot where it was set (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea) rather in Mozambique and South Africa, it doesn't change the fact that it looks stunning! Same can be said for Children of Men, the "anti-Bladerunner" as director Alfonso Cuaron termed his film. London 2027 looks incredible, with its technology-stopped-at 2014-due-to-chaos understatedness. When Cuaron and his team dressed their London sets, he said to make it "look more like Mexico" whenever he needed more reality of a destroyed future London.

The plot device that the two films share is the anti-hero (Leonardo DiCaprio in BD, Clive Owen in COM) who dies at the end of his journey after successfully saving the one who most needs to be saved. Both were cool, but for me the definitive performance of either movie is given by Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond. Wow!

Couple great books I've been digging. Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael reed", the seminal early70s re-imagining of Black/White Race Relations set in 1920s New York City and beyond, and
Masters of the Sabar by Patricia Tang. Ms. Tang addresses a question that's been in previous posts of mine and intrigued me for years: what is the nature of the overlapping origins of Mandinka kutiro drums (also called tantango/saoruba) and Wolof sabar drums? She arrives at the same conclusion that I have: no one can say empirically and categorically which one came before the other. She does suggest that evidence points to Mandinka tantango pre-dating Wolof sabar. Which would corroborate the point of view that my friend Mandinka griot Foday Musa Suso has. The mystery continues...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Rainy Sunday

A rainy Sunday here and I'm sipping some Peet's french roast and processing a nice day yesterday.

Listening to some CDs that were laid on me by Sylvain Leroux and Malika Zarra. Sylvain and I had a nice hang at his place in the East Village, playing some tambin-sabar duets, drinking tea, talking about mutual respect and love for Africa. Check here for info about him, the tambin (Fula/Malinke flute) and two great CDs by his bands Fula Flute and Source.

Then went and played for one of Babcar Mbaye's classes at Chelsea Studios. Brought my minidisc and recorded it so I could work on some of the baks (breaks). The guys I play the classes with are from the same family as my teacher, Malick Ngom Faye, referred to in previous posts as 19yrold mofo. They're his uncles, older brothers/cousins, etc. You can find them here. So interesting that alot of the baks and rhythms Malick tought me are his generaton's version; the guys who teach these classes are 10-20 years older than Malick. Of the discrepency between their stuff and what the Sing Sing Juniors are playing right now in Medina, they say something to the effect of: "those young'ns play too fast, too slick, they don't focus enough on the original versions, groove deep enough, etc). As far as I'm concerned both versions are off the hook.

After the dance class went down to meet up with my friend Brahim Fribgane, great guy, great percussionist/oud & guitar player. He was playing at Boom in Soho with a killing vocalist Malika Zarra, who has a killing band. Had fun sitting in with them and trying to make their subtly-arranged and deeply-grooving music feel good without knowing the tune. Always great to be inspired by other drummers! Mailka's regular drummer is this dude named Harvey Wirht from Surinam. He played such deeply grooving, creative, tasteful stuff. And all on a tiny NYC-style one cymbal-hihats-snare and kick only kit (one doesn't really need much more than that).

Monday, April 9, 2007

Video # 17 - Mamady Danfa Making Tea

Just a quick post of my deputy teacher from Gambia, Mamady Danfa, pouring Atya (gunpowder green tea mixed with tons of sugar) in Brikama, Gambia last month. Most people drink this stuff at least once a day. If they haven't had their first fix by 11am or so, they start getting testy. Talk about a different pace! They brew it slowly over charcoal, pass out little shots from a little pot until the first batch is done, and then do the same thing a second and third time. The whole process - from lighting the charcoal until the third pot is empty, takes at least an hour. Its mesmerizing to watch people pour the tea from cup to cup, back in to the pot, into the cup, back ito the pot, etc... Hypnotic! Just don't drink the first round if you're having a hard time sleeping. Stuff works like hi-octane fuel. Good for right before playing a traditional dumming program.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Out and About in NYC

Sunday here and I've been back from West Africa for a little over a week. Haven't blogged and have just been processing I guess. Been running around a bunch and its my first day to catch up on writings (prose and music), have some serious practice time, etc. Starting work on a piece about my time in Senegal and Gambia for Bill Shoemaker's excellent on-line journal which will be published in PofD's July edition.

Been playing Sabar dance classes all weekend with Babacar Mbaye and Babacar Ndiaye at a cool festival/conference of African Dance at Baruch College. Playing tonight for Babacar Mbaye at 7:45 then will probably swing by Freestyle Jazz at Jimmy's to hear one of my favorite groups, my friends' Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone's duo project.

Also been out to hear some music the last couple nights. Enjoyed ICP Orchestra's last show at Tonic (since Tonic is closing its doors this month, sadly) on Friday night. Amazingly the first time I've seen this band live. Have had the good fortune to work with some of its members (Toby Delius, Tristan Honsiger, Mary Oliver) and always nice to see Michael Moore, who I've met several times in Amsterdam and California but not had the pleasure of playing with yet. Soon hopefully! Great to hear Ab Baars, Misha Mengelberg and Wolter Wierbos live. And always fun to see Han Bennink, and each time Mary re-introduces me he says "oh yeah" and rubs my shoulder or pats my head. Han does this to everyone and though he may or may not remember me, it doesn't actually matter. He's a warm-spirited, genial, beyond-gregarious guy and he's just Han. All there is to it. As usual with ICP and New Dutch Swing, there was a fun of mix of Ellington-meets-Frederik Hendrikstraat themes, wacky-sometimes-somber improvs, and Townships-meet-De Wittenstraat 100 pentatonic loveliness. They've been playing at Tonic for years so it will be interesting to see where they end up next time they're in NYC. Meanwhile, I eagerly await the next opportunity to go to Amsterdam. Its on my short list of favorite cities in the world. The architecture takes my breath away.

Last night my neighbor Tony Malaby graciously comped me to hear him with the Paul Motian Octet at the Village Vanguard. I must say being comped is the way to go. Thanks Tony! I stayed for two sets and had one beer, and was set back $7. Had I been a regular-paying customer, it would have cost me at least $70. Now don't get me wrong; Paul Motian is a living master and his band is full of killing musicians. But thats a lot of bread. Still, it was packed with tourists as usual. And despite the fact that its a tourist trap, I still dig going the Vanguard from time to time. The history in the room is palpable, even if the programming of the last decade (since I've been going sporadically) is not always my thing. Malaby introduced me to Paul between sets and he said to me, as he switched his order at the bar from a glass of water to a martini, "It ain't easy being a drummer." Truer words were never spoken.

It was a curious couple sets, I have to say. Motian is wonderfully mystifying to see live; wiry and unpredictable behind his beautiful-toned Gretsch drums. The band had some great moments, but there also seemed to be an air hanging over the music that kept it from hitting that elusive transcendent spot. Still, a treat to see all these great players. Nice to hear and catch up a little with my friend, the ubiquitous guitarist/bass guitarist Jerome Harris. Always making the music feel good, that Mr. Harris.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Video #16 - Jola Redux, Group Fogni at Just 4 You, Dakar

Second day of this fever which has kind of rendered me a bit useless during the day. Unfortunate, as my time here is short. Back to New York tomorrow night... wow wow! Despite feeling under the weather, I could not pass up the opportunity to go and hear Group Fogni last night at Just 4 You. You guessed it; group name not highlighted because I can't find any web info about them. Bummer. I'll fill in what I can.

Group Fogni seems to have a revolving cast of members as I've seen there videos on Senegalese and Gambian tv and only recognized a few of the folks playing last night from the videos. But no matter; this was the real deal. My last day in Gambia 02-03 I bought a pile of cassetes because I wanted to hear some of the high-life (westernized music). I'd been in so deep with the traditional drumming that I hadn't checked out any high-life in two months. Not so this time, as I've led something of a double life. Traditional drums by day, m'balax by night, etc. One of the cassettes I happened to pick up was by Group Fogni and they blew me away.

They are Jolas (see previous posts for info about Jola culture), so their sources for creating high-life are different than Wolof m'balax or Mandinka/Bambara afro-manding. The drummer was killing; the patterns he played are totally different than anything else I've heard here. Its fitting that I caught these guys towards the end of my time here; they played a few weeks ago while I was in Gambia, so I'd been waiting for this day for awhile now. They did not disappoint. One critique, though, that extends beyond Group Fogni to all the high-life music I've heard these five weeks. Take it easy on the synthesizers, people! At what point did horns become unfashionable and extraneous in this part of the world? If you listen to high-life before the 80s, horns are all over these groups, usually wonderfully out-of-tune. But every band that I've heard in a month (around fifteen groups) has at least one synth, in Group fogni's case two! I can deal with synths if deployed carefully, but to a fault every example here seems to be of the reverb-drenched, island-(un)cool variety. Why folks? Perhaps because its easier to have a synth player cover three horn parts? Perhaps because people here genuinely think it sounds hipper than horns? I'm at a loss.... oh well, nonethless, enjoy Group Fogni's burning rhythms and killer vocalist/dancers!

Monday, March 26, 2007


Taking it easy tonight and did much of today as I have a little bit of a flu. Eating meals out of one big bowl certainly contributes, and Willow and Souley's 1-and-a-bit-year-old son Lamin's too cute to not hang with, so when he has a little flu, he passes it on. So it goes. All in all, my health has been pretty ok these five weeks in Africa. Couple days of things running freely as it were, but overall not too bad.

Just finished a nice book by Andre Dubus III called Bluesman from 1993. Dubus III is best known for 1999's heartbraking The House of Sand and Fog. Bluesman prefigures some of the desperation and inevitability that one gets reading ...Fog. As the main character Leo begins to play blues harmonica alongside his father and uncle who he's watched and listened to for years, the more difficult and complicated his life becomes. Not an earthshaking read, but enjoyable nonetheless. ...Fog is more fully realized than Bluesman; its a beautiful, deeply tragic book, and its interesting to see the author at an earlier stage in his career working out themes he'll explore more fully six years later.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Video # 15 - Jola Bougarabou, at last

Now that was a full day. Started around 11am with a trip to the Cite des Arts, a bunch of artists' workshops and galleries. There seemed to be one main gallery open and everything else looked like people's work spaces. Maybe it was so mellow because it was a Sunday. The majority of work shown in the gallery was by an artist named Moussa Mbaye. Scroll down this link to see an example of his work and get a little info. Very beautiful collage paintings.

After the Cite des Arts, I took a cab to the Village Artisanel, not far from my sabar tacher's Medina neighborhood. Even though my friend/Willow's brother-in-law Mohammed confirmed for me before I went that it was mostly kitschy touristy stuff, I figured I may as well have a look. It was pretty kitschy, and pretty sleepy (again, the Sunday afternoon thing, I think). I didn't last too long there and decided to walk through Medina looking for a traditional music program that would be happening informally somewhere in that neighborhood.

This was around 2pm, so I was a little early. Programs don't really get going (at least when there are drummers involved) until it cools off in the late afternoon. Eventually I found my way to Rue 22, Angle 23, the cross-streets where the Sing Sing Rhythm compound is. Was glad to find it, because it was some indication that I could find my way around ok after a month. And good timing, as I found my teacher Malick there and picked up my m'bung m'bung, which sounds fantastic. I look forward to getting to it in New York when I get back. Interesting, as great as its been with Malick, he showed his youth this weekend. I asked him about getting together for a couple more lessons before I split, and he said that he's busy rehearsing for a big program with the Sing Sing Seniors (or maybe another other group; wasn't clear) and therefore wasn't going to have time to teach any more lessons. But then I find him at home chilling, playing soccer with his younger brothers. I can understand when you work alot you need a break as well - and he's definitely busy with playing programs - but at the same time he could use the bread, and its not such demanding work to spend an hour or two with me. Oh well. I've been able to get a dozen lessons in, and its been very informative and a nice hang, so however the next few days go is fine with me. If I have more lesons with him before I split Thursday, cool, if not, cool.

Anyways, I got back to the house and had a late lunch with Khady Gueye and some ladies who work for the Sao family. One of them, Bintu, is a Jola, and mentioned there was a big Jola cultural celebration going in a park not too far away. She walked me over there (thanks Bintu!), and there it was, the first time I'd seen any traditional Jola music live. There was one Bougarabou drummer, a guy playing a huge krin, and somwhere between 600-900 people. The woman and girls circled the entire park with iron clappers in their hands, and the men and boys danced in the middle. It was a giant end-of-manhood training celebration. Bintu said that it happens every week, and its the last Sunday I'll be in Dakar. Bummer! All I can say is I feel very lucky to have seen this before I split. I only saw and studied Mandinka traditional drumming in 02-03 in Gambia, even though there are many Jolas there. And this whole 5 weeks I've seen and studied Wolof and Mandinka drumming; again no Jola. I'm a big fan of the bougarabou drums, and its intriguing that for Jolas only one person plays either a single bougarabou or a set of 4. Seeing a krin player today accompanying the bougarabou drummer was interesting, and unusual I think. Or at least no more usual than one man playing by himself.

African drum traditions almost always seem to be about an ensemble of drummers and percussionists playing together. Wolof and Mandinka drummers are from the artisan caste. There are no such class denominations in Jola society. Also, throughout the performance, a few people would take turns playing the bougarabou and krin, as its physically demanding and also (see the link Jola link above) because the implication is that no one person is so great that others can't share the burden. Fascinating to read abut Jola culture. I've met some Jolas, but not been to the areas of Gambia or Senegal (the Casamace region) where they live predominantly. There are many Jola in Dakar, too. I just didn't know. Another mystery begins to unravel. Wow wow (oh yeah), as the Wolof would say.

Video # 14 - Orchestra Baobab, Just 4 You, Dakar, 3.24.07

Last night I went to Just 4 You around midnight and Orchestra Baobab did, in fact, play, unlike last Saturday. They were fantastic. I heard them a little over a year ago while we both were playing at Adelaide Festival of Arts. Baobab has been around since the 1960s with varying lineups, and their audience seems to be mostly local adults and tourists of all ages. The Senegalese youngsters seem to prefer hiphop, the newest m'balax, etc. Oh well, their loss... thats stuff's cool, but these guys kill! All vibe.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Video # 13, Maison Des Esclaves, Goree

And now for a non-related music post:

Wow (means "yes" in Wolof by the way), Goree. That was a whirlwind afternoon. It took about twenty minutes on the boat over from the embarcadere. A much more functional system than the trip between Barra and Banjul in Gambia. No surprise, as Goree is a major tourist destination, a World Heritage site, while Barra-Banjul is a trip Gambians, Senegalese and other locals make every day, but not too many tourists. A classic example of non-existent infrastucture because it doesn't directly impact Western countries. Deep.

What a mix of emotions I felt on Goree today. On the one hand, deep sadness at how terrible a place this must have been for literally millions of people. On the other, indifference to and impatience with the tourist trade that exists there. Not that I should presume to say what should be happening on Goree and what shouldn't, but it felt strange, I must admit, to have a (somewhat) tasty pizza lunch in a bougainvillea-surrounded garden patio, browse poorly-made djembes, dunduns, and sabars, "generic" african batiks, cds and cassettes of m'balax stars, postcards, etc etc, in a place known as the "island of no return" because of its notorious part in the African slave trade.

I spent about 4 hours there in all. Its a very small island with no cars, a small community of 1500 who cater to the tourists, and thats about it. I will say that the old, pastel color buildings are incredibly beautiful. And the doors to these buildings, mostly compounds for the island residents but also various offices, museums, etc, are spectacular! Strangely, they reminded me of Amsterdam. I found myself taking pictures of the doors to these compounds on Goree the same way I do in Amsterdam. If I could just figure out how to post photos... when I do, I'll put up a door series. They're gorgeous!

La Maison des Esclaves is a rose-colored building with a ground floor of holding cells and a second floor museum with artifacts from the 16th-19th centuries. As a measure of my sink-or-swim French-speaking experience here, I was pleased that I caught more of the French tour guide's very insightful comments than I thought I would. Just goes to show ya, the only real way to (re)learn a language is to be forced to speak it consistently. Just a month and I fumble much less than when I got here. Amazing.

I include a video here of me walking through the ground floor of holding rooms briefly. I do so with mixed emotions because this place and this topic is more serious, more sensitive than any musical endeavors could ever be. I don't mind up-loading short video clips of inspiring musical moments. Its a pleasure to do, actually, because it gives exposure to rich musical worlds here. But I don't believe a 2-minute short video can begin to convey the weight that one feels here, the tragedy that happened on Goree, the injustices that were perpetrated over centuries. Comments and perspectives encouraged.

BTW, disturbingly but not surprisingly, when Bush visited Goree in 2003 the island residents were taken from their home and cordoned off on a football field for the six hours Bush was there speaking about . That didn't get much coverage in U.S. media, of course.

Video #12 - Yoro at Just 4 You, Dakar

Yet another totally killin' Senegalese mbalax group. Yoro and his group blended mbalax with r n b, reggae, ska, salsa, et al.
The guitarist was superhappening; for some reason I was reminded of Tim Young, guitarist from Wayne Horvitz's goups and tons of other Seattle and LA projects. Same kind of right-part-at-the-right-time tasteful playing. Shame I can't link to Yoro's website, but I can't find any info of him on the web! An endemic problem for African artists, thats for sure.

For a complete change of pace, I'm off to Goree as soon as this video uploads. It'll probably be the only touristy thing I do while in West Africa (no giraffe-sightings for this guy). But hey, its a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a place that I need to lay some eyes on. More to follow.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Video #11 - Sing Sing Juniors Progam, Dakar, Senegal 3.22.07

Here's some burning footage of my teacher (standing, playing the lead sabar drum, called n'der) and his brothers. These boys can play! This took place about 5 minutes walk from their compound where I've been taking my lessons. A baptism here takes place when the baby is a week old. A marabout (Muslim priest, or imam) whispers koranic verse in each ear of the baby first thing in the morning, then a whole lot of feasting and music-making goes on all day long. When we arrived to play at 4pm, they weren't quite ready for us, as there was a DJ blasting m'balax on some huge speakers. So we played along, the way many m'balax groups here have 5 sabar drummers as well as guitar, bass, drumset, etc, in the band.

People were perplexed and pleasantly suprised as I played along with the Sing Sing Juniors. I'm not ready to play programs with them, but playing along to records, no problem. If I was here for another few weeks of lessons, I'd be ready, but alas, I've got to get back. Its cool, though, because I'll be accompanying Babacar Mbaye's dance classes in Chelsea every Saturday that I'm in town. So i'll get to continue on with sabar in New York, which I'm looking forward to. This was the problem last time I came back from Africa. I was in LA, and didn't know any Mandinka drummers there, so I played as much as I could, taught what I knew to some students, but didn't have the chance to really build on what I'd learned. I'm a drumset player ultimately, so it all contributes to my concept, and I'm fine with that. The idea of spending a year in Brikama playing Mandinka drums has crossed my mind, and staying in Dakar for an exended period is attractive too, but ultimately my home base for now is New York and I'm enjoying working wth folks there too much to drop off the map as it were. Anyways, enjoy the Sing Sing Juniors!

Video #10 - Jalamang Camara playing his licks, Gambia

So here are my Mandinka drum teacher's hands that I've been raving about so much, up close and personal. I'm telling you, Roy Haynes meets Alan Dawson. He's playing some of his signature licks that he would play on the lead drum (sabaro) during the course of a program. As with so many traditional percussion traditions, the lead drummer is free to improvise on top of the support drums, and can decide when its time for a specific call to signal a change to a new rhythm. The drummers, the dancers, and, in truth, everyone at a program recognizes these calls. Because, as i keep emphasizing, they are literally language. So enjoy Mr. Jalamang Camara's elegant playing. And dig those one-hand, one-stick single stroke rolls!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Video #9 - Informal music making at Foday Musa Suso's compound, Gambia

Meant to post this one a ways back as well. A few weeks ago at my friend Suso's in Gambia one night some informal music-making went down with his son, daughter, wife, nephew, and family member tba. No particular reason except they felt like it. No audience, not a practice session, just a griot family playing Mandinka repertoire together for fun. Check my Tuesday March 13 post (scroll down to the Wednesday March 7 portion of that post) for more info.

Video # 8 -Daby, King of Fuladu and the Afro Manding Sound

This footage is from the Dakar nightclub Just 4 You a couple evenings ago. The band is called Daby, King of Fuladu, and they play whats called Afro Manding, which originated in Gambia actually. For a brief history of Afro Manding music and its most well-known champion Ifang Bondi, check here.

I recognized Daby's drummer, David Ndiaye, as Cheikh Lo's drummer from the other night. I went up and spoke with him afterwards and we had a nice rapport. He invited me over to his compound to exchange ideas so I spent yesterday at his place in the Banlieues section of Dakar on the outskirts of town. The traffic was terrible both ways but the hang was great. I brought the small kit I have here (snare, kick, hihat, crash), and he showed me m'balax and Afro Manding grooves, I showed him some swing, funk, and blues stuff. What a fruitful way to spend a day. The drumset concept here is completely different than in the West. It was so helpful to have someone break down what I've been hearing live for the last month. Its hard to pick out the drumset parts with all the sabar drums and tama wailing on top. Thanks David for a great exchange!

Video #7 - Mandinka Drumming program with P.A. I sent

Meant to post this earlier. The woman singing is called a kanyile (songleader). She's belting it out on the P.A. I sent my teachers almost a year ago. Instead of having to strain her voice and fight to be heard on top of a chous of sometimes hundreds of women, she can soar on top of them all with a mic. I meant to walk as far away as I could from the program to see how far you could actually hear this P.A. in the distance, but I was enjoying watching the proceedings too much to go anywhere. I was so happy to be able to send this to them. Took me awhile to get the extra bread together, but I finally managed it three years after my first visit. Its a killin' Fender Passport that no other group in Gambia has. Most of the high life band's have P.A.'s, or there are P.A's at the clubs they play at, but as with most of the electronics in West Africa, more often then not tweeters are blown, or it only works in mono, or it barely works at all, or etc etc. So for my teachers Jalamang and Mamady, a fully operational P.A. now makes them that much more in demand in Brikama than they already were. Glad to help get them more work. They deserve it! The irony is they play programs at so many compounds that don't have electricity that sometimes they cart the thing over (literally; their roadie pushes the P.A. and drums through town to the gig on a wheelbarrow!) and can't even use it.

In this clip Jalamang and Mamady are playing "Fere," the throwdown 4/4 funk in the repertoire. There's a couple other 4/4 rhythms, but this is the standard for every women's recreational program and maybe the least complicated rhythm in the repertoire (I better be careful what I write). As always, the kanyile sings songs associated with whichever piece the drummers are playing, and the chorus of women responds. When Jalamang senses that the energy level is rising, he amps up the drummers and ultimately the whole crowd with his whistle and off they go.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Video #6 - Sabar Kids

This is at my teacher's family compound. Check out the kid on the right!!!!!! That's my teacher's voice reciting sabar rhythms. The kid on the right is barely 3. When the family goes and plays concerts, the lead drum sits on a chair. The 3 yr old sits with it on the chair so it doesn't slide off. Talk about getting ideas drummed into your head! The kid on the left is older but doesn't have it as internalized because he was born in Gambia and has only been in Dakar hearing this stuff for a year or so. Incredible!

Video # 5 - Mbaye Dieye Faye and sundries

Here's a video of Mbaye Dieye Faye, one of the biggest mbalax stars in Senegal now. He's the lead drummer and backup singer in Youssou Ndour's band, but has his own project that's also very popular. The footage is from Sahel, a Dakar nightclub, about three weeks ago; I blogged about it March 1. Mbaye Dieye Faye is part of the Faye family, the same family that my teacher belongs to. As noted, the Faye's are one of the two major sabar families in Dakar (among many); Doudou Ndiaye Rose's family is the other. Check out the call and response between Mbaye and his drummers. Sabar rhythms are based on Wolof language, so it makes sense that he sings something (nonsense words in this case, actually), and the drummers play it back. Someone's beeen checking out James Brown.

Off to my ninth sabar lesson momentarily. My teacher hooked up an mbung mbung for me to buy. He got me the friend price rather than the tubab price by all acounts, which I appreciate. I've been helping him, he's been helping me, etc...

And speaking of a good price, bought some beautiful fabric in one of the markets this morning. Got a good price on it after some patience and visits to plenty of different market stalls. Mansour, the tailor at the Sao family's compound, made me two killer pairs of cotton/canvas pants with ever so slight an African flair. I learned my lesson this time around. Last time I was in Africa I bought a bunch of different shiny gorgeous fabrics that people wear here and had boubous (called chaftans in Gambia; two piece long smock and pants) made for family and friends. When I got back to North America one friend commented, "thanks so much but when I wear this thing I look like Bozo the Clown." Unfortunately, he was right. So this time, I'm going for more subtle colors for myself (again, with slight African flair here and there) and hunks of untailored, gorgeous fabric that people can use as table runners, table cloths, or whatever. Safer way to go, I think.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Video #4 - Mandinka Drumming pt. 2, "Especially Lenjen"

Monday morning here, breezy again. Last night I had a nice dinner of Lach (not as in loch ness, as in the hebrew/arabic "ch" sound), a hot porridge that the Sao family eats every Sunday night. They eat it with a cows milk yoghurt that is a bit sour to Western tastes, so I just went for a small amount of it. Thats the trick. Each time someone serves the yoghurt I have too much of it and can't hang. But last night I had just a small amount, and it worked out fine. Lesson learned.

Below please check out this video of my Mandinka drum teachers from Gambia playing their most "standard" tune, Lenjen. There are multiple parts to Lenjen, this is the part they called "especially lenjen." Its the shout chorus as it were, the rhythms that the women do their solo dance movements to. Jalamang Camara, my teacher, would normally be playing sabaro, the lead drum, but is playing kutirindingo ( the smallest of the three-drum ensemble) on the right of the screen. Mamady Danfa is on the left of the screen and is playing kutiriba, the deputy drum he always plays. Lenjen is a deeply elusive set of rhythms that I didn't master in my first two months attempting it in 2002-03. I actually finally started to get in the too-brief time spent with my teachers last week in Gambia (as I wrote earlier, seems like a dream!).

Chek out Jalamang's incredibly elegant playing. His small hands, as I've mentioned, are perfectly suited to these drums, and he plays with a mastery that is both relaxed and intense. Again, the Roy Haynes of Brikama! I've had the good fortune to play with Roy's son, cornetist/composer Graham Haynes a few times. I should give Graham some footage of Jalamang to give to his dad!

Video # 3 Cheikh Lo + sundries

An eventful Saturday has passed and I'm here on a breezy Sunday afternoon in Dakar. Waiting for Youtube to upload a video of Cheikh Lo from Pen'Art last night. Check it here:

My intention actually was to go hear Orchestra Baobab at Just 4 You. I went over there around midnight and talked my way inside without paying the cover since I've met the manager of Just 4 You a few times. It was packed with tons of tubabs as well as Senegalese people out on a saturday night. Orchestra Baobab is a Senegalese institution so their shows bring in tons of folks. I got there right as it was about to begin. The stage was set up, mics turned on, everything was ready to go. But no band. After about ten minutes someone got up and said into the microphone: "Mesdames et Messieurs, je suis desolee, mais Orchestra Baobab ne sont pas ici ce soir. La prochaine Samedi n'sha'allah." Translation: "Ladies and gentleman, I'm very sorry, but tonight Orchestra Baobab is not here. Next Saturday, god willing." Just like that, no Orchestra Baobab. Who really knows what happened, but whatever it was, it was beyond anyone's control. I decided to go around the corner and see who was playing at Pen'Art. Not a bad consolation to see Cheikh Lo. The only problem was lots of other people from Just 4 You had the same idea so it quickly became very packed in that small club. I lasted about 1 1/2 hours before the crowd got the best of me and I went home to crash. But not before getting a couple videos, glad to report. Cheikh Lo plays a mix of m'balax, salsa, reggae, r n'b, and pop. I wasn't into his timbale playing/bandleading too much (Tito Puente he is not), but he's got a great voice and a tight band. Particularly killin' tama (talking drum) player.

I was rinsed as well from going to hear my teachers group Sing Sing Juniors play a saturday program for young women in the late afternoon. As we were walking through the streets to his program, we went past a house where a baptism celebration was taking place. Sing Sing Seniors were the hired Sabar group. These are the older members of the Faye family, the serious badasses. Again, my teacher Malick and his young siblings are bad to be sure, but the older members of the family are that much more so. My only regret is that after two hours of a Sing Sing Juniors concert, my ears were oversaturatedso I only caught a little of the Sing Sing Seniors program. They were raging, but I was maxed out. I'll catch them with fresh ears another day, n'sha'allah.

Now, time for lunch then off to my 7th sabar lesson.

Video #2 - Wolof Sabar Drumming from Senegal

Here's a video from a program my teacher and his family group Sing Sing Juniors played in the Medina nieghborhood of Dakar a few weeks ago.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Video #1 - Mandinka drumming from Gambia

Here's a video of my teachers Jalamang Camara (sabaro, left on screen) and Mamady Danfa (kutiriba, back right on screen) playing at a women's recreational celebration in Brikama, Gambia last weekend. They're playing a sequence of introductory rhythms to the celebration, so the women know to convene in a large circle to start the singing, dancing, an drumming. Excuse the fairly substantial delay, but hey, at least it works.

Friday, March 16, 2007

What an Opportunity

Friday night here. About to go to Pen'Art, the "jazz" club that I've heard singer-songwriter Souleymane Faye one night and a salsa band the other at so far. That is to say, I haven't heard any ding ding-a-ding drums, walking bass, comping piano, rhythm changes kind of jazz there. Nonethless, its called a jazz club. Yet another reminder that jazz is global, and means a lot of different things depending on who you're talking to and where you are. Habib Faye asked me to come down and sit in with him and Carlou, a local r 'n b singer who plays Friday nights at Pen"Art. So I'll go down there and see what happens.

Had my sixth sabar lesson today with the young mofo Malick Faye. Had planned to go hear the Sing Sing Juniors sabar program tonight in Medina, but was at a meeting with Habib and his manager Aziz Fall until late, so there's no time to catch the sabar program and go over and play at Pen'art. Tonight, modern music takes precedence over traditional music. But it was great to have that sixth sabar lesson today. Things are coming together slow-slow. I had mentioned in these pages that I thought it was easier to handle the sabar stick ("galan") then the smaller Mandinka stick. I'll have to re-tract that statement. Both are hard! I'll go for lesson #7 tomorrow and then catch their Saturday program tomorrow after our lesson.

The meeting with Habib and Aziz was for our Meet the Composer Project. We're at a bit of a crossroads, because the Meet the Composer grant just covered our plane tickets and living expenses here. There isn't money for artist fees, unfortunately, so we're trying to figure out how to work with some musicians with some serious budgetary restrictions. And what an opportuntity! Habib and Aziz have offered to hire the first-call musicians in Dakar for us and organize rehearsal space, studio time, etc. The thing is, we don't have a label budget behind us to make the most of this amazing opportunity. So I think the solution is just to lay the groundwork and come back another time with label support. Easier said than done, to be sure, but that's really what it's looking like. We shall see...