Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Listening to the minidisc from my first sabar lesson. One of the members of the family I'm staying with, Babacar, took me to the family compound of the sabar group Sing Sing Rhythm, one of the major Sabar families in Dakar, introduced me, made it all cool, etc. Thank you Babacar! My teacher for the afternoon was a 19yrold mofo named Malick Faye. This young dude is superbad. The Faye family were psyched that I seemed to be picking stuff up fast and Malick did alot of improvising on top of the two skeletal rhythms he showed me; N'daga and the finishing music groove (didn't catch the Wolof name yet). A couple months studying kutiro drums in Gambia winter 2002-2003 has given me some facility with one-hand, one-stick West African drumming traditions. Sabar and kutiro are closely-related, yet somehow worlds apart. They are regional neighbors and one certainly influenced the other or perhaps they influenced the other (the subject of my disseration if I ever end up doing an ethno phD).

It should be said that the family knows these rhythms inside-out, plays them, dances them, hears them from when they're in their mother's stomach, feels their mom dance to them, and understands them literally as words in Wolof. During my lesson, one boy barely 2 years old was playing most of the N'daga rhythm along with us on a flipped-over wash pale. Incredible!

Its been such a frustrating pleasure to sink or swim speaking French again. The last time I spoke French extensively was in Gambia. There are so many people living there from West african countries who speak French, so I had the chance to work on my French there. But in Senegal its all the time; very little English here. So I try, and people are patient with me, which I appreciate.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Wooden Camera

1:30 am Dakar time and I'm in my room not quite ready to sleep yet. A breeze of a flight on South African Airways (6 1/2 hrs from JFK to Dakar!), and my friend Abdoulaye picked me up at the airport and whisked me back to his family's compound where I'm staying. Slept from 6am until 2:30pm then walked around the Castor area of Dakar a little bit. Elections went peacefully today. Senegal will wake up tomorrow morning with some news as to whether Abdoulaye Wade, the incumbent president, managed the 50% of the vote needed to avoid a second round run-off. We shall see.

It feels wonderful to be back in West Africa. The first time I came to this part of the world, I spent the first sleepless night sitting outside staring at the stars, confounded by how unfamiliar everything felt. This time I feel much more settled, and figure I'll just unpack, read a little and crash. Let the adventures in this peaceful corner of the world begin.

Incidentally, watched a fantastic film on the plane yesterday, "The Wooden Camera". A beautiful little film from 2003 set in Capetown and the townships surrounding it, "The Wooden Camera" is the story of a young township boy and an adolescent rich white girl who find friendship despite the lingering societal racism that exists in post-apartheid South Africa. By turns heartwarming and sad, its a companion to another great South African film, 2006 Best Foreign Language Film-winner "Tsotsi." Check them both out.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Just finished John Le Carre's "The Mission Song," a fast-paced, over-too-soon 340 pages about a man of mixed race (Irish Catholic missionary priest father and Congolese village woman mother), Bruno Salvador, in high demand for his skills as specialist in several of Congo's dozens of languages. Amongst Salvo's clients is an unnamed branch of the British Secret Service who calls on him from time to time to lend his unique skill set to central African problem-solving discussions. By the time he interprets too much at a secret meeting on an unnamed North Atlantic island between Congolese factions, his identity as an African is already eclipsing the loyal British subject he'd convinced himself he'd become.

"The Mission Song" is a fantastic story of awakening to developed/developing world inequities, and interestingly a book that received mixed reviews. Some feel Le Carre's greatest work ended with the Cold War, that his eye is not as sharp as it once was. I was drawn to Le Carre first with "The Constant Gardener," and though I've since checked out the classic "Smiley's People" and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," I must admit I'm actually more into his most recent work - probably because his Africa researchers are good and thorough. All I can say is if a movie is made of "The Mission Song," I hope "The Constant Gardener" director Fernando Meirelles is behind the camera!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Good Morning

I'm getting ready to travel to West Africa Saturday Feb24, arriving in Dakar Sunday Feb25 at 6am, the day of the first round of Senegalese elections. Must admit I didn't realize this when booking my ticket a month and a half ago. Senegal has had two transfers of power since indepence in 1960, both peaceful for the most part. Senegal is the only West African country that has not had a coup since independence. There are 14 contenders for the presidency, the incumbent Wade and at least one major opponent, Idrissa Seck.

I feel fortunate to be staying with friends there who will meet me at the airport! And I feel fortunate to have received a Meet the Composer Global Connections grant along with my co-composer Willow Williamson to undertake a project with Dakar video artists and musicians culminating in a performance March 28. Much more about the project and all of my experiences in West Africa over the next 5 weeks as they unfold.

Been enjoying parts of two wonderful films, Buster Keaton's "Battling Butler" and Yasujiro Ozu's" Good Morning." "Battling Butler" is, amazingly enough, the first Keaton film I've seen. Hey, better late than never! His timing is extraodinary, and though the orchestrations are a bit over-the-top (oh, the xylophone as lead voice in small orchestral writing - nothing like sharp attack/decay wood to not blend on top of strings and clarinets!), I do love the pacing of the music, the simplicity of the themes, and the complete dependence a silent film has on its score to set mood and convey emotion. Toshiro Mayazumi's score for Ozu's "Good Morning" is also a lovely mix of indelicate and charming. In fact I'd be curious to see what happened if one watched "Battling Butler" with "Good Morning"'s score and vice versa! I think it could work. Ozu's film about a post-WWII Japan working class looks so gorgeous in stark technicolor. The only other Ozu film I've seen is "Late Spring," but so far I'm amazed at how completely different a world Ozu inhabits than his better-known colleague and fellow legend of Japanese cinema, Akira Kurosawa.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

All Seems Right in The World

Sara is warming up on a Sunday morning on her brand new Fox 660 in the other room, the sun is shining through all the windows, and all seems right in the world. She's writing a nine-bassoon composition involving a lot of pedals, microtones, multiphonics, long tones, and spatial sound ... now that I want to hear!

Caught up with close friend conductor/composer/guitarist/cellist/educator/renaissance man Omid Zoufonoun last night on the phone. He conducts my Ahimsa Orchestra. He was telling me about the recent worksop/presentation that Lawrence D. Butch Morris gave in the Bay Area and the nice interactions he had with Butch after the fact. I was so psyched to hear that Omid, a Vienna-trained conductor, had finally got a chance to check out Butch. I know he'd wanted to for a long time, and I think this was the first time in a long while that Butch had been brought out to the Bay Area. Bravo ROVA for continually-adventurous programming: ROVA: Improv21

Omid was also telling me about the concert and celebration given in honor of his father Ostad Mahmoud Zoufonoun, master violinist/composer/arranger/educator of traditional Persian music. Omid has always been very humble about his father, a man who, at 86, still has incredible energy for sharing his passionate and extensive mastery of traditional Persian music with students of all ages. I've met him only once, at an Ahimsa Orchestra concert we gave last year in Oakland. I was touched by his gentleness andwarm spirit. Even just in meeting him and exchanging a few words of thanks that he and Omid's mom had come to our concert, I had the sense that this was a great man, someone who had lived an immense amount of life and exuded a great sense of calm and wisdom. Omid told me that among many official proclamations made at the concert honoring his father, Gavin Newsome, mayor of San Francisco, proclaimed January 20 Mahmoud Zoufonoun day in San Francisco. Now that is hip!

On the topic of proclamations, concert tonight at Tonic with Jason Ajemian's large ensemble. Jason is a completely unique bassist/composer/vocalist from Chicago who belts it out on top of his multi-layered compositions like a town crier. Should be fun.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Grey, Grey, Greeeeeeeey......

Vancouver on a Sunday afternoon. Grey, grey, grey... reminds me of Beckett's Endgame. Clov looks out the window; Hamm asks eagerly what Clov sees. "Grey, grey, greeeeeyyyy...." Kind of like Vancouver from September to May. Nonetheless, this is an extraordinarily beautiful city. In the airport, flight delayed an hour, so I'm 3.5 hours early instead of 2.5. Thats what you get for getting a lift with people who have earlier flights than you. Oh well, gives me a chance to catch up on stuff.

Listening to the mastered version of forthcoming Convergence 4tet release. Man, the gentleman who mastered this live recording did an excellent job. Brought Taylor Ho Bynum and Dominic Lash up in the mix so that they're more present, same for Alex Hawkins. Did something to my sound so I'm not quite as loud as the rough mix. The way we set up for the gig, the drums were way too far in the front of the mix. I'm amazed that the mastering engineer accomplished as much as he did. I feel a little too present still, frankly, but its much better. Look for this recording sometime in 2007 hopefully. I'll be posting about it when its released.

Just completed a lovely 4-night Time Flies Improvised Music Festival here in Vancouver. Nice instrumentation: 4 strings, tenor/soprano sax, voice, piano/electronics, percussion. Bassist Torsten Muller serves as co-curator and organizer of each night's groupings. The first day/night was actually a series of workshops with students at Vancouver Community College with each ensemble performing that night. The next three nights were different groupings of the eight of us over three sets each night. Nice crowds throughout, enthusiastic response, great venue (congrads coastal jazz on adding Ironworks to your venue list - the place rocks), and overall lots of interesting music.

There was lots of discussion each night amongst the musicians about the structure of each set. Torsten organized three trios or duos per set each of the first two nights, and there was some feeling that each 10-15 minute piece was not long enough. The third night ended up as somewhat of a compromise; two 20-25 minute second 4tet pieces the first set, two 15 minute duos in the second, the fourth duo and two long quartets in the third.

We had a lovely mix of personalities; what a treat to work with John Butcher. I've been fortunate to play with him a couple of times in the UK, and am always blown away by his vocabulary and mastery. Also a treat to see Phil Minton live for the first time and get to work with him. There are few improvising vocalists that move me, and Phil's timing and sense of form are without equal. His command of vocal multiphonics was astonishing, as was his lexicon of whistles, growls, and breath sounds. No histrionics here. A treat also to meet and play with Eyvind Kang, Cor Fuhler, Peggy Lee, and Hasse Paulsen. Eyvind is a gorgeous violist, great guy, deep thinker and mellow-but-voracious consumer of disparate ideas (from dickinson to husserl to susan howe). I enjoyed our late-night listening sessions to his mixed tapes on his radio shack $30 special (schubert-feldman-tommy dorsey-raymond scott-john kirby-mozart). I enjoyed Cor's dry wit, his fantastic explorations of the inside of the piano with electronics, ebow, snooker balls, and more. Hasse and I had a cathartic rocked-out duo amidst so many otherwise austere sets. We also enjoyed a soggy but beautiful day up at Cypress Mountain... my first and probably only day of snowboarding this year. And thank goodness by the third night I got a chance to play with Peggy Lee. Somehow in the groupings that Torsten laid out Peggy and I kept ending up missing each other. The penultimate group of the third set last night was Butcher, Torsten, Peggy and I, and I must say it was amongst my favorite. And always a pleasure spending time with Torsten. A generous, hilarious guy, we always have a great time playing together and the hang is first-rate. Bravo to Coastal jazz and Blues for continuing the Time Flies festival, probably the longest-running of its kind in North America. And the sushi in Vancouver...... yummmmm!

Monday, February 5, 2007

does this work?

kris taught me how to do this, i think... thanks kt.

kris tiner

Biochemistry, Chamber Sam Cooke, Times Fly

Nice weekend of music at The Stone. Had a lovely concert with Kevin Uehlinger's 4tet Saturday night with Keith Witty and very-soon-to-be-papa Sam Hoyt. Kevin's music borrows its titles from scientific terminolgy, and its compositional gestures from new music and post-Braxton sources. Most importantly, he does a great job of leaving lots of open space for the music to breathe. I thought we got to some very nice places and before I knew it, the 50 minutes-or-so were up and that was that. Good stuff, Kev.

Went back to The Stone last night to hear Jessica Pavone's music, an enjoyable Sunday evening for those not interested in American football. Not to imply that I watch the Grey Cup or anything, or even that I watched much footy while in Australia last year, but I just don't get the hype. Oh well, I digress. By the way, for what its worth all you Americans out there, your football is a much more violent game than Canada's beloved hockey. Shall we drop the gloves on this one? If so, just take off all your football armour (Canadian spelling) before we go! Comments welcome.

Back to the music. I enjoyed Jessica's concert very much last night. She split the program between two chamber pieces for string trio (wonderful pizzicato writing, killer 2 viola/cello instrumentation) and for quintet (previous string trio augmented by bassoon and piano), and a program of arrangements for her band The Pavones. I first got a sense of Jess' and Matt Bauder's love for seminal 50s and 60s soul and r 'n b at a great concert they did at the tiny Read cafe on Bedford a year or two ago. So nice to hear these songs arranged for a larger group. Bravo to the killing horn section of Matt B, Michael Attias, and Peter Evans. Nice blending, fellas. And great to hear Mary Halvorson and Aaron Siegal playing Motown rhythm-section roles with a twist. Nice arrangements, Jess. Particular soft spot for the arrangement that replaced tenor sax with bass clarinet and electric bass with viola.

Off to Vancouver tomorrow for Time Flies, a Company-style week of concerts with a great lineup: John Butcher, Cor Fuhler, Eyvind Kang, Peggy Lee, Phil Minton, Torsten Muller, Hasse Paulsen, and myself. Blogging from the Pacific Northwest to follow...

Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Wire is it

All the critics are right, all the tv guide polls and emmy's and whatever other official channels weigh in... the ones who don't are trippin'. The Wire is some seriously epic programming. Two and a bit episodes into season 4, my man Bob Wisdom is back as Bunny Colvin (props), and the streets of Baltimore are funkin' again. The layering, the multiple story-lines, the interconnectedness of it all... makes any other attempt at epic storytelling (except Deadwood and Carnivale, as mentioned) downright predictable. Kudos to HBO for keeping this one going...

Thursday, February 1, 2007

At Gimme Coffee in Williamsburg about to rehearse with Kevin Uehlinger's 4tet for a gig Saturday at The Stone. Should be fun. Looking forward to playing Kevin's pieces. Gimme Coffee is on Lorimer and Powers. Some of the best espressso I've had in New York, period. Worth a visit. The unofficial free wireles is nice too.

Been tearing through J.M. Coetzee's Slow Man. Walked by it on the Strand table by the checkout repeatedly, as it was beyond my self-imposed "No more than $10-per-book" deal I try and adhere to when I visit that wonderful, dangerous store. "Slow Man" is a beautiful, quiet meditation on life after loss. Coetzee treats his characters so fairly, so gently. Really lovely, deceptively simple writing. Actually started Coetzee with his book Elizabeth Costello after meaning to read him for awhile. So funny to find Costello as a character/meta-character in Slow Man.

As far as visual stimulii, been enjoying the first season of HBO's Rome. Poopooh to the ripoff theme from Carnivale, but it otherwise stands alongside Deadwood, Carnivale, and The Wire as an ambitious, grand-scale HBO endeavour. Not as good as any of the aforementioned, but guilty pleasure nonetheless. Funny, I enjoyed the classic BBC TV plays I, Claudius, very much - partcularly the stunning Derek Jacobi as Claudius, but am a sucker for the 21st century Rome-on-TV rendering rather than the 20th . Brings up another show I've been checking out: the BBC TV plays Elizabeth R. How is she not the mayor of London yet? Glenda Jackson for prime minister! She may be a ball-breaker as Elizabeth R, fending off Spain, France, even her own inner circles of advisers, but she also displays a touch of vulnerability that brings her character to life.

And from an audio perspective, though I actually haven't touched the 70s in my post70s blogged favorites so far, I must mention the soon-to-be-released (label tba) solo effort from Nate Wooley. Nate said there'll actually be multiple solo recordings coming out, so I'll have to mention it in a new blog and reference this one when I know the record title, but until then, kudos to Mr. Wooley for his focused, thorough explorations of trumpet extremities. I must take issue with his myspace disclaimer "wrong shape to be a storyteller." these pieces are thorough and satisfying individually and as a collection of short stories.

Up to Woodstock (for the first time) to meet with WIllow Williamson, my co-composer for our upcoming Meet the Composer Global Connections grant project in Dakar, Senegal, beginning February 14. We'll be collaborating with Dakar filmakers and musicians, details tba. Imagine I'll be blogging pretty heavily from there.