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Check out a butt-ton of videos from our couple of gigs in Wisconsin at our website:

Also, you can check out some vids from the Gallery 42 gig here:

And here are some pics from da road.

Lisa Brimmer was even able to come out and join us!

Here is a vid from our last Honey gig. We’ve got a hit tomorrow night (7/1/10) at Acadia Cafe. You should come. We won’t do this little number though, so you better listen to it here before you come by.

Im So Lonesome I Could Cry, with a little standup (sit-down?) comedy up front by non other than yours truly.

Also, we have updated the tracks on our myspace to mostly the recording from the show we played at Lawrence University, so if you missed it, you should go have a listen. The rest of the second set will be posted shortly. There’s new music up there now like Andrew Rowan‘s Dorothy, and Human Feel’s Allegiance. CHECK IT OUT HERE!

~Master of all things brass that are small with three keys and shaped like a trumpet. exactly like a trumpet.

(a new feature perhaps?)

So, here’s the question: Is musical/artistic expression important in and of itself, or is it only necessary and important and fantastic in so far as it allows us to more fully or deeply express emotions that already exist?

Lulu’s Playground consistently and profoundly expresses the friendship that the four of us (AND LISA!) have with each other, and I’d say that, in my mind, it’s really the essence of what this group is (I’ll add, possibly the essence, depending on where I eventually come down on my question above). Evan always evokes a profound mournfulness when he plays “Allegiance”, but I would argue that you can still feel/hear the support of the rest of us behind him, while he spearheads that emotion, and thus a tune that is on one level about Evan expressing a particular feeling is still, essentially, about our friendship. On everything we do, it’s not that our collaboration is designed to realize the emotions of a particular piece, but maybe exactly the opposite (inside band joke), that each piece we bring in is a new medium for us to explore the spirit of collaboration that is the raison d’être for the group in the first place.

While all of that sounds really great and important and deep and meaningful, and would clearly be an expression of the second answer to my original question, I think it’s possible that thinking about the group that way could actually diminish the specialness of what is going on. Stick with me here for a moment.

If the group is special because it allows us to more deeply explore the collaborative friendship that we share, well, there could be a lot of things that are more important than that. And I really, really, don’t mean that flippantly. Think about it in context of the REALLY BIGGLY IMPORTANT things. For me, my wife and the imminent expansion of my family are more important. I think maybe there’s a lot about our relationship with ourselves that is more important, a spiritual prerogative to know ourselves.  In fact, if we think of the music in absolute terms, than music itself is probably more important (which might be dangerously close to circular logic). I guess what I’m saying is, if Lulu’s Playground is only as important as the friendships it is based upon, than it must necessarily take a backseat to those other things that are more important.

I almost want to be convinced that there’s something about the group that is MORE special than that. Something about the music we play that is at least on par with the importance of those other things. If you thought that music was a channel to worship God, well, it would be super important right? But not as important as God. And not as important as if you thought music WAS God.

Perhaps this just indicates that I’m an un-serious musician. So be it. Would Miles be asking this question? I think if he did, he would answer my question the first way, that music stands on its on. I think maybe Coltrane isn’t absolutist about it, but the essence of his music is based on that spiritual search for self, and if nothing is more important than that, than for him, nothing was more important that the path to that goal: his music.

And of course friendship is an important enough goal, a proper hook to hang one’s musical hat on… in normal times. Had this group begun two years before or after… alas. Life.

Big thanks to everyone who came out to the show at the Carleton Place last night. We had a blast playing some music for you, and drinking lots and lots of beer. Lisa Brimmer was a huge hit. We just finished working up a couple new tunes with Lisa that we premiered last night, and will be playing again at future shows.

Come check us out with the Black Herald’s Quartet at our regular spot the Acadia Cafe this Thursday (7/1/10). We hit it at 10p. The BHQ hits at 8p.

Just posted a new calendar page so you can just come to one place for all your Lulu’s news. Check it out.

~the bigger guy

After a nice week on tour with the pop/rock band Fatbook (, I’ve been thinking a lot about life and music. Though this isn’t necessarily a post that logically fits on our Playblog, I thought I’d post here anyway. I’ve been faced with some interesting dilemmas dealing with music, its place in society, and being away from home and on the road.

I suppose there is a certain mentality that is needed to be a successful road musician, a certain life-style. Now, I’m married. No kids yet, but I love kids, and am looking forward to the time when my wife and I will be ready to go down that road. Being apart is the hard part. I miss her while Im gone, and she misses me, but I miss the road as well. traveling with a group of musicians, playing one-nighters and rehearsing on the days off, its a really wonderful way for musicians to get in to each-others’ heads. We play together, we write together, we go for runs/bike rides in the morning, we eat and drink together. There is really no substitute for being close friends with your bands mates, and living at close proximity. Although Im specifically talking about being on the road here, its actually the same connection that I have with the dudes in Lulu’s Playground, and its why it will be such a devistating blow to the band, when our good friend and accordionist moves away to Boston this fall, with a baby of his own on the way.

It may be hard for our non-musician readers to understand why it makes such a musical difference when a band spends non-musical time together, but its actually very simple. A person’s personality comes out in his/her music. Its as simple as that. When I find out that Evan really likes comic books and Japanese, or that Greg loves Cuban music, or that Cory loves Avacado, I also learn something about their musical intuition, and it helps me to understand the musical decisions they make on the band stand, which in turn informs the way I react to those decisions. Its a beautiful thing. Its the difference between a good band, and a great one. And its a big difference.

So, being on the road with the same group of people for weeks or months at a time basically speeds up that process. Before I started the tour with Fatbook, I had played several shows with them. Each show, I began to know the music a little better, and understand my role a little better, but it wasn’t until the road that I was able to play without a book in front of me. It wasn’t until the road that I was really able to understand their music, and the process they go through writing it. It makes playing music with them so much more satisfying, and makes me want to stay out on the road with them, regardless of my obligations at home.

But its complicated. Its not as simple as saying yes or no to a tour that stretches over an extended period of time. I wish it were. I also want to be home, I also want to be with my wife and dog, enjoying the serenity of sleeping in the same bed for more than one night at a time, and waking up next to someone you know will never judge you, someone who will always love you, no matter what. You can see how hard this is. Luckily for me, my wife is an unbelievable jazz singer ( and we have a band on a tour of our own that stretches over the whole month of July (of which Evan has been a long time member as well). I suppose other musicians in my shoes aren’t so lucky.

And I guess thats where I leave it. I’m lucky to have these types of dilemmas at my doorstep. I have the opportunity, if I so desire, to tour with the two time downbeat award winning Fatbook, or stay home and enjoy being with my wife (i’ll have you know, I’ve chosen to do both). I also have the opportunity to tour with my wife, and get to know her on an even deeper level. My only hope is that our readers are lucky enough to be faced with the same problems.


ps Lulu’s Playground just got our awesome tshirts and bumper stickers in. So, you know…buy them!

Lisa Brimmer joins Lulu’s playground for the creation of a collaborative and unabashedly artsy work of music and spoken poetry.  This is new territory for all of us so we’re delighted/excited to see where the project takes us, and we’d like to invite our readers to follow along as it unfolds.  In fact, we’d VERY much appreciate if you’d post any/all ideas or critiques that you (the reader) have, even if you’re not musical/a poet yourself; if you love poetry and/or music, that makes you an expert audience member, which makes your opinions valid and interesting.  in my opinion.


Hello Folks! It is such an exciting privilege to be working with the talented ensemble Lulu’s Playground. I am a huge supporter of their work and collaborative measures hitherto and can’t wait to get in the ring with them!

About Lisa: I’ve been writing in St. Paul/ Minneapolis area for about 6 years now. Graduated from University of St. Thomas with a degrees in Sociology and English Literature. This past year I was a Nu Griots III ensemble member through the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. As a poet I think my poetry is about questioning/ incongruities/ conflict. I love language. I love music. And I really love this new project.

About Lisa +Lulu’s: You can check out some of the poetry we are framing here. How now then, shall we proceed is/ will be one of our first efforts. I’m also working on some newer stuff (yet to be released! You’ll have to check out a show!  I’m interested in looking at the constraints of our individual instruments and languages and the ways in which we can reconstruct images for our audiences and fellow artists. I think this can only make sense in our own work if we make sense of it together. Have a conversation about it from an experimental and creative perspective.

About shameless plugging: You can check out my blog at and follow me on twitter: @2speakease.

The readiness is all.

–Lisa Brimmer

The following are excerpts of ‘Q and A’ from an application that we recently submitted for a residency at the Tofte Lake Center’s Emerging Artists Program, which will be this August (2010).  If we’re selected we’ll spend an entire week doing nothing but creating, canoeing and collaborating (we also might go hiking and do other fun things that don’t start with the letter C).

Describe the project you plan to work on at TLC:

The piece we plan to compose will explore combinations of musical textures and spoken poetry. The basic form will be similar to ‘concerto grosso’ form, in which the intended focus alternates between the soloist (Lisa) and the larger ensemble, with a relatively unobtrusive musical accompaniment during solo sections. We plan to begin with an instrumental, structured ‘free improvisation’ (free of meter and key center, and only loosely notated).  This will set the stage for the solo section, where Lisa reads the first section of her poem while the quartet provides an accompaniment. The instrumental/musical aspect will develop in tandem with the text throughout the piece, in the form of textures and motifs, as well as relationship between poet and accompaniment.

• Where are you in your process at this time?
Here’s an excerpt of our first stab at collaborating with Lisa – this is representative of about an hour of group discussion and a couple days of individual contemplation/interpretation of Lisa’s poem: “how now then, shall we proceed.”  Before we began playing, we decided on a handful of specifics/restraints: no strict key center, but a ‘focal pitch’ of F; a non-metered rhythmic pulsing, reminiscent of Jon Adams.  Greg has drawn up a musical sketch of the texture and motives he wants the introduction section to utilize, drawing off of what we synthesized in the improvised recording.  We will not necessarily be working on this specific poem of Lisa’s during our residency, but this work is representative of the early stages of what we plan to do.

• What are your goals and desired outcomes for your week-long residency?

What we are trying to accomplish with Lisa is to create something that is unique, artistically enriching and fulfilling. As composers/musicians we will have a chance to experiment with different kinds of interactions between spoken poetry and music, as well as develop our understanding of the interplay between artistic integrity and entertainment value.

Watch out, your foot will be cold too.

So, after a short break from writing blogs for this site like eeery day, we are back in action. The tune we are going to discuss today was written by a personal hero of mine, composer and trumpeter Dave Douglas. The tune is titled Gumshoe. Here is a link of the video of us playing this tune in the rehearsal room in which we usually rehearse. Check it out now and come back and read. Or, read first. Do what ever you want, GEEZ.

The reason the guys thought I should be the one to blog about this is because I had the opportunity to hang around Dave Douglas for a few days in mid April this year (2010). I sort of just followed him around like a creepy stalker. Where he was eating, drinking, giving master classes, rehearsing, playing shows, I was there. It was kind of super awesome. Its a really weird experience when you get to hang around the person you’ve been idolizing in music for just short of a decade. Dave is truly (in case you haven’t been paying attention) the most prolific jazz trumpeter/composer of our time. (no, that is not arguable, it is fact). He’s just that amazing.*

Anyways, Dave and I got to talk a bit (well, actually I just listened and drooled a little) during the many lunches and dinners we had together and much of what he talked about was music I did not know. He was talking about artists and composers I had never even heard of. The guy’s knowledge of music outside of jazz is absolutely stunning, and is part of the reason why I believe a piece like Gumshoe happened in the first place. And what I mean by that is, I think because of his knowledge of other musics and his familiarity with “classical” instruments, he has the incite and motivation to create unique sounding jazz that is at once a chamber ensemble and a jazz group; a tux wearing nose-in-the-air classical ensemble, and a NYC living moose the mooch listening jazz combo. Brilliant.

Dave composed this piece for a record called Mountain Passages. If you don’t have it, get it. We do a couple of tunes from this record actually, because the music was originally written for a band with a less conventional instrumentation (similar to Lulu’s Playground). It was written for Trumpet, Cello, Reeds (clarinet/bass clarinet/alto sax all played by same guy), Tuba, and Drum Set. As I am sure you can imagine, it transferred nicely to our instrumentation.

We arranged the tune as a band. The first statement of the melody is done loosely in unison between the accordion and trumpet. The cello and guitar are playing the bass line, and there are no chords being played. The second time through the tune we switch things up and the accordion takes the bass line, Cello plays the melody pizz (plucking the strings) and I improvise. I think Evan is making some ambient noise as well. Evan joins accordion when the melody line splits near then end of the form.

Now, the third time we state the melody is, in my opinion, the coolest time. The tune is in 2/4 time, but on the third statement of the melody, we change the feel in to 6/8. We do this by embellishing the bass line and making them triplets (one two three, one two three) over the 2/4, which ends up sounding like 6/8. (stay with me here). Evan then changes the way the melody is played so it fits in to a 6/8 feel and greg plays some crazy stuff dividing the 6/8 in to groups of two and doing a slower “one two three.” You can hear this change at 2:36 in the video. WOE, RIGHT!?

Anyways. We end the tune by stating the second half of the melody in a very emotional climax, and then continuing on in our emo fashion we play the entire beginning to the melody completely in unison. I personally love the sound of us all playing in unison because we have to really be in tune with each other and be able to feel the internal time/groove that is going on so we can all play together in perfect time. The same approach a brass quintet or string quartet would take when playing chamber classical music.

Here’s the vid again.

That is all.

*Sorry for yet another crazy stalker fan boy moment.

Originally a Tin Hat Trio tune, this was one of the first songs that we learned together.  In fact, I believe this may be the first tune we played together as a group.  Ever.  That being the case, I’ve always felt like a lot of what’s in this recording exemplifies the flexibility and cohesion in the group.  This particular recording is from a Sunday in February, and was our second attempt at recording it.  Go ahead and click on the link for the tune to listen to it while you read the article.

I’ll do my best to recall our process in prepping this tune, but it was quite a while ago, so forgive me if I embellish some of the more boring moments or missing pieces from the story with commentary on the nuclear armageddon that I pretend happened during rehearsal.

So.  At our first rehearsal, we all showed up at Adam and Jana’s place excited and ready to go.  I remember my mood quite vividly because I heard about Russian scientists prepping nuclear warheads for an attack on an unknown country on Fox News (fair and balanced!) immediately prior to rehearsal, but was too pumped to play with everybody to care.  The original version of the tune has almost the same instrumentation as our group, with the exception of cello in place of violin, which gave us an opportunity to try and emulate the original recording as much as possible.  As many of you will notice on many of these posts, the pieces that we’re including in our repertoire are varied and rarely have a similar instrumentation.  Of course Lulu’s did put its own stamp on things, particularly on the solo section.  Tin Hat Trio (if I can turn into a gushing fan-boy for a second) has a great blend between their instruments, and when you have as weird an instrumentation as they do (and, I suppose, we do) it’s INCREDIBLY difficult to get things to blend well.  I personally believe that where we lack in blending our tones (though again, considering our instrumentation I think we do very well), we exceed in our ability to improvise and react spontaneously as a group.  Honestly, considering how early on in our rehearsals this recording took place, some really wonderful things happened.  During the two rehearsals we worked on this tune Greg came up with a couple very cool background riffs to give us a compass for both my solo and his, and we freed things up more underneath Adam’s chorus.  As Russia rained nuclear fire on America’s heartland, we sat comfy in our underground rehearsal space, oblivious to the carnage and destruction occurring above us, focused only on the dissonance and dirty groove we had going.

I was very happy with our first recording of it, and am practically puking my pants with excitement over this version.  I think the second time around the blend was better, we grooved harder, and the flow was better throughout the tune.  There’s not too much else I can think of to say, other than I don’t know exactly why I chose to talk about armageddon but feel like it fits somehow (I’m sure the other guys will think of something more coherent).

This week’s new music sundae includes a little of everything we’ve been talking about on this blog. Some free improvisation, groove, formal improvisation, and composed original music. The title of the track is 2 Worlds, and it is the first movement of a three movement suite that I composed for my mom on mother’s day in 2007. Go ahead and get it up now so you can listen while you read.

The original instrumentation was much different, and included a percussionist, so re-writing the piece for our instrumentation was a  bit challenging. The original instrumentation was melodica (played by me when I wasn’t playing the trumpet, which transfers very nicely to accordion), trumpet, bass clarinet, acoustic bass, and percussion. I had the percussion part centered around the cajon in order to maintain a more chamber-like sound, rather than drum set.

As you can hear in the second section of the piece, at around 1:34, I had Evan, Cory, and Greg make percussive sounds on their instruments to fill in some of the missing compositional stuff that included a beat. Otherwise, I think the piece transferred nicely to a percussion-less ensemble.

When I was originally composing the piece (it was written as a final project for my jazz comp class in undergrad) I was going for a maria schneider-like section at 1:34, a sort of quasi-tango hinted in much of maria’s music. I was also trying to capture the way Dave Douglas integrates free improvisation in to his compositions. Specifically how he blurs the lines between what is written and what is improvised. It is certainly a more through-composed way of thinking. When I was re-writing the suite, I wanted make sure that I was still able to capture these qualities. I have recently adopted the slogan, “No more D.S.s!” as a part of my compositional personality. This piece definitely falls right in line with that mindset.

The free improvisation section that starts at about 2:40 is used as a transition to new melodic material that starts at 5:15. I wanted this section to include me (the trumpet) for the first bit, but for the majority of the improvisation to be between the guitar, accordion, and cello. I chose that partly because I think those instruments sound better leading in to my new melodic material, but mostly because those guys are so good I just love to listen to them play while I sit back and relax.

The new melodic material at 5:15 starts out with each measure being “on cue,” cued by the trumpet’s 2 eighth notes before each measure, and serves as an open blowing platform for the bowed cello. all over B minor. It slowly slips in to a groove and moves in to a completely composed section of only dotted half notes. There is no real melody that should stick out, the melody is more in the chord progression than anything else. Almost in a Charlie Haden’s “Silence” sort of way.

That then ties in to the original melodic material from the beginning of the tune that serves as a blowing platform for, well, me.

I actually had to go back and change the chord changes that were originally written during this final section because they were just plain wrong. Its amazing how long it has taken the mathematical part of my brain to catch up with my creative compositional side, but I think its almost there.

Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think about the piece. I want to know if you love it, and I want to know if you hate it. Be honest, but be gentle. I may be a large man, but im oh so fragile. oooooooooh so fragile. Here is the link again in case you missed it: 2 Worlds


Greg’s post about Springtime, an Improvisation touched on a lot of what I want to talk about here, and I think he did a great job of preparing the audience for a pleasant experience by providing background information and listening tips.  Although, rather than preparing the audience for weird music, I want this post to be about  what we go through preparing weird music for an audience – what draws in listeners and what shuts them out?

So before we can get into that, what do I mean by free improvisation?  The short answer is: “I don’t know.”  What people often mean when they talk about free improv. is something like “improvised music which avoids sounding like established musical genres at all costs,” but that’s not what it means to me, or to the best of my knwlege, my bandmates.  In fact, the name ‘free improv’ is  misleading since a fair amount of planning/structure goes into most compositions of this nature, and what does a plan  do?  It attempts to limit/control a process and make  the outcome predictable.  What’s so free about that, eh?  The best answer to that is an example: listen to the first 2+ minutes of our recording of I’m so Lonesome I could Cry (dedicated New Music Sundaes post forthcoming) and consider what genre that is.  I call it ‘free improv,’ even though the band agreed beforehand on a loose key center, the cello only plays drones, and there is some pre-conceived melodic material.  It still feels free to play, and I think that comes across to the audience as something ‘different’ and/or ‘kind of strange’ – but we’re also very focused on keeping our improv. engaging/fun/cool (not to imply that we always succeed).

So now that I’ve established a completely nebulous and subjective definition of free improvisation, I’d like to explore how musicians draw in their audience with this ‘non-genre.’  Turns out that many rules of ‘western composition & arranging’ work – even without a strict key center/groove/written directions.  Form  is a huge part of ANY music that’s intended to hold an audience’s attention; people get bored fast, and the gradual development of a texture/melody can only hold their attention so much longer before they want the music to ‘go somewhere new.’  This is a difficult  issue to address without any written music or an underlying meter to follow, so the easiest solution is adding/eliminating players, which not only changes the sound quality/quantity, but adds/subtracts the subtleties of individual players’ tendencies and mannerisms (which are hingly emphasized in free improv).

If someone gets bored listening to music that he doesn’t know much about, it’s easy for him to assume that he just doesn’t “get it,” and  as a musician that’s the last thing I want.  I’m all about being entertaining and communicating with listeners, and one easy way to do that is by playing something recognizable. In this case a groove, melody or even a texture will do the trick, but you can also achieve a similar effect by introducing and developing something new to the audience, taking it away and then bringing it back – 99% of  music incorporates one of these two strategies, and most of the remaining 1% is intended for something other than entertainment.

Oh boy, this post is already too long, but there’s so much more to talk about!  If anything is missing/unclear, or if you have any questions/comments please share!  Help us make music that you’ll like – you won’t regret it.