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Category Archives: New Music Sundaes

A new recording every week, along with an informal account of the creative process/intent by one of Lulu’s players.

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.

-Cory

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 www.2speakeaseblog.wordpress.com 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.

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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

~Adam

I’ve never lived in a place where I sensed as much of a collective craving for the thaw as the Twin Cities. It’s not entirely based in negativity (ACK! NO MORE WINTER!) either. Right around the time we recorded this I heard no less than three local bands play songs dedicated to the coming warmth. It’s optimistic and relaxing and sometimes makes me want to cry. It’s a knowledge that you still have this huge weight on your shoulder, but you’ve gone 90% of the way, and you’re gonna make it.

Birth and mud.

I think those ideas came forth in this improvisation. We recorded this at our third rehearsal, basing it on no preconceived themes or key centers, nothing but the idea of “springtime,” having never tried an open ended free improvisation (at least of an entire piece), and still to this day it may be my favorite recording we’ve done. A common theme in some other posts has been how happy we are with our blend, and that is absolutely showcased in this performance. There are a few moments in this piece where I have no idea what sound is coming from which instrument, and our ideas flow through each other in some really magical ways. We had thematic material that was developed and went away and then returned, we had a fantastic metric modulation, a slightly-too-long appoggiatura, and, (with no attempt to discover if this is true) the first ever recorded, possibly unfortunate-and-never-to-be-attempted-again, duct-tape solo (keep working on that technique Adam).

Mind you, it’s a little long and rambles on in a few places, and maybe I suffer here from Midas Syndrome, but I think this is an extremely listenable piece of music. Which is rare for a piece of this type. I’m rather tempted to transcribe it and turn it into a composition.

Oh, and if you listen very closely at the beginning, you can hear a water-pipe that ran through our rehearsal space providing the perfect backdrop.

So grab a glass of wine, read e.e. cummings “in just-” and settle in for some birth and mud. I think you’ll come out of it a little quieter and a little happier.

Springtime, An Improvisation

~Greg

Boomshakalaka.  This weeks music sundae is a little late, but that couldn’t be helped because the blog was just so recently created.  We spent the first big chunk of rehearsal working on a really cool Shostakovich fugue that Greg transcribed directly from the original piano score.  We’re almost ready to post a recording, but there’s still some balance and phrasing problems to work on (at least this time I’m drowning out Greg and not the other way around – damn accordion).

Anyway – this post is about the piece we did record, which is Stolen Moments, by Oliver Nelson.  I hope the other guys will comment on this post and pitch in their ideas, because this kind of music is far from my specialty.  That said, my take on what we’re trying to do here is kind of a mixture between Footprints (the Miles Smiles version) and Li’l Darlin’ (as played by Count Basie).  What I’m focusing on the most is blending the tone of the cello to disappear into the trumpet sound, which means not only precisely matching articulation, cutoff, intonation and volume, but also feeling the time without any rhythm section (no downbeats!  bah!).  It’s enough to focus on that I no longer feel self-conscious making weird facial expressions (which usually yields the best musical results, in my experience).

As far as form goes, this is the kind of tune that everybody wants to solo on, but we didn’t want it to be 15 minutes long so we had an arm-wrestling contest to see who got to solo – Adam and I obviously won (I only beat Greg because his arms were fatigued from playing accordion, and I p0wned Evan by slapping his new forearm tattoo really hard).  I think it was Greg’s idea to have one solo over traditional minor blues changes, followed by a free solo, which really adds to the “where the hell am I?” vibe of this arrangement.  All in all, I really feel like this piece takes full advantage of the exciting-sweetness-of-sound we’re capable of, sort of like blue velvet charged with static electricity (especially the part where the accompaniment does the chromatic swell).

What we could use the most input on, I think, is the overarching form of the piece: does it keep your attention?  does it feel complete?  are you left wanting more/less of anything in particular?  is the flow of energy natural?  what color socks are you wearing, if any?  your social security number?

Here’s another link to the tune: Stolen Moments (by Oliver Nelson)

Thank you so much, and I hope you stick around and check in on future ‘New Music Sundaes’ with Lulu’s Playground.

-Cory