(June 9, 2012) WASHINGTON, DC — My brain is full. I did two interviews today and saw four sets of music. I’m hoping that getting it all down in this diary will help empty out the old bean so I can function tomorrow. The 12 (yes, 12) hours of sleep I got last night really helped. I’m apparently not the spry young man I was just 20 short years ago. Excuse me, I need to drink my Metamucil.
I started the day (after getting out of bed at 11) by interviewing Brad Linde and Brian Settles. I mentioned them both in my June 7 diary. They were excellent guests. I was particularly impressed by the thoughtful, almost monastic viewpoint Brian had regarding his path as a jazz musician. It reminded me very much of some of the things Sonny Rollins has said on my show (here and here). As I was walking him out, Brian told me a story about jamming with a parrot that I was crushed not to have on tape.
Following my interviews, I went to CapitalBop’s JazzLoft MegaFest (that’s the schedule pictured above). As you can see from the title, the folks at CapitalBop enjoy capital letters in the middle of compound words.
My timing wasn’t great. I arrived in between sets of music and didn’t see any live performances. But it was a cool event. Clothing and art vendors combined with live music, films and a panel discussion on the shared space of jazz and hip hop. I know from people who were there later on that it was packed and jumpin’. I did get a chance to chat with CapitalBop’s Giovanni Russonello and Luke Stewart:
I guess it’s an obvious comparison, but CapitalBop looks to me like the DC version of New York’s Search & Restore. It’s an attempt to bridge the gap between improvised music and younger audiences. By all accounts, CapitalBop is making it happen. Next time I’m in DC, I’ll be sure to interview them. I just ran out of time on this trip.
Right across the street from the JaZzLoFtMeGaFeSt was Busboys & Poets, a famous cafe and poetry space. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I was picturing the Bowery Poetry Cafe, but it’s more like a Macaroni Grill with better art. I haven’t done enough research to know if this is a new space, but by all accounts there’s a lot of good stuff happening, even if it does look like you should be wearing flare on your apron when you’re there.
Then I took a nice loooooong walk across town to Gallery O on H Street to hear music by two people I’d recently interviewed, Brad Linde and Jeff Cosgrove. The band also featured Sarah Hughes on saxophone and Michael Kramer on guitar.
It was a cool space with a good crowd. Sadly, I wasn’t able to stay long because I needed to get back to Silver Spring in time to make Joel Harrison’s gig.
(Below, left to right: Stickers on K Street; probably not a future jazzhead; Eric Dolphy folk art in Gallery O on H.)
Joel’s show was part of an event called “Off The Grid,” put on by Sonic Circuits at the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Silver Spring, MD. The idea was a program of mostly experimental music for which the players were not allowed to plug into a wall socket. They could use batteries or solar power or hamsters or whatever, but not the grid.
I arrived partway through a performance by After The Pin drops, featuring a cellist and percussionist who used their instruments plus lots of found objects.
Then it was time for Animal Wigs, which was right up my alley. A fabulous mix of percussion and battery-powered electronics, led by Jason Mullinax, who also programmed the event. (I just typed and deleted the word “curated,” which I hate in this context but now use without even thinking about it most of the time.)
The band hit the sweet spot for me, combining tonality, abstract noise, periods of real rhythmic intensity and a sense of humor.
After a brief intermission, the packed house was treated to what may have been my favorite ever live performance by Joel Harrison. He was playing only the second solo show of his career. If he takes my career advice (hah!), he’ll play many more.
The best way I can describe his set is to call it alt-blues-rock-country-improv. It kicked ass.
Joel started with a bluesy improvisation featuring some nice vocal howls. Then he played “Remember,” which for me was the high point of the night. Over a series of sometimes eerie guitar sounds, Joel recited a long poem of memories, most of which sounded like experiences he’d actually had. It was gorgeous and powerful.
Then he played a very sweet version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Cry Of Love,” followed by a perfectly distorted, looped and angry cover of Neil Young’s “Ohio.” (Right before this tune, Joel said the following about one of his guitars: “This guitar, with a little distortion and slide through a Fender? It’ll make your dick hard.” File under: Things That Should Be Said At More Jazz Shows.)
Joel ended the night with his beautiful song “The Other River.” I thought his performance was not only a highlight of the recent live shows I’ve seen, but also a perfect way to end a night of very experimental music. It was a very smart and effective programming move and I applaud Sonic Circuits for making it.
By the way, the art at Pyramid Atlantic was fascinating. The exhibit I saw was called “Shangai Impressions: Ex Libris Prints.” I wish I had time to go back and spend longer looking at the prints. Here’s a bit of one by Zhang Songzu:
Tomorrow I’m off to Richmond, VA. I’m going to see Scott Clark’s band tomorrow night. And on Tuesday, June 12, I’m doing a poetry reading at Chop Suey Books. Details here. If you’re anywhere near Richmond, please come!
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