Friday, March 23, 2012

Springfield's impressive jazz presence

For the past year, I have been working as a freelance writer for various local media. I write a weekly music story for the News-Leader, the newspaper where I worked for a quarter-century. From that gig, I have done several jazz stories. Jazz has a small but impressive presence in Springfield, as these stories attest —

Monday, March 12, 2012

Darcy James Argue: Complex in a good way

In my interview with Darcy James Argue, he emphasized the imperative of individual rhythmic authority of each musician who plays his music. All horn and reed players must have the same relationship to rhythm as rhythm-section players. This aspect of his work is really tough to deal with, the musicians of the Missouri State Jazz Studies Ensemble told me when I interviewed them last month.

[I mean “tough” as in “a good challenge,” as opposed to “tough” like a heart attack.]

The fascinating thing about complex music is that it doesn’t sound complicated to the listener. It just sounds great. [I am referring to “complex yet elegant” music, not music deliberately odd or incomprehensible. Of course, these values are in the ears of the beholder.]

So, I listened once again to Infernal Machines in hope of understanding why it gives players fits.

“Zeno,” as performed in the video above, stood out for me as a challenge of individual rhythmic authority. From the start, I don’t think the piano pattern and the guitar pattern are in synch; the rhythms are separate. [It goes without saying that I could be entirely wrong.] When I tried to nod my head with the guitar and listen to the accents of the piano, I confused myself by about 0:30.

2:15-2:50: The horns elaborate on the original theme and the piano and guitar join forces with the drums for a more conventional interlocking rhythm.

4:30: Supporting a trombone solo, horns are broken up into different groups expressing long tones and a couple of staccato patterns. I think this is the hornets’ nest of individual rhythmic authority that I have been looking for.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pruning in the urban vineyard

Last weekend, my friend Jane Toben helped me prune the vines in the back yard. I have eight St. Vincent plants. Some are vigorous, others are puny. The strong vines had become a tangled mess after a productive season:

Before pruning.
 But we cut them down into an organized structure that will enable growth and yield:

Same spot on the vine after pruning.
I had stared at the vines for a few minutes for several days in a row last week, wondering what I should do with them. I have notes from the previous two or three years of pruning with Jane, but they never make any sense when I review them. I also have a training video of the two of us pruning. The video does make sense, but only for the decisions we were making at the time. The learning curve is so long because it's something I do for 30 minutes once a year.

In any case, Jane came over and said the same things she has said in past years, as preserved in my notes and the training video, and they made perfect sense.

Among the highlights, we cut out two main cordons that looked sad and, in each case, wrapped a more vigorous cane around the wire to become a new and productive cordon:

New cordon (left).
The flexibility of the vines and the strategy of pruning fascinated me.

Jane's pruning pointers:
  • Don't start cutting until you have analyzed the whole vine.
  • First take off everything you don't want.
  • Space canes about a foot apart.
  • Favor canes going up over canes going down.
  • On each cane you leave on the vine, count 6-8 buds out and cut.
  • Keep the growth close to the trunk.
  • Better take off too much than not enough.
Ed with Jane Toben.