Thursday, January 16, 2020

Interview with Nick Fraser: DJD's Juliet & Romeo

I've known Toronto-based drummer and composer Nick Fraser since the summer of 1998 when we both attended the amazing but short-lived Lake Placid Jazz Workshop in upstate New York. I've always known him to be an incredibly talented, creative and hardworking musician. Lucky for us here in Calgary, Nick is currently in town for a reprise of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks production of Juliet & Romeo, a modern re-intrepretation of Shakespeare's classic tale, which is currently running as part of Calgary's High Performance Rodeo from January 16-26.

Nick was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his role as the musical director and drummer for this current production.

Interview with Nick Fraser: DJD's Juliet & Romeo

What is the musical concept behind Juliet & Romeo? Can you describe your process behind composing and developing the music for this project?

I'm not sure that I can speak about a "musical concept" as in something that was preconceived before I started working on it. I often think of Stravinsky's idea that the notion of "inspiration" is backwards; people don't get inspired TO DO work, they get inspired BY DOING work. The process was that I wrote a whole bunch of music (and mined my existing catalog of compositions for things I thought might be suitable), then we recorded a demo of about 25-30 pieces that Kim Cooper (the AMAZING choreographer and artistic director of DJD) took and ran with. She chose the pieces that she thought resonated the most with the story/choreography/energy of the show that she was conceiving. Then we started rehearsing the show, where many of the details came into focus.

How does working with dancers, choreography and movement change or dictate your musical choices?

Well, it changes it a lot. The main difference is that the choreography is of a set length. So, if a band were to say, add 4 bars to a piece during a regular jazz gig, it would be pretty much a non-event. Whereas in a dance show, it would likely be disastrous. So, all of the musical choices that I'm making as a performer are based on knowing the timing of the show. There is improvisation (it's still jazz music, after all), but within a much stricter framework than I'm used to.  I should mention, too, that Corey Bowles' beautiful and topical text based on Shakespeare (delivered in the current production by Tasha Korney in what I feel is a shockingly great performance) is a major part of the piece. When we were working on building it, I remember referring to the show as "the three-headed monster" i.e. the movement, the text and the music.

Who are your influences as a composer?

Composers who I'm pretty sure have directly influenced my work as a composer: Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, Tony Malaby, Lina Allemano, Kris Davis, Andrew Downing, Brodie West, Justin Haynes, Rob Clutton, Doug Tielli, Eric Chenaux. Most of those people are people that I've worked with and I've often felt that the most influential people are those closest to you. 

Composers that I love, although I can't say how much direct influence there is, are: Wayne Shorter, Duke Ellington, John Cage, Anton Webern, Paul Hindemith, Bob Dylan, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus...and many more.

Can you tell us about the musicians you've chosen to perform this music and how they contribute to this project?

Well, Rob Clutton is the only bass player that I've worked with seriously on my own music. There are recordings of mine that have no bass player, but whenever there has been one, it's Rob. We have long and prolific history going back to the mid-1990s when I first moved to Toronto. He was the bass player in Drumheller (a cooperative quintet that was active for about 10 years) and is in my current quartet.

Jeremy Gignoux is a violinist and violist from Calgary (well, he's French, but he lives in Calgary) who I met while doing my first DJD show, New Universe, under the direction of the godfather of New York free jazz, William Parker. Jeremy is a great improviser and brings a real eclecticism to his work. He's comfortable in fiddle music, folk music, classical traditions, jazz and more. That breadth is something that is a real treat to work with.

Carsten Rubeling plays the trombone. He has a beautiful sound, is an absolute sweetheart and brings a great energy and polish to all the performances. He is also from Calgary and has recently released a great jazz-funk-fusion record called Volk.

How do you find your being a drummer/percussionist influences your compositional decisions?

It's hard to say, because I don't know any other way to be! I guess that most of my pieces have a rhythmic idea at their core, although some have more of a melodic idea. There's a Twitter account called "jazz is the worst" and one of the tweets reads: "Jazz drummers tend to write avant-garde music... because their knowledge of harmony is so limited". This is hilarious and it is certainly true that the use of harmony in my music is usually somewhere between pedestrian, accidental and non-existent. I guess I've tried to make the best of my limitations. 

The Decidedly Jazz Danceworks production of Juliet & Romeo runs from January 16-26 at the DJD Dance Centre in Calgary. For more information and to purchase tickets please visit: www.decidedlyjazz.com

Monday, January 13, 2020

Ed Thigpen 1998

A wonderfully musical drum solo today from the master Ed Thigpen (circa. 1998), demonstrating the sonic potential of the drum set by means of using his hands, brushes and sticks.

I have a couple of personal Ed Thigpen stories to share, the first being an encounter I had with him at the IAJE Conference in Anaheim, California in 1995. I was wandering through the exhibit hall and Ed was holding court at the Remo booth, seated behind a snare drum with a pair of brushes. I had a recently purchased his wonderful brush book "The Sound of Brushes" so I gathered some courage, told him how much I admired his drumming and then politely asked if he could demonstrate his basic brush stroke (as shown in his book). He very enthusiastically obliged and then asked me to play it back for him. I got through about four measures of time and he smiled and nodded his head but then all of a sudden out of nowhere Dave Weckl walked by us. Ed exclaimed "Hey Dave!", took off in his direction and, well, that was the end of that!

I also purchased a used 20" inch Sabian Ed Thigpen Signature Flat Ride at the Drum Bazar in Montreal about twenty years ago or so. Unfortunately I didn't use it very much and ended up trading it in somewhere for something else (I don't even remember what...) However, that was a really nice cymbal and I regret letting that one go. Oh well...

Monday, January 6, 2020

Francisco Mela - Cuban Improvisation

And...we're back. Happy New Year! Hope you all had a nice Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/Festivus/New Year's break and now it's time to get back to work, back to school and back into the swing of things, so to speak....onwards and upwards in 2020!

Here's a recent "Cuban" inspired free-form improvisation from the sticks of Francisco Mela:

Thanks again for all your support and we look forward to another great year ahead here at Four on the Floor.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Tim Mah's Top International Jazz Albums of 2019

Once again CJSW's Tim Mah, host of the weekly Jazz radio program Jazz Today (heard on Thursday mornings from 530-7am) and frequent contributor to this blog, offers his top picks for best international Jazz albums of 2019 (this is a wonderful follow-up to his excellent list of Canadian picks last week). As you can see below, Tim's choices are well informed and there was lots of great music offered to us over the past year.

This will be the final blog post of 2019 so drive safe everyone and see you next year!

"Tim Mah's Top Jazz Albums (International) of 2019"

Here are my favourite albums from international (non-Canadian) artists, released from December 2018 to November 2019:

1. Camila Meza & The Nectar Orchestra “Ambar”


2. Kendrick Scott Oracle “A Wall Becomes a Bridge”


3. Johnathan Blake “Trion” (with Chris Potter and Linda May Han Oh)


4. Reid Anderson, Dave King & Craig Taborn “Golden Valley is Now”


GOLDEN VALLEY IS NOW "Highway 1000" and "The end of the world" from Idée Fixe on Vimeo.

5. Lage Lund “Terrible Animals”


6. Branford Marsalis Quartet “The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul”


7. Terri Lyne Carrington & Social Science “Waiting Game”


8. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah “Ancestral Recall”


9. Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom “Glitter Wolf”


10. Linda May Han Oh “Aventurine”


11. Melissa Aldana “Visions”


12. Joshua Redman Quartet “Come What May”


13. Miguel Zenon “Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera”


14. Nerija “Blume”


15. Jazzmeia Horn “Love and Liberation”


16. Guillermo Klein “Los Guachos Cristal”

17. Joshua Redman & Brooklyn Rider “Sun on Sand”

18. Kurt Rosenwinkel & Bandit 65 “Searching the Continuum”

19. The Comet is Coming “Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery”

20. The Art Ensemble of Chicago “We Are On The Edge”

21. Joel Ross “KingMaker”

22. Miho Hazama “Dancer in Nowhere”

23. Theon Cross “Fyah”

24. Caroline Davis “Alula”

25. Yazz Ahmed “Polyhymnia”

26. Yes! Trio (Ali Jackson, Omer Avital and Aaron Goldberg) “Groove du Jour”

27. Brad Mehldau “Finding Gabriel”

28. Julian Lage “Love Hurts”

29. Larry Grenadier “The Gleaners”

30. Portico Quartet “Memory Streams”

Also check out (in no particular order):

JD Allen “Barracoon”

Marta Sanchez “El Rayo de Luz”

Tomeka Reid Quartet “Old New”

Victor Gould “Thoughts Become Things”

Ryan Keberle & Catharsis “The Hope I Hold”

Ralph Alessi “Imaginary Friends”

Fabian Almazan Trio “This Land Abounds With Life”

Ben Monder “Day After Day”

Bill Frisell “Harmony”

Harish Raghavan “Calls for Action”

Steve Lehman Trio & Craig Taborn “The People I Love”

The Bad Plus “Activate Infinity”

Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan “Epistrophy”

Chick Corea “Trilogy 2 (featuring Christian McBride and Brian Blade)”

Taylor Ho Bynum 9-Tette “The Ambiguity Manifesto”

Amirtha Kidambi & Elder Ones “From Untruth”

Laura Jurd “Stepping Back, Jumping In”

Dan Weiss Trio Plus 1 “Utica Box”

Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain & Chris Potter “Good Hope”

Roxy Coss “Quintet”

Greg Ward & Rogue Parade “Stomping off from Greenwood”

Junius Paul “Ism”

Dave Douglas “Devotion” (featuring Uri Caine and Andrew Cyrille)

Miles Okazaki “The Sky Below”

Alex Lore & Weirdear “Karol”

Theo Croker “Star People Nation”

Zach Brock, Matt Ulery & Jon Deitemyer “Wonderment”

Matt Ulery “Delicate Charms”

Mark de Clive-Lowe “Heritage” and “Heritage II”

Chris Potter “Circuits” (featuring James Francies & Eric Harland)

Joe Martin “Etoilee”

Matt Mitchell “Phalanx Ambassadors”

James Brandon Lewis “An Unruly Manifesto”

ELEW “Cubism”

Persona (Caroline Davis and Rob Clearfield) “Anthems”

Chris Speed Trio “Respect For Your Toughness”

Marquis Hill “Love Tape”

David Sanchez “Carib”

Sun Speak “Moon Preach”

Curtis+Garabedian+Sperrazza “New Year”

Jeremy Pelt “Jeremy Pelt The Artist”

Kevin Hays & Lionel Loueke “Hope”

Jason Palmer “Rhyme and Reason”

Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn “The Transitory Poems”

Joe Lovano, Marilyn Crispell & Carmen Castaldi “Trio Tapestry”

Jerome Jennings “Solidarity”

Remy Le Boeuf “Assembly of Shadows”

Dan Tepfer “Natural Machines”

Veronica Swift “Confessions”

Ben Flocks “Mask of the Muse”

Brent Birckhead “Birckhead”

Matt Maneri “Dust”

Tom Harrell “Infinity”

Chick Corea “Antidote” (featuring the Spanish Heart Band)

Brandee Younger “Soul Awakening”

Sara Gazarek “Thirsty Ghost”

Rachael & Vilray “Rachael & Vilray”

Anthony Wilson “Songs & Photographs”

Jacky Terrasson “53”

Petros Klampanis “Irrationalities”

Ulysses Owens Jr. “Songs of Freedom”

Matt Brewer “Ganymede”

Hiromi “Spectrum”

Ronin Arkestra “Sonkei”

Nicholas Payton “Relaxin’ With Nick”

Jeff Ballard “Fairgrounds”

Chris Lightcap “Superbigmouth”

Brittany Anjou “Enamigo Reciprokataj”

Sarathy Korwar “More Arriving”

Chase Baird “A Life Between”

Friday, December 27, 2019

Drums West: Jim Henson meets Chico Hamilton

A very clever 1961 paper animation by Jim Henson (The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, The Dark Crystal, etc.) set to West Coast Jazz drummer Chico Hamilton's brushwork: