Sunday, May 31, 2009

NJJS Jazz Fest

The New Jersey Jazz Society's annual Jazz Fest is happening this coming weekend at Drew University. Jazz singer Curtis Stigers is featured, along with Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, both appearing Saturday night. Other performers include the Houston Person Quartet, Trio da Paz, Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks, the Allan Vaché Benny Goodman Tribute Big Band and the Rio Clemente Trio with Laura Hull.

The festival begins Friday evening with a free "Stars of Tomorrow" concert featuring high school jazz bands from around the state. Professional performances are scheduled all day and evening Saturday in three different university venues. Tickets for Saturday are $50.00 in advance, $65.00 at the gate with discounts for New Jersey Jazz Society members. Students are $10.00 at the gate and kids 16 and under are free. For more information visit the group's website ( or call 800-303-6557. Drew University is located on Route 124 in Madison. Parking is free.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Robots of Brooklyn

Anytime I get to write about music and robots, I am there. And LEMUR certainly fits the bill. I am totally in love with these guys--an irrational, selfish joy of attraction. They have shows coming up all summer, each a mix of live performers with their mechanical contraptions.

When I was a kid, I recall sitting in the storage space under the stairs in my basement and daydreaming about building robots, a fantasy that completely overwhelmed my fascination with the Beatles, drum sets, Batman and everything else.

I have no mechanical ability whatsoever, but the allure of robots was powerful just the same. Maybe it was a power thing--an idle kid (too idle--what were my parents thinking?) out in the sticks dreaming about building a device that would obey his commands. But it wasn't that kind of power that was on my mind: It was the sheer joy in creating something that would move and have a pseudo-life of its own. That's a kind of power too, perhaps even a more base kind. It's the kind that eventually turns a kid to religion, to cosmology and astrophysics, or to art. It turned me into a composer and a writer both.

LEMUR is the vicarious fulfillment of that dream. The acronym stands for League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots. The group has its own space in Brooklyn at 461 3rd Avenue between the Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus and Red Hook. Its members are an even mix of composers and engineers, and the central attraction is the orchestra of instrument creatures they build and incorporate into performances.

GuitarBot is my current favorite, a four-stringed instrument in which each string plays itself, turning out a polyphony human guitarists can only dream about. It's loosely mounted on a stand suspended about three and half feet off the floor and it does a little mechanical shimmy as it plays. But GuitarBot is only one of about 50 instruments in the growing arsenal, many of which I haven't seen or heard yet.

The next LEMUR performance is May 29 at the Brooklyn space. Visit the group's website for more concert information, You can check out a video introduction and demonstration of GuitarBot LEMUR founder Eric Singer. Also written for GuitarBot is a more conventional bit of music by Joshua Fried --the video for Fried's piece gives a more detailed view of the robot in action.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Verdi Requiem in Westfield

The Westfield Symphony Orchestra in cooperation with choirs from the state and overseas will present a performance of Verdi's Requiem, 8 p.m. Saturday, May 30, at the Presbyterian Church, 140 Mountain Ave., Westfield, N.J.

The Welsh Choral Union of Liverpool, England, and Bergen County's Pro Arte Chorale will combine for this performance. The collaboration is part of Westfield Symphony's initiative SOUNDPartnerships, an effort that encourages cross-fertilization between artists and mediums.

Tickets are available through the WSO office (224 E. Broad St., Westfield) or by calling the box office at (908) 232-9400 and are also available at Town Books, Broad St, Westfield and Martin Jewelers in Cranford. For more information call 908-232 9400, or visit the group's website,


Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Parent Influence

There have been a couple kind of creepy coincidences in my life where my love of music and my parents are concerned. OK, more than a couple, but today I'll only talk about a couple. In my post about my Dad's tastes in music, I was hinting that his influence may count for more than I care to admit. Here I am, a full-grown creature with kids of my own and I find myself looking at my tastes in music and thinking, how did I get this way? Did I choose to like what I like? Or was it chosen for me?

The answer is complex and I think it's complex for everyone. Even when tastes are a reaction against the tastes of parents, that in itself constitutes an influence that seems to compromise what we think of as free will. Would such folks have chosen their current path had our parents been more sympathetic?

In my case, my parents didn't always understand my tastes in music, but they were proud of me for having them. In some cases, like my ceaseless playing of Mussorgsky and Beethoven on the piano, my Dad was highly approving. Other loves, like the Beatles, he teasingly referred to as "monkey music"--it just sounded like noise to him.

More significantly, I don't recall my Mom ever saying a negative word about any music that I liked. I do remember her telling me that I couldn't make a living off only a few songs--which was her way of encouraging me to work harder at the things I loved.

In my 30s, long after my mother had died, there was a moment when I just wanted to write something that had a lot of joy in it. I had begun a new relationship and I wanted to celebrate it. The piece that came out was a crude, but fun little waltz that quoted the song "Buffalo Gals (Won't You Come Out Tonight)". I still like to play it once in a while--it's a bold, shouty sort of piano solo. I didn't give any thought at all to how I had come to know the song. I still don't really know.

On the phone with my Dad a week or so later, I happened to mention the Buffalo Gals Waltz and hummed the song and laughed about how much fun it was to play. He was quiet for a minute and then he said, "That song was on your mother's lips the night we met."

He had never told me that. Mom certainly never told me that.

A couple years later, I was again talking to my Dad about musical interests--these were rare conversations. Mostly we didn't talk, we just enjoyed each other's company. I told him about Charles Ives and his love of clashing sounds and how important that composer had been in my development and my understanding of contemporary music. And he said, grimly, "I know that guy." Umm .... What?

"I was stationed in Boston briefly," he told me, "and the orchestra would put on free concerts in the summer on the riverfront. Your mother used to drag me down to hear the music and one of the composers they played was Charles Ives. I didn't like it, but your mother was excited about it."

I can recall only one conversation that I had with my mother about music. She told me that the orchestra tuning up was her favorite part about going to the symphony. She loved the swirl of the random sounds, the scraps of melodies zooming past each other.

One conversation. So how is it that I am so much her?


Monday, May 11, 2009

Stimmung in NYC

Karlheinz Stockhausen is dead and immortal. His music will invigorate the imaginations of hundreds of generations to come. I say that with confidence these days; I've become a true believer. His experiments now suddenly appear tame and yet still so full of fire, so rigorous and undeniably beautiful to me. His compositions often seem like a single process, a wild river of a logical form that arises from a single stroke.

But that's enough about my measly little opinions. There's a performance of Stockhausen's 1968 piece Stimmung for six voices with six microphones, happening in New York City this week. A new vocal group led by concert organizer Nick Hallett and including Gisburg, Dafna Naphtali, Robert Osborne, Daisy Press and Peter Sciscioli will perform the work. I know some of these performers profressionally and I'm certain they'll turn in an exciting performance. Music of Invention followers will remember both Gisburg and Dafna for their performances for the Black Box of Asbury Park, here and at SICA in Long Branch.

This production is the second part of Hallett's a four-part series at the New Museum theater connecting the human voice to multimedia ritual. The concert is 7 p.m. this Thursday, May 14th. The New Museum is located at 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002. Phone 212-219-1222. Admission is $12 Members/$15 General Public.

Here's Stockhausen's New York Times 2007 obituary, FYI.


Monday, May 4, 2009

TAG Night at Trenton's Mill Hill Saloon

In a past life, I was one of the organizers of the Trenton Avant Garde Festival, a one-day annual event that attracted a panic of artists working on the fringes of their field. One of the other organizers was now-legendary jazz/hip-hop bassist and experimental composer Wilbo Wright (Ui, Southern Records).

I left TAG when I left Trenton back in 1999, but the organization has continued putting on occasional events. Of the original TAG organizers, Wilbo was always the most well-connected to the experimental music scene and he is currently rounding up his colleagues in a regular monthly rendezvous the first Wednesday of each month at Trenton's venerable Mill Hill Saloon. Wilbo is also among the best improvising musicians I have ever heard in jazz or free styles. Defined by a sprawling versatility and wild imagination, he is also a world class jazz bassist in both the technical and interpretive sense.

This month's TAG Night at Mill Hill is the Wednesday, May 6 and features three groups, including a new Wilbo combo, the Deep End Ensemble, with Ian Ash of Philadelphia using a percussion-based computer interface and drums and Bruce Eisenbiel of New York on guitar. Bruce was featured in the May '09 edition of Guitar Player magazine, in the "Experimental" column. As a blend of improvisation, composition and noise collage, this trio sounds like paradise.

Freeprov duo Toshi Makihara and Todd Margasak of Philadelphia will perform on percussion and cornet. Toshi is currently in the midst of his Solo 365 Project (a daily performance logged on YouTube) and will also be doing solo improv at the Mill Hill performance.

Lastly, the New Jersey-based improv duo Gray Catbird, with Will Constantine on reeds/winds/percussion/poetry and Shane Navoy on analog synths will perform. Will hosts the WPRB (Princeton U. public radio) show "Blues, Bop and Beyond" and is the leader of the band, "Bitches Brew." According to the publicity, "What they do will be determined by the size of the vehicle they show up in, and how much gear it can hold."

TAG Night at Mill Hill Saloon runs from 8 p.m. to midnight. Admission is $5 at the door. The Mill Hill Saloon is located at 300 S. Broad St. at the corner of Broad and Market in Trenton. For more information call 609-394-7222.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

NJSO Jarvi Farewell Tour

Neeme Jarvi's final bows before giving up the helm of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra are occurring this weekend. Tonight's performance is at NJPAC in Newark and tomorrow's is at the State Theatre in New Brunswick. These concerts are a repeat of a program that the NJSO performed in Princeton yesterday. A successor for Jarvi has yet to be found but Jarvi will remain on in a consulting and emeritus role.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Pain in the neck

FYI, my chiropractor is telling me to cut down on computer time and takes lots of breaks. Otherwise, this neck strain that has kept me down the last week and half isn't going to get better. So I will keep posting, but maybe for the next couple weeks, not quite so much.