Monday, 26 March 2012

Audio Files - The Penang Blues Brothers

Here is a zip file containing the audio tracks from the Penang Blues Brothers +1 Sister jam this past Sunday. These are MP3s at 320k. Download, decompress, and add to your iTunes. The zip file will decompress as individual tracks. The sound is much clearer than on the YouTube videos.

Performance Videos - The Penang Blues Brothers

Here are three YouTube videos from the Penang Blues Brothers jam on Sunday. First up is the set opener Trouble, Trouble with James on vocals:

I've been listening a lot to Chicago blues tenor saxophonist J.T. Brown lately. J.T. is (somewhat) famous for having played with the influential slide guitarist Elmore James in the 1950's. He cut some sides in the 50's that are collected on the album Windy City Boogie on Delmark Records. J.T. died in 1969 and apparently his grave was unmarked until just last year when a benefit was held at a blues festival to raise funds for a headstone.

I've entitled the next tune Blues for J.T. in honor of J.T. Brown. I tried to get in a J.T. groove based on what I keep hearing in my head after listening to Windy City Boogie in the car so often...

The third video I've called Kim's Bb Boogie. Flip, Flop, and Fly is one of Kim's favorite tunes but his mike wasn't loud enough to hear the vocal so I think he gave up on singing and stuck to an instrumental instead. Jackie joined us on this one and played four choruses of hard blues which are pretty impressive improvising for a 15-year old. True to the blues tradition, Jackie's 1930's Zephyr had a bad spring so her axe had a rubber band wrapped around one of the keys.

I had a blast playing on Sunday. As mentioned in a previous post, I've wanted to do a Chicago-style electric blues band for a long time and this opportunity came together on a lark. I was out of town so Kim helped me arrange the musicians long-distance. James is the Little Penang Street Market's director but was a bit shy to perform at first. Tapa just happened to be in town. We had never played together as a unit which shows in some looseness but the blues feeling overruled and the set was relaxed, honest, rockin', and fun. Hopefully more to come. The musicians are Kim Gooi, harp; James Lochhead, keys and vocals; Bonny Jeremiah, bass; Ron Ashkin, tenor sax; Jackie Ashkin, alto sax; Tapa, drums; and Sid, guitar.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Tapa Sits In with the Penang Blues Brothers

The Penang Blues Brothers rocked Upper Penang Road this afternoon with a special surprise guest - our friend Tapa was visiting and sat in on drums. Tapa is well known in Penang musical circles from the years he spent playing on the local scene, but he moved to France with his family about a year ago. What a fortuitous coincidence.
The Penang Blues Brothers +1 Sister: Tapa, drums; Sid, guitar; Kim, harp;
Bonny, bass; Jackie, alto sax; James, keys and vocals; Ron, tenor sax.

We played a single 45-minute set and it was great fun for all. I've wanted to do an electric blues band for quite a while and this was the chance. Actually it was the Penang Blues Brothers +1 Sister, since Jackie played alto on a couple of tunes. I think she's about 30 years younger than the next youngest player.

I will put up audio and/or video from the set tomorrow depending on how the recordings turn out, as soon as I can process the files.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Lucky Thompson Wasn’t

One of the most under-appreciated tenor saxophonists in the history of jazz, and one of its saddest parables, is Lucky Thompson, born Eli Thompson in 1924. Lucky recorded with Charlie Parker at the birth of bebop in 1946 when he was only 22, is on Monk's 1952 Blue Note sessions, is the tenor saxophonist on Miles Davis' original Walkin’ from 1954 which still sounds so fresh it could have been recorded yesterday, but retired from recording by 1973 and died homeless in 2005 having not touched his horn for decades.

Lucky was just too honest for his own good. He never recorded an album with a string orchestra or backing choir, didn't have a disco-funk explosion in the 70’s, and wasn’t chosen as the favorite of any young lion during the neo-con bebop revival. But every note he recorded between 1946 and 1973 is worth seeking out and listening to. Lucky doesn't sound like anyone else and nobody else sounds like Lucky. As powerful and important a saxophonist as he was, there are no books of Lucky Thompson transcriptions for sale, you can’t practice Lucky Thompson patterns, and you can’t learn to play like Lucky at any university’s music performance degree program.

Lucky played from the heart, not bebop, not swing, beyond category. Story has it that he was difficult to deal with…name me someone who is not difficult to deal with. I think maybe Lucky was just too honest in a world that values honesty only when it is profitable. Just as Monk is revered much more highly 30 years after his death than he was when he was composing his best work, just as Fela was subject of a Broadway play long after his death after suffering imprisonment and debilitating beatings during his lifetime, maybe the time is now ripe for a Lucky Thompson revival and posthumous recognition of his greatness. I’m going to quit writing and go practice Walkin’ for my next gig.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Penang Blues Brothers at Little Penang Street Market this Sunday

The Penang Blues Brothers will be jamming at this coming Sunday's Little Penang Street Market at Upper Penang Road, Georgetown (directly in front of the E&O Hotel). We're on at 3:30pm and the date is Sunday, March 25. Come on down and enjoy the afternoon.

I'm currently in Thailand (my browser knows it even if you don't, as my blogger is titled entirely in Thai which is one of those alphabets that English-language film producers use in outer space flicks) so Kim Gooi is helping pull the musicians together. Right now it looks like Kim will be on harp, I'll be on tenor sax, James Lochhead on keyboards, Bonny Jeremiah on bass, Joe Goh will be coming up from K.L. to play guitar, and we will likely have some guests too. James claims to know only two chords so I hope they are the same two that I know. We're all old enough to have actually had the blues a time or two because as Memphis Slim said, "You can't learn the blues in school."

100% electric blues with a nod to the Windy City. Hope to see you in Georgetown on Sunday.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Serious Resources for Serious Players

I've just added a link to Casa Valdez Studios, the blog of Portland, Oregon-based saxophonist David Valdez, which he describes as "serious resources for serious players." Casa Valdez Studios is full of valuable information for saxophonists, everything from transcriptions to technical exercises to tips on gear to original recordings. All from a practicing player, mostly from his first-hand experience.

Since Crazy Bent Brass Tube is largely non-technical, I am following global business trends and out-sourcing the technical aspects of playing the horn to a specialist offshore. Check out David's blog as it is full of good stuff that will keep you busy for months and months. His blog is especially valuable for players (like me) in a remote location who may not have direct access to working pros, offering a regular interface to state-of-the-art learning materials as well as knowledge of what is going on in the saxophone world. Thanks, David, for the link to your blog.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Art on Vinyl

While in show-and-tell mode, I have to post this incredible disc I found among my LPs while taking inventory. A true work of art. Artifacts like this I am told have no value as even CDs are described these days as just an intermediary step between an MP3 and your iPod. Pity the poor LP. How can you find beauty like this in an iPod?

George Clinton surfs a circa 1978 slab of vinyl - state of the art at the time  

This is the picture disc from Parliament's Motor Booty Affair. Not the best photo; I had trouble with glare off the vinyl. 

Don't get me going about how the technology business serves itself by continually obsoleting media so you as the consumer have to go out and buy something else to get the same thing. Music is about the sound in your ears, not what you are playing it on, or so I thought. Has the advent of digital everything done anything to increase the quality of the content? Since the 1970s there has been precious little musical innovation, and most of the playback systems I listened on in college were of higher fidelity than what I hear today. But we have been through generation upon generation of advances in technology gadgets, and today you are considered unhip unless you are twiddling something in public. Has anyone in this decade communicated on tenor better than Pres, who barely lived into the LP era? Pres didn't even have a hand phone. 

My laptop screen burned out right as I began taking inventory of my LPs. I had a circa-2000 Mac laptop retired in the closet, perfectly functional but I believed it to be obsolete. On a whim I got it out as backup and took it over to the storage space so I could continue to build my Excel database. Guess what? It worked great, actually faster and easier to use than the "modern" Windows laptop that just broke down. 12 years and billions of dollars in technology advances have added absolutely no functionality to laptops, regardless of what we as consumers have been convinced. Go out and get that iPad 3 today, your iPad 2 is no longer cool.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Relic of 1970's New York Loft Scene Discovered

Wilson, Hemphill, Dara, and Murray.
All for $3.
I was going through some boxes of LPs (remember them?) in my storage space and came across this fascinating relic of the 1970's New York loft scene. It was doing time as a divider inside a cardboard box.

Actually I don't recall this particular show or why I took home the sign, but it must have been a hell of a performance, an ad hoc group of some of the most creative players on the scene circa 1976. The ecstasy of jazz as it existed pre-Marsalis. Why this particular sign remained in my possession, I have no idea, just a serendipitous find. It is quite artistically drawn, no? You can see that loft jazz in the 70's was a high-marketing-budget production.

To put things in historical perspective, as many years have passed between this performance and today as did between Pearl Harbor and this performance. 

Unfortunately both Phillip Wilson and Julius Hemphill, great players whose every recorded note is worth seeking out and hearing, checked out out early. Olu Dara is still around as is the prolific David Murray who, in my opinion, is one of the best tenor players around and can play the entire history of the horn. I like his small group work best but I'm not so hot on some of his fancier projects. Check Death of a Sideman with Bobby Bradford.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Nice Photo from China House

This popped up on Facebook from our February 24 gig (seems like distant history now, all the more reason to record it). It is always nice to see things from another perspective. We do seem to be concentrating.
Adrian Jones, bass; Jackie Ashkin, alto sax; C.Y. Chee, guitar; Ron Ashkin, tenor sax.
Drummer James Peterson is hidden. Featuring the famous Keluar sign.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

An Interesting Blog, with Thanks to Ellery Eskelin

One of the most intelligent and interesting music blogs I've come across is Musings From A Saxophonist by the excellent New York-based tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin. What is fascinating about Ellery's blog is that he explores the creative process and manages to get the reader inside the head of a thinking, exploring saxophonist who is among the leading contemporary players.

I've enjoyed Ellery's music for several years now and decided to write him yesterday to see if he would give me permission to add a link to his blog to my "Other Sources of Musical Wisdom" over on the right-hand sidebar.

Ellery was kind enough to respond right away and say yes to a link. He not only had the courtesy to respond right away, he actually paid attention to my request which was basically out of the blue from a random fan. With internet communication etiquette being highly questionable these days, I really appreciate his response and he has cemented a life-long fan. Thank you kindly, Ellery. 

Those of you who do not know his music should make an effort to find out. I particularly like his album The Sun Died, maybe because I am so partial to Gene Ammons. I've liked all of Ellery's music that I have come across and value his creative approach. He is one those pushing the music forward these days. He also likes to play old saxophones...

You can check out his web site for a discography and such.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Stormy Monday - Audio Tracks From Blues Jam

Today being Monday, I will start the week by posting some audio tracks from yesterday's marathon blues jam with Joe and Kim, following on the heels of the "Blues Are Universal" post from a few days ago.

Here are three takes of T-Bone Walker's classic Stormy Monday. I couldn't decide which one to post so all three are available - one instrumental and two with Joe on vocals - you decide. It was an informal jam so each take has its moments as well as its flaws, hopefully more moments than flaws. Played from the heart in any event. These are MP3s at 320K.

And here is a 14-minute jam on Kim's favorite, Big Joe Turner's Flip, Flop and Fly. The vocals were not miked so they are subdued. Kim has to learn to shout like Big Joe! I missed recording the beginning coming down the stairs, so I started the track at the first full chorus.

Flip, Flop and Fly

Old Friends, Blues Jam at Kim's, Penang, Malaysia, recorded March 4, 2012. Joe Goh, guitar and vocals; Kim Gooi, harp and vocals; Ron Ashkin, tenor sax and whisk broom. Recorded on a Zoom H2.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Dejan Terzic - a Great (and Wise) Drummer

I was looking at the web site of the Java Jazz Festival in Indonesia ("jazz" in the loosest Asian sense, Stevie Wonder is the headliner!) and saw that the great German drummer Dejan Terzic was with one of the acts, Nils Wogram's Nostalgia. Possibly one of the only true jazz acts on the bill, they actually play acoustic instruments and improvise. Nils plays trombone, another form of crazy bent brass tube.

I first met Dejan back in 2007 when he came to Penang with Anke Helfrich to perform at the Penang Island Jazz Festival courtesy of Germany's Goethe Institute, again one of the only jazz acts on the bill of a festival heavy on pop music and guitar wacka-wacka. I recognized Dejan from a recording he had done with George Garzone on Naxos from back in the days when people actually purchased CDs; I had picked it up to hear Garzone who is a monster on tenor.

Turns out Dejan was born in Banja Luka, one of the obscure places I'd worked way back when, so we started to talk and he and Anke ended up hanging out with my family for the few days they were on the island. I managed to acquire a friend who is not only supremely talented musically - a drummer with his own sound - but wise beyond his years. A couple of things he told me back in '07 stuck in my mind and have had an influence beyond what he can imagine:

1) Late late at night we were in my practice room and I was bellyaching to Dejan about how well I could play the sax was a direct function of how many hours I put behind the horn practicing. He said I was wrong, how good you are is a direct function of how many hours you spend on the bandstand playing gigs! How right he was. That was like a cold slap in the face - and then I woke up. From that point onwards for a couple of years I took any gig I could, from bar bands playing whiny Lionel Richie songs with a vocalist to straightahead jazz bands to highlife in Africa where I was one of 15 on stage to country and western rock on the beach to big bands, jam sessions, and Chinese weddings (seriously). I'm kind of beyond that now and am confident enough to play what I want to play because I managed to get on-stage experience playing all kinds of music all around the world. Dejan, whether you know it or not you woke me up as a musician with your late night words. Thank you.

2) Dejan also told me that if you want to gig all the time, play the drums. Bands always need a drummer. Everyone wants to play lead. If you think there are a lot of horn players out there, we are 1 in 100 compared to guitarists. To be a sax player on a gig you have to be really, really top notch. Rhythm players always have a home. I have found this to be exceedingly true since I reached the point where I can front my own bands. It is always a struggle to find a drummer. The drummer controls the band - the drum kit is not portable so the rehearsal venue is controlled by where the drums are, for one thing. Young players take heed!

In any event, we have stayed in touch on and off through the years and Dejan generously supplied us with a batch of his recordings. Dejan will be performing in Asia the next two weeks in Jakarta, Bandung, Singapore, and Bangkok. Catch him if you like creative improvised music and look out for him in Europe. Check out his web site too.

The Blues Are Universal

In addition to practicing at home and playing gigs with the Chicago Jazz Quartet +1, I've had the chance over the past few weeks to jam the blues with a couple of fine musicians just a few minutes away from home. We're all around the same age so there is an element of comradeship to our music; we don't have anything to prove except that we want to play. 

My good friend Kim Gooi tracked me down late last year after we met on a Penang rooftop jamming with some Sape musicians from Sarawak in mid-2010. He is a respected photojournalist and lived in Thailand for about 30 years before returning to his native Malaysia. Kim plays the harp and came upon the blues while working in Bangkok, which has a large expat community and its share of bars with live bands. Close your eyes and you would have no idea that you are listening to a native Penangite and not someone from the South Side of Chicago. Kim said he listened to the blues for about 10 years before picking up the harp and it just came naturally to him after that. 

Two weeks ago, guitarist Joe Goh came to visit from Kuala Lumpur. Joe is originally from Malacca. The first time I met him we were jamming the blues before I could even get my gear fully unpacked. After playing for so many years he just has the sound in his blood. We don't need to talk much, just set up and play. Again, close your eyes and you are on the South Side. We've played everything from T-Bone Walker to Miles Davis over the last couple of weeks as well as hundreds of choruses of blues in every key, tempo, rhythm, and style we can think of, spinning off marathon choruses that have me imagining Paul Gonsalves on stage at Newport 1956 in my own minor-league way. Every chorus different, trying never to repeat, trading leads, playing backings for each other, varying the harmonies - just close your eyes and blow. Amazingly, Joe told me he has never played with a sax before! 

Joe was first exposed to the blues through the British Invasion bands in the 60's; then listening to US Armed Forces Radio broadcast from Vietnam he got to hear James Brown, Ray Charles and such. By the 70's he went to Europe for work and played rock and roll, then returned to Penang where he ran a guest house. One of his guests taught him some guitar and exposed him to jazz. A second stint playing music overseas followed. Along the way he heard T-Bone and B.B. King in person. It wasn't until the 90's that Miles and Trane connected for him, and now he is playing their music too. Joe told me that he has given up on being a full time musician in K.L. because there just aren't enough opportunities for him to play honest music, the music he wants to play. That's the subject of a whole separate blog post, forthcoming. 

Hope to get in at least one more jam before Joe heads back to K.L.