Friday, May 29, 2009

The Bird And The Bee

“The Bird and the Bee is an indie/pop/alternative musical duo from Los Angeles, consisting of musicians Greg Kurstin ("bee") and Inara George ("bird"). Kurstin, a producer and keyboardist who has worked with Lily Allen, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Beck, The Flaming Lips, Kylie Minogue and Red Hot Chili Peppers, is also a member of the band Geggy Tah. Inara George and Kurstin met while the two were working on her debut album and they decided to collaborate on a jazz-influenced electro pop project. Their debut EP, Again and Again and Again and Again, was released on October 2006 and their debut album was released on January 23, 2007 on Blue Note Records.” - Wikipedia 2009

Let me clear the floor about Wikipedia because I know what some of you academics are thinking. Research has actually substantiated that Wikipedia has shown less errors than Britannica. I think for the case of a general bio outline of who this band is, we are safe.

In a world that has a market flooded with horrible cds how do artists stand out? Having a Blue Note deal definitely doesn’t hurt for the Bird And The Bee. Most artists will throw around certain harmonic jazz progressions that have been around for over half a century to label a pop song as fresh or jazzy. I am not one that falls for this kind of gimmick, until now with this band.

Off the bat you can hear the influence of a jazz musician who studied at New School and has played with many jazz greats but yet still has his other foot in the waters of Los Angeles performing with just as equal greats in the Pop Scene. This record starts with M7 chords moving in wide how a New School/Berklee graduate would say after hearing the opening track “Again and Again”. No, this song is the shit. Inara Georges’ voice sounds like an angel from heaven. When television shows like Grey’s Anatomy have used their music, it gives me hope for the future.

Unfortunately, “Again and Again” has to come to an end and the rest of the album is waiting. “Birds and the Bees” follows the opening’s all good. The 3rd track “F-cking Boyfriend” is fun. The lyrics are funny yet casually poignant. The synth sounds and the rest of the production of the song continues to be incredible. With 70’s retro sounding songs like “I’m a Broken Heart” hit the soft spot in my broken heart that I have for artists like Burt Bacharach. “La La La” could have easily been heard on any Beck record. “My Fair Lady” takes me into the circus world with it’s subtle bossa undertones and its harpsichord ostinatos.

We have 4 songs left on the record and it is starting to sound like it. “I Hate Camera” is great. But thats all can really say. The songs are getting less catchy but it still hold that high quality of music we opened up with. “Because” is definitely the low point of the record. I’m now counting down until the record is done. Hey, we all need filler tracks for our records and “Because“ was just that. It took me few listens to really appreciate “Preparedness”. It is actually one of the better songs due to its simplicity. I’m always fascinated by the last track on records because I know most artists make big decisions about their “bang” and what note they want to leave the listener with. The Bird and the Bee took the thoughtful route as opposed to the testosterone driven hard hitting route. It’s basically a song that you’d find on a Bjork record. But it has their own Bird and the Bee spin on it. Bottom line, it’s cool.

More than the high level of musicianship and great song writing that this debut cd carries, the production is amazing. Production is one element that jazz musicians always shy away from due their ignorance. The cd is kept under an hour, which I have always been a big fan of. While Blue Note has a reputation on having a roster of amazing artists with a handful of super average players, The Bird and the Bee lets me know that their A&R department still has some artistic integrity to sign a real musical endeavor that will leave a print on the Jazz and Pop scene for years to come. If you want a simple cd that has catchy pop melodies for your listener who has good ears, this is THE cd. If you want a cd that will take you to Nirvana or the next plane of existence, I’d recommend something else.

If I have to use the cheesy star rating that we connect with so well, I give it 4.87 out of 5 Stars.

A little preview of "Again and Again"

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fly Trio's 'Sky and Country

The Fly Trio has at long last released the follow up to their great-sounding debut – Fly. Now it may be because this is my first stab at record reviewership – but this record has got me really stumped. I just can’t decide what side to come down on. For starters.... this really SHOULD be a great record ... on the basis of the personnel, that is. It hit me one night listening to this trio at the Belrussian church in Brooklyn. The turnout at the concert was relatively humble that night ..... and it suddenly struck me how bizarre (at what a treat it was for me, really) to see this group in an intimate setting. I mean, these guys are currently, THE heavyweights of jazz. Here were Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard, the bass/drums unit for the Brad Mehldau trio, undoubtedly the most artistically-influential AND popular (a tough mix to pull off!) jazz trio of the last 10 years. To top that, the trio had recently been playing with Pat Metheny, probably the most influential jazz artist of the 10 years preceding and still probably the biggest seller in the jazz market. (Popular as he is, Brad Mehldau can still occasionally do gigs at ‘small’ clubs like the Village Vanguard. Pat Metheny is a lot closer to Madison Square Garden audience). It seems from objective measurements that these two are at the top of the jazz game. And Mark Turner... although one can’t quite assign the same level of fame to him ... is certainly recognized as one of the leading saxophonists of his generations (this is sounding too much like a jazz review already!). So with these three making a record.... one already expects that the result is going to be pretty impressive. Maybe bringing that attitude to it is my problem....... but I can’t quite convince myself that this is a great album (and it makes me feel a little guilty to be quite honest!). I’m torn....let’s break it down.

Some things I really like:

Larry Grenadier absolutely sets the standard for modern acoustic bass sound and feel. He has done so for the last ten years (with hot competition from Ben Street and Eric Revis and Reginald Veal in my opinion). No one combines woody, clear, punch, relax, drive and fat into one note quite as well as he does. His pitch and rhythmic placement are literally unparalleled (and I mean literal in the literal sense here). So as a bass player, it’s tough not to enjoy listening to this album.... it’s just such good bass playing.

Larry and Jeff are absolutely unwavering in their ensemble. They go beyond being a ‘tight’ rhythm section. They are tight (they ought to be, they’ve played together plenty!). But they can also phrase perfectly together.... pull one part of the measure back and resolve the time in the same way at the end the phrase. They sound tight, but they are by no means mechanical.

The Sound of this record is wonderfully refreshing and represents a departure for both the group and for label (Fly is now on ECM – good work!). The recording sounds like you are sitting in the room with group – it sounds like a chamber recording. Gone is the signature ECM reverb – the group sounds like they are sitting right in front of you.

Some things that trouble me:

First, I’ve thought a lot about what Mark Turner is going for in his playing. Lots of people love him ...... and saxophone players in particular never fail to have a deep respect for him. But I have never been able to get excited by him. It sounds to me like he has taken regular jazz saxophone playing and removed all humanistic inflections and emotive gestures. Or, to put it another way, he has reduced his playing to pure content and removed all style – all affectation. Now.... this isn’t necessarily as bad as it sounds...... everyone does this to some degree. Focusing on content and pruning away any clich├ęd gestures that may cloud that content or dress up shoddy content is certainly a noble pursuit. No one wants to sound like Kenny G (whose saxophone style is all affectation and no content!), and most modern musicians tend to steer clear of a sound as stylistic even as Johnny Griffin or Ben Webster (or even Charlie Parker – for all the deep content in his lines – he was a bluesy player!). But in my opinion with Mark’s playing.... it’s just too much! least it’s too much for me. I crave to hear some of the emotive, romantic intent behind his impressive content. And there’s just almost none of it. He’s even done it to his time feel. Listening to his lines... it sounds as if he calculated what the ratio of eighth note lengths would be for modern swing feel (say 58:42 – just slightly straightened out from the 66:33 triplet subdivision of classic swing eighth notes) and extrapolated it (perfectly) to all eighth notes at all tempos. Now... one caveat ... his playing definitely doesn’t sound ‘like a computer’. The careful, sensitive listener can detect a musical soul motivating his phrases. Just for my tastes....I would like to hear the human element of the music taking at least a little more priority.

Second, this album has got me thinking a lot about synthesis. Usually it is referred to as group interaction. But it goes deeper than that..... or at least, it is more elusive than that. The great jazz ‘ensembles’ of history (I’m thinking about John Coltrane’s Quartet, Bill Evan’s classic trio, Miles Davis’s Quintets, Keith Jarret’s American Quartet) have an ensemble presence that goes deeper than something you can directly point to. One is tempted to define interaction as something as simple as.... ‘Well, the drummer played figure A which cued the pianist and bassist to play response B a bar later’. Certainly that kind of call/response is a necessary component of a great ensemble. Any group that works well together will share a common rhythmic, harmonic and textural language that they can all draw on and reference (even better .... they not only share one, but develop their very own ..... as is the case with all the groups I cited above). A group that has done this can execute this kind of call/response at all musical levels (melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, textural, ect....). At this point the call/response exercise goes far beyond the purely mechanical knee-jerk response and becomes the elements of an extended musical dialogue that the group weaves in each performance. But the synthesis that happens when an ensemble becomes more than the sum of its parts (the synergetic experience) goes even deeper than this. It is exceedingly difficult to define, but it is not hidden..... you can definitely hear this kind of synthesis. It has to do with a group moving from the same collective motivations – moving towards the same unstated musical goals – breathing in the same pace – pushing/allowing the music with the same urgency/patience – and the audible evidence of the ensemble’s common purpose to transcend the musical building blocks within each song. To my ears, this album doesn’t quite get to this kind of synthesis. It starts out with some pretty impressive parts (as I mentioned at the top of the article, these are some of the best young players on the jazz scene today), but I don’t hear it getting beyond the sum of these parts. Another way to put it: If three masters get together to make a trio record... will they produce a masterful record?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

9/10/08 - Wee meet LA

One word best describes this tour thus far.

Ping Pong

This somehow enhances our playing. We have had very high energetic performances and we owe that gratitude to the great game of Extreme Table Tennis (Ping Pong). We would like to thank everybody who came out to the Jazz Bakery and the Musicians Institute. You guys have been a very responsive audience. Wee have also had the distinct pleasure of featuring the beautiful Katie Campbell on these gigs.

Note: Due to bad business ethics we will not be performing at Tangeirs tomorrow. We might have one more LA performance before we hit Northern California.

Wee + JShow Jr. had the rare opportunity today to pull away from the ping pong table and play some ball against some LA Thugs. Needless to say Westfall's "Shane Battier" blocking was stellar, as was JShow and Loomis' WNBA performance.

Watch out Northern California, The Wee Trio Train is pumpin hard and you can't stop us now...who's gonna die with us?

Be sure to wish James Westfall a Happy Birfday on Sept. 11th.

Monday, August 11, 2008

James Westfall announces new Website & Blog

If you havn't heard the word out on the street yet, James Westfall (vibraphonist for the Wee Trio 1/3 shareholder) has finally updated his website.

The site has a few extra features including free sheet music, a downloadable live mp3 series, video footage, and a blog. Check out the blog and participate in the political debates of James and Dan as they currently discuss Free Market Capitalism.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

We of the Wee Trio have recently elected the Spoke/Teeth double bill as one of the top ten reasons that Mondays are the new Thursdays,

Spike Hill
Monday, July 28th
10 PM
Josh Rutner: reeds; Dan Loomis: bass; Jared Schonig, drums

11 PM
Justin Wood: reeds; Andy Hunter: bones; Dan Loomis: bass; Jared Schonig: drums

Thursday, April 24, 2008

4/22/08 Midwest Tour Day 6

Day 6

8:30 am: After a night of restless sleep, due to the allergic reactions of a cat in the house, The Wee Trio started their day with a couple cups of coffee and a eight hour recording session. Needless to say the 2am Jack in Box dinner mixed with the rare moments of James drinking coffee did not sit right with his stomach. Quote of the day “If you don’t drink coffee you shouldn’t drink coffee.” – Jared S. Unfortunately that bit of weesdom came too little too late.

Later pm: 4 songs were laid down at the session. Many tournaments of Extreme Table Tennis (aka Ping Pong) took up much of our studio time, as did 10 pushups before each take at Peter Stevens Studio. (Thank you so much for your engineering Peter-Stevens-Miller-Karl-Allen-Hampton-Hawes)

5:30 pm: Downtown St. Louis – BBQ at the Loomis Household

7:30 pm – Big Gig at the C Sci Church. No gig would be complete without a series of unfortunate events. We can start by forgetting the drums at the recording studio. Thanks to Joomis for bringing us his drums at the last minute. First song, Jared chokes the ride cymbal slicing his finger open, blood pours out and the bleeding never stops. Even though stitches were required Jared plays through it like the Starship Trooper he is.

9pm – Many Cd’s are sold, many souls were filled, and enough cookies were baked to feed Steve Turre.

10pm – After Party at K-Mack’s house featuring special guest appearances by the Unconquerable Joomis and Hairy Carey. An array a Pale Ale’s, Rogues, and Chinese Herbal Beer helped liven up a hard hittin hang. As we leave, the police don’t scare James to restrain his New Orleans Open Container Law Conditioning. Fortunately, their doughnuts blind them from upholding the great laws of St. Louis.

12am – Jared takes a monster Dump that has a similar shape to the head of Jay Leno.