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Archive for September, 2009

Shakin’ It Out with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe.

September 23rd, 2009 No comments
Karl Denson at the mich with trumpet player Chris Littlefield to his right.

Karl Denson at the mic, and trumpet player Chris Littlefield to his right.

Creativity springs to life when this band comes into action, which I can personally attest to, having had the pleasure to see them live at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom, September 16th. It’s really this simple: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe is a must-see/hear for anyone who loves music. If you like to be moved by a performance–and by what you listen to, then you will seriously enjoy KDTU for the basic fact that you just can’t sit still. In fact, I recommend avoiding caffeinated beverages beforehand. And if you’re a fan of acid jazz, or fusion… well, chances are, you already know about them. Karl, himself, is a live wire on stage. Vibrant and energetic; he plays sax, the flute and the calabash, and, of course; he sings. And when he plays his sax–it’s as if he’s singing… you can almost hear the words. The Tiny Universe is a band of six musicians; each of which is deftly sound on his own, but together; they are the X-Men of music. Members are as follows: Denson (saxophone, flute), Ron Johnson (bass), Chris Littlefield (trumpet), Brian Jordan (guitar), David Veith (keyboards) and John Staten (drums). It’s clear that performing makes them happy. Their music is succinctly uplifting and invigorating, despite some of the indubitable blues tones, but on the other hand, that is why folks sing and play blues in the first place–to get rid of them. Speaking of the blues, KDTU offers a touch of the rich, West African sound (the name, “Farka Touré” comes to mind); moreso, than Denson’s other band, The Grey Boy Allstars. From the newly released KTDU album, Brother’s Keeper, we start off with the big, Motown-sounding tune, Shake It Out, which is just slightly reminiscent of The Temps’ Get Ready; a perfect lead into the songs to follow, which range in tone from bluesy, sad and soulful to hot, jazzy-funk–or funky-jazz, depending on the track. And then some are just plain melodic, sweet and sexy, like Take It Down Low. To sum it up, pick it up. It’s well worth it.
Just for fun, here’s a little taste of the great Ali Farka Tourè:

And this beautiful piece by his son, Vieux, who is also amazing, live:

As the name suggests, several songs on Brother’s Keeper speak openly about faith, which for Mr. Denson is Christianity. The following quote is taken from his CD Jacket:

We who live in a free society often forget about the concept of being free. We begin to think of freedom as the natural state of mankind, when in reality our natural state is to dominate and be dominated. It is by an extraordinary blessing that we are being dominated by the very freedom we’ve created. We are now free to forget how we got here and how much it cost. Alongside the comfort that freedom provides is the ability/tendency to isolate and disconnect.

…Make a conscious effort to reconnect with the people around you. To sum it all up, ‘Love Your Neighbor As Yourself.’ Yes I’m My Brother’s Keeper!

Guitarist, Brian Jordan.

Guitarist, Brian Jordan.

John Staten on drums.

John Staten on drums.

In a recent blog I wrote about theme songs. I believe it’s good to have at least one. I definitely have more than one, but this is without a doubt, one of my favorites: KDTU’s Because of Her Beauty. Frankly, I’m surprised Nike hasn’t tried to snatch it up for a “Just Do It” TV spot. But then again, maybe they have. I listen to it when I go running… in my Adidas.

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Certain Voices Make a Difference.

September 19th, 2009 No comments
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Mary Travers. Nov. 9, 1936 – Sept. 16, 2009

Mary Travers died this week at age 72. There are some that would have called her the “bubble gum” of folk music, but they would have been wrong to do so. The voices of Peter, Paul and Mary; together in their perfect harmonies were powerful enough to ring out clearly through the chaos, excitement and confusion that were the sixties, and what’s more; their popularity transcended the wings of politics. It’s hard to argue with truth, and particularly when it is presented in such an agreeable fashion. The house I grew up in was conservative. Nevertheless, songs like If I Had a Hammer, and 500 Miles lulled me to sleep as a little child, and for that, I am grateful.

Certain voices make a difference, and it’s a good thing that they do. If you believe something, say so, and say it like you mean it.

The words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, as quoted by Edward M. Kennedy:

I am a part of all that I have met…
Tho much is taken, much abides…
That which we are, we are–

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

…strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Here’s one more for the long, lonesome track: sweet dreams, CreativeBeasts. Sweet dreams, Mary. May you rest well.

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Music As Creative Juice: What’s Your Pleasure?

September 9th, 2009 2 comments
Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (number 30), 1950

Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (number 30), 1950

When I was a teenager, my father once punished me by taking my stereo away because I wasn’t meeting certain academic expectations. I think it was by far, the worst punishment I received. I could be grounded or anything else, but to be without music was like being without light… or water. Thank God for music. I don’t mean to sound trite or to make an inane remark, but I think it’s worth noting what an effect and impact music has on the creativity of others. Now that we have passed another Labor Day, so marks the unofficial end of summer, and with fall comes different flavors and smells, somber colors, different pastimes, and a different spin on creativity. And while even the music we listen to might change somewhat with the seasons, our need for the inspiration and comfort it lends, does not. From Jackson Pollock to Paul Thomas Anderson, Creative Beasts of all kinds have been and will continue to be driven and influenced by the power of music.

I would also like to once again note the cyclical nature of creativity, and in turn; pause for a moment to consider how Creative Beasts need and affect one another. Art in any form and at any level is something that stimulates us and inspires us–an idea–a spark–a birth… created by an individual. It seems that many artists and/or scientists are multi-talented and explore their creativity in multiple facets; for example, a singer-songwriter who also paints, such as John Mellencamp, or a scientist who draws and paints, like Leonardo Da Vinci–or is it the other way around? You get my point. Creative minds are excited by ideas, by freshness, by wonderment and discovery, and by the ability to bring something that encompasses these things to fruition–and to experience the creations of others. That said, it makes sense that many creative types have multiple areas of focus, and multiple passions in their lives. Music makes order out of chaos–even chaotic music. It combines sound and rhythm with thought and puts it in a frame to create a structure. I know that music has a tremendous impact on me and my creativity. I can’t imagine my life without it.

Jackson Pollock was heralded as the leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement in art and pioneered what became known as “action painting.” It’s a well known fact that his art was largely influence by the modern jazz music of his day, which seems to make perfect sense when you view his work; especially in person. He was particularly a big fan of Charlie Parker’s and Dizzie Gillespie’s, but in general, loved rocking–and painting to bebop. Listen to this gorgeous piece titled Autumn in New York by The Bird, himself; Mr. Charlie Parker. Perhaps it had a hand in the outcome of Pollock’s piece shown above.

Additionally, and throughout the history of cinema, great directors are naturally influenced by music, and are keenly aware of just how intrinsically it becomes part of the art which is film. A few of my favorites include Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and last but definitely not least, Paul Thomas Anderson, who states that he indeed, “writes to music.” He freely admits that the screenplay for Magnolia could be called “an adaptation of Aimee Mann songs.” The film is among my favorites, dark as it may be; and is absolutely brilliantly crafted–and so, might I add–is the music. The following quote from Anderson is taken from the introduction of the shooting script for Magnolia.

The connection of writing “from the gut” and “writing to music” cannot be found any clearer than in the “Wise Up” section of the screenplay. I had reached the end of Earl’s monologue and was searching for a little vibe–I wrote as I listened–and the most natural course of action was that everyone should sing– sing how they feel. In the most good old-fashioned Hollywood Musical Way, each character, and the writer, began singing how they felt. This is one of those things that just happens, and I was either too stupid or not scared enough to hit “delete” once done. Next thing you know, you’re filming it. And I’m Really Happy That It Happened.

Here’s that amazing scene [WARNING: This scene contains adult situations]:

Here, Scorsese takes a very different approach by using the cheery 60s sound of The Crystals, followed by Scottish artist, Donovan’s trippy Atlantis, and juxtaposes the music with a disturbingly violent portrayal of Tommy, played by Joe Pesci [WARNING: This scene contains adult language and graphic violence]:

David Lynch writes in his book, Catching the Big Fish,

The music has to marry with the picture and enhance it. You can’t just lob something in and think it’s going to work, even if it’s one of your all-time favorite songs. That piece of music may have nothing to do with the scene. When it marries, you can feel it. The thing jumps; a “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” kind of thing can happen.

Here is a shining example of how David Lynch “marries” music with cinema:

So. How does music affect you? And your creativity? What are your influences? Where do you get turned on to new music? Do you have a theme song (And yes, I stole that notion from a scene from the cheesy old show, Ally McBeal, in which Dr. Tracy Clark demands that Ally choose a theme song for herself. What can I say? It stuck with me, and I must give credit where it is due)? My theme song changes, but I think for now, it is Passion Pit‘s Moth’s Wings (is it just me, or does Michael Angelakos remind you of Peter Gabriel?), which I first heard on 88.9 Radio Milwaukee. I can’t think of a better song to lead us into fall.

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