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Good thing I like cats, then

The Happy Maladies

I don’t know how many of you listened to my occasional bits Bethan Elfyn’s Amazing Radio show last year, but those of you who did may recall the one and only time I featured two tracks by the same band, The Happy Maladies. Now, I’ve featured the Happy Maladies here before, several years ago, after seeing them at a house show here in Columbus. The band reinvented themselves since then, the lineup has changed, and they’ve re-emerged with all new material that focuses much more on jazz harmonies and contemporary chamber music through a filter of traditionally folk instruments.

I know that sounds like a far cry from the progressive bluegrass description I saddled them with way back in the early days. And, to an extent, it is. But you can’t pin these guys down and hold them to one genre. They’re in a constant state of evolution (like all the great bands are) and are some of the most adventurous musicians I know. To that end, they have launched a call for compositions under the moniker Must Love Cats.

To put it simply, the band are looking for composers to write something for them. In the end, five compositions will be selected to be recorded, receive their premiere in Cincinnati, and then toured. (And, yes, the winning composers will receive a share of the profits.) Further details (including instrumentation options) can be found on the Happy Maladies’ website, but I will say, it looks like a very exciting competition. It’s too bad I was never much of a composer, because, I’ll tell you, these guys can read! And they want to be challenged. And what composer doesn’t love that in a musician? If you’re a composer and you’ve ever wanted to try some crazy stuff with folk instruments, this is a golden opportunity. The deadline is January 1, 2014.

So, while I may not be a composer, you can bet I’ll be at the premiere next spring.

Here’s the band to tell you more.

P.S. Let me know if any of you guys enter.

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Loops and Variations

lesley_flanigan_white2bFinally. I’m finally going to see Lesley Flanigan perform. I’m headed to Chicago next week to see her perform as part of the Loops and Variations series at Millennium Park on a bill that also includes champions of modern music eighth blackbird (did I ever tell you about the time I saw them play Philip Glass with Philip Glass?) and Wilco drummer (and Delta faucet virtuoso) Glenn Kotche.

It’s not really clear what the program will consist of, but I have to assume, where there’s eighth blackbird, there’s a world premiere. And that’s great. But for me, the real excitement lies in finally seeing Lesley Flanigan perform her feedback compositions live. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while: not a life long dream by any stretch, but certainly something I’ve been trying to arrange ever since I interviewed her a couple of years ago.

In case you weren’t with us then, here’s a link to the article and the interview. It’s still one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with a musician. And, in case you need a refresher, here’s a video of a performance of my favorite track from her album Amplifications. Of course, if you’re in Chicago on the 28th, you should definitely come down Millennium Park at 6:30 and catch the FREE show. But Columbus folks will also have a chance to see Lesley in person come March 2014.

I love the dusty shelves of forgotten books you find in the darkest corners of musty libraries and those crates of “worthless” old 45s you find in every junk shop. I can’t help it. There must be dust in my blood. I even worked in a music archive for a year after university (it’s still the best job I’ve ever had). I guess that makes me some kind of amateur cultural archaeologist.

Of course, you and I know those neglected 45s are far from worthless. There are so many great songs languishing in those cardboard dumping grounds. And sometimes, of course, I’ll find something that I really wish I could share with people only to discover that even the seemingly infinite YouTubes occasionally come up short. So, I’ve taken it upon myself recently to fill some of those gaps. And since, these are obviously the sorts of things I wish other people could hear, I’m going to start posting about them here from time to time—one of those times being right now.

Given that her early records were released on Chess, it’s surprising to me that Jan Bradley’s recordings are so difficult to find online. YouTube only has a few of them (Spotify only turned up one). As the story goes (read: according to Wikipedia) Bradley was discovered at a high school talent show. A while later, after auditioning for Curtis Mayfield, she would go on to have a regional hit with “We Girls” and nationally with “Mama Didn’t Lie” (both written by Mayfield).

The current track “The Brush Off”, appeared on the flip side of “I’m Over You”, a minor hit (#25 on the R&B chart) from early 1965. Both feature that unmistakable Chicago soul sound, and though there are a couple of videos floating around for “I’m Over You”, I was unable to find anything for “The Brush Off”, which is a shame, because it’s a smooth and easy bit of Northern Soul that deserves to be heard. So, I made one.

Here it is. And, apparently, Ms. Bradley (I don’t know her married name) still lives somewhere in the South Suburbs. So, if you happen to encounter her singing with her church choir, please, pass on to her my sincerest appreciation for her all-too-brief career.

(Here’s the Billboard review of the single from January 2, 1965. Also, this guy has some good info on Jan Bradley.)

The Long Silence

Hi. I realize things have been quiet here recently. I know this is my blog and I can come and go as I please, but I do feel I owe you an explanation. The fact is, a few months ago (on my birthday, actually, because that’s how much the universe loves me…) a member of my immediate family was diagnosed with a serious illness. Now, before you freak out (not that I expect you to) let me say that, according to the doctors, we are through the worst of it and well on the way to recovery.

That’s the good news. But, as you’d probably expect (and, as no doubt, some of you know from experience), news like that does give you pause. And you’re forced to reevaluate a lot of things. Things were pretty touch and go (often downright terrifying) for a while. The last few months have consisted of a lot of family time and not much else, because, when you’re forced to confront reality, you realize, not much else matters.

But, like I said, things are on the upswing. We’re not completely out of the woods yet (but then, when are we ever?). So, I’ll be working to ease my way back into this blog over the next few months. Though, it could take some time to get back into the swing of things. I hope you’ll bear with me. I will say, I’m pleased to see that site views haven’t really dropped off even though things have been quiet here. It makes me feel like we really have accomplished something good here in the last few years.

Thanks for your patience.

-Eric

P.S. Of course, if you’d like to help lighten the load, I am, as always, happy to accept guest posts. Email the.indie.handbook@gmail.com. Just, please don’t ask me if you can write a post to plug your own band. I think most of us would agree that that’s a little tacky. But then, if you’d like to address some sort of philosophical issue and use your own experience as a reference point, well, I’m all for that.

Paul Motian

Paul Motian

March 25th will mark what would have been the 82nd birthday of legendary jazz drummer and composer Paul Motian. The same weekend, on the 22nd, a tribute concert curated by longtime collaborators and members of the Paul Motian Trio—Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano—and featuring more than 20 artists who worked with Paul over the years, will take place at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Symphony Space in New York. I caught up with Frisell last week to chat briefly about his years playing with Paul and the experience of curating a tribute to a jazz icon. Some excerpts from the interview are included below.

There is, I think, a heightened self-awareness that is integral to jazz. Its future is almost dependent on familiarity and continual interaction with its past—legends, techniques, and sacred texts passed down from one generation to another in the grooves of dusty old records, over whiskey in smokey clubs, on a shared piano bench in downtown apartments. The same stories told night after night, but never the same way twice—it’s that sense of here and now and never again that is, arguably, the lifeblood of the great American art form.

Paul Motian was already an influential figure in the world of jazz by the time of his first meeting with the young Bill Frisell in January of 1981. As one third of the classic Bill Evans trio and after more than a dozen albums with Keith Jarrett, Motian’s influence on contemporary drumming was already undeniable. Still early on in his career, I ask him what those early sessions were like. It’s a meeting Frisell still recalls with fondness and even a touch of disbelief:

Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell

“Well, the very first time I went to play with him was in 1981…and you know, I’d never met him….So, I go over there and it’s me and Paul and Marc Johnson was there…(Marc was the last bass player to play with Bill Evans)…[and] Bill had just passed away recently, so they were talking about that….And they said, well, let’s play ‘My Man’s Gone Now’, which is this George Gershwin tune that I really associated with Bill Evans.”

“It was another one of these kind of heavy moments…playing that tune with those guys. And playing electric guitar? How am I fitting in with this, you know?…He thought it was ok, I guess. We kept on playing and he kept calling me back and I’d go over there every week or every few days even.”

From those early sessions, with the addition of saxman Joe Lovano, emerged the Paul Motian Trio who would spend more than a quarter century pushing the limits of the jazz trio and, true to form, of time itself as Motian turned his attention to his own compositions. Even as each pursued their own projects, playing with other bands and each new generation, the Trio continued to perform together, including annual residencies at the Village Vanguard, for the better part of three decades, more often than not with little to no rehearsal.

“I never knew what was gonna happen. I think that’s what kept it going for so long. Every time we played, it felt like it was new. So there was sort of like this double thing: the comfort of being with these guys that you knew so well, but then Paul, he just never stood still…Every note he played was searching for something just beyond the horizon,” Bill recalls of their performances. “[It was] always just right on the edge of not knowing whether we were going to make it or not. But I think…if we had just gone through the same thing every time we played, it would never have lasted that long.”

Their annual runs at the Vanguard continued until Paul’s death in November of 2011.

“When he first passed away,…I was kind of lost as far as able to play the music. It was just like this giant chasm—this empty hole as far as thinking about how am I ever going to be able to play this music again….[A] couple of months after he passed away, there was a little gathering at the Village Vanguard….[That] was the first time…Joe and I played just duo. We played his tunes there and it was just such a relief in a way…It really felt like Paul was there with us. It was almost like he was handing it over, saying it was OK to just go on and play the music. It felt so good, like the music was still alive and soon after that, I started playing it with some of my bands.”

And now, as we approach what would have been Paul’s 82nd birthday, the handover continues. In the end, Paul’s tunes, too, will enter the canon, to be passed to the next generation along with those of Monk and Evans and all the great legends of whose works he once sang from behind the drums.

Possimiste sleeve coverA couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I am starting a record label (don’t believe me?–scroll down). Well, the test pressings are approved. The book has been designed and is ready to go to the printer. (I will be hand-stitching these books myself because, obviously, I don’t have enough to do–and also because I like the idea of hand-stitching more than boring old stapling.) And, in case you don’t follow @TheIndieHandbk on Twitter or you missed my flurry of tweets about it amid all the virtual celebration on New Year’s Eve, you should also know that we have begun taking pre-orders for the first 7″.

But I’ll be honest, I feel a little weird doing a huge promotional push for my own label (Field Guide Records) on my own blog. So, instead, let’s just rehash the primary details here. It’s a 7″ (read-along storybook style) featuring a new song and companion fairy tale by Possimiste, an exciting singer/composer from Estonia (read more about her in this post), with a full-color storybook, also illustrated by Possimiste to coincide with the styling of the video, which I’ve posted below. And I’m really excited about it. I honestly think she’s done an incredible job on this–even better than I’d hoped she would when I first approached her with the idea back in June. And it’s worth noting that the single was mastered by Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Feist, Nico Muhly) at Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik. Seriously, I never really understood why everyone insisted that these things must be mastered until I received those first preview samples. It’s like magic, you guys. I thought it was perfect when I sent it in. Now, it’s perfecter (and, yes, I have to use that word–it’s the only one that works here).

So, here’s the video “Wanderer” by Possimiste, produced by Unholy Flying Rabbit Pictures. I think you’re gonna like it.

You can pre-order the 7″ + book package here. (There are only 250 of them.)

You can buy the digital version on Bandcamp now.

The Big Announcement

It’s true that I haven’t been around and posting as much as I’d like to in recent months. I’m pretty sure I said in one of the few posts I have managed to put up that I have a good reason for this. And I do. It’s not so much that I haven’t wanted to post or haven’t had anything to post about. But my mind has, admittedly, been elsewhere.

You see, since June, I’ve been working on setting up a record label. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to start a record label, especially by yourself, but it sort of takes over your life. It’s one thing to threaten to start a label—something I’ve done periodically over the last few years—but actually doing it is quite the undertaking, especially if you’re the sort of person, like I am, whose mind tends to run off in about 15 different directions when it ought to be trying to figure out how to register a trademark.

Now, this may not come as a surprise to many of you since I have, several times, alluded to it in not-so-subtle terms on Twitter. But the next part is news.

The first 7” is on its way. The test pressings are due any day now. Once I’ve heard those, I’ll be able to be more specific about a release date, but for now, we’re aiming for some time in January. But now, I suppose you’ll also want to know what that 7” is going to be.

Do you remember Possimiste, the absurdly talented 19-year-old Estonian folk pop composer I wrote about back in April? We’ve spent the last several months working on a little EP for you. And not just any EP, a storybook EP! You read that right. Some of you who are children of the ’80s will remember these. Not only will it include the newest single by Possimiste, but a new fairy tale, written and recorded (with musical accompaniment, of course!) to complement the new song, all packaged inside a companion picture book!

It’s been a long, exciting (and sometimes terrifying) road getting to this point, but I’m so excited for you to hear the final product. I’ve listened to the song at least 200 times by this point, and I still love every second of it. I hope you will, too. And, at the risk of building your expectations too much, I’ll also mention one last thing. The single was (masterfully) mastered by producer/engineer/composer Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Nico Muhly) at Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik. Yeah, that’s right, Valgeir Sigurðsson.

So, people, get ready, there’s a label comin’. (And some additional details, as they become available…)

For now, here’s an old Possimiste song.

I had something else scheduled to post today, but in light of recent events, I think there are more pressing issues at hand. By now, you are probably at least aware of hurricane Sandy and the damage it’s done in New York and all up and down the Eastern Seaboard, if not still soaking wet from it. Even I’ve been blown around a fair bit by the storm this week and I’m a good 500 miles away from the worst of it.

Among the New York neighborhoods hardest hit by Sandy is the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, which also happens to be the home of New Amsterdam Records. If you’ve read my stuff before, chances are you’ve at least heard me mention them. I think they are, by far, one of the most innovative labels around. According to an email I received this morning, the NewAm headquarters were devastated by four feet of sewage and seawater that flooded the converted warehouse space earlier this week. Among the casualties were many instruments, vintage synthesizers, and nearly 70% of their catalog of CDs (CDs which are officially owned by the artists, not by the label).

A swift cleanup will be vital, but expensive. In order to offset some of the cost of the recovery, NewAm have set up a Facebook page where you can learn more about exactly what happened, see photos of the damage, and donate to the recovery effort. Since NewAm is a non-profit, all donations should be tax deductible as far as I know (at least in the US).

Note: I’m sure New Amsterdam wasn’t the only small label severely affected by this megastorm. If you know other small labels or artists who suffered severe losses, let me know (email: the.indiehandbook@gmail.com). I’ll at least post a list or something.

Right, so I kind of disappeared on you there—a point which was made abundantly clear to me after Dani Charlton mentioned it on Amazing Radio a couple of weeks ago. Sorry about that. Rest assured, I have a good, blog-related excuse. Some of you may already know—or think you know—what it is, but I’ll make a formal announcement soon enough. There’s a lot to get caught up on—new stuff from NewAm (including Missy Mazolli’s new chamber opera), two new September Girls singles, and new stuff from Northern Portrait due out in the coming months. If you’ve sent me something to listen to in the last few months and haven’t heard back from me, I’m sorry, I really am trying to get to everything.

So, while I get caught up, here’s the new single and video from Lissi Dancefloor Disaster to keep you occupied. You may remember the kitty masked Swedish electro duo from one of last year’s posts. “Kill the Winner”, a new single out today, is the follow-up to their first single from earlier this year, “Singing My Heart Out”. The single, with it’s synthy blips over a strutting, minimalist ’80s bassline, is a solid offering from a band who received a great deal of attention for their remixes before ever releasing a single of their own.

Since they are so clearly related here are the videos for both “Kill The Winner” and “Singing My Heart Out”.

Check out Lissi Dancefloor Disaster on:  [Facebook] [Twitter] [Spotify] [Soundcloud]

 

A few days ago, in an attempt to find something new to listen to in the car, I pulled out a few Brazillian bossa nova CDs I grabbed when Tower Records closed it’s Chicago stores in 2007. I loved them at the time, but, to be honest, I haven’t really given them a second thought since June of the following year. Now, I don’t put much stock in these things (even if I did watch My Dinner With André last night), but when I opened my email the following morning to find a trio of new Elefant EPs, including the newest single from Giorgio Tuma with Lena Karlsson (Komeda), it was almost as if my sudden inclination to revisit my post-collegiate Latin leanings was meant to prepare me mentally for the present single. The two-track EP is the Italian songwriter’s third Elefant release and reflects strongly the instrumental influence of Latin jazz, Sergio Mendes, and the various Gilbertos with seventies soul harmonies and the glitchy charm of Stereolab.

Also currently available from Elefant is a 10-inch mini-LP, If Words Could Kill, from Leicester indiepopsters The Silver Factory, a follow-up to their first EP released on Elefant only a few months earlier. The band, though named in honor of Andy Warhol’s pop arthouse, is far from a rehashed Velvet Underground. Clearly rooted in the British Invasion (see “I’m Alright”) is likewise decidedly steeped in ’80s indiepop (Close Lobsters; Soup Dragons). Really, it sounds like the kind of record you might expect to find on Matinée (which is just my subtle way of saying that this is the sort of thing that will appeal to fans of Math and Physics Club). Drop the needle on this one, and it’s only a matter of seconds before you’ll feel the overwhelming desire to don your favorite wool jumper and stare at your shoes.

While I think it has been fairly well-established that a great many Elefant releases will ultimately prove to be something special, occasionally, a release leaves even me stunned. Try as one might to write them off as just the latest in a string of girl groups built by male songwriters to recapture the ethos of a bygone era (e.g. Monster Bobby and The Pipettes), there’s something particularly irresistible about The Yearning. Created by songwriter/producer Joe Moore, The Yearning’s aptly titled EP, Jukebox Romance, was recorded in a cupboard underneath a staircase in Moore’s home. But where other such groups with similar origin stories seemingly aim to conjure up Spectoral shades, The Yearning recall a time when mad old Phil was just another Teddy Bear. So much so, you half expect singer Maddie Dobie’s boyfriend (no doubt the spit of James Dean) to hop on his Triumph and go skidding off of Dead Man’s Curve. In fact, the legendary screeching tires sound effect even makes an appearance on “Boy Racer”. In fact, for the most part, Jukebox Romance is doo-wop down to the “shoo-wop-doo-wah-oo” background vocals and spoken interludes, right up until the moment “Don’t Call Me Baby” has a passionate fling with a James Jamerson bassline. (And all of it with that misty hue you find wherever British artists adopt American vernacular styles.*) Where The Yearning are concerned, I think the first track on Jukebox Romance says it best: “You Make Lovin’ You Easy” and I can’t exactly say why (—well, I probably could, but that’s a topic for another time). Jukebox Romance is available now from Elefant Records.

*This is not a bad thing. It’s not even easy to explain. It’s just what happens—sort of like the way every time Americans touched C86, it turned into grunge.

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