|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
Has it really been THIRTY years since the Sony Walkman?!? I didn't own one until years later but remember coveting the Walkman of my early-adopter friends. Who didn't want to be the one everyone looked at when they walked down the street with those large headphones and the Walkman clipped to the belt? I wanted to be one of those people who could tune out and live in my own world of music as I walked down the street. And years later when the smaller Super Walkman came out ("we can build it better than before: better, stronger, faster") it seemed that things couldn't get any better. This kid doesn't seem to understand how rare and cool the Walkman was back in the day! And like those first weeks of the iPod and iPhone, whose fleeting white earbud sightings on the subway or in the local coffee shop were exotic and mysterious (I only HEARD about people with them, I never knew anyone myself that had one-much like UFO sighters and people who go on Jerry Springer) having a Walkman, especially in the early days, meant you were part of the illuminati: the cool and glamorous people. Everyone else either wanted one or still played 45's on GIGANTIC console stereos at home.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 4:33 PM
Lately I've been reading numerous articles, remembrances, and interviews of Spike Lee's movie Do the Right Thing, which opened 20 years ago this year. While I'll have more thoughts about that film in a later post, all of the hoopla surrounding the anniversary got me thinking about what other films came out 20 years ago. That lead me to this list and going over the films, I can't believe it has been twenty years since the darkly hilarious Heathers, Batman (the Michael "Beetlejuice" Keaton version), Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Abyss, Glory, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, When Harry Met Sally, and the terribly disappointing William Shatner directed Star Trek V. All of that nostalgia got me thinking about what was on T.V. when I was younger. As you know from a previous post, I was quite the T.V.-ista and I was amazed to realize that one show I could not wait to watch each week, was released 30 years ago this year.
Star Blazers, as it was known in US syndication, was a Japanese anime import in 1979. Originally it aired in Japan from 1974 to 1980 as Space Battleship Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマト Uchū Senkan Yamato). Of course, I didn't know any of this at the time. All I knew was many of the shows I loved to watch in the afternoons on our independent UHF stations (trying hard to tune them in on my old two-dial black and white T.V. set), from Marine Boy, Kimba the White Lion, to of course Speed Racer and Ultraman, were syndicated anime from Japan. And Star Blazers was one I couldn't wait to see. A mini-series with a rich dramatic arch as well as a theme of displaced humans, Star Blazers to me was vaguely reminiscent of the original Battlestar Galactica, which I also enjoyed in the evenings (on ABC--ABC had so many iconic shows, many which today we would call 'cheesy', but I loved then nonetheless). As a young kid, Star Blazers was one of the first shows that I thought about all the time. From the seemly invincible "wave motion gun" of the great ship Argo (the name being "westernized" from the Japanese original Yamato) to the many perils and adventures of the ship as it ventured out of the solar system and back, I always wondered and was excited by what the next episode would bring.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:11 PM
Last night I had an old home visit of sorts: I attended the 21st Annual BMI Jazz Composers Workshop concert at Christ and St. Stephen's Church in Manhattan. Under the watchful eyes and careful ears of Jim McNeely, Mike Abene, and Mike Holobor, the Jazz Composers Workshop is an incubator for many creative big band and large ensemble jazz composers who go on after being in the Workshop to form and lead their own ensembles. Composers such as (and sorry to those friends I missed) Rufus Reid, Sherisse Rogers, JC Sanford, Ed Neumeister, Darcy James Argue, Asuka Kakitani, Jeff Fairbanks, Jamie Begian, Anita Brown, and (humbly including) myself all have passed through the doors of BMI's 57th Street headquarters.
The BMI Workshop is what initially brought me to New York City in the first place and I am always grateful to Jim and Burt Korall, the spiritual forefather of the workshop, for taking a chance on someone who, inspired and encouraged by Maria Schneider, decided to leave his previous life and move to NYC in hopes of trying to "make it" as a composer. I met many of my Numinous musicians as well as all of the Pulse composers at BMI and while I never considered (or consider) myself a "jazz composer" I nonetheless learnt much not only from Jim, Mike Abene, and before his death in 2001, Manny Albam, but from the other composers, musicians and special guest lecturers such as Maria and Gil Goldstein that all are a part of the BMI "Family".
The concert opened with a heartfelt tribute from Jim McNeely for Gerry Niewood, who was a frequent member of the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra and was one of those that died on Continental Flight 3407 outside Buffalo. Jim's words touched on the warmth of Gerry's character ("a truly nice guy") and his considerable musical ability and talent. The concert was dedicated to Gerry's memory.
Billed as premiering the "best of the best" jazz compositions created during the past year in the workshop, the compositions generally featured an eclectic overview of contemporary big band jazz language. As to be expected, no piece was totally straight-ahead although some did reference swing or bebop while others clearly showed the influence of Maria, Jim, or Bob Brookmeyer's music. My favorite piece of the night (and the one I found the most intriguing and unique) was Sara Jacovino's "Mental Block" with a lovely repeated circular opening piano figure that moved seamlessly into a pulsing cross-stick groove under a slowly floating melody eventually leading to a soprano sax solo from Marc Phanuef and later a guitar solo from Sebastian Noelle. Overall, there was a wonderful and natural rising emergence to the piece that kept me engaged throughout and wondering what idea was coming next. "Mental Block" was voted by a three judge panel (Rufus Reid, Darcy James Argue, and Dennis Mackrel) as the winner of the BMI/Charlie Parker Composition Competition and Sara received the $3000 Manny Albam Commission for a new piece to be premiered at 2010's concert.
The other compositions I found musically stimulating were: Noriaki Mori's "Rainy Song", a Competition nominee, opened with more dissonant and elusive winds which gave way to an uptempo groove with slight echo's of Maria Schneider's "Coming About" (especially in it's soaring emotional uplift and energetic tenor sax solo of Ben Kono) before succumbing to a slower wind chorale postlude; another Competition nominee, Tom Goehring's "I'm Not Sayin', (I'm Just Sayin')" with it's spidery up-tempo bebop-ish figures that jitterily traveled back and forth between instruments; and "Mulberry Street" from Jeff Fairbanks, the 2008 winner of the Charlie Parker Competition and Manny Albam Commission in an ambitious suite that mixed traditional Chinese gongs and musical gestures with more jazz-like passages.
All of the other compositions did have something I found notable and distinguished, even if I didn't always connect with the piece as a whole: Ann Belmont's "When the Stars Come Out" had a 1960's bachelor-pad loungy bossa nova feel; the percolating groove based on a Uruguayan rhythm called a candombe in Emilio Solla's "Llegara, Llegara, Llegara"; the playful opening and later funky grooves of "Change of Season" by Idah Santhaus (who seemed to have the most friends in the audience judging from the reaction after his piece); the quiet, slow atmosphere and more orchestral counterpoint of Brett Gold's "Diminished Waltz and Fantasia"; and the episodic "Poem" by Michele Caniato.
The compositions were generally conducted effectively by each composer and performed with usual professionalism and musicality by the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra: Marc Phanuef, Rob Wilkerson, Ben Kono, Rob Middleton, Kenny Berger (reeds); Jon Owens, John Eckert, Steve Smyth, Jim O'Connor (trumpets); Tim Sessions, Pete McGuiness, JC Sanford, Jennifer Wharton (trombones); Sebastian Noelle (guitar); Deanna Witkowski (piano); David Ambrosio (bass); Bryson Kern (drums); and Diana Herold (vibraphone on Ann Belmont's piece only).
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:53 AM
Today marked the death of two major cultural figures from my youth: Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. I think back and compare myself now to when I was younger; today I rarely watch T.V. (don't even own one although I sometimes watch Heroes and The Office on-line) but I LOVED T.V. when I was young. In fact I can still remember the days of the week and times (and channel/network) when most of my favorites came on, such as Happy Days (Tuesday at 8pm ABC) or Fantasy Island (Saturday at 10pm, just after Love Boat, ABC). Well before cable T.V. or VCR's (which we never had either growing up, even when they both became more ubiquitous in the general population), if I wanted to see it I had to sit down at the time given and watch (yes, I realize I'm talking about the Stone Age where we had to actually get up and change the channel with our own hands...). While I did watch and enjoy so called 'good' shows (All in the Family, Maude, Cheers, Family Ties, Mary Taylor Moore Show, Moonlighting, Bob Newhart Show (that opening theme was killin'),Carol Burnett Show, Taxi, and of course Roots was a must-see event) I was a fairly indiscriminate watcher, and I just watched whatever I liked including so called low brow shows (What's Happening, Dynasty, Battle of the Network Stars, Mork and Mindy, V, Welcome Back Kotter, Different Strokes, The Smurfs, SuperFriends, The Facts of Life, Three's Company, Space 1999, and MANY others I could easily fill a post with). I loved the Six Million Dollar Man also and later, The Bionic Woman (the original, please). Sometimes sneaking a peak at my mom's Enquirer newspaper I knew all about Mr. Six-Million Dollar Man, Lee Majors and his wife Farrah Fawcett-Majors, they definitely had that "it", glamor stardom like Angelina and Brad have today. I also remembered Farrah from her role as Holly in one of the few movies I actually went to the theatre to see at that time: Logan's Run. So while I wasn't much into Charlie's Angels when it aired, I of course watched it. I loved how the opening of many shows from the era told you/showed you the show's premise upfront (check out the pilot opening for Charlie's Angels--at over two minutes, it isn't the same musically or visually as the later and more classic opening nor is it slick by today's minimalist standards, but it is charming nonetheless). I was always intrigued by who Charlie really was; it seemed like such a mystery to me even later when I started watching Dynasty and it took awhile to make the connection between Charlie and Blake Carrington (or if I had known about Hitchcock back then, I might have made the connection between Charlie and Sam Marlowe from The Trouble with Harry). Now I was a bit too young (and not interested anyway yet) to have any kind of crush on the Angels, but you couldn't help noticing how beautiful they were. Back then, as now, my favorite of the originals was always Jaclyn Smith who not only was gorgeous (even now), but seemed the most approachable even to a young pre-adolescent boy like me; but Farrah came in a close second. And when Farrah left the show, I don't remember watching much after that. Leaving the show at the height of her popularity and hype (much as Suzanne Somers did on Three's Company years later), Farrah went on pursing other celebrity activities and she really didn't register again much on my radar until her stunning performance in the movie The Burning Bed in 1983 and lately and sadly with her losing battle with cancer.
After hearing about Farrah Fawcett this morning, I came home this afternoon to the news of Michael Jackson being found unconscious at his home and taken to the hospital where he later died. His iconic music and persona has been in the background of my entire life: his early songs with the Jackson 5; his solo album Ben; the movie musical The Wiz (another movie I actually saw growing up--still remember playing an arrangement years later of "Easy on Down the Road" in high school jazz band, 1st Alto!); his great triumvirate Up Against the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), Bad (1987) and subsequent videos; the Motown 25th anniversary special of 1983 (this I remember watching live and while Michael's "Billie Jean" was truly breathtaking, Marvin Gaye's performance was a highlight for me as well); the Pepsi Super Bowl commercial hair fire; Bubbles; Michael and Michael (video for "Jam" from 1992's Dangerous featuring the other MJ, Michael Jordan); friendship with Emmanuel "Webster" Lewis and Macaulay "Home Alone" Culkin; oxygen chamber; child-molestation charges; Neverland ranch. It is hard to believe that he died so young, suddenly, and tragically. The album Thriller was such a pervasive presence and influence in the early 80's from dance, clothing, music video production, it touched so many things from that time. It is hard to imagine now, over 25 years later, that it was such a unique and stunning musical statement. It seemed as if almost EVERYONE of the time (black, white, young, old, rich, poor, European, Asian, jazzers, punks, guitarheads, technobeaters, animals-well, probably Bubbles at least) knew Thriller, heard it, saw the videos, and for the most part liked it (or at least grudgingly respected it). With the increased segmentation of society and culture today, it is hard to have that kind of universal appeal. I have fond memories of talking with friends about the album, about the way Michael dressed, and practicing my own moonwalk (and can still do it, thank you very much!). And it seems so strange now but I can't believe that there was a time (not really that long ago) when MTV did not show videos from Michael or any African-American musicians for that matter. Along with Quincy Jones, whose influence on Michael's best musical work can not be overstated, Michael, like I said in an earlier post about Prince, was able to combine elements of pop, rock, R&B, jazz in such a way which touched people from all backgrounds and races. Of course later Michael became the musical Jackie Robinson, opening up not only MTV but the broader mainstream cultural world a bit for accepting music from the African-American world, including Prince and later Run DMC, of course 'Yo MTV Raps, and much of the hip-hop of today.
As I sit here and write this post, I'm thinking of many of my favorites: the funky pop and grooves of "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough", "Rock with You", "Jam", "The Way You Make Me Feel", "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", "Remember the Time", "Billie Jean"; the more jazzy "I Can't Help It"; the more rock oriented "Beat It", "Dirty Diana"; the soulful ballads "Human Nature", "The Lady in my Life"; and the cinematic "Thriller". Earlier a car passed my building and from their radio came the Doppler'ed sounds of "Thriller" floating into my apartment on the evening breeze. Here's hoping that Michael Jackson's pop music genius will always be on someone's iPod or radio or whatever new device Steve Jobs and Apple will come up with next.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:25 PM
Today I received a needed and refreshing reminder of excellence and what to strive for in my own work ("you need a certain dose of inspiration, a ray from on high, that is not in ourselves, in order to do beautiful things..."-Vincent van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother Theo). I heard the new NPR series this afternoon, You Must Hear This, where musicians recommend music that inspires them. This is a companion to the NPR series, You Must Read This where writers recommend books that have inspired them (that series lead me to reading Cosmicomics which I reviewed yesterday).
Featured today on You Must Hear This was one of my favorite albums of all-time, Prince's Purple Rain. Here is what I said as a comment on the NPR website about the story:
Prince has always been an influence and inspiration to me and my music. At his best, he filters all of the obvious references that Adam Levine mentions into a unique voice that is all and more of the assembled elements; something that becomes just Prince and great music rather than rock or funk or whatever label people try to put on it. I do remember when both the movie and record of Purple Rain came out and then as now I think any artist would love to create work that wonderful, true, and original.
Now it is true that sometimes it seems as if Prince needs an editor; some albums as a whole can be quite uneven and uninspired (Parade: Under the Cherry Moon), but there are always individual gems to be found on any of his albums, even Parade (Kiss, Venus de Milo). But on albums such as Purple Rain and Sign 'o the Times, for example, he is truly breathtaking in his musical acumen. His natural synthesizing of various influences and spitting them out in a truly amalgamated and dynamic way has always been one of my goals as a composer; and hearing Purple Rain again, was that "ray from on high" that helped remind me of it.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 6:16 PM
SUNDAY, JUNE 21, 2009
Now that summer has hit (although you might not know it with all the rain we've been getting in NYC), I thought I would begin to share a bit of what I'm reading at the moment.
I just finished my first book of the summer, Italo Calvino's Cosmicomicsand my reaction is a quote someone once wrote about me: "why haven't I heard of this guy before?" I came to the book by way of Salman Rushdie, who thought much of the work, and hearing him describe it, I thought it might be something I would enjoy as well.
Cosmicomics is a collection of 12 short stories that use the creation of the universe as well as various scientific concepts as backdrop to whimsical and imaginative reveries on existence. All of the stories are filled with beautiful imagery and conceits; sometimes a sense of what the Portuguese call saudade perfumes the stories, while other times an irreverent humour and humanity shows through. Most stories are narrated by an entity called Qfwfq, who seems to have been a part of the universe since its beginning (and before). Hardly omniscient or omnificent, Qfwfq nonetheless reminded me, with his omnipresence in the universe, of the comic book beings Galactus or The Watcher or The Beyonder. A Sign in Space has Qfwfq trying to remember where he placed a 'sign' in space after millions of years; Without Colorsdocuments the advent of colors and how frightening the new world is to one still rooted in the old world of grays and shadows; The Aquatic Uncle and old N'ba N'ga's so-called unhip, backward fish life in a era of the hip and cool land amphibians; The Dinosaurs tells how people can quickly forget that which seemed so scary before; The Form of Space is a timeless story of unrequited love and jealousy, in this case the beautiful Ursula H'x 'falling' through space, parallel to Qfwfq, and forever out of reach; and The Spiralon why we see or don't see, with Qfwfq the the mollusk silently observing the passage of life. All the stories are thought-provoking, unbound fantasies and a delightful read. I would suggest reading Cosmicomics outside on an early and clear summer evening so that after finishing you can look up at the stars and moon and contemplate your own adventures for old Qfwfq.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:40 AM
This past week I actually had some free time (which has been rare as of late) so I got out of the house and went into the musical world of NYC to hear and see some performances.
First, this past Wednesday night (June 17) I saw the Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra at the Brooklyn Lyceum. Asuka formerly co-lead a big band with bassist-composer (and sometimes Numinous member) Noriko Ueda and this gig was the debut of a group under her own name. The ensemble featured many veterans of New York's big band and small group jazz scene such as Jon Gordon (Maria Schneider, Vanguard Orchestra), Scott Wendholt (Carnegie Hall big band, Bob Mintzer, Vanguard), JC Sanford (Sound Assembly, John Hollenbeck, BMI Jazz Orchestra). After hearing the eleven compositions from Asuka on Wednesday, I'm starting to get a sense of what makes up her musical DNA: flowing and delineated melodic figures and motifs, a warm harmonic palette, an orchestral sweep with sometimes extended formal excursions, and generally a tonal framework of 'light' or consonance (although this can be spiked with subtle dissonances). During the break between sets, I heard one musician say that Asuka's music has a "Kenny Wheeler-ness" to it and I would agree that there are times one is reminded of his melancholy and lovely music (not to mention Maria Schneider's music- alas what modern big band composer doesn't owe at least a small debut to her influence) but Asuka's own distinct voice and style came through clearly in: Re: I'll Remember You, featuring Jason Rigby on tenor sax, had a slow, slithery groove and an organic build-up; Hermine's Song which had wonderful moments of orchestral color, with Ryan Keberle's intense trombone solo over a more modal background; Island in the Stream with the weaving keyboard figures and 70's Miles Davis vibe; and the somberly beautiful Dark Paintings, one part of a forthcoming suite inspired by painter Mark Rothko featuring JC Sanford's questioning trombone solo. I'm looking forward to hearing more from Asuka and her band in the future.
On Thursday June 18th I had two engagements to attend. First, I went to Greenwich Village to the Hebrew Union College to see a screening of the film, A Year with Take Dance by Damian Eckstein. The film, a winner of the Best Dance Documentary at the 2009 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, follows choreographer Takehiro Ueyama and his company through a complete year's worth of events from performances atPS/21 in Chatham, New York, Central Park's Summerstage, and Columbia University's Miller Theatre to the many rehearsals and parties post and between performances.Také, a former dancer with Paul Taylor, began his own company about four years ago and seeing the full scope and development of Také's work since being on his own was quite interesting and impressive. With an opening shot of different dancers' feet, the film went on in basically a one-camera, gorilla style to explore how a "pick-up company" like Také's struggles to put together a season of inspired and dynamic dancing in New York City. The ample clips and excerpts from various performances of Také's such as One, set to the music of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, Linked, danced to the song The First Circle by Pat Metheny (one of my personal favorites of Také's), or Love Stories, with music by Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, Sigeru Umebayashi, and Yann Tiersen and inspired by René Magritte's mysterious painting The Lovers detailed the incredible virtuosity of Také's vision. I'm hoping the film will expose that vision to more and more people.
After the screening of the documentary I headed a few blocks west to the Cornelia Street Cafe where friend Brenda Earle was performing. Brenda is one of the pianists on my Vipassana CD and is a "four position" player: pianist, singer, composer, and arranger. This concert was a celebration of her new CD release, Songs for a New Day. Now, I am no fan of much of what passes today as jazz singing. I'm more engaged by vocalists who are musicians (someone like Kate McGarry), who take chances with repertoire, who can sing but more importantly know when NOT to sing- in short, I'm not really interested in so-called "jazz singers" (I guess a good analogy would be in films- the difference between an actor (i.e. Cate Blanchett, Laura Linney) and a star or celebrity (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton)). So I was excited to hear Brenda because she certainly fits the bill of musician. Being an attractive blonde, a casual comparison calls to mind Diana Krall (Mrs. Elvis Costello or is he Mr. Diana Krall?) however I find that Brenda's piano playing is more assertive and demonstrative, and while her voice doesn't have the single-malt whisky silkiness of Diana Krall's, it is an equally tasty and fine California (or Canadian) Pinot Noir. One thing immediately noticeable at the concert was, while there was definite professionalism, there was also a sense of fun and joy often missing in many jazz performances. Not only is Brenda quite quick-witted and shares funny asides between songs, but it is readily apparent that her band (Jesse Lewis - guitar, Ike Sturm - bass, Jared Schonig - drums, and special guest cellist (and Numinous member) Lauren Riley-Rigby) enjoy playing with her. The personal and musical rapport was evident throughout the show, especially on some of my favorites of the night: her spirited cover of Marc Anthony's Valió la Pena (sung in Spanish, thanks to coaching, as Brenda tells it, from her Puerto Rican neighbor); Happening her "hit song, even if no one else calls it that" with its joyous tone and savory guitar solo from Jesse Lewis; the summer night ballad In Love; and "T.V. theme-ish" Song for a New Day. Overall, Brenda's songs often provoke delicate thoughts with repeated themes of longing, doubt, and desire ("does he wonder? does he worry? does he see right through you?", "she brushes past him at the end of a long day", "I can't believe this is happening to me", "the night has cast a magic spell") but also of hope, with their stories of human connections we all crave.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 6:54 AM
Growing up very athletic I spent a lot of my youth in sports, both organized ones like baseball, basketball, football and unorganized ones like running, ping-pong, and tennis. I always loved playing tennis since you really had to rely on yourself, no teammates between you and victory (or no one to blame except yourself in defeat). I grew up playing it from an early age and remember pretending to be Arthur Ashe or Bjorn Borg or John McEnroe (not usually Jimmy Connors, although I used to have an old Wilson aluminum racket like he had) and watching matches on T.V. I also loved watching women's tennis as well and the epic battles between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were always a favorite. But one of my favorite players (male or female) was always Steffi Graf. Not only was she a great player and athlete but she always was so focused, cool and not showy, just what I'd imagine I'd be like if I was a professional tennis player (although in reality I was probably more of a McEnroe/Connors ultra-competitive 'hothead'). So I loved reading this recent Daily Mail article about her turning 40! It reminded me all over again why I like her. Reading about how in retirement she is still focused just not about tennis and how she knows the important things in life (hint: it isn't the 22 Grand Slam titles) was very inspiring (also loved the anecdote about her being such a good athlete that she ran practice 800 metre laps with the West Germany team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics).
The article also reminded me of a couple of tennis blog entries I read and had saved from the New York Times in 2006 about Roger Federer and Amélie Mauresmo (read from the Coda section about Mauresmo). Both help to illustrate that beauty and the strive to perfection can come from many different sources and places and that the arts aren't the exclusive domain of aesthetics.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:20 PM
Tonight I went to a performance on New York City's annual music on Hudson festival, River to River. The concert was Poetic City, a celebration of Poets House with Poetry and Music of Meredith Monk, featuring interpretations of Meredith's music by Vijay Iyer, Don Byron, and Pulse collaborator, singer Joy Askew in addition to poetry readings from Jane Hirshfield, Major Jackson, Ed Sanders, and Brenda Shaughnessy. Meredith, who we were told was originally to be at the concert, actually did not attend because of the flu.
While I have known of Meredith Monk's music for years and saw her perform Dolmen Music at the 25th anniversary concert of the Kitchen in 2004 (and have the Dolmen Music ECM recording from the 70s), sitting at this concert I realized that I know the things I know until I find out about the things I don't know; hearing the different interpretations of her vast output was a wonderful experience, although some versions worked better than others.
The concert started off with Vijay Iyer performing Meredith's Gotham Lullaby (from the aforementioned Dolmen Music CD). While there were sound mixing issues (which unfortunately plagued every musical act), the reading was generally good, with some interesting live vocal processing by singer Latasha Natasha Diggs (whom Vijay worked with on his incredible 2004 In What Language CD). Of all of the members of the band (which did perform well, although I thought the drums in the first two songs weren't really necessary-although this had more to do with the kind of music performed than anything Marcus Gilmore did on drums), I was more intrigued by what Latasha was doing. In the third and final song that Vijay did, Latasha's vaguely Eastern European vocal effects (both processed and not) were quite interesting on top of the cross-rhythms that Vijay and Marcus were laying down.
Next were readings by the above poets, mostly reading their own works. Major Jackson read a few poems including a brand new one called Why I write Poetry which was funny and evocative ("because I have not thanked enough", "vision of trees comes to the wise women", "the moon is my jury", "I've been on a steady diet of words since I was 3"). I also enjoyed his next poem which was either a Gwendolyn Brooks poem or inspired by her (couldn't quite tell exactly from his intro to the poem). Brenda Shaughnessy was up next and began with some random thoughts before someone in the audience shouted "What's your name" and she was back on task, which was to read her poems which were a mixture of profane words and mundane and simple imagery. While not unpleasant (she did have a few phrases from poems including "your dreams are stolen" which I enjoyed), I was not moved by her poetry like I was by the next poet: Jane Hirshefield. Her poems resonated with me immediately with their beautiful and elegant phrasing and tone. The Poet was a lovely and melancholy reverie on an unknown poet tolling away in her home writing poetry that the narrator "won't know about but needs". She also read a lovely new poem (never read aloud before that moment or so she said) based on the sciences, 1st Light to Sirius; one poem (which was my favorite of the night) about certainty and being in the moment like "the cat whose every cell is waiting"; French Horn and The Bell Zygmunt, which was written in honor of a famed poets wife. I will be making her poems more known to me in the future. Ed Sanders was the last poet to read and read his English translation from the Greek of a Sappho poem, although he did include a brief reading of the poem in the original ancient Greek accompanying himself on some kind of lute.
Next came the reason I actually knew about the concert, singer Joy Askew. Joy sang and played piano with Robert DiPietro, Rob Jost and Steve Elliott as part of her band. Mostly she sang items from Meredith's non-lyrical side, starting off with a dreamy, California dirge-like version of Gotham Lullaby. Joy's singing had a sort of Middle East sounding flavor to it which was interesting over the smooth guitar sound. Change (from Meredith's album Key) was the next song. Joy mentioned to the audience that she had only taken the first two lines of Meredith's composition and used them as a template for creating a completely new song. Joy created wonderful layers of herself singing with a vocal effects pedal over the slide guitar and herself on piano. The last composition Joy performed was Panda Chant II from Meredith's 1987 album Do You Be. Joy again created a layer of vocals mixed with her playing hand drum. After her singing (chanting), the song broke out into a 'slow bar-band blues' which, with a slight interlude that brought back the opening, moved nicely into a slow rock anthem building on the word, "panda". It was great to see Joy rocking out, although again the terrible sound mixing did not do her any favors.
The poets returned to read short poems (except Ed Sanders who sang his poem) with only a phrase from Major Jackson ("liquid timepieces") being the only thing to stand out for me during this reading session.
Don Byron, including a great band (with sometime Numinous bassist, Kermit Driscoll), came on last and with his opening tune seemed to clear the lawn (actually people were leaving before this but the pace seemed to quicken as they started to play). It featured two bass clarinets, electric bass, and drums performing abstract, jagged, percolating rhythms always in a state of becoming and free-jazz solos from the bass clarinets. While I found it musically stimulating, I don't think it was necessarily a good opening number. The group kept on the vibe for the next tune, but the final composition featured sinewy, weaving melody lines from the two clarinets on top of a mid-70s Miles blowout groove with both clarinet producing dynamic and stirring solos; a good way to end his set and the concert.
Overall it was a fun concert with some good performances, despite the sound issues and I'm glad to have heard more of Meredith Monk's music as well as learnt about The Poets House and the poetry of Jane Hirshfield.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:36 PM
"Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of choas, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way, and lets it act of its own accord."
--John Cage, from “I have Nothing to Say and I am Saying it”(American Masters Video Series)
Something I've been trying to remember these last few months. I guess this is the same as vipassana's goal to just see things as they are, which is not the same as just a resigned, passive acceptance but a call to action to your own life and what it is (or can be or will be).
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:56 AM
While I don't use the word 'divine' in any religious sense, I do love the sentiment of the title, which comes from a wonderful article about Charles Ives on Slate by Jan Swafford (whose biography of Johannes Brahms I loved). The article has audio examples, of Ives' music which are wonderful, but I like how Swafford explains how Ives came to be Ives.; showing how "part of the process of discovering who you are is finding why you are: What you want to say, why you're an artist in the first place." And how Ives' "training had taught him to shape big pieces" it did not give him "a reason to write them" until he went and found his own direction. While I already know some of Charles Ives' music such as The Unanswered Question (Bernstein's riveting account in his Norton Lectures at Harvard in the early 70s being a favorite reading) as well as the Concord Sonata, this article gave me more interest in finding out what Ives had to say and how he said it.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 5:25 PM
Here is a just published feature interview with me at TheRoot.com. It is written by John Murph, a contributing writer not only for The Root but also for NPR, The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, downbeat, and JazzWise magazines. We conducted the interview in D.C. at Union Station the morning after the premiere of The Gates of the Wonder-World Open by the University of Maryland Wind Ensemble. It was a good and far-flung discussion on many issues relating to me and my music, but also to cultural topics and influences as well (although, as is typical, not everything we discussed made it into the finished interview).
The Root is a sister site of Slate.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 5:29 PM
This Saturday night, May 30, my other group, Pulse, will be performing our Songs from the Hudson River project at the historic Hudson Opera House in Hudson, New York (2 hours north of NYC). This is a fun project because it is a collaboration with the incredible singer-songwriterJoy Askew and features a small Pulse ensemble of 6 players: Dan Willis (woodwinds), Lis Rubard (horn), Ana Milosavljevic (violin), Will Martina (cello), Diana Herold (percussion), Greg Chudzik (bass). Each composition is inspired by communities and life along the Hudson River as this year marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage up the "River of Mountains".
ORIGINALLY POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 6:45 AM
Hubble Deep Field slideshow
Es stehen unbeweglich
Die Sterne in der Höh,
Viel tausend Jahr, und schauen
Sich an mit Liebesweh.
(from Lyrisches Intermezzo from Buch der Lieder by Heinrich Heine)
They stand unmoving
The stars in the heavens
Many thousands of years,
watching with their torment
Translation by Joseph Phillips
ORIGINALLY POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:27 PM
Here's a recent review from Kathodik, an Italian music source. While the link is the original review in Italian, I have a Google translation below (got to love that tool!). While I'm sure not quite accurate, I liked the wrongness of some of the translated grammar; but at least it does give an idea of what was said (any Italian speakers out there wanna help out!):
Numinous / Joseph C. Phillips Jr. 'Vipassana'
Numinous is the name of the group of musicians founded and led, since 2000, by Joseph C. Phillips Jr. The group is made up of musicians from classical music and jazz, and specializes in executing the works of Phillips, it is no accident that [have] influences both in classical and jazz. The so-called Vipassana innovative features four songs from Phillips, each of which exemplifies the style of the composer, I would call with these three words: sensual, dreamy, flowing. The compositions of Phillips certainly feel the influence of Steve Reich, in particular the seminal Music for 18 Musicians (which by the way has certainly been recorded for Innova), which are reflected both the impact minimal and gradual, as the 'original sound mix of voices, percussion, woodwinds and strings. But another similarity is that with Gavin Bryars and Toru Takemitsu, with whom Phillips shares a taste for the nuances, the sensitivity to the more subtle nuances, and the search for a sound liquidity. But Phillips's music is not limited to the influences and similarities, while important and well amalgamated, then here is that the rigid conceptual structures opens a minimalist improvisational moments of ecstatic beauty, the nuances and refractions sound is more compact, lower-long quarterly and enveloping melodic and harmonic, and then fall apart again, sliding with a harmony that makes us breathe and live and move in harmony with nature, which ultimately we feel deeply and pleasantly immersed.
ORIGINALLY POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 9:22 PM
"Into all the Valleys Evening Journeys" from Vipassana was featured on WNYC's New Sounds program #2940 (Mid-Sized Ensembles) last Friday May 22, 2009. It was a good show (not just because I'm on it!) that also featured Matt McBane's ensemble Build, John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet + 1 (the +1, being friend and Bang on a Can All-Star guitarist Mark Stewart), and Flexible Music.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 5:05 PM
Tonight I attended a benefit concert by Simone Dinnerstein as part of the PS 321 Neighborhood Concerts in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She performed Johannes Brahms' Intermezzo in A Major (one of my favorite pieces of Brahms), Philip Lasser's Twelve Variations on a Chorale by J.S. Bach, and J.S. Bach's French Suite No. 5 in G major.
All of the pieces were performed beautifully. The Brahms had an easy melodic warmth and expressivity. In the Lasser I believe it was Variation 9 with it's repetitive phrases that I was attracted to the most, although Variation 11 (which is a variation on the variations) was fun to try and follow the mists of earlier variations (the composer was in the audience and I got to meet after the concert). Listening to Simone perform French Suite I was reminded of Bach's title page of his Klavierübung where he states his goal is to stimulate the mind and refresh the spirit. I certainly felt both mentally stimulated and spiritually refreshed during Simone's reading. Following the various strands of Bach's melodies, particularly the left hand motion, made me wonder how Bach was able to create such beauty with just two simple lines weaving around each other. I told Simone after the concert...I'll be checking out more Bach!
After the concert, Simone announced the start of the PS 321 Neighborhood Concert Series with all proceeds benefiting the PS 321 PTA (certainly needed with all of the state budget cuts looming). All the artists are friends or collaborators of Simone's and sounds quite exciting for Brooklyn. One of the artists she announced, Face the Music, will be performing on the series in the spring of 2010 and have commissioned me to write a work for them! They are middle school aged students from the Special Music School in Manhattan and I'm really excited to work with them (and their director Jenny Undercofler) as I heard a broadcast of them performing Phil Kline's Exquisite Corpses for mixed ensemble and tape for the opening of WNYC's Greene Concert Space on April 30th and was quite impressed. This was one of those commissions I didn't know about until Simone contacted me about it earlier in the week (always like surprises like that!). She was performing at the Greene Space opening too and heard Face the Music perform also and asked Jenny Undercofler if they would be a part of the Neighborhood series and suggested that I might write a piece for them. I'm very honored that Simone thought of me for the commission and that Face the Music said yes; looking forward to it.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 9:25 PM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.