Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Jammin'

As I write this I'm anticipating heading out from the office around 6:30pm and heading over to the Milan Pizza Restaurant in Mountain View to participate in a new jazz jam session that's been going on there now every Wednesday night for the last month. I went last week and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The house band has some great players, and lots of folks showed up and played - there was a sax player and his brother on flute, two trumpeters, a trombonist, a pianist, and a couple of bass players and drummers. The horn players typically come up one by one and each call two tunes before making way for the next player. Rhythm section players get to play more. In my case I was treated like a horn, so I called my two tunes, played the heads, and soloed.

Now, to be honest, I'm still a bit out of my depth trying to play jazz. While I've been fluttering around the edges of it for decades, and been a heavy fan and listener since my teens, to this day I have not gotten past the fooling-around stage. But oh-so-gradually I'm getting better at it, which is somewhat gratifying, though the pace is glacial. And really the only way I'm going to keep improving and approaching being able to execute what I hear in my head is to keep at it, as often as possible. The blues jams I've been frequenting are great fun, and lots of times the music is entirely gratifying, but I really feel the need to push out of my comfort zone and be able to do this jazz guitar thing with some style and grace and gravity.

As I wrote about not too long ago, a good part of this is what I do with my practice time, especially since as a working slob with a family, I have so little of it. I'm pleased to say that for the last four or five weeks I have made a concerted effort to play with backing tracks as frequently as I can manage, and it's starting to feel like it's beginning to register an effect. I still have not done any regular transcribing, but... all in good time. Whereas back there in January I gave myself a D+, I think I've definitely moved up to C+, or maybe even B-.

To help keep the momentum up, I'm thinking seriously of taking three or four of the workshops that are offered from time to time at the wonderful JazzSchool in Berkeley. For example, on Sunday Anton Schwartz is doing one of his Playing the Heck Out Of... series of workshops, each of which focuses for a couple of hours on one commonly-played iconic tune. This one is on "Autumn Leaves." Later in the summer are Playing the Heck Out of "It Could Happen to You" and Playing the Heck Out of "So What" and "Impressions." There are also a couple of workshops from guitarist John Stowell coming up. Mimi Fox is also doing a week-long jazz guitar intensive that goes from 9am to 4:30pm every day for a week in August.

Maybe taking some of those workshops will inspire me to take another class or two at the school, as I did back in the early aughts. What a great resource, and the faculty is great. Too bad it's all the way across the bay and north... hard to do week in and week out. 

Two recent CDs

I've gotten the two CDs I mentioned in my last entry, To the One by John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension and Renegade Creation from Robben Ford, Michael Landau, Jimmy Haslip and Gary Novak.

The McLaughlin one is pretty good. I found it not quite as terrific as his last release, 2008's Floating Point, but better than 2006's Industrial Zen. This one features his latest touring band, which consists of McLaughlin, keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband, bassist Etienne M'bappe, and drummer Mark Mondesir. The playing overall is top-notch. McLaughlin's playing has a lot of explosiveness. I especially enjoyed the contributions of Husband, who I know of originally as the drummer in Allan Holdsworth's I.O.U. band from the late 70's.

The Renegade Creation CD I found somewhat disappointing. Fine, exemplary (and beautifully recorded) guitar work from both Ford and Landau, and the band locks together well, but the songs just seem a little bit perfunctory. One in particular of Robben's is so cringe-worthy lyrically that I can't listen to it. After seeing them perform at Yoshi's in the winter, I expected a lot more from this project.

Meanwhile two more new disks arrived just yesterday, both from bassist/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/composer Richard Bona, one of my favorite musicians - his new release, Ten Shades of Blues, and the live Bona Makes You Sweat from 2008. I'll write about these later after I've had a chance to listen through a few times. For now suffice it to say I broke into a broad grin several times while listening to these the first time, and I'm once again dismayed that he is not more widely known...