Category Archives: digging

Flow Like Wine (more music from the New Sheiks)

I’m very late on this one. So very late. But this has been a very busy year for me, and sadly, recorded music has had to take a bit of a back seat while I get on with things like live music.

Earlier this year Leigh Barker and his New Sheiks released a new album.

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Flow Like Wine is pretty damn good. You can buy it here on CDbaby. Here is my disclaimer: I was approached by Leigh to write the liner notes, and sent a copy of the album to listen to before I wrote about it. Luckily (for me :D ) it’s a great album, and I had lots of nice things to say about it.

The New Sheiks have actually released three albums, now. The first one was Sales Tax, which I wrote about when I first heard it in 2012. That’s the sort of album that has things dancers would like to dance to on it. The second one was Australiana, which isn’t so much a dancing album, but is perhaps more a listening album. Both are great.

It’s important to point out that the New Sheiks are part of the Melbourne Rhythm Project, a collaboration with tap dancers, lindy hoppers, and solo jazz dancers. This group does the sort of cooperative work that’s relevant to lindy hoppers, but also to jazz musicians and fans.
I think it’s unique because it at once celebrates the history of jazz music and dance collaboration, but also looks forward to new types of creative work. That means, in simpler terms, that some of what they do looks and sounds like lindy hop, but some of it looks and sounds like ‘new stuff’. Which I think is what makes it so interesting. A lot of the dancer/musician projects in the modern lindy hop world tend to be intractably recreationist, which is nice and all (and important), but not so great if you’re looking for funding. Or for the new. Jazz wasn’t meant to stand still. It is improvisation, and it’s meant to change.
If you get a chance, you should see the MRP in action – it’s great dancing, and great musicianship. Truly great, not just talented amateurs; this is professional dance and music. This group are focussed on this idea of ‘rhythm first’ dancing, which I’ve discussed in this post ‘Sea of Rhythm Rambling’, and which is super chic in the international lindy hop scene at the moment. Incidentally, Sea of Rhythm is run by tap dancers who’ve worked with the Melbourne Rhythm Project in the past.
I think this is very important: collaborations between dancers and musicians has led not only to some good shows by the MRP, but to a whole series of other projects which have influenced the wider Australian lindy hop scene. Many of these projects have been entirely unrelated to the MRP (eg the session we did at Jazz BANG), but I think it’s fair to say that there’s something of general trend in the lindy hop world to approach dance events with closer relationships with musicians.

Back to Flow Like Wine.

The New Sheiks are made up of some very good musicians, people who, while relatively young in jazz terms, have some pretty serious chops. IF you chase down their bios, you’ll see they’ve won all sorts of awards and prizes, played in all sorts of bands, run all sorts of projects of their own.
The dancers reading this will be asking “So what do they know about dance music?” and I’d answer, “Heaps.” I’ve been dancing to bands including Eamon McNelis and Don Stewart since 2001. Leigh Barker’s been playing some very excellent bands for dancers (including a hot combo that blew my brain at MSF in 2013, and included people like Mike McQuaid, Jason Downes, Andy Swann and other Melbourne guns).
The MRP have featured some Sydney musicians too. Ben Panucci and Justin Fermino are part of the Basement Big Band, the Finer Cuts, the Cope Street Parade, and the Corridors. And all of these bands are custom built for dancing. As I write this now, I’m struck by just how motivated and energetic these people are: such exciting projects! …heck, I could go on and on.

Can you just trust me when I say that these musicians are a) good, and b), have been playing for dancers and paying attention? And they’ve been talking to dancers about music, which is something quite a lot of jazz musicians don’t do. I think the New Sheiks understand that jazz – olden days jazz – was dance music first. That means it has to make people want to get up and move their bodies. And if it’s really good, those people up on their feet will stop, and turn to stare at the band, because it’s just that good.

The thing I like about Flow Like Wine, is that it gives us some very good blues music. Or music you might dance slowly to. There are some more moderate tempo songs on here, and yes, they are great, but I want to talk about the slower songs.
There are some really shitty bands being hired for blues dancing gigs in Australia (and around the world, I suspect). I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because there are a lot more ‘blues’ bands than there are ‘swinging jazz’ bands out in the world, and these blues bands can be cheaper. Maybe the people hiring them don’t know much about music. Maybe the scene is more tolerant of less excellent bands, or perhaps they’re more open-minded about musical styles. I don’t know.

But the music on this New Sheiks’ album makes me want to run a blues dance weekend. And I’ve never had this urge. I don’t think I’d even dance at this weekend – I’d just sit and watch the bands. So long as I could include this band in the line up. I think that you can’t really play good jazz, swinging jazz, if you don’t understand how blues music works. Not an original idea, I know, but I think that the lindy hop scene tends to schism a little bit when it comes to blues and lindy hop. Though the two dance scenes may be slipping apart, the music can’t.

The musicianship on Flow Like Wine is really top shelf. I’m kind of a nut for Matt Boden‘s piano. And I tend to gush about Eamon’s trumpet. But it’s more that the musicians in this group have a rapport that really makes for wonderful dancing. I think that this album is so good because the band have been working together for much longer than they had when they recorded the first one. They are a band, and this coherency makes for just lovely listening.

I’m sorry this post is so rambly. It’s new year’s eve, and I’m a little distracted :D

I do recommend this album. You should probably buy it.

[EDIT] That song ‘come on in my kitchen’ is a massive ear worm. I can never get rid of it.[/]

such jazz

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One of my favourite Sydney bands, the Squeezebox Trio is doing a little fund raising… is it fund raising? Whatevs. It’s magical.

The bit of text accompanying this gem on fb:

It has happened…The Defining moment of our generation is here…

The Squeezebox Trio 2015 ‘Nude’ Calendar…
Available from: thesqueezeboxtrio3@gmail.com …

And it will blow the minds of anyone who enters your house for 1 year…

For the sweet price of $20

Naked…

If you like jazz, and you like jazz musicians, you might consider buying one of these from here. Or even buying some of their music.

1920s music and tourism

It’s interesting to read/listen to this npr interview with Vince Giordano (linky c/o Ryan) in reference to this little mini-doco interview with Aurora Nealand.

The Nealand piece is actually an ad that’s part of a Louisiana tourism campaign, which of course leads to questions about cultural tourism, and how dancing lindy hop and going ‘full vintage’ (in terms of music, costume and dance) might constitute ‘cultural tourism’. And whether this counts as cultural appropriation. Or cultural transmission. Is tourism cultural transmission? Or does it mean something different when the receiving culture is, for all intents and purposes, the ‘market’?

I’m also interested in the Nealand piece because she mentions being nuts about Armstrong’s Hot 5s and 7s, and I just bought another version of these recordings.

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I totally didn’t need this (I already have all the recordings, as CDs and as legit downloads), but I’m always looking for better quality sound on this important music. The set I bought was second hand from Ameoba, so it was supercheap. But the packaging is out of control – there’s a little book with all the session details (which looks great, but is actually pretty unusable – the text layout and logic of the listings isn’t just woeful, it’s fuckin’ shithouse), individual CDs, a tall package which doesn’t fit into my CD storeage properly… basically, this is a pack for stooges. Or to be given as a present. I justify the purchase with the fact that it was second hand and in crazy cheap American CD prices.

…but I still can’t help but think that this purchase was a little like going to NOLA for a ‘jazz holiday’ like the one in the Nealand video. A bit of cultural tourism, where I am very clearly the stooge.

all of the things

It’s 14*C here, but it feels 7, which is VERY COLD for Sydney. I hate the cold, which is why I didn’t like living in Melbourne, where the lindy hop is better, but the weather is not.

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Sydney is beautiful. It is that city you see in the tourism ads – beautiful beaches a short city bus trip from the CBD. It has all the culture stuff Melbourne does, only people in the galleries and bars and music venues are wearing thongs or tshirts and their scarves are affectations not necessity.

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I really don’t have much to write about right now. I’m a bit busy – got a few events to run (three at last count), classes tonight to prepare for, practice tomorrow to think about. But I do have a new CD or two. I saw lovely Leigh at Unity Hall on the weekend and he gave me his band‘s new CD ‘Australiana’. It’s not danceable music at all, which is really quite nice.

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My copy of the Midnight Serenaders‘s new CD ‘A Little Keyhole Business’ arrived, and it’s not so great, which is disappointing. I reckon their second album is the best. But they’re a fun band, and I bet they’re superfun live, so it’s nice to support them.

I’m waiting on a CD or two from a Very Famuss Musician to arrive. Their publicist asked if I wanted one, and I assume she wanted me to review it or talk it up or whatevs. I’ll write a review when it gets here, and we’ll see what it’s like. I have to say: there’s nothing more exciting than a Very Famuss Musician you admire asking if they can send you a copy of their CD. Even if it is their publicist asking.

[Meanwhile, I’m listening to the New Sheiks’ new CD ‘Australiana’ right now, and it’s so very good. I had thought about writing a post about the way I/we listen to music across genres, and how musicians play across genres, and how that’s important, but I don’t have the brain for it right now.]

The little red counter on my email icon keeps ticking over. People are responding to the storm of emails I sent out yesterday. I’d finally gotten it together after a couple of weeks of dodgy health, and did some admin work. Working those contacts. The biggest part of my workload is maintaining contacts. With musicians, with venues, with other event organisers, with sound engineers, with visiting (or possibly-visiting) dance teachers, with local dancers, with artists and designers… there’s really a lot of leg (and mouth) work to be done. Lots of people to talk to and telephone and email. And nothing’s harder when you’re feeling a bit rough than getting it together to have a sensible conversation with someone you don’t really know.

I’ve stopped reading a lot of the blog posts and bits and pieces discussing gender in the lindy hop world. Mostly because most of them aren’t terribly good. I don’t think everyone should learn to lead and follow. But I do think every lindy hopper should be able to solo dance competently and confidently. You can draw your own euphemism if you please. I don’t see the point in arguing for women leads. If you can’t accept the fact that women are as competent leads as men, then you probably don’t know much about lindy hop. Or men and women. And you aren’t worth my time. Women should just lead if they want to. The end. I reckon it’s more important for the male leads to realise just how much better most of the women leads around them are, and lift their game. More importantly, particularly in scenes with fewer leads than follows, the male leads need to get up off their arses and lift their game: the women dancers around them are so much better than they are, they’re turning to solo dance out of desperation. Desperate for a challenge. In sum, the best way to maintain the heteronormativity of lindy hop is for men to be really fucking good leads. Right?
No, I’m not convinced either.

I haven’t done a heap of DJing lately. The Roxbury, one of Sydney’s only proper dancer-run lindy hop events has folded forever. Sad times. That was my favourite DJing venue. There’s still Swing Pit, but I quite liked having an event I could go to and have no responsibilities – just turn up late if I wanted, dance as much as I wanted, leave when I wanted. And if there was a problem with the sound, I didn’t have to fix it.
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I did buy a copy of Ellingtonia, the Duke Ellington discography. It’s great, but the format of each entry is kind of annoying – instead of listing each musician by name, their initials are used. This sucks, because it means you have to flick back to the guide to figure out who’s who. Makes sorting your music collection really tedious. But then, I think it was hand-typed. It’s certainly self-published. So typing out every name would’ve been a bum.
Duke Ellington, aye. Just when I think I’ve gotten over him, I hear something new, and he draws me back in. I’m really enjoying him in 1941 atm. Again. My current favourite songs is ‘Goin’ out the Back way’ from ’41, which I heard a DJ playing in a smallish dance comp somewhere in the states or Canada. It’s the perfect lindy hopping song. Which of course is the perfect solo dancing song.

Solo dancing has really changed my perception of tempo and speed. Nothing’s too fast when you’re dancing on your own. Which I guess relates to the challenges of following: when you follow, you can’t really change the ‘speed’ or ‘tempo’ at which you and your partner are dancing. The lead gets to decide how many steps you both take. Whether you swing out like crazy people or just step gently through some nice rhythms. When you dance on your own, you get to decide everything. But this has also informed my leading lately. And I’m simply not a terribly talented follow. I would quite like to be a brilliant follow, but it just doesn’t gel for me. How even does following work?

Perhaps my biggest problem while following is that that I just forget I’m not leading, and I introduce steps or rhythms which are ignoring what the lead is doing. And that’s not cool, whether you’re leading or following. So, you know. Leading. That’s where my brain is at. I actually think that you have to decide whether you’re a lead or a follow, if you really want to level up your dancing.

Sure, you can do both and that’s cool. But if you want to get really good at one, you have to dance that one exclusively for a while at least. Because there’s a significant part of your dancing which isn’t conscious decision making. It’s an unconscious response to what’s going on. When I’m leading, I’m responding to what the follow is doing (where their weight is, the tension in their body, the shapes they’re making, the rhythm or timing they’ve got going on), and I respond by initiating something that develops their theme. When I’m following, respond by responding. Sure, I can bring my shit, but someone has to lead, and someone has to follow. They’re different roles, and particularly when you’re dancing at higher tempos, you gotta have a clear idea of who’s doing what. This opinion could really just be an expression of aesthetic preferences: I like to see a clear lead and follow in a partnership, not a muddied, blurry mutual exchange. Not because of politics, but because of physics and biomechanics. And rhythm.

Lennart Westerlund says this thing: “yes, you have the steps, but you do not have the rhythm. I cannot see the rhythm.” He said this about a million times while he was here, and eventually someone in a small teachers’ session asked him “Can you demonstrate the difference? I don’t understand what you mean by ‘see the rhythm’.” So he danced a phrase or two where the rhythm wasn’t clear. Then he danced a couple of phrases where it was very clear. It was quite stunning: I felt all my muscles jump and leap in a real, physical Pavlov’s lindy hopper effect.
So when I watch someone dancing, I don’t want to see a sort of vague blurring of steps. I want to see the rhythms, the shapes, the transfers of weight. I don’t just want to see which foot a dancers weight is on, I want to be able to see which part of the dancer’s foot is on the ground, and whether or not their weight is committed to that particular part of the foot. I want to see muscles recruited efficiently, and turned off when they’re not needed. I really want to see a nice, swinging timing. And I want to feel that leap and jump in my own muscles as I watch. So, I guess I want to see someone lead, and someone follow. I don’t care if you’re taking turns in each role during the dance, but you can’t both drive. Someone has to lead, someone has to follow. Doesn’t mean the follow isn’t also contributing (and I’ve gone into how in detail before). Means that you’re doing lindy hop, which prefers requires participation from each dancer.

Lennart says that too: “someone is leading and someone is following.” I don’t think he cared who was doing what (if he did, he was tactfully discrete with his opinions :D ), he just wanted to see a lead and a follow. But Lennart also made another lovely point: “I don’t want to be speaking all the time. That is boring. I want to hear what my partner has to say.” All of that is of course wrapped up in his phrase, “We must make friends with the music.” What a lovely thought: that we come together, as partners, through friendship with art and the creative work of other people.

HIPPIES!

To be honest, I’m still working through the concepts Lennart Westerlund introduced me to in May. Was it only two months ago? But Lennart’s relaxed, gentle approach to rhythm and timing has changed my brain. He could be dancing very simple, gentle, relaxed figures, but stuff them full of highly complex rhythms and timing. It’s a fabulous idea, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years, and which guides the content of our classes. I’m sure the more ‘intermediate’ dancers find it terribly boring and naff – they just want ‘new moves!’ when I’m thinking ‘moves shmooves – give me an outline and I’ll fill it in with far more interesting stuff.’

I’ve noticed that the very best lindy hoppers in the world (the Swedes, and Skye) tend to use a lot of quite simple figures, but their timing is supremely complex. And that complexity is dictated by the music. People like Ellington. ‘Rockin in Rhythm’, your phrasing is so difficult. Yes, they do use complex moves as well, but the fundamental assumption of good lindy hop is that a simple shape (a swing out, a tuck turn, a circle) is also something highly sophisticated if you make it so.

The thing I like about this relationship between simple and complex, is that these guys looks so relaxed when they dance. Everything they do looks easy. Until you try to reproduce it. There are quite a few dancers around at the moment who are quite fabulous, but their dancing looks so overwrought. They look like they’re Working. So. Hard. I want it to look so easy; I think ‘oh, I can do that’ and then I try, and realise that it’s not humanly possible. And of course, the relationship between ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ is a little like the relationship between ‘hot’ and ‘cool’. I’ve written about that a lot, so I won’t go into it again. Except to say, that the most important part of lindy hop is being relaxed in your body, until you need to turn a muscle or muscle group on, then that part of you is on.

I think that this is part of what makes the ‘swing’ happen. Don’t rush. We’re not rushing. We’re cool. We’re not hurrying. It’s uncool to hurry.

I didn’t mean this post to become a big spiel about dancing. I’m doing a LOT of reading at the moment. Stacks and stacks. I’m on GoodReads as dogpossum if you want to talk books. One of the things I am reading more of at the moment is comics. I’ve always been a bit of a low-level fan, but I’m frustrated by how quickly they read. I need more bang for my buck – at least more than an hour from a book.

I’ve been reading Wonder Woman lately, particularly the Gail Simone series starting with The Circle. LOVE.

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I quite like the New 52 Wonder Woman

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And I REALLY like the New 52 Batwoman. The art is just gorgeous.

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I wasn’t struck on the New 52 Batgirl (boring).

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But of course, the new Ms/Captain Marvel is THE BEST EVER.

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And I am totally on this bandwagon:

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I’ve also been reading Saga, which I quite like, but I’m just not a Vaughan fangirl.

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I’m a fan of trade paperbacks because individual comics just don’t last long enough. And, to be honest, I find the writing in a lot of comics that I’m reading jus doesn’t come close to the good SF that I read. And I read a lot of SFic and SFant.

But Wonder Woman. She’s the best. Especially when she’s drawn by Cliff Chiang.

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Writing this post, I realise I’ve heaps more books and music and television too talk about! But I have things to do.

…so if you want to talk about Hemlock Grove or Teen Wolf or The Fosters or The Returned or Top of the Lake, assume I’m interested!

Hot Four (thousand)

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If you haven’t bought this yet, WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? But seriously, if you like jazz, then you should buy this live album. It’s just so fricking good. I’ve heard a couple of DJs complain that the songs are too long for DJing. To that, I say BAH!

‘Tuesdays at Mona’s’
Mona’s Hot Four
purchase directly on bandcamp

Personnel:
Mona’s Hot Four:
Dennis Lichtman – clarinet/session leader
Gordon Webster – piano
Nick Russo – banjo/guitar
Jared Engel – bass

Guests:
Emily Asher – trombone
Ehud Asherie – piano
Gordon Au – trumpet
Bob Curtis – clarinet
Mike Davis – trumpet
Jim Fryer – trombone
Miles Griffith – vocals (DVD only)
J. Walter Hawkes – trombone
Tamar Korn – vocals
David Langlois – washboard
Dan Levinson – clarinet
DAVID MCKAY – vocals
Nellie McKay – vocals (DVD only)
Andrew Nemr – tap dance
Jerron Paxton – vocals & banjo
Nathan Peck – bass
Molly Ryan – vocals
Bria Skonberg – trumpet
Dave Speranza – bass
Chris St. Hilaire – snare drum
Miss Tess – vocals
Murray Wall – bass (DVD only)

(musicians dancers probably know are in bold)

Australian hot jazz and blues

Brendan Young -> Christa Hughes
A rare and unseen outtake of Christa Hughes performing “St. Louis Blues” with the late Australian Jazz legend Graeme Bell on piano, who regrettably passed away in June this year. Graeme was 94 years old when we shot this unique jam session!! This is the last known footage of Graeme performing. Supported by a line up of venerable greats of Oz Hot Jazz including Bob Barnard, the late John McCarthy, Ken Flannery, Bryan Kelly and Don Heap. And some of these guys were pushing 80! This material never made the final edit of “You Only Live Twice – The Incredibly True Story of The Hughes Family” – The edited rushes of this rare grouping of talent is being lodged with the Australian Jazz Archives this month… — with Christa Hughes in Sydney.

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(sorry about the size of this – weirdo FB settings)

Christa Hughes plays the Speakeasy this Sunday with the Cope Street Parad (linky). You’d be nuts to miss it.

Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts

With all my talk about Australian jazz history (I have to warn you: I’ve just been to the doctor, and am now on some SRS DRUGZ to combat another installment of the fucking sinus infection, so this post is probably less coherent than even the earlier ones. even.)…

So, as I was saying. With all that talk about Australian Jazz History, I forgot to tell you about Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts.

Things to know:

  • The band is headed by Geoff Bull, who is an old school Australian jazz musician with cred. He plays trumpet and sings. That last part is important, because I find a lot of Australian vocalists really irritating in jazz. I know. It’s a silly response. But I do. Geoff Bull’s vocals, however, are really nice.
  • The other people in the band are young, and some of them are from The Cope Street Parade. Including the trombone player, Grant Arthur, who is currently rocking my boat in a big way. And not just because he has a mad beard.
  • They play on Sundays at the East Sydney Hotel. For free. This is a squishy venue, but a good one. Now that the Unity Hall Hotel has fucked up everything with its ‘renovation’ (goodbye piano, goodbye dance floor), the East Sydney is (even more) important.
  • They also play at the Corridor in Newtown on Tuesday nights til about 10pm. This is a tiny venue, but this is a great gig. You should go. It really reminds me of the Virus gigs at the Laundry in Melbourne in about 2002. It’s also free, but buy some drinks, yo. Maybe for the band? Yes.
  • They have a new album/ep thing out. It’s called ‘Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts’ and you can buy it on bandcamp for just $4. YES, THAT’S FOR JUST FOUR DOLLARS. I paid $10 for an actual CD, which was nice, as it has nice pictures on it.
  • The album is a product of Yum Yum Tree Records, which is important because it’s the sort of collective organisation that jazz really needs. Shit gets done, the right way.

When I first heard the CD I was all “omg, this is the worst thing I have ever heard.” I was tempted to delete it. I know, harsh, huh? But I had just been wallowing in my new Coleman Hawkins set (ie in sixty million 1930s big band recordings of the highest order), had just bought the latest Gordon Webster album and was really feeling quite over the ‘little street jazz band combo’ thing. I wanted a huge, sophisticated rhythm section. I was over rowdy solos.

I know. I’m a dickhead. It’s like I forgot what jazz was all about for a minute there. Maybe it was because I was getting sick. Who knows what was going on inside my head.

But I gave the CD/EP a rest, and then I came back to it. After I saw the band at the Corridor. That gig really impressed me. I wrote about it here. I really like to see a combo working well. And they did. So I gave the CD another go.

Now I’m all “omg this is good. I will even DJ it.” The song ‘Glory Glory’ is gold. It’s really quite lovely. I Approve. I really like Geoff’s vocals and trumpeting. I do like the piano. I’m still not 100% sold on some of the vocals, but then it took me a while to come around to Jesse Selengut’s vocals, and that was obviously crazy talk. But then I’m quite conservative. I know a lot of people do like the vocals, and you might too.

In summary, then, you should:

  • Go to the Corridor or to the East Sydney Hotel to see this band;
  • and

  • Buy this goddamn EP. It’s only Four goddamn dollars: complete bargain;
  • and also

  • Buy the band a beer.