bass clarinet

Sunday Chuckle: Keurig Katastrophe

I poached this one from the social media of world famous bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano.  She blamed this mess on her Concerto for Bass Clarinet and Industrial Orchestra.  [That show was April 14 cancelled due to an ice storm.]

This just proves even world class musicians are human beings…who need coffee to function!

 

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REVIEW: Stealth – …listen (2015)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20150726STEALTH – …listen (2015 Stealth)

I may not know much about new music (the genre), or much about playing an instrument, but I appreciated the listening instructions enclosed within the liner notes from Stealth’s debut album:

…listen is intended as a moment in time for contemplation.  The listener chooses the length based on various points within the experience.  The album is intended to be heard as one track but can be divided based on your desired length of listening experience.”

It sounds intimidating, but listen is surprisingly accessible.  The title is very apt.  I decided to go all-in.  The album is almost an hour, divided into nine unnamed segments.

Considering that Stealth is composed of percussionist Richard Burrows and bass clarinettist Kathryn Ladano, I was surprised the music was so smooth.  Judging by a previous project both were involved in (a quintet called Digital Prowess), I expected Stealth to be a lot more random and schizophrenic.  Plus, Kathryn Ladano and I share the same last name — she’s my sister.  So I know a little bit about the nutso kind of music she normally liked to perform.  Let’s just say that I saw Digital Prowess play Frank Zappa’s “The Black Page #2” in front of a crowd including a few seniors who may have wondered what the hell was going on.

That’s not to say Stealth isn’t challenging, but I think much instrumental music is challenging by its nature. There are some factors here that take the edges out a little. Richard Burrows performs a dual role: adding steady beats to help keep you up with what’s going on, and using percussion to create melodies and other special moments.   Meanwhile, Kathryn Ladano creates interesting and rarely heard sounds from just a wind instrument, all the while maintaining a balanced accompanying role with the percussion.  At no point do the two instruments interfere with each other.  Sometimes you may have to ask yourself, “Is that sound I just heard percussion, or did she do something crazy with the bass clarinet?”


Improvisation similar to “point f” on the CD

The music evokes scenes in the mind.  At times it’s a jazzy, gripping spy drama, at others a slow moving tour at dawn…you can imagine many images to go with this music, and I think that’s part of the point.  The liner notes state clearly that listen is an interactive experience.  It’s fairly seemless though can hear where the intended breaks take place.  I think most listeners would want to break it down into bits, maybe half an hour at a time.

But like I said, I was fearless and went all-in for the hour. I found the album to be an excellent, always interesting journey.  The duo format works splendidly and I hope Stealth re-convene for a second album.  The percussion and bass clarinet are never up front as feature instruments as they are here.  Lead bass clarinet?  Turns out it’s a pretty versatile instrument once you’ve spent a couple decades squeezing noises out of the beast.  There are noises called squeaks that are not considered “proper” in classically trained circles — they are considered mistakes.  Kathryn Ladano has turned squeaks into music by mastering them, just as Ted Nugent has done the same with guitar feedback.  As for Richard Burrows, my only wish is that the liner notes should have spelled out the different instruments he’s playing because there are a lot of different percussion sounds on the album.  He’s excellent, and I especially like what I call his “jungle drums” on “point i” of the CD.  Really enjoyable.

I’ve stated my bias up front, but I do truly believe that listen is a praise-worthy work.  Sonically it’s deep, and very well recorded.  Check it out and buy your copy by contacting the artists via kathrynladano.com. Coming soon to Amazon and iTunes.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica (1969)

“My smile is stuck; I cannot go back t’yer frownland.” – Don Van Vliet

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND – Trout Mask Replica (1969 Reprise)

Produced by Frank Zappa, written by Don Van Vliet.

I’m no professional musician — not even close.  I can’t speak that language, so I can’t explain to you why Trout Mask Replica is pure genius. I can tell you that it is not for everybody. Frank Zappa once said, regarding the public’s attitude towards popular music: “Give me something that sounds exactly like something that I already like.” With that sarcastic comment, Zappa hit the nail on the head. Most listeners want music in standard (4/4) time, with familiar tones, and based on familiar scales. If you fall into that majority, do not buy Trout Mask Replica.

I’ll give you an example of the weirdness within, right out of the liner notes.  “Captain Beefheart plays tenor and soprano saxophone simultaneously on ‘Ant Man Bee’.”  [My emphasis]

TROUT MASK_0003Those who have studied music, particularly free improvisation, find Trout Mask Replica to be utterly brilliant. It is an ugly duckling of an album, something that seems stark and unforgiving on first listen, but revealing more depth and beauty the more you hear it. There is much to be enjoyed here. The drumming (by Drumbo aka John French) shatters preconceived notions about tempo and timekeeping in a rock/blues context. Bass clarinet is present, a rare instrument these days to be sure, and not an easy instrument to appreciate. The guitar and horns are harsh and difficult for the average listener to digest coming across as nothing more than a cacophony. Often, it sounds as if all six musicians are playing different songs at the same time, and that is not too far off the mark. Yet, these conflicting parts mesh and intersect at key moments, creating an overall effect of, “It sounds wrong, but right.” With repeated listens, it begins to sound more right than wrong. Bits and pieces gradually coalesce, and suddenly it clicks. There are hooks here, catchy guitar parts that reveal themselves slowly.  The howling moans of Don Van Vliet are always enticing.  I love his “old man” voice on the scratchy “The Dust Blows Forwards ‘N the Dust Blows Back”.

The music is playful (“Ella Garu” for example). Captain Beefheart plays homage to Americana on “Moonlight on Vermont”.  “Pachuco Cadaver”, the most immediate piece here, is catchy and pop-like in its structure. Yet Trout Mask Replica‘s prime influence in the blues, both at its most ancient and futuristic simultaneously. If that’s even possible, then Beefheart did it right here. Then again, “Hair Pie: Bake 2” is just pure jazz.

TROUT MASK_0006If you gave it a shot and you didn’t like Trout Mask Replica, then that is a question of personal taste and you are not wrong. However, nobody can say that this is “not music”, or that this is the work of “amateurs”. It takes years for musicians to be able to compose and play music of this stature. If you don’t appreciate it, that’s fine. AC/DC are still making records. A lot of people can’t appreciate Edgard Varese or Ligeti either. Yet their music continues to live on years after their deaths. So will it be for Don Van Vliet & his Magic Band.

After repeated spins, I believe that even the most jaded of listeners can find something to enjoy if they try. Whether it be Van Vliet’s gutteral blues howling or the loud and aggressive slide guitar, there is much to be loved on Trout Mask Replica. If by chance you are a Beefheart fan already, or are slowly becoming one, there are some interesting companion pieces to be had:  The one I want is Grow Fins: Rarities 1965-1982.   It’s a 5-CD box set containing two entire discs of Trout Mask outtakes and sessions.

Buy this if you like experimental Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Mike Patton, the works of Edgard Varese, early (Easy Action and Pretties For You) Alice Cooper, or free improv.

5/5 stars

Gallery: Kathryn Ladano – “Evil Kirk” recording session

Use the embedded player below to hear a sample of “EVIL KIRK” by Kathryn Ladano, featuring yours truly

The initial concept was Kathryn’s.  She liked that Star Trek the original series had a lot of audible bass clarinet in the music.  Often just before a red shirt was about to die, you’d hear a bass clarinet melody…and then ZAP!

We decided to add a vocal element.  I compiled some of my favourite Captain James Tiberius Kirk quotations, and Kathryn had a general direction for the music but otherwise she improvised.  We performed it live in four takes at Wildrid Laurier University’s Seminary building.  A couple effects were added in mixing and voila — “Evil Kirk”!

Buy it at kathrynladano.com , amazon.ca or iTunes

Photos:  Martin LePage

Further reading:

Part 209: The Phantom Menace

 

RECORD STORE TALES Part 209:  The Phanton Menace

Some at the record store made fun of me for being such a serious Star Wars fan.  I’m not a hard core fanboy; I don’t go to conventions or follow the books and TV shows, but I am pretty dedicated to the films.  I booked May 19, 1999 off work well in advance to see The Phantom Menace on opening day.

I’m not going to turn this story into a review for Phantom Menace.  That movie’s been reviewed by thousands of people and I’m not interested in contributing to the background noise.  The only thing you need to really agree with me on is that there was a tremendous excitement for Phantom Menace back in 1999.  I had been dreaming of what might happen before and after the Holy Trilogy since I was 5 years old.  My sister was only a baby when the first Star Wars came out, but she did get to see Empire in the theaters.  She is a slightly bigger fan than I am, but she doesn’t follow the expanded universe or any of that stuff.

We both booked the day off work and planned to go together.  Our strategy was this:  Since we knew that the theaters would be absolutely packed for the midnight opening, we picked an out of the way (but still THX) theater that had a noon showing. So, all we had to do was wait an extra 12 hours (at home), and we’d get in no problem!

We showed up at the theater and were, like, seventh in line.  No sweat.  Soon we had our seats in a sparsely seated theater.  Then the trailers (something called Titan AE, which inspired a heckle of “What the hell was that?” from the audience).  Then the Fox fanfare, the Lucasfilm logo and finally…”A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….”

136 minutes later (we stayed for the credits of course) we were pretty satisfied with the movie.  Keep in mind that fast shit had been whizzing in front of our faces for over two hours.  There were things that didn’t make sense, there were things we didn’t like much (the kid, Jar Jar) but we kept telling ourselves the same thing.

“Yeah, but it’s the first chapter.  The next one will be where it really starts.”

As we were talking about it, I said, “Wanna see it again?  It went so fast there was a ton of stuff I’m sure I missed.”

“Sure!” she answered.  “Yeah!”

We went back out to the ticket counter.  There were a few people in line, but not many.  “Two for Star Wars, please,” I said as I approached the counter.

“Didn’t you just come out of Star Wars?” she said with that snooty tone.

“Yep.  We liked it,” I answered.

“And you want to see it again?”  We did.

We went back in.  The second time lacked a bit of the awe.  This time, I paid more attention to the details.  Questions came to my mind.  “If Yoda is the Jedi Master that instructed Obi-Wan, then why is Liam Neeson training him?”  Stuff like that.

I still remember that on the way home, we stopped at the HMV store, and I bought Ed Hunter by Iron Maiden.  When we got home, we were still excited about the movie, telling Mom and Dad all the details.  My dad was skeptical.

“Does it have the emotion of the first one?  Does it have the feeling?” he inquired.

“Well…no not exactly,” I rationalized.  “This is just the first chapter.  The next one will be where it really starts.”

My dad was onto something.

The hilarious Red Letter Media review

I also distinctly remember watching Phantom Menace again with Tom and a franchise owner, on VHS, shortly after it came out.

In 2005 I first met the girl who would later become my wife, but she had never seen Star Wars.  I was really excited to be the guy that got to watch Star Wars with her for the first time.  For some stupid reason that to this day I will never understand, I decided to start her off with Episode I:  The Phantom Menace.  Bad idea.

“That stupid fucking dino-guy” is what she named Jar-Jar Binks.  She hated it.  (She liked Episode III though.)  Then, her dad (rest his soul) decided that he wanted to see the Star Wars prequels too.  One Saturday night I went over there with my DVD copy of Phanton Menace in hand.  And so it was that Jen had to see Phantom Menace not once, but twice.

We’ll be married five years this August, more awesomer than ever, so “that stupid fucking dino-guy” couldn’t have been all that  bad, right?

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES…

LeBrain on the radio!

It’s Canada Day Up Canada Way: Lil’ Shit Part II

In the continuing saga of all the pets in the greater LeBrain clan, you may recall that Lil’ Shit was the most recent addition to the family.  Bass clarinetist extraordinaire Kathryn Ladano recently acquired Daisi aka Lil’ Shit, below.  I finally got to meet Daisi this past Canada Day weekend!

It was a great weekend full of bonfires and awesome Canadian scenery too.

Stompin’ Tom Connors – “It’s Canada Day, Up Canada Way”

Part 99: Cover Thief!

RECORD STORE TALES PART 99:  Cover Thief!

Because our cases were kept empty, thieves didn’t have a lot to steal.  Some stole empty cases thinking they were getting the disc, true.  Some, however, just wanted the cover.  That’s all.

They’d leave the case behind and just steal the booklet.  You could understand why, in some cases.  Usually it would be, say, the new Beyonce CD that loses its cover mysteriously.  I imagine today, perhaps Ms. Perry or Ms. Rihanna would go missing from their cases.  In rare cases, it might be, say, the cover to And Justice For All that goes missing, because it’s a badass picture.

The creepiest thing that ever happened was when the cover to Kathryn Ladano’s CD got stolen.  I think I know who stole it, too.  And I think it was the one known as Wiseman.  He was always telling me my sister is hot.  Why he would do this, I do not know.  The fact that I never punched him proves I’m a nice guy.

One day, the cover just went missing.  Poof.  Gone.  A Recital of Works for Bass Clarinet, cover only, disappeared into thin air.  You got the bare minimum of cover thieves rocking the classical section of the store, too.

With Wiseman giving me all the creepy talk about my sister, I think it was him.  Gaaah!

To Wiseman:  You only hurt the artist, you know!  Your creepy ways only means my sister couldn’t sell that CD anymore!  Jerk.

KMA REVIEW: Kathryn Ladano – Open

This review is a re-press from keepsmealive; please drop by their site too! 

Kathryn Ladano – Open

Kathryn Ladano - Open. Now available.

www.kathrynladano.com

Miles Davis was once quoted as saying “…I’ll just walk into the ocean and die, if I lose my tone.” All musicians, whether they admit it so freely or not, are seeking that elusive tone that defines them. Granted, Kathryn Ladano has a slight advantage in that the bass clarinet has not been an instrument of choice for most musicians. But therein, also, lies the challenge, and she handily tames the beast. Her tone is clearly the product of long practice, natural creativity and, most importantly, soul.

Part soundtrack to, perhaps, a playfully dystopian horror film, part sound/texture experiment, but all done with intention and purpose, Open reveals mastery behind apparently random strings of notes. For those conditioned by mainstream jazz and pop to expect chordal resolutions, most tracks on this record will not satisfy. And fair enough. From the outset it’s musically made clear that Open is not here to hold your hand. But play it through, especially on quality headphones, until your understanding of the pieces (if you’ll pardon the play on the title) opens. Once it does, there are treasures around every corner, in the low growls, the trills and flutters, the engaging uncertainty of what might happen next.

Scattered throughout, other instruments including xylophone, guitar, piano and a double bass, competently attempt to add to the melee. But it’s Ladano’s clarinet that soars. We’re tugged to and fro at varying paces and volumes, always with the understanding that what you find here, through your willing investment of time and thought, is your own discovery. Real jolts come as well, as after the first five truly hypnotic improvisation tracks comes the startling drum crash intro of Art Show (Improvisation), probably the most mainstream jazz-like song of the tracks here. Later, there’s the wonderful silliness of Evil Kirk, complete with spoken word quotations of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk (provided with obvious glee by Ladano’s brother, Mike).

Open will surely not be for everyone, but for those willing to strap in and hold on, it will reveal itself to be the conceptually strong, musically thoughtful record that it is.

INTERVIEW: Kathryn Ladano part 2

Kathryn Ladano, known to Dave FM listeners as the sister of LeBrain (from Stump LeBrain Week), chimed in yesterday with some insightful words about music in general.  If you’re a fan of improvised music, you may have heard Kathryn jammin’ on the bass clarinet on two continents!

We sat down and asked her 10 questions about music. Check out the final five below.

kathrynladano.com

6. What do you think about the state of popular music today?  Is the quality declining or improving over the last 20 years?

I think much popular music today is crap, and by popular music, I mean the stuff we’re hearing on the radio today. There are plenty of really great bands and artists out there, but we’re just not hearing them because they’re rarely played on commercial radio. I think it’s safe to say that the quality of popular music over the last 20 years has really declined. I think there was a time when certain artists were more concerned with evolving their sound and exploring new territory, and today it seems to be predominantly about just creating commercial hits. I think a lot of bands are also guilty of milking their success by trying to keep replicating the same album over and over without putting much care into diversifying or experimenting. However, that being said, i’m not sure we can place all the blame on commercial artists. Record companies obviously want to make money, and i’m sure a lot of artists are discouraged from trying anything different. Ultimately though, how many bands today have a series of albums in which you can hear a very clear, deliberate change and evolution in sound and style? Not very many, and definitely not Nickelback!

7. What do you think the role of computers should be in music today?  Some people feel they rob the music of a live feel, due to the ease of making corrections and adding tracks.

I actually think computers can play a very interesting role in music today. There are some interesting programs out there such as Max/MSP which allow a performer to combine their acoustic sound with the electronic and be able to manipulate it on the spot. I think this can create a lot of interesting sonic possibilities and can really enhance a performance. I’ve played around a little with electroacoustic composition, such as my piece “Open Strain”, and I think for me, the joining of live, acoustic sound, and processed, or pre-recorded electronic sounds is what I enjoy the most, both as a performer and as a listener. That being said, I have been to concerts in which all you’re watching is someone sitting at a laptop, and visually, it’s just not very interesting. When I go to a live performance, I want to see the artists displaying some kind of expression, and sitting at a laptop just doesn’t do it for me.

8. What popular bands today are carrying the flag for intregrity in music?

Radiohead is for sure doing this. Their sound has evolved so much from their first album to their last, and you can tell that they are actively exploring new territory and are not simply concerned with producing commercial hits. I think it’s great that they have maintained such an impressive level of success and popularity too – obviously there is still a large market out there for more progressive music that perhaps record companies are neglecting to acknowledge. People will always disagree about what you should be more concerned about – creating music for yourself, or creating music for the public. For me personally, I think I create for myself first, and the bands I admire the most are the ones that appear to also take that approach.


9. Is it possible to make a living simply out of creating music anymore?  Or has that day come and gone?  How does one do this as a viable living?

It is, but it certainly isn’t easy. Times have definitely changed though and artists are relying more and more on social media to promote themselves. You don’t need a record label anymore to release a CD, and many artists are doing their own recordings and promotion. There are a lot of great sites out now too that help promote independent artists such as reverbnation and soundcloud which allow artists to build their fan bases gradually without big money behind them. Also, I know of several artists who are funding their albums with fan donations. I think the big problem though is time. It takes time to promote yourself and tour, and get your name out there – and it’s difficult to have both an income and the necessary time to work on your craft. People do it though. Ultimately if you’re determined enough and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, I think it can be done.
10:  Some bands like Radiohead have taken the unusual step of giving away albums (In Rainbows) for free digitally.  What do you think this does to the value of music?  And do you prefer have an album digitally or physically?

I think Radiohead wanted to try something different in response to the changing music industry. When that album was released, I went out and purchased a physical copy without a second thought. I personally still much prefer to have a physical album in my hands. I continue to go out and buy them and build my collection. Yes, I use itunes and own digital music, but the vast majority of my digital music collection is duplicated in physical form. I have very conflicting ideas about all of it. On the one hand, I think Radiohead offered their album for free as a way of countering piracy and trying to control the value of their music. But on the other hand, it takes so much time, energy, money, and resources to create one track which is only valued at 99 cents on itunes. As a buyer, i’m happy to pay that small amount to get a song that I want, but as an artist, I only receive 75 cents or less when someone buys one of my tracks. It’s worth it if people buy your tracks constantly, but in my genre, that just isn’t reality. I make more selling copies of physical CDs, but that isn’t what most people want anymore. *

INTERVIEW: Kathryn Ladano part 1

Kathryn Ladano is a name you might not have heard before, unless you caught Stump LeBrain Week on Dave FM, or you’re a fan of free improvisation.  She’s the sister of LeBrain, is a world-class bass clarinest player, but originally came from a rock background.  We sat down and asked her 10 questions about music.  Check out the first five below.

kathrynladano.com

1. What were your earliest musical influences?  I know you listened to a lot of John Williams, pop music, and hair metal like Bon Jovi.  How do you go from that to a 10 minute improvisation on bass clarinet?

My earliest musical influences really don’t have a lot of impact on me today in terms of my professional career.  I mean, I was into the 80’s hair bands and pop music for the most part growing up. However, it’s true that movie music really spoke to me and I was intrigued by the connection between music and visual images.  This is true of 80’s music videos too actually, and I would often (and still do) picture images in my mind when I hear a song.  For movie music, I was fascinated by the fact that a certain musical treatment could greatly enhance the emotional impact of a movie scene.  I didn’t really understand why, but the idea of it really made an impression on me. As a teenager, I realized that it was the “weirder” soundtracks in particular that affected me the most. For example, the opening music of Planet of the Apes did such a great job of making you feel like you were on another planet, and it’s still one of my favourite examples of movie music. However, I think the soundtrack that affected me the most and opened my ears the most was 2001: A Space Odyssey. In particular, the compositions by György Ligeti  — Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna, Requiem, etc… I think that early exposure to highly dissonant music and seeing how brilliantly it could enhance a scene in film really opened my eyes and my ears to the experimental, and Ligeti is still one of my favourite composers today.

2. As a listener, what type of LeBrain reader would be likely to appreciate your music?  Is there a track on [your album] Open that is more accessible than others?

That’s a difficult question to answer. If I speak very generally, I would say probably readers that enjoy progressive rock and more avant-garde music would enjoy the album. I tried to throw in everything I could because I wasn’t sure when i’d have a chance to make another one, so the album features a fairly wide variety of sounds and styles. The most accessible tracks are “Something I Can’t Know” (a jazzy sounding trio for bass clarinet, piano, and drums), and “Art Show” (a more upbeat sounding trio for bass clarinet, guitar, and drums). However, the track that has gotten the most airplay is “Further Reflection” (a duo for bass clarinet and percussion that features a very atmospheric opening and minimalistic ending).

 
3. What do you think about “jam bands” such as the Grateful Dead or Deep Purple who often would go up on stage and improvise for 20 minutes with no script?

I think the concept is fantastic! Essentially, this is what we do as free improvisors. You pretty much throw musical genre out the window and just focus on sound, using your ears as your guide. I also really admire bands that can come up with a meaningful and interesting improvised piece that lasts as long as 20 minutes as it can be very difficult to do. When there is no script and no plan, the form and the personality of the piece can be difficult to find, and the more players you have, the more directions there are to take the music. Granted, bands like this don’t always succeed at creating a successful 20 minute improvisation, and it can be a lot for an audience to absorb, but the basic idea of making it up on the spot and just using your ears and your instinct to guide you is something I would welcome more of in popular music. 

 
4:  Bands that do 20 minute jams were extremely popular in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but today they are not mainstream anymore.  Why do you think that is? 

It seemed that there was a lot of musical experimentation and exploration happening in the 60’s and 70’s and for some reason, much of that stopped in the 80’s. I think audiences changed and they wanted different things in their music. Today, I really wonder how audiences would respond if more artists started incorporating long jams and improvisations into their music. It seems that it’s not something that people want anymore, and it’s too bad.  Popular music has changed and I think audiences no longer expect the unexpected – most people just want to hear their standard three chord songs – unfortunately that seems to be all the modern ear is capable of absorbing. Music and popular culture moves in waves though, so I’m hopeful that at some point more experimental live performances will come into fashion again.

5. What should the role of visuals be in live music?

I am personally very intrigued by this concept and that of interdisciplinary art in general (mixing more than one art form together). I think visuals can greatly enhance music as I said before regarding film music, and it’s an area that I have been exploring a lot lately. For example, last year I directed Wilfrid Laurier University’s Improvisation Concerts Ensemble in a performance of a live, improvised soundtrack to the classic silent film Nosferatu. The ensemble created musical pieces within the context of the film that was unlike anything they had done before without visual imagery. I think adding visuals opens doors to new ideas and greater creativity and allows a musician to react and respond to something other than just what they’re hearing.