Tagged: Jazz

Montreal OFF Jazz Festival!

It’s been a long time since I posted on my blog! I admit, I had a bad case of social media burnout after my Indiegogo campaign. But I’m back, although this first post is mostly self-promotion.

A lot has happened since May. I finished my album and launched it with a small tour, I graduated from the MLIS program at McGill, I toured on the west coast for a couple weeks and then had a vacation – and, I had a kid!

I promise I will talk more about being a dad in the future. But in the meantime I’ll just say that I feel lucky to live in a place where paternity leave is available for a freelance musician, it makes an amazing difference. I just wish I could have more time!

But now after a spending an amazing month at home with baby Suki, it’s back to work – and I’m diving right in to a crazy first week (I hope my chops can handle it). Here’s this week’s schedule:

Wednesday: Jason Rosenblatt​ Quartet at the OFF Festival

Thursday: Joel Kerr Quartet + 1 at the OFF Festival 

Friday: Vertige en 4 temps

Sunday: Warhol Dervish + Out Of Sight Of Land 

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Yoko Ono

So the theme of my ongoing Indiegogo campaign is My Influences. Today I’d like to write about one of my main influences for this project, Yoko Ono.

Most people only know Yoko Ono as the person who “broke up” the Beatles. If they know a little bit more about her, they will know of the experimental music she made with John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band. Or they might know about the famous Bed-In at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel in 1969.

What most people don’t know about Yoko is her work as a conceptual artist (or her work as a peace activist, but I won’t get into that now).

In 2002 I took a road trip to San Francisco with my roommate, Blair Fornwald, and her boyfriend at the time, Adam Budd. This was when I had briefly moved back to Regina, after having dropped out of the Artist Diploma program at the Glenn Gould School of Music. Blair, Adam and I drove straight for 30 hours in my family’s trusty Toyota Previa, to spend only three days in San Francisco. The reason we visited the city was that I had a good friend living there, Erik Franden, a fellow Glenn Gould School dropout; Blair and Adam came along for the adventure. Erik, in addition to being a great friend, was responsible for introducing me to an incredible amount of new music, such as Astor Piazzolla, Marc Ribot, and Ali Akbar Khan.

The trip was super fun – we went to the beach, we ate great Mexican food, we went to lots of record stores, and we went to lots of museums. To be honest, I’ve forgotten a lot of the trip, I just have vague images left. But the one thing that is still vivid is our visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where there was a Yoko Ono retrospective. I, like most people, didn’t know the first thing about her. But the exhibit totally blew me away. Her work was powerful in its simplicity, humour, and positivity.

One example is the same piece that caused John Lennon to want to meet Yoko. Imagine this: There is what appears to be a blank white canvas in a simple frame hanging on the ceiling, with a ladder below it, and a magnifying glass attached to the frame. You climb the ladder, and inspect the canvas using the magnifying glass. After a few minutes (or more) of searching, you find a single microscopic word printed on the canvas, which simply reads Yes.

The Japanese influence in her work was apparent not necessarily in the content, but in the aesthetic. Much of her work is abstract, a lot is minimalist, and all of it is understated. Sometimes it’s surreal, sometimes disturbing, sometimes absurd, sometimes child-like in its straightforward honesty. It speaks of strength and perseverance, no matter what the hardship.

At the exhibition, there was a video of her performance of Cut Piece, where she sat motionless on a stage with a pair of scissors, and audience members were invited to come up on stage and cut off parts of her clothing. Watch it here, and see how you feel while this is happening.

Yoko’s work has haunted me ever since I saw this exhibition. I bought her book of instructions, entitled Grapefruit (Simon & Schuster, 2000), at the SFMOMA gift shop, and have read it countless times, always finding inspiration within its pages. A few years ago I decided to write a suite of pieces based on poems in this book, two movements of which appear on my upcoming album. This is one of the poems:

water talk

you are water
I’m water
we’re all water in different containers
that’s why it’s so easy to meet
someday we’ll evaporate together

but even after the water’s gone
we’ll probably point out to the containers
and say, “that’s me there, that one.”
we’re container minders

Craig Pedersen

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I mentioned Craig Pedersen in my very first blog post.  He’s a creative and energetic trumpet player and composer, and we’ve been collaborating for a few years now.

I first met Craig on a weird gig back when I was living in Vancouver, which means it was probably 2007 (I don’t mean it was weird because it was 2007).  A bunch of jazz guys from the University of Victoria came to town to play a one-off free jazz big band concert at 1067, and recruited some local guys to fill in a few key spots.  Robin Jessome, a trombone player who is now living in Toronto, was leading the project.  I’m not really sure how he got my name. Anyways, the gig was super fun even though there were more people in the band than in the audience (maybe 3 or 4 times as many). But because it was such a quick event and I didn’t really know anybody in the band beforehand, I didn’t really keep in touch with anybody.

One day, in the the summer of 2008, I was in Montreal looking for an apartment, just before moving here to do my Masters degree.  I was walking down Jeanne-Mance, and I bumped into Craig, who recognized me from the gig in Vancouver.  We chatted for a bit, and realized we have mutual friends (namely Amy Horvey), and we kept in touch after that. Over the years, our paths kept crossing, and our group of mutual friends grew quickly.

A couple years later, while living in Ottawa, Craig asked me to play in his quartet.  I was out of school and was looking for gigs of any kind, so I said yes without really knowing what I was getting myself into.  Luckily, I really connected with the music.  His writing was (and still is) very melodic, which of course is essential in any kind of music, but I feel is especially important in experimental music – a strong melody in the midst of chaos gives the listener a connection to the music and the musicians – kind of a lifeline or beacon that creates a sense of security even if there isn’t really any.

And his band was killer! Linsey Wellman plays the alto sax the way I wish every alto player would, but only Linsey does. Mike Essoudry has an incredible ability to play the drums aggressively yet sensitively. Mike has since left the band, replaced by Eric Thibodeau, who is possibly my favourite drummer to play with in the world. He also has a very wide range of dynamics, styles and techniques at his disposal, but what I really love about his playing is that he’s not afraid to play very simply or use lots of space – he’s just as happy to sit on a simple quarter note groove as he is to play free.

Craig and I have recorded a lot together. With Craig’s quartet, we recorded the album Days Like Today a few years ago, and we’re releasing another one soon, called Ghosts. Craig, Eric and I released an album a couple years ago with Dominic Gobeil and Patrick Lampron, called Live In Silence, which was recorded live at the end of a Quebec tour. Craig also played on the latest Shtreiml album, Eastern Hora, and we’re currently working on a recording project for some of Malcolm Sailor‘s music. There’s probably more, too, but I can’t think of it right now. Oh yeah – Renée Yoxon & Mark FergusonAll these albums are available as perks in my Indiegogo campaign!

Craig and I have put out a duo record, as well.  It’s a mix of country and free jazz, and it’s called It’s a Free Country. I’m very proud of this album.  The artwork is also amazing, illustrated and designed by the infamous cult artist Dave Cooper.

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The Craig Pedersen Quartet plays often, and we have some tours coming up in the spring and summer, so come check us out – you’ll love it!

First blog post

I think I’ll start a blog.  Why not?

The first thing I’ll write about is this past weekend.  It was an intense, music-filled few days.  Friday night I played with the Craig Pedersen Quartet at IMOOFest in Ottawa.  The night was opened by the solo cello with looping pedal and other crazy effects of Mark Molnar, and closed with the free improvisations for the Lina Allemano ensemble Titanium Riot.

Playing with Craig is very emotionally and physically demanding.  His music is very intense, and he pushes the band is sometimes uncomfortable but always interesting directions.  In order to rehearse for the show, we ran the set twice in a row in the afternoon (immediately after driving into Ottawa from Montreal), and then went to set up and soundcheck for the show (we also ate Shawarma twice that day).  The show went super well, but I’m still recuperating from several after-effects – including muscle soreness in my hands, and a ringing in my ears.

On Saturday, I played a wedding ceremony in Kirkland with my string trio, Trio Da Capo.  It was a nice ceremony, and entertaining because one of the couple’s four kids was running around the whole time, enjoying the sound of his new shoes on the church floor.

Saturday evening I was back in the Ottawa area, playing a house concert in a beautiful mansion in Gatineau with Renée Yoxon and Chad Linsley.  The name of the concert series is the Tiny House Mansion Concerts.  The place was incredible (I can’t believe I didn’t take a photo!), and the hosts were awesome.  They had an old, slightly out-of-tune Heintzman upright piano, which Chad made sound great.  It’s a total treat to play with these two!  I always need to be on my toes, the music often takes surprising twists and turns.  My favorite moment of the evening was when I sat down to listen to Renée and Chad perform a tune I don’t play on, entitled Little Prince.  As the last note faded, there was an audible group exhalation, almost a sigh – like everybody had been released from a spell all at the same time.  Maybe not a spell, more like a beautiful enchanted dream world, and they all came back to reality when the song finished.  It was a really incredible feeling.

Sunday morning began with a great, relaxed home rehearsal for Marie-Claire‘s upcoming album launch.  Maybe I’m biased, but I think it’s a great project, with a great sounding album, and a great band (Eric Thibodeau on drums! I get to play with him in Craig’s group, too).  Marie-Claire’s composition has always floored me, I wish I could write that well.  Apparently the album has been getting some CBC airtime, which is exciting!!

Sunday afternoon was a rehearsal with Siach Hasadeh, the formation with strings.  With this group we’ve been heading into a really beautiful and interesting area, incorporating more and more free improvisation and extended techniques into the group vocabulary.  So we worked on a bunch of improvisation exercises, and worked on some new material, and the whole process was exhilarating!  Hopefully we’ll be able to do another tour this spring….

Sunday evening I got to check out Eric Hove’s new project at the OFF Jazz Festival.  It was crazy!  Wild spectral music over cool grooves.  I’ve never heard anything like it before!  It’s not often I get the chance to go to a concert, so this was a real treat, especially since the music was great.  It was also a great jazz hang!

If you made it this far, thank you for reading.  I hope to post about once a week, so stay tuned for more!

I’m off to do some web design homework.