Monday, January 31, 2011

January: Alba NY and John Scofield

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I took a short trip up to Albany today to hear John Scofield and Joe Lovano perform at The Egg.

The trip on GoTo Bus from 34th Street was easy (and only $20), and would have been restful had it not been for the abusive father threatening to hit his baby. Not a pleasant Sunday ride. The view, however, was gorgeous: a winter wonderland along the highway.

When I arrived in Albany, I was surprised to see virtually no one on the streets. Was this really the capital city of New York? As I walked along the empty streets, admiring the monstrous marble buildings of Capitol Hill, I began to think about other capitals. Cairo, for example, would be swarmed with hundreds of thousands of protesters trying to oust their president Mubarak. In Tunis, police were brutally attacking protesters who wanted to see the ministers of the former president leave the government. The sleepy capital city of New York began to feel oddly peaceful.

Lunch at Jack's Oyster House: my waiter was a lovely man with a strange accent, who turned out to be born in England, raised in Australia, with an English father and German mother. He was one of those people you'd expect to see as a character in a movie rather than as your waiter in Albany. He spoke to us for most of the duration of our meal about many things: his family's history, the history of New Zealand rugby, and Wales, but most interesting was his story about the very city in which we were eating.

According to him, when the Dutch surrendered to the British in the mid 1600s, King Charles II granted the territory in this region to his royal brother James. James wanted to give the town formerly known as "Beverwyck" a new name. It reminded him of Scotland, and so he decided to bestow the town with the name "Alba, NY," Alba being gaellic for "Scotland." Alba, NY... Albany. Whether or not this story is true, it certainly made for an educational lunch.

The Egg is shaped like a gigantic spaceship. It doesn't seem like there are any windows at all, and while the undulate architecture makes one feel slightly disoriented when inside, it is beautiful in an odd, futuristic way.

The show was sensational. The last time I had heard John Scofield was at Carnegie Hall a couple of years ago, and while it was a thrill to hear this legend live, it was also so loud that I needed earplugs. This time, John Scofield was playing in a smaller setting, with his old friend Joe Lovano. These guys really do play together like old, dear friends. What amazed me most about John Scofield's playing was how he comps (or accompanies) Joe during a solo. It was as if John could make his electric guitar sound like different wind instruments! At one moment, I really thought I heard another saxophone somewhere, or a warm brass instrument. At another moment, I turned my head to see if a singer had walked out on stage.

Then there are the intros. When John played the intro to Since You Asked, I felt that the whole room was breathless. He just stands there, and out comes this gorgeous melody, simple at first, but then taking the most unusual turns.

Bill Stewart and Matt Penman provided the tightest of grooves, the kind of rhythms that make you hold onto your seat so that you don't jump up and dance. The conversation taking place among the quartet was intoxicating, and the audience was electric.

During the Q&A, I was reminded of how much we can learn from the legends. Both John and Joe commented on technology today, and said that while it can be helpful to use in personal practice, it has changed the way people put out recordings. I particularly liked what Joe said about how any young person can put out a record, but perhaps before they're ready to. Back when Joe was growing up as a musician, producers would guide musicians and would release only the highest-quality recordings that best represented the musicians. Now, it's hard to know what will be good quality by young, emerging artists.

So, young musicians, take heed! While recording may be good practice, try to release only what best represents you, because it will make a lasting impression. As Joe Lovano said, "If you make a bad record, people will remember it and talk about it. And years later, they'll STILL remember it."

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