Monday, November 29, 2010

Top 10 Music Picks of 2010

It's a bit early to post my top music picks of 2010 , but I've been adding to the list throughout this past year, and it's already grown to ten albums.  Compared to the last two years' Top 5 lists, that's a lot, so I'm going to post it now.

No surprise that the jazz pianists are well represented here.  Recently I got interested in the Hammond B3, which also shows up.  Several of the selections lean towards rich harmonic, evocative soundscapes.  Harmonic complexity is one way that musical ingenuity expresses itself, not always in fast bebop lines or modern polyrhythms.  This is some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

I should mention that a limited private edition CD by my musical mentor, the great Canadian jazz pianist Brian Browne, called the Erindale Sessions, is perhaps the album I treasure most from 2010. Although I don't believe this album is available for sale at this time, many of Brian's other albums are.

So here, without further ado, is my Top 10 list of albums for 2010.

Bill Evans - Consecration
The Consecration albums were recorded shortly before Bill Evans' death in 1980. He was ravaged by addiction and in failing health.  Joe LaBarbera said he could barely make it to the piano, but when he did, this incredible powerful energy just erupted out of him.  It's like he sensed that he was at the end, and he had to get it all out, to put down everything he had on that last recording. Bill Evans played like never before on these recordings.  They are very special.

Billy Childs - Lyric
Winning a Guggenheim Fellowship in music composition in 2009 is a testament to the talent and creativity of Billy Childs.  A mostly self-taught pianist and composer, Childs is one of those rare, gifted artists who seems destined to shape the future of jazz.  Blending classical, rock and jazz influences, this recording features a unique ensemble of instruments for which Childs scored compositions in a style he refers to as "orchestral jazz".  Its a brilliant recording.

Chick Corea - Solo Piano: Standards
One of the most versatile jazz pianists on the scene, Chick has recently been touring with Return to Forever, the jazz-rock group he rose to fame with in the 70's.  Chick really is one of the greatest.  His work with Return to Forever and the Electric Band often come to mind, but it's his reinterpretations of jazz standards on solo piano that I really enjoy.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Evented I/O web servers, explained using bunnies

This is probably the best, simplest explanation of evented IO web servers that I've seen. It explains how really really fast web servers work, and it has bunnies and a hyperactive squid! Awesome.
Evented I/O based web servers, explained using bunnies
PS. This is not to say that high-performance web servers like NGINX and Node.JS aren't threaded.  They are... they just use a thread pool.  So the hyperactive squid has a warren of bunnies at his beck and call.  How cool is that?  Very cool, because there's a squid AND bunnies.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

If you live in the US, which most of my readers do, I'd like you to know that up here in Canada, and in a lot of the rest of the world, we're looking at the unprecedented loss of civil liberties and freedoms evidenced by the unbelievable violations of personal privacy and basic human dignity propagated by the Transportation Security Administration, and we are thankful today that we live in free and democratic societies that still protect the rights and freedoms of their citizens.

There's a purple heart and a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in my home to commemorate the sacrifice made in defense of freedom when my uncle died as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division.  I know deep down that he and many others like him did not die so that innocent Americans could be strip searched, humiliated and assaulted in their own homeland by a government gone insane with security paranoia. That's not freedom. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Gig

I'm lucky enough to be in a band of local musicians who get called together a couple of times a year to perform at some pretty good gigs.  This weekend's event is to be the band for Robin Mark for a sold-out crowd of around a thousand.  In preparing for the concert I came across an old journal entry I wrote after one of the first gigs I played with this particular band.  It was fun to reflect back on those early experiences.

It's the afternoon before the show.  We set up and do a sound-check.  Somebody comes by and asks me if I have enough water.   They put a couple of bottles next to the piano.  Someone comes by and gives me an all-access pass on a lanyard.  It says "music team".

There's a door and it says "no admittance".  I go in anyway. I guess that's what the lanyard is for.  Down the hall past a number of paintings of flowers in earth-tone colors is another door; this one says "Headquarters".  Behind the doors is a large room and a few men with laptops.  At one of the tables a bunch of guys are sitting around cracking jokes and eating Smarties.   It's the rest of the band. I sit down with them and everything goes back to normal... stories about 80's rock bands and stupid musician jokes... "what's the difference between a cello and a coffin?"

Some guy runs in and says "We're on the 5 minute countdown now!".  Mark, the front man, say "OK guys we're going on in 2 minutes, lose the lanyards for the stage".  We walk out in the dark and behind some black curtains out onto the stage.  There are spot lights sweeping through the smoke from a fog machine and two giant screens behind the stage with a computer-generated 3D countdown timer projected on them, and a soundtrack with drums and sound effects.  All of the sudden that cuts out and it goes black.  Mark says "Let's go" and I hit a big fat G-chord on my Triton that I dialed up with an awesome-sounding motion pad.  The sound sweeps out through the mains and rumbles out of the subs.  Its loud.  Lights come up on the stage and Dave comes in on the acoustic guitar.  We vamp for about 8 bars, everybody stands up, then we launch into the opening song and the sound of about 1000 people singing along comes back at us.  The energy is high.  We flow from one song to another and the energy level stays very high.  You can sense it between the band and the audience.  If the band loses it the audience will come down as well.  We stay on top of the wave and the set finishes.  It goes dark and we walk back to our room to eat more Smarties and have a debriefing.

Later we go back on stage for another set.  I'm going to open this one with some solo piano.  I'm waiting for a cue, and I can feel my pulse pounding.  It's irritating.  I start breathing really slow and deep.  The announcer is taking his time, so after a couple of minutes my pulse is no longer pounding.  The adrenaline rush usually only lasts a couple of minutes.  If you get the adrenaline rush over with before you actually start playing, then you're not in panic mode when you start to perform.  It really helps if you can play with the band first before you have to do any solo stuff.  The spotlight comes on and I start playing, feeling a lot more relaxed.  The spotlight is too bright and all the keys look brilliant blue/white.

At the end after everyone is gone, the crew starts tearing down.  We load up our instruments and all go to a 24-hour restaurant.  It's late when I finally get home and I'm suddenly very tired.

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