Thursday, May 21, 2009

Doing Japan - Keezer style

Been in Japan all week, performing in Tokyo and Osaka with legendary septuagenarian jazz guitarist Jim Hall, along with Ron Carter and Steve LaSpina on bass, Greg Osby on sax, Terry Clarke on drums and a string section of not-unattractive Japanese women with names like "Crusher" Kimura - naturally leading us to assign similar provocative nicknames to the other girls, which for the sake of decency I shall refrain from listing here. Annnnywayy, the Tokyo concerts were very nice and I'm looking forward to our third and final show here in Osaka tomorrow.

Today, I spent my day off in Osaka visiting my good friend Yasukatsu Oshima and his wife Miki. Yasukatsu and I made a recording a couple years ago of traditional Okinawan folk songs. Oshima lives in a lovely little town called Nishinomiya, nestled between the major centers of Osaka and Kobe. From his house, we hiked up a steeep (extra 'e' added for emphasis) mountain trail to a lush botanical garden, then caught a bus the rest of the way up the slope to Arima Onsen, a famous hot spring resort town. In case you don't know, I'm obsessed with hot springs, making a point to go to one (or more) anytime I'm within an eight hour train ride in any direction.

In fact, the only two times I can recall ever being recognized in public were both at hot spring resorts, and both times I was stark naked. Once was in California - I was toweling off and a fan came up and said "You sounded great at Yoshi's last night." Uhhh... thanks. The other was even weirder. I was deep in the mountains of Yamagata, Japan, miles from civilization or underwear, and I was perched on a rock, my business boldly exposed and swinging like
A) the Count Basie band during a late-night set
B) Tarzan on his way to Jane's house
C) Babe Ruth's custom model R-43 in the 1928 World Series
D) "Yeah sure, honey, keep dreaming" (my wife)
I see a pair of eyes, alligator-like, slowly moving toward me through the murky, bubbling sulfuric water. Suddenly the man jumps up, points (at my face, thank you) and says "JEFU KEEZAA! JEFU KEEZAA!". eek. Turns out he was a trombone player I went to Berklee with.

After our brief dip in the onsen, we went to eat "takoyaki", which literally translates as "octopus balls". Mmmm. Actually they're quite good - little pieces of octopus surrounded by golf ball-sized dollops of gooey pancake batter that come steaming off the grill at 9,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the approximate surface temperature of the Sun. Word to the wise, have plenty of beer and/or an asbestos suit on hand.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. More road adventures to come, I'm sure....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bringing the Road to you!

What I've been up to:

Last Friday, I filled in for guitarist Mark Whitfield (on keyboards) with Chris Botti in the lovely town of Great Barrington, MA in the Berkshires. The incredible Billy Childs is Chris' regular pianist (somehow he manages to squeeze Botti's endless world tour in between winning Guggenheim fellowships and writing awesome chamber, symphonic and choral music) a I occasionally sub for him in the band. So we had 2 keyboard players and no guitar. Chris liked the 2-keyboard sound so much that he hired me last minute to play in Chicago the next day, in a gorgeous concert hall called the Chicago Theatre, this time with Whitfield on guitar as well. It was lots of fun, my job was pretty easy (synth pads) and I got to mostly sit on stage and listen to one of the world's best jazz bands throw down hard! Not a bad way to make a living eh.

Then Monday I caught a 6 AM flight to New York to record a new album with my old friend Joe Locke, who graciously let me out of Sunday evening's rehearsal so I could make Botti's gig in Chicago. It's a working band, with Joe on vibes, Clarence Penn on drums, George Mraz on bass and a relatively unknown (not for long!) singer from San Francisco named Kenny Washington (NOT the drummer). Kenny's a true jazz musician, a real improviser and creative force. We've played together as a band several times, so the recording process went quickly and easily... just a great bunch of musicians doing what we do best. It felt like a live gig. It's been quite a long time since I've made a record this way - hit it and quit it. One take, two at most. Fine with me... if it ain't broke don't fix it! It was my first time recording with either Clarence or George. Hopefully not the last :)

This morning a creative video artist named Benton C. Bainbridge came over to the pad where I stay in Astoria, NY to shoot the inside of the piano - hammers hitting strings, etc - for visuals to accompany the song "Chrysoglott" from my upcoming electronica collaboration with Vancouver artist Mary Ancheta. Our project is called Montre Echo, and many of the song titles are names of obscure pipe organ stops (like "Kerophone", "Noli me Tangere" and "Montre Echo" itself). Stay tuned for 12-second video clips and updates via Twitter as the album progresses. No word yet on whether it will be self-released or on a label.

I'm home for 2 days then off to Japan to play with Jim Hall, Ron Carter, Greg Osby and a Japanese string section. Looking forward to the music, and glad Jim is in good health and able to tour again. He's a load of fun on the road, he hates all forms of technology (cell phones, computers, etc) but ironically loves to run his guitar through all kinds of effects pedals - which he places at waist level on a music stand so he doesn't have to bend over to trigger them. LOL.

See ya soon in blogsville!