Friday, January 20, 2012

The LOLCat with a Ball Bat

A couple of years ago I was at a gathering of writers and climate change activists at a retreat center above the Columbia River Gorge.  I was participating in the discussion and playing music for the get together.  Also participating was a young writer from Montana named Hank Green.  Hank runs the blog which reviews green technology, and, with his brother John, the website Vlogbrothers.

Some weeks after the workshop Hank sent me a 58 second animated video illustrating a poem he'd written, and asked if I'd be interested in providing music for it.  Over the course of a week I messed around with several different styles and instruments, and sent him 2 or 3 drafts to choose from.  Here's the way it turned out:

Hank clearly had nurtured his fan base: within a week or so of posting the video, it had some 40,000 hits.  Now, a couple years later, it has twice that.

The resulting fame has been fabulous.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

5th & B Rounds out 2011

This past Fall 5th & B played one Sunday afternoon each month at the Sunnyside Up cafe in Corvallis.  Those were the only times we got together.  We're spread from Eugene to Portland, and we work, have family responsibilities, and a million other things to do.  But when we get together we leave all that behind and travel together to another space and time.    The videos in this post were all shot in December at our last gig of 2011.

We often start off our journey with a wonderful old tune by Charles Mingus, Nostalgia on Broadway.  We've never done it the same way twice, and we never know where it's gonna go.....

The band is led (is that the right word?  Maybe "chased" is more accurate) by percussionist Dave Storrs, whose fingerprints are all over everything we do:

Under Storrs' influence we do a lot of drumming.  It's humbling, clarifying, mesmerizing.  The following bit of drumming led circuitously to a klezmer tune arranged by Mike Curtis.

Not so much seen as heard, and not so much heard as felt, bassist Page Hundemer lays down a solid groove on top of Dave's rythmic bedrock.  Even when he's wrong, he's right:  as long as Page is on, we are never lost.  And, his fashion sense is impeccable.  Here he is setting off for a gig, dressed for success:

Dave Leslie drives down from Portland hauling his Roland Fantom keyboard.  Like Mike, Dave studied composition and has developed his own sophisticated harmonic sensibility.  Here's his  "Fragments" interpreted rather freely, with quite a diversion along the way......

"Dancing Boys" is an arrangement of an Afghan folk tune I heard when Kerry and I were Peace Corps volunteers in Afghanistan in the early '70s.  I heard it at Gulbadine's Tea House in Pulikhumri, where truck drivers would stop to eat and rest on their way North to Mazare Sharif or South to Kabul.  Here I'm playing it on a 1950s National Steel lap guitar.

So that's it for 2011.  I wonder what's in store for 5th & B in 2012?  We'll likely keep playing to tiny crowds (both in number and in personal size: we are especially popular among children and dogs).  It seems that what we make up in musical talent we lack in business acumen.  But maybe that's alright.  It's nice to go home after a gig and sleep in my own bed.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ed and Reub: Music around here

Ed and Reub: Music around here: Music can be heard regularly in our house, and as I write this I am listening to my husband John, who is a jazz musician, practicing class...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Doxie Moxie at Sunnyside

Music review by Ben Ratlaugh,  AP.  November 6, 2011, Corvallis, OR.

A tangible tingle of titillation tickled the crowd gathered at the Sunnyside Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Corvallis.  All five tables were taken, and the crowd was abuzz with excitement, or was it the double shot mocha lattes?  Sure, some had come for the coffee, but most were there for something else; they were related to band members.  They'd gathered here in this legendary jazz Mecca to get a taste of what they just couldn't seem to get enough of; real, honest, no-holds-barred improvisatory jazz.  Or perhaps a bowl of squash soup.

They didn't have to wait long.  The band ascended the stage, the lights were dimmed, and a hush came over the audience.  "GRANDE CAPPUCCINO!" rang out from behind the counter, and the band was off and running with their singular interpretation of Sonny Rollin's jazz standard, "Doxie."

First out of the gate was saxophonist Fred Berman, whose attempt to drive the piece to 220 BPM only solidified the band's resolve to hold it back to a playable tempo.  Cascades of arpeggios eventually dissolved into a murky obscurity, with the band following close behind.

Boldly tiptoeing into the fray, guitarist John Bliss deftly wavered between emulations of Charlie Christian and Charlie Pride before ceding the floor to Ben Mutschler, who nearly landed on it, having been catapulted from his chair by his ever-bouncing right leg.  Despite the challenge of playing a saxophone while shaking violently, Ben managed to redirect the band to a new, more contemplative plane.

That brief meditation was soon shattered by percussionist Dave Storrs, who, clearly suffering from too much espresso, delivered the mandatory drum solo with aplomb (the drum solo was mandatory, not the plum).

Clearly ridiculing all that had come before, Mike Curtis and Page Hundemer joined forces to drive the piece from the sublime to the ridiculous, with Curtis bleating like a goat from the upper registers of his bass clarinet, and Hundemer responding with belly laughs from his bass guitar.  Just as their duet threatened to derail the entire enterprise, keyboardist Dave Leslie dove in with a courageous, though ultimately hopeless, rescue attempt.

The band made one final effort to pull it all together before surrendering to the inevitable, messy conclusion.  Relieved, the audience responded with appreciative applause, which had the unintended effect of egging the band on. Undeterred by the thinning crowd, 5th & B played on until the last waitress left with instructions to lock the doors behind them.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ideal Nerve Tonic in the High Cascades

Odell Lake Lodge is a beautiful old log lodge built in the early 1900s in the high Cascades of Central Oregon.  We've been going there for years, renting one of the dozen or so funky cabins for a few days of cross-country skiing each winter.

Unlike so many lodges of this vintage, Odell Lake hasn't been yuppified for the elite; it still caters to middle-class families with kids and dogs.  We love it.

This summer the Lodge invited Ideal Nerve Tonic to play for two of their weekly live music & barbeque events.  In exchange for playing to an appreciative crowd on the patio, overlooking the sun setting over Odell Lake, we're paid in food and lodging.  Really a tough gig.

The scene is awesome: the acoustics are perfect, the view is spectacular, everybody's just chillin'.  It's inspiring....

We get cookin', feelin' good, not sweatin' the small stuff.....and then.........

Out of nowhere, an uninvited guest makes his way to the dance floor!  Yet another Ideal Nerve Tonic Adventure!
(Thanks to KB for videography and photography!)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fatty, Buster, 5th & B

Here is 5th & B accompanying Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle in the classic, "The Garage." Performed July 2nd, 2011, in a benefit concert for the Majestic Theatre in Corvallis, Oregon.  The octet improvised within a framework developed by Rob Birdwell.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Paparazzi discovers 5th & B

The local Corvallis Gazette Times interviewed Rob Birdwell, Page Hundemer and I about the 5th & B process and the Majestic Theatre benefit: