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:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

5th & B Appears with Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle!

The Majestic Theatre in Corvallis opened in 1913 as a "moving picture, vaudeville, and legitimate drama house," according to the Gazette-Times coverage of the opening.  We'll carry on that tradition on July 2nd when we perform a concert to benefit this Corvallis landmark.  OK, maybe we're not "legitimate drama," but we do have a

bit of vaudeville in our schtick, and we will be showing a moving picture, "The Garage," directed by Roscoe Arbuckle.  The plan is for 5th & B to improvise a soundtrack for the movie within a very open framework composed by Rob Birdwell.

This has gotten me to thinking about my Grandmother on my Father's side.  To help make ends meet for her growing family, Ermine played piano accompaniments to silent movies in a theatre in Madison, Wisconsin.  It could have been The Majestic, which was still in business when I was growing up in Madison.

According to Wikipedia, "The Garage," directed in 1920 by Arbuckle, was the 14th film starring Arbuckle and Buster Keaton.  It also features frequent co-star Luke the Dog.  The film has the distinction of being among the very first to practice product placement; its prominent display of Red Crown Gasoline was criticized by the motion picture trade journal, Harrison's Reports.  What I remember most from my single viewing of "The Garage" is how often somebody falls down.  Falling down must have been just about the funniest thing one could imagine in 1920.  I hope Dave brings a big crash cymbal.

So there's your Saturday evening entertainment!  Live music, a classic film, product placement, lots of falling down, and all for a good cause.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Commissions, Frames, and Duos

When we improvise, we'll often take turns making commissions,  for example, "Let's play funky, with lots of stops and starts," or, "Play the soundtrack for a vampire movie."  Usually a commission will consist of a simple frame, or set of rules governing the improvisation.  A frame is a device for limiting the variables, for pushing an improvisation in a particular direction, at least to begin with.  One frame we like is "Going around three:" one musician starts an idea, and once it is established, he is joined by the two nearest players.  After they've developed the idea to some satisfactory degree, the first player drops out and a new player joins in.  The timbre, melodic and harmonic content, the time feel - everything - shifts slightly (or dramatically) with each change in personnel, but because each trio contains two players from the previous trio, a thread of coherence runs through the entire piece.  It is amazing how one simple frame such as this can result in a spontaneous composition that really feels and sounds composed.

The video was shot May 6th at Portland's TaborSpace.  Dave commissioned a duo with Page.  That was the only frame.  Dave starts off with jungle drums, and Page dives into a simple melodic line.  After a pause, he states a second theme, running his bass through an effects pedal to contrast it with the first theme.  In a third movement Dave drops out and Page plays senza misura, outside of time.  Finally, Page returns to the theme he started with, resulting in a nice, round, satisfying piece.  Throughout, Dave is listening to every note, supporting it, reflecting it, anticipating what comes next.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

An audience of one

© 2009 John Bliss

Last week, across the street from the gig we were playing, a young woman lay dying from the side effects of a medical treatment which had saved her life some years before. During our break, Ben, Fred, and I crossed the street, knocked on her door, and were let in by her care giver. She was propped up in a bed placed in the living room where she could enjoy the warmth and cheer of a gas fireplace. She greeted us warmly and thanked us for coming over. We made a queer trio, with clarinet, tenor sax, and mandolin, but we could just as well have been the New York Philharmonic, seeing the way her eyes lit up. And our repertoire was pretty strange, too: an old Norwegian fisherman's hornpipe, "Klaus' Hornpipe" (which I learned from an old Norwegian fisherman, Klaus), the old jazz chestnut "My Romance,"and the only parts we could remember from a traditional klezmer tune, "Skotschne." Having run through our impromptu song list, she asked if we took requests, then made one; "Someone To Watch Over Me," and even now as I type this a week later, tears well up in my eyes.

 Playing to a standing-room-only crowd at Carnegie Hall could not have been any more rewarding.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Here's another clip from the Broadway House Concert, Dave Leslie's "Kazimierz":

Sunday, April 24, 2011

5th & B at Broadway Avenue House Concert, Eugene

Broadway Avenue House is this cool old house in downtown Eugene owned by classical and jazz music lovers.  Once every few weeks they turn their livingroom into a concert hall to hear new and interesting music.  A $7 donation and a desert or beverage to pass gets you in.  The crowd friday night was small, but the listening was intense.  This little ditty is dedicated to the neighbor lady across the street; may it lift her spirits.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Klezmer in Corvallis

What better way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon in March then to share music? 
Some 100 Corvallians and their kids braved the afternoon storm to enjoy a concert of klezmer music by 5th & B.  (Photos and video by Kerry Bliss).

Before the show, all you could hear in the Oddfellows Hall was rain on the roof.

That soon changed, as the eight musicians of 5th & B warmed up.

Mike Curtis arranged the traditional klezmer tunes for the band, and flavored them with the quintessentially klezmer wail of the clarinet.

Dave Leslie created his compositions  in a klezmer mode, but within a harmonic structure drawing on bebop, rock, and post-modern influences.

No, that's not the local Rabbi:  it's bass player Page Hundemer.

Here's 5th & B playing Dave Leslie's "Troublesome Freylach".

Sunday, February 20, 2011

5th & B Plays Klezmer!

Original collograph by Kerry Bliss
The traditional wedding music of Eastern European Ashkenazic Jews, Klezmer came to the United States with Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants between 1880 and 1924.  Originating in the devotional music of the synagogue, Klezmer was strongly influenced by the music of the Romas.

Members of 5th & B have been playing Klezmer at Jewish Weddings in Portland and the Willamette Valley for decades, and it has become a staple of our concerts.  Join us for an afternoon of joyful, heartbreaking, passionate Klezmer music 3:00 PM, February 27th at the Odd Fellows Hall in downtown Corvallis.  Adults $7.00, children and teens free.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Klezmer Practice

We practiced together today for 3 + hours, reading through the charts for the upcoming Klezmer concert.  The wonderful thing about playing with this group is the tremendous sense of encouragement and acceptance that everyone shares.  We're all in this for the same reason; to lose ourselves making honest music together.  Klezmer is intense, emotional, powerful, and difficult, too!  I'm reworking mandolin chops that I haven't used in years, and reading some pretty challenging charts.  It's great for the soul.  About half of the charts are arrangements by Mike of traditional Klezmer tunes.  The other half are original compositions by Mike and Dave Leslie in a Klezmer vein, with a sprinkling of jazz harmony and the occasional rock riff.

Every hour or so we took a break from the Klezmer and all played hand drums, locking into time, practicing listening, clearing our heads.