Monday, May 25, 2009

Michael Mcdaeth

Every so often in my life a musician makes their presence known to me, and my perception of the world is irrevocably altered. This happened with Franz Liszt, LeadBelly, John Coltrane, Smog, and Arab on Radar, to name a few. Now, I have to add Michael McDaeth to that list.

Hailing from Seattle Washington might hinder some with its mystique, but quite frankly, he sounds like nothing I've ever heard.
You will find Michael's music in two guises, first and foremost solo with an acoustic guitar and harmonica as Michael McDaeth, and then as the front man of a three piece known as Weeds Peterson.

This man is inspired. In response to one of my questions regarding the amount(if any) of musical training he has, he told me that "it would probably be more accurate for me to answer that it was always there. As soon as I could move my fingers on the fret board, I was off and writing songs. It was just there waiting for me - an easy natural thing."

Aside form his prolific output as a songwriter, is the fact of his four websites, each chock full of variegated types of visual media. I would press anyone interested to check out his videos, as the types of mixed media presentations are as individual as the songs, and truly complement the music. The video for "Take a Ride With Charles Bukowski" is real disturbing, and underscores the latent ferocity of the song.

In certain respects, I hear an older type of thinking going on in the music he makes, especially in his solo material. To me, this comprises his most personal output. He excels at very repetitive rhythmic motions, strumming patterns that accent in unexpected ways and has great instincts for welding his accompaniments to the melodic line. There is also attention to detail in the inner voices of his guitar parts, relating to the way the voicings move and his choice of chord progressions.

What strikes you immediately is the sheer force of his music. He reminds me of a dysfunctional LeadBelly, in the sense that they both use the same setup and produce phenomenal amounts of volume and energy. The difference is one of temperament. Michael's music strikes me as a journey of deconstruction, a probing of emotional possibility; an antisocial plea for some kind of connection.

The first track on his Myspace player, "Everybody's Fault," illustrates this point nicely. From the way he attacks his guitar at the beginning of the song, you get the idea that he is venting from an argument that just ended. This is the other side of the expressive aspect of his guitar playing, which consists in an extra-musical style of attacks and an inexpressible something that makes the acoustic guitar become so percussive and violent in his hands.

From what I could surmise on the basis of a couple of weeks of immersion in this man's musical world, his myspace player is well planned out. The collection of tracks there give a terrific overview of his extensive output, highlighting tracks from most of his albums.

In certain respects, my favorite song, among many, is Shimeleski Funtime. The construction of the ostinato-like main riff, with its ascending bassline that just keeps collecting energy, always induces the desire to jump through a window in me. The way he resolves the upward motion of that riff by moving to a higher fret and descending with the same rhythm, repeating this a few times and then puncuating the whole first part with a simultaneous guitar/harmonica hit where the rhythm just dies for a second, is brilliant in its simplicity.

The whole song, all two minutes of it, sums up everything that I am learning to love about Michael's vision: an organic approach to form that is dictated by the needs of the song, where the shape of the emotional life molds the song into something that breathes with its own life, something alive, communicating its own internal existence with elegant simplicity.

Check him out at these places:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Infinite Darkness Quartet...

Now we turn the spotlight on a powerhouse of modern jazz emanations, Providence's very own Infinite Darkness Quartet. Playing together for roughly four years, the group turns out collective improvisation on their own compositions and are committed to the idea of pushing the art of jazz ahead.
The group is comprised of Alex Chapman on drums, Tom Casale on upright bass, Tony Cabral on keyboard, and Mike Bernier on guitar. Everyone is from Rhode Island except Tony, who is from the Boston area. So, this group is comprised of homegrown New England boys.
These gentlemen are all at the top of their game. Both their knowledge of the idiom and their eclectic tastes are on display in full form in each track. As we are dealing with a group of jazzers schooled in the late twentieth century, the influence of rock and pop on their collective sensibility is at times quite apparent, and lends a refreshing character to the music.
As far as I know, they are all in their late twenties to early thirties, which enhances the sense of dedication they bring to the group. Their maturity and sensitivity to the demands of high end improvisation becomes apparent as each track unfolds. The way they react to one another and the tone set by each soloist is richly imbued by the flavor of whichever song is floating through the air. The tunes come to life, and you realize that you are in the presence of something truly profound.
In some ways, to me at least, the group is something of a throwback. Their elastic sense of time and Alex's timekeeping aesthetic calls to mind Miles' "second" big group, the one with Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter. However, the similarity extends only so far, as these guys have carved out their own niche.
Tom Casale, the upright bass player, is the primary composer. His imagination is wideranging, as is evidenced by his arrangements of the Beatles' Michelle (here reharmonized as "Mitchell") and Alexander Borodin's "Gliding Dance of the Maidens" (here reharmonized as "Polovitzian Invasion"), both on the unreleased first album. From Liverpool to Russia, and these are the arrangements.
His originals breathe with a life all their own. As I said before, there is a definite element of rock and roll in the music these men make, and in Tom's hands it is another tool for expression. His use of vamps in the writing and his phrasing in relation to Alex's drumming have a strong sense of backbeat. On the "Needle and the Damage Done," the contrasting rhythmic styles between the repitition of the main melody and the subsequent break into the "swing" section is compelling. In the first part, tension mounts on tension like a rubber band and builds, as the ostinato-like comping is built from a couple of chords, and the arc of the melody somehow emphasizes the potentiality of the energy. When the vamp finally spills over into the next section, enough momentum has collected that the band literally explodes forward.
Also of particular note is their interest in expanding the tradition of playing standards. Like the Bad Plus, they are adept at taking contemporary rock and pop tunes and retooling them into compelling vehicles for spontaneity. On the unreleased first album they rework "Heart Shaped Box" into something else entirely, and Mike really lays into the chord changes with a fury. Check his tone on that track, and his seeming use of delay. The end result fuses traditions and goes somewhere else entirely.
To really get at what they are doing in this vein, check out their arrangement of "Knives Out" by Radiohead. It is surreal, absolutely their own invention.
What is interesting is how much they aren't like The Bad Plus at all, possessing a more dirty groove and a more pronounced backbeat in contrast to Ethan Iversons' post-Lisztian, chromatic scale, polyrhythmic freakout. IDQ, to me at least, sounds more prog rock to TBP's late Romantic deconstruction.
So, anyone interested in immersing themselves in a soundworld created by four highly masterful musicians reveling in each others association and in love with making the music they want should get behind this group in a big way. It just might change your life.

check em out at
and at