Doug Blackley tweaks his spectral piano. Photo by Jon Vincent
The performances by legendary free jazz pianist, Cecil Taylor are a sight to marvel. At his prime he could strike each key with a level of power, intensity and speed that, in this writer’s eyes, resembles a sort of physicality that I can only compare to the great jazz drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich (if you haven’t seen their epic drum battles, YouTube it ASAP). And while I am far from a piano expert (aside from a few key Journey melodies I can rip on the synth), the comparison is in tune with a philosophy that has been used to describe Taylor’s pioneering style — the piano is really just 88 tuned bongos, with each key bearing the tune of a different drum. Taylor’s percussive style paved the way to new ways of thinking about how to play the piano, breaking down tradition and essentially ushering in the era of experimental jazz.
In order for music to evolve, the unconventional needed space to flourish. Over 40 years ago, Vancouver’s Western Front Society emerged as a space for the exploration and creation of new art forms. Today, it operates as an artist-run-center for contemporary art and new music. And, in a wink to the great Cecil Taylor, it is currently running a series titled, 88 Tuned Bongos — a performance series highlighting the latest innovations in experimental piano and keyboard projects.
I visited the Western Front on a cold and rainy Vancouver evening. Drenched from head to toe after a regrettable bike-ride, I stumbled upon a rehearsal between composer, Doug Blackley and pianist, Andrew Czink. I was immediately astounded by the whale-like noises emanating from what, at first glance, looked like a regular grand piano.
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Lt. Frank Dickens sits in Horses’ infamous lounge chair
I watch skyscrapers gobble up the sun before I walk into Horses Records on one of the summer’s last warm sunsets. The Hastings-Sunrise record shop is closing up for the evening, but we were just about to get into the groove. Co-owner and operator Lt. Frank Dickens was tearing down for the evening. I lounge on the shop’s infamous yellow sofa as I get my gear ready; Dickens tidies up the odds and ends before finding some mood music on Youtube.
Moanin’ in the Moonlight, the debut album of the legendary Howlin’ Wolf, starts playing on the store’s speakers.
“It’s the same one we have on the wall,” he says, as I notice that the album is sitting on display beside a row of other freshly sealed records.
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I’m pleased to announce that Jordan Wong and I are nominated for a Canadian Online Publishing Award for our short documentary ‘The River, the Road’. We’re up against some good competition, so keep your fingers crossed. The awards ceremony is on November 19th.
I should also note that some of my colleagues are up for COPA’s as well. Click here to see a complete list.
Frencesca Belcourt wades in the Pacific. Photo by Sara Baar
When listening to the soothing synth sounds of Francesca Belcourt‘s new album Zongs, I couldn’t help but wonder, “what the hell is a zong?” I had sudden flashbacks to high school house parties, where small crowds of fearless teenagers would line up to hit “the zong” — a gargantuan, voluminous bong that was designed to put you on your ass. Surely Belcourt couldn’t be referencing the zong, could she? As it turns out, the title of Belcourt’s sophomore solo album has nothing to do with getting blitzed, but it will definitely take listeners on a trip.
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Ben, Katie and Christine form Vancouver’s Genderdog. Photo by Jaqueline Manoukian
At the magical hour of 5 p.m., on the corner of Hastings and Renfrew, it didn’t take me long to recognize the trio I had never met nor seen, yet was assigned to interview. Christine B., Ben E., and Katie E. walked, or should I say, were dragged towards me by the unofficial mascot for their band Genderdog: a two year old black-and-white pooch named Heffer.
The dog immediately jumped me, contrary to the orders given by his owners, Ben and Katie. The band offered me a beer afterwards, perhaps to make up from Heffer’s enjoyable assault. I carefully contemplated the ethics behind the offer — as a responsible journalist, I surely shouldn’t accept. But every man has a code, and mine would be sorely violated by turning down an ice-cold bevy. I sat down and enjoyed a drink with Genderdog. Getting to know them, and how they formed, was easy.
“I think we were always surrounded by friends who played music in their bands and we just wanted to do it ourselves,” said Katie, bassist and vocalist for the group. “We thought there was no good reason we shouldn’t do it.”
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Long live the independent record store! Illustration by Brandon Cotter
It’s that magical time of the year again where the music aficionados of Vancouver get tostorm the city’s record stores in search of great deals, live shows, and that golden vinyl that’s been evading them for so manyyears. But more importantly, it’s a chance to celebrate the great revival: the resurgence ofthe independent record store, and the unique culture that comes with it.
What most vinyl collectors will agree on is the record store atmosphere: music you’ve never heard spinning off the speakers, walls of pretty album covers that keep you occupied for hours, and a person behind the counter that knows way more about music than you do. In short, walking into these shops and picking up an album is a lot more fun than downloading anything online. And providing this experience is something that many record retailers across the city take pride in. “We’re trying to really celebrate the art, the artistic aspect of record collecting,” says Daniel Geddes, musician and co-founder of Horses Records, one of Vancouver’s newest vinyl shops. “We see records as the best way to listen to and collect music, and that’s one facet of our interest in art in general. The store is a celebration of intellect and creativity.”
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