Thursday, May 12, 2011

Open Mike, Q Cafe, Seattle, 5/10/2011

A quiet little café near both the Ballard Bridge and Seattle Pacific University, Q Café is an excellent place for music. Students from SPU frequent it, as well as people from nearby businesses, and it has a good sound system. The open mike is one of several in the Seattle area sponsored by Victory Music. I’d played there a couple of times last summer.

As at most open mikes, the performances were varied (though not as varied as at the open mikes at Woodland Park Presbyterian Church – see my 3/19/2011 posting). There was one stipulation, though: I asked beforehand about doing some electro-acoustic work from my “StormSound” Cycle, and was told that “no prerecorded material or electronics of any sort are allowed – it’s all acoustic all the time.” Undoubtedly this is to prevent it from turning into karaoke night, as sometimes happens at open mikes (to the detriment of the music). So I decided to play a piano piece – more on that later – but I had brought along the seashells I use for “found objects” in the “StormSound” music and I’m sure that other audience members were wondering what exactly they were for. Oh well.

Some of the more interesting performers (this is not a complete list):

Dick Moore played “slow blues” on a recorder (then a guitar without a slider). I had expected the recorder to sound rather like the pre-blues “fife” music on Arhoolie Records’ classic Mississippi Blues Jam in Memphis CD – but to my surprise, it sounded more like the Native American flute, with its slow, contemplative, mournful sound and melodies decorated with grace notes and trills.

Indigo (a soloist, not a band) followed up with more blues; she sang in a deep, scratchy voice over twanging guitar (again, without a slider).

Pandy played the Appalachian dulcimer, and sang a James Taylor tune (and an original). She had a nice voice, reminding me of the (now defunct) folky-rock Christian band Clear. Some fun lyrics: “If change is the only constant, why do so many fail to take a chance?” “If you stumble, make it part of the dance.” From a music theory standpoint, the original song was interesting, with its melodic phrasing in a major (pentatonic) key accompanied by its own relative minor.

Thomas Hubbard sang a couple of clever, quirky songs with lyrics like “Can you think with your heart, can you feel with your brain…?”

For my turn, I played the piano – an old upright with a heavy sustain pedal. Since I couldn’t do any of the “StormSound” music, I opted for my “hit” piano solo, “Strange Repeating Bird” (based on the sound of the kijibato “repeater” pigeon in Japan). The piece always gets a round of applause, probably because of its quick right hand riffs (which sound more impressive than they actually are). I originally wrote it as a “minimalist” piece in the manner of Steve Reich, but a lot of people think it has a Eurobeat “techno” influence as well. I always think those two styles are related despite their completely different aims…

Karin Blaine – a cousin of one of the instrumentalists in the upcoming “StormSound” concert – sang a couple of original songs that mixed heartfelt lyrics (some metaphorical, some humorous, some both) with gutsy, gritty vocals. I was reminded of Geraldine Barney – stylisically at least; I’ve only heard a couple of her songs (and can't understand the Navajo that she often uses) so I can’t comment on the content of the poetry.

There was a “Dynmaic Duo” of Jonathan and Evan (otherwise unnamed) who were probably SPU students. They sang modern rock covers with guitars and tight vocal harmonies; a style that made me think of the bizarre combination of Simon & Garfunkel singing Death Cab for Cutie songs. Weird in its way (and in another way perfectly normal) but effective.

Two more pianists rounded out the event, both singers, and both with delightful vocals.

(At one point the M.C. chewed out the performers for playing longer than their allotted 8 minutes. Such is the problem with being a musician on a schedule – we tend to play longer than we think. I actually sometimes have the reverse problem too…!)

After the show, the M. C. announced, “That’s a wrap!” to which I responded, concerning the last song, “No, that wasn’t rap, that was a ballad…” Fortunately nobody there heard this awful pun.

One more comment: Q café is also an art gallery, and the art this time (by Mark Banaag) was a beautiful, understated show of photography and semi-abstracts that played off of the paradoxically tranquil tension between cityscapes and the three-form color field paintings of Mark Rothko. Interesting and beautiful!

(This posting is on 5/12/2011; 9 days until the first performance of the complete "StormSound" Cycle.)

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