The Intersection of Art & Innovation, cont’d: Another Conversation with Aram Bajakian

aram-murph-300x300

2/21/14:

Today we wrapped round two of what I hope will be an ongoing conversation.

Aram and I discussed what he’s learned by producing, and promoting, his first truly independent release (there were flowers also in hell and yes, a review is forthcoming. Spoiler: it’s a positive review).

Once again, we talked about social media as a necessary ingredient and/or evil for any contemporary artist. We also appraised all-things digital and how the ubiquity of content can be a blessing and curse, sometimes both at the same time.

Check it out, below.

Here is the overview (and video) from our conversation in November.

It was my pleasure to speak with Aram Bajakian, a brilliant guitarist who has toured with both Lou Reed and Diana Krall. Aram released his debut, Kef, in 2011, and my review is below. His follow-up, This Man Refused To Open His Eyes, is dropping in February 2014, and we talk about his decision to go it alone and handle all aspects of its creation, marketing and distribution. As the series has already revealed, this is steadily becoming the “new normal”, and Aram makes a compelling case that, for musicians, the DIY strategy is less a last resort and, increasingly, a viable and very empowering option.

Check him out online at http://arambajakian.com/. You can see a video preview of this new release, and if you purchase it now, you’ll get a special edition with two bonus tracks!

Check out our conversation, below, and my review of Kef (which you should acquire, immediately), below that.

Aram Bajakian’s Fractured Folk Tales (11/2011)

You need to spend some time with this music. Fortunately, you will want to spend time with it. There are at least two excellent reasons for this: one, you will need to allow it ample opportunity to work its magic; two, you will need sufficient time to formulate an appropriate response for your friends when they inquire about what you’re listening to these days. An album called Kef you will say. What? By a guy named Aram Bajakian. Who? Bajakian is a Brooklyn guitarist whose debut, Kef has just been released by John Zorn’s Tzadik label. (Mentioning Tzadik should immediately clear up any questions about quality or street cred. It should also indicate that, like everything else from Tzadik, this material will be unique and ambitious, if not immediately accessible.)

For folks who have not heard of Zorn or Tzadik, the label – now well over a decade old – has helped discover and promote music that falls far outside the so-called mainstream. While Zorn’s influential quartet, Masada, can easily be described as jazz (and lazily described as Ornette Coleman meets Klezmer), much of the work Zorn and those recording on his label do is difficult to categorize. Naturally, this is a very good thing: this is music not different for the sake of being difficult or outré; rather, it is ambitious in scope and very outward looking. As such, it’s not uncommon to hear the never-passé stylings of bebop alongside classical and world music (speaking of lazy and inadequate descriptions … ), often in the same composition. Simply put, Tzadik represents the essence of avant-garde, adventurous and averse to convention. It also serves as a reminder for anyone bored or seeking reassurance, that there are (many) smaller labels releasing inspired music it would take a lifetime to listen to.

Kef is named for an Armenian type of dance music known for incorporating traditional and western instruments. In other words, the sort of thing ideally suited for Tzadik. Bajakian is joined by Tom Swafford on violin and Shanir Blumenkranz on bass. The absence of drums is novel and audacious, but considering how much some of this material shreds, it is almost revelatory. Blumenkranz is quickly bolstering his own legendary credentials, having already appeared on more than two dozen Tzadik releases.

From the first note, the traditional, non-Western influence is obvious, but, by the second track, the jazz and rock sensibility is front and center. There is an aggressive, almost punkish vibe that also will sound familiar to fans of the Tzadik label. The guitar playing on Kef inevitably calls to mind his label-mates Jon Madof and especially Yoshie Fruchter (who employs the violin in his quartet Pitom) but more than anyone, his runs, at turns angular, muscular and – when necessary – brutal, recall Marc Ribot. This is intended as the highest form of praise.

Kef will remind listeners of Madof’s quartet Rashanim in part because both guitarists are brilliant but also boast the considerable prowess of Blumenkranz. Kef will also draw favourable comparison to Pitom because of the violin (and again, the indefatigable Blumenkranz), as well as the energy that pivots between punk and hardcore, if only for seconds at a time. Bajakian is quite obviously a product of his culture and times, and he is able to infuse each song with a variety of cultural signposts and points of departure. The fifth track, “Wroclaw”, breezes along like an Armenian folk song, albeit one played in dark nightclub or a sweltering New York subway. This is postmodern chamber jazz that swings proficiently with an always-apparent and quite convincing Eastern vibe: fractured folk tales, if you like.

There are softer, subtle moments, like the acoustic opener “Pear Tree” or the gorgeous “Pineta”. There are some scorchers, like “Sepastia” and “Raki”, both of which showcase the band’s agility. It is during the more intense moments where the absence of a drummer is most noticeable—and impressive. The lack of grounding and punctuation would leave a less capable ensemble without the necessary punch and bottom; Bajakian’s band uses the extra space as an opening for interaction, and each musician takes turns steering the ship and soaring above the surface. There is a distinct structure unifying each song, and while the collection coalesces to a logical flow, each tune could be isolated and examined. After several listens you might even find yourself humming some of these melodies (does anyone hum anymore?).

There are no unsatisfactory tracks to be found here, and while some may dazzle or impress more than others, the last two, “48 Days” and “La Rota”, warrant special mention. Alternately serene and sombre, these closing statements comprise an elegiac, deeply moving conclusion. There is beautiful music and there is moving music (the best, of course, can combine the two), and then there is music that goes to that other place which is at once inscrutable and oddly familiar. By the time the last notes have been played it will occur to the tuned-in listener that something significant is happening here. This is a different type of music.

Music remains the ultimate antidote against cynicism and apathy: all it asks is you lend it your ears and in return you may just get something that makes the world more beautiful than you thought possible. If that sentiment is, understandably, a bit much to process with a straight face, let it suffice to say Kef is as extraordinary an album as I can recall listening to in a very long time.

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/148645-aram-bajakian-aram-bajakians-kef/

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The Intersection of Art and Innovation, cont’d: Evolving Models of Music — A Conversation with Jon Madof

madof-300x300

2/10/14:

On Friday I had the opportunity to do another Google Hangout, part of an ongoing series called “The Intersection of Art and Innovation”.

(Some previous discussions can be found HERE, HERE and HERE.)

It was my great pleasure to speak with Jon Madof, a remarkably talented artist who happens to be one of my personal favorite musicians from the past decade. Check him out online, and I’ll put some snippets below, with links to previous pieces I’ve written about him and his music.

As expected, and consistent with the themes that have developed during the course of this series, the primary topics involve how music gets made and marketed in an increasingly digital world where previously unimaginable avenues of distribution and connection exist. Of course there is also the tension inherent in the ubiquity of digital content and the ease with which it can be pirated. How can an honest musician thrive, or even survive, when it’s so simple for less scrupulous opportunists to make the work available, for free, on illegal sites?

Beyond that, we interrogated the pros and cons of today’s scene and agreed that, on balance, it’s still a remarkable time to be creating art: what we might sacrifice in potential revenue, we benefit in terms of exposure. All artists, whatever they are up to, must acknowledge that there are ways to advertise, promote and connect that even a decade ago would have been fantasy. Madof confirmed that, all irony aside, it’s now possible to make genuine, personal connections online; the same forum that is so frequently lambasted as being cold and impersonal is actually a free and painless way to converse across countries and cultures.

We also agreed that we are very much in early days: the ways we make and sell music (and literature, for that matter) are still shaking out, and only one thing is guaranteed: the people who will lose out are the people resigned to the status quo or continue to lament a way of working and living that is gone and never coming back.

Check out our 30 minute conversation, below.

Here is a link to a long, awesome feature on Zion80 wherein Madof talks about the process of creating –and leading– a 13 piece band. Some key takeaways:

At a concert in New York City a few months ago I saw two things I’d never witnessed before. The first was a group of Jewish jazz musicians playing Afrobeat. The second was a yarmulke soaring through the air in the midst of a guitar solo.

So, if Jewish Afrobeat played at a pace where no yarmulke is safe sounds like your thing, boy have I got a band for you. And even if you don’t especially care for, or have never even heard Jewish Jazz or Afrobeat, Zion80 comes highly recommended.

Madof, continuing his fruitful association with John Zorn’s Tzadik label, is not making a departure so much as a logical if inspired continuation of the ground he’s covered the past decade. All of his projects thus far (with his band Rashanim) have explored traditional Jewish sounds with a skillful blend of surf music, thrash, jazz and calmer acoustic. Each successive effort has seen Madof stretching and pushing himself farther, in as well as out, utilizing exotic instruments with feeling always at the forefront.

The disc is a triple-threat: an ideal introduction to Zion80 as swell as Kuti and Carlebach (both of whom will reward interested listeners). Where Kuti’s legendary jams are sprawling, sometimes exhausting affairs, Madof’s arrangements are tight and accessible. Every player gets a chance to shine, and the full range of instruments is ably represented throughout.

From 2009, another piece that discusses his trio Rashanim. Their album, The Gathering, was my favorite of the year and remains in heavy rotation. Some key takeaways:

So, who are Rashanim? They are a jazz trio operating out of New York City who describe themselves on their website as a “Jewish power trio: Rashanim (‘noisemakers’ in Hebrew) combines the power of rock with the spontaneity of improvisation, deep Middle Eastern grooves and mystical Jewish melodies.” Led by guitarist Jon Madof, the band also includes bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and drummer Mathias Kunzli. They record for John Zorn’s label Tzadik and are categorized in its “Radical Jewish Culture” series. (Being neither Jewish nor radical, I still find this concept rather rad, and to be certain, some of the very best music in the world is being created on Zorn’s middle-finger-to-the-industry label.)

So…what does it sound like? The music is impossible to isolate or explain simply, in part because it incorporates so many disparate influences, using them all as a point of departure. Madof is quite clearly deeply grounded in tradition (both religious and musical), but his invocation of other places and times are very rooted in a modern sensibility. Klezmer? Ancient Jewish music? Jam-band? Surf guitar? All of the above: it’s definitely jazz and it is certainly imbued with a distinctively Jewish sensibility. Above all, it rocks.

Well, the great news is that we should properly relish the runaway democratization of content, with artists (like John Zorn) creating their own labels to more effectively disseminate their unfiltered (and unsanitized) vision. This is happening with all art, but musicians have arguably taken most advantage of the opportunities inherent in the increasingly viable DIY model. This, of course, is a very positive development for both artists and their audience. That said, we are still very much living in a corporate-sponsored country where suit-wearing weasels determine the bottom line based on a focus-grouped free market. For an artist to survive in this era is not an inconsiderable achievement; for an artist to thrive, defiantly crafting an original voice and sharing that vision with people, is cause for genuine celebration. That a musician like Jon Madof is fully committed to expressing his gift of music is enough to restore one’s faith: in music and the people who make it.

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The Intersection of Innovation and Art: Looking at the Music and Book Industries (Revisited)

AI

I’ve followed developments in the shifting landscape of content—the ways it’s created and the ways it’s utilized—with keen professional, as well as personal interest. During the last decade advancements that benefit both artists and consumers, have revolved around the democratization of content. What does that mean? In brief, it no longer requires complex and expensive technologies and processes to make and acquire works of art.

Today, just about anyone can publish a book, or make an album, and a lot of people are trying. Does this potentially flood the market with inferior product? Certainly. Does it also ensure that more artists have the opportunity to be heard and discovered? Without doubt.

The good news: with sufficient ability, awareness and time, anyone can publish without paying for it or surviving the scrutiny of hit-seeking middlemen. The bad news: as liberating as this new DIY ethos is, the onus is now entirely on the artist. That said, the Internet changed everything. In an analog world, DIY meant selling cassettes out of your car. Digital files put both the creation and dissemination into the hands of the artists, and the last decade has been a welcome departure from an archaic model and a lifeline for artists outside the so-called mainstream.

(A lot more on this topic and how it has pertained to my own endeavors, can be found HERE.)

Jamie Saft, a critically acclaimed musician who has appeared on dozens of albums, made the decision in 2007 to form his own label. Veal Records is now a vital independent source of music, allowing Saft to work with whomever he wishes and releasing whatever material he desires anytime he wants. Nevertheless, just because the tools exist for virtually anyone to do this, it takes more than talent and good luck. The new DIY ethos demands a proficiency at production, distribution and marketing. Social media provides a crucial marketing advantage, and the ease with which fans can connect and spread the word with potential fans is a major breakthrough.

The book publishing industry operated according to a fairly specific—and consistent—paradigm for hundreds of years. In the not-so-good old days, gatekeepers typically held sway, overseeing acquisition, creation and dissemination. Today, digital content is ubiquitous and hardware has been invented (think eReaders and tablets, even smartphones) that enables consumers to access identical material in myriad ways.Just like the music industry, book publishing has undergone a sea change. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems clear that the ways books were acquired and sold was a model ripe for disruption. Inevitably, the increased obsolescence of gatekeepers and tastemakers (see: traditional publishing houses and establishment critics) has resulted in blowback about “legitimacy.” Never mind the fact that Walt Whitman self-published his first poems, we typically don’t see similar bias against, say, family vineyards or craft breweries. As usual, those protesting loudest are the ones accustomed to owning the process and the lion’s share of the profits.
Richard Nash, who ran celebrated independent publisher Soft Skull Press for the better part of last decade, has been intimately involved with these progressions. His exposure to the way things used to work, the ways they changed, and the ways they still might evolve, affords him a unique and invaluable perspective. His primary interest involves what happens once the book comes to market, competing against the other inventory seeking an audience.The key takeaway? If you want it done, do it yourself. If you want it done well, understand and learn all the things you do not know. In halcyon times, writing a book was itself the hard part, and pretty much the only thing an author controlled. Too many authors had to hope that their publisher could generate sufficient enthusiasm, garner reviews, set up a book tour, etc. If that didn’t happen, there were few options other than luck or a miraculous endorsement from Oprah.Self-publishing is not the end, it’s only the beginning, according to Nash: an invitation to the party that needs an MC. Whether it’s the structured chaos of Amazon reviews to the more refined parameters of Goodreads, new services are enabling a crowd-based curation. The notion that likeminded readers can—and will—follow recommendations and then evangelize accordingly, might be the next stage in this evolution.

http://www.ce.org/Blog/Articles/2013/November/Intersection-of-Innovation-and-Art-Looking-at-the.aspx

 

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The Intersection of Technology & Politics: A Conversation with Mike Shields

MSSM

My series concerning the Intersection of Technology and _____ continued last week. (previous discussions can be found here.)

It was my pleasure to introduce politics into the discussion, and my first guest on this topic was Mike Shields. This was an easy decision for two reasons. One, he happens to be one of my best friends. Two, he happens to have led a remarkably productive, impressive and diverse career, accomplishing a lot more in less than two decades than even some of the most ambitious people could hope to achieve in a lifetime.

We discussed the way the world (and the world of politics) has changed, the ways it will always be the same, and some of the ways technology has disrupted, improved and impacted all aspects of politicking. There was too much to cover in 30 minutes (or 30 hours) so Shields will definitely be a repeat visitor, and I’m already looking forward to his next installment.

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The Intersection of Art & Innovation, cont’d: A Conversation with Matt Merewitz

MM

Music.

Marketing.

Merewitz.

Murphy.

My series concerning the Intersection of Art & Innovation continues! (previous discussions can be found here.)

I’ve had the welcome opportunity to speak with a variety of musicians and writers, so it’s both interesting and quite informative to speak with the people whose job is to promote artists. Enter Matt Merewitz, super publicist at Fully Altered Media. Matt has been working directly with musicians, specializing in the jazz, avant-garde community for years.

We spoke about the necessity of understanding and utilizing all aspects of social media, the importance of branding, and the ways in which keeping up with technology is literally a full time job.

Check it out:

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The Intersection of Art & Innovation, cont’d: A Conversation with Bethanne Patrick

BP

Last week I had the privilege of being joined by Bethanne Patrick, curator of the well-loved #FridayReads series and tireless tweeter @TheBookMaven.

I’ve known Bethanne for many years and have followed her ever-evolving interests and activities with both interest and a sense of awe. Above all, she is a reader and as a reader, she loves books, and as a book lover, she loves discussing books. She has created multiple avenues –all of which embrace technology and the ways innovation affords us opportunities to connect– for the advancement of writing and writers.

We talk about everything from shrinking magazine space, the lack of dedicated book review weeklies in newspapers, the opportunities inherent in all aspects of social media, why the paperback book is already the ideal delivery device for literature, but why there is –and should be– room in our hearts for e-readers, and a bit about branding. I know, right? And this is definitely only part one of what I expect will be a more regular correspondence. There is tons to talk about and few people I’d rather discuss with than Bethanne!

Check it out:

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Talking about Where the Jobs Are With John Dearie, cont’d

JD

I was happy to have a follow-up discussion with John Dearie about his book, and what has changed (and perhaps more importantly, what hasn’t changed) since we spoke at CES last month.

In this Google Hangout, he gets into more detail about the specific policy proposals he makes in the book, and why it’s crucial for this message to be heard. This is particularly relevant, not only because the jobs crisis is still in full, devastating effect, but for those of us who live within the so-called bubble of Washington, D.C., we understand all too well how closed so many minds are.

What we address in particular is that D.C. is, and has long been, a very conventional town, with conventional thinking and conventional (i.e., failed) ways of problem solving. Indeed, a case could be made, however depressing, that precious little problem solving has been occurring. With so much apathy and so much at stake, it’s imperative that Dearie’s message is heard by as many people as possible.

At CES this year I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with John Dearie about his new book (co-authored by Courtney Geduldig), Where The Jobs Are.

You can find the book here, and I recommend it highly.

Simply put, for anyone who has any sort of interest in –or would like to be better informed about– our jobs crisis (and frankly, this should be anyone and everyone), which is also an economic crisis, which is also a national crisis, which is also in many ways a spiritual crisis, this book is an imperative source of insight and inspiration. During our conversation, John addresses the epiphany that led him to write this book, and it turns out that many of our problems are less complicated than we’d imagine. Of course, that does not mean that they are easy to solve or that the people most responsible for helping solve them (see: elected officials) are receptive to any type of outside-the-box thinking, even –or especially– if it leads to irrefutable solutions.

Here’s one of the crucial, perhaps unexpected and therefore revelatory, findings in the book: research shows that new businesses –start-ups– account for virtually all net new job creation. But, alarmingly, the rate of new business formation has declined significantly in recent years. In Where the Jobs Are, authors Dearie and Geduldig recount what they heard from entrepreneurs at roundtables they conducted across the country and propose policies to unleash the job-creation power of America’s innovation economy.

John Dearie is Executive Vice President for Policy at the Financial Services Forum. Prior to joining the Forum in 2001, he spent nine years at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where he held positions in the banking studies, foreign exchange, and policy and analysis areas. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Politico, American Banker, and China’s Caijing magazine. Dearie lives with his wife and two children in Great Falls, Virginia.

;

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The Intersection of Art & Innovation, cont’d: Another Conversation with Aram Bajakian

aram murph

Today we wrapped round two of what I hope will be an ongoing conversation.

Aram and I discussed what he’s learned by producing, and promoting, his first truly independent release (there were flowers also in hell and yes, a review is forthcoming. Spoiler: it’s a positive review).

Once again, we talked about social media as a necessary ingredient and/or evil for any contemporary artist. We also appraised all-things digital and how the ubiquity of content can be a blessing and curse, sometimes both at the same time.

Check it out, below.

Here is the overview (and video) from our conversation in November.

It was my pleasure to speak with Aram Bajakian, a brilliant guitarist who has toured with both Lou Reed and Diana Krall. Aram released his debut, Kef, in 2011, and my review is below. His follow-up, This Man Refused To Open His Eyes, is dropping in February 2014, and we talk about his decision to go it alone and handle all aspects of its creation, marketing and distribution. As the series has already revealed, this is steadily becoming the “new normal”, and Aram makes a compelling case that, for musicians, the DIY strategy is less a last resort and, increasingly, a viable and very empowering option.

Check him out online at http://arambajakian.com/. You can see a video preview of this new release, and if you purchase it now, you’ll get a special edition with two bonus tracks!

Check out our conversation, below, and my review of Kef (which you should acquire, immediately), below that.

Aram Bajakian’s Fractured Folk Tales (11/2011)

You need to spend some time with this music. Fortunately, you will want to spend time with it. There are at least two excellent reasons for this: one, you will need to allow it ample opportunity to work its magic; two, you will need sufficient time to formulate an appropriate response for your friends when they inquire about what you’re listening to these days. An album called Kef you will say. What? By a guy named Aram Bajakian. Who? Bajakian is a Brooklyn guitarist whose debut, Kef has just been released by John Zorn’s Tzadik label. (Mentioning Tzadik should immediately clear up any questions about quality or street cred. It should also indicate that, like everything else from Tzadik, this material will be unique and ambitious, if not immediately accessible.)

For folks who have not heard of Zorn or Tzadik, the label – now well over a decade old – has helped discover and promote music that falls far outside the so-called mainstream. While Zorn’s influential quartet, Masada, can easily be described as jazz (and lazily described as Ornette Coleman meets Klezmer), much of the work Zorn and those recording on his label do is difficult to categorize. Naturally, this is a very good thing: this is music not different for the sake of being difficult or outré; rather, it is ambitious in scope and very outward looking. As such, it’s not uncommon to hear the never-passé stylings of bebop alongside classical and world music (speaking of lazy and inadequate descriptions … ), often in the same composition. Simply put, Tzadik represents the essence of avant-garde, adventurous and averse to convention. It also serves as a reminder for anyone bored or seeking reassurance, that there are (many) smaller labels releasing inspired music it would take a lifetime to listen to.

Kef is named for an Armenian type of dance music known for incorporating traditional and western instruments. In other words, the sort of thing ideally suited for Tzadik. Bajakian is joined by Tom Swafford on violin and Shanir Blumenkranz on bass. The absence of drums is novel and audacious, but considering how much some of this material shreds, it is almost revelatory. Blumenkranz is quickly bolstering his own legendary credentials, having already appeared on more than two dozen Tzadik releases.

From the first note, the traditional, non-Western influence is obvious, but, by the second track, the jazz and rock sensibility is front and center. There is an aggressive, almost punkish vibe that also will sound familiar to fans of the Tzadik label. The guitar playing on Kef inevitably calls to mind his label-mates Jon Madof and especially Yoshie Fruchter (who employs the violin in his quartet Pitom) but more than anyone, his runs, at turns angular, muscular and – when necessary – brutal, recall Marc Ribot. This is intended as the highest form of praise.

Kef will remind listeners of Madof’s quartet Rashanim in part because both guitarists are brilliant but also boast the considerable prowess of Blumenkranz. Kef will also draw favourable comparison to Pitom because of the violin (and again, the indefatigable Blumenkranz), as well as the energy that pivots between punk and hardcore, if only for seconds at a time. Bajakian is quite obviously a product of his culture and times, and he is able to infuse each song with a variety of cultural signposts and points of departure. The fifth track, “Wroclaw”, breezes along like an Armenian folk song, albeit one played in dark nightclub or a sweltering New York subway. This is postmodern chamber jazz that swings proficiently with an always-apparent and quite convincing Eastern vibe: fractured folk tales, if you like.

There are softer, subtle moments, like the acoustic opener “Pear Tree” or the gorgeous “Pineta”. There are some scorchers, like “Sepastia” and “Raki”, both of which showcase the band’s agility. It is during the more intense moments where the absence of a drummer is most noticeable—and impressive. The lack of grounding and punctuation would leave a less capable ensemble without the necessary punch and bottom; Bajakian’s band uses the extra space as an opening for interaction, and each musician takes turns steering the ship and soaring above the surface. There is a distinct structure unifying each song, and while the collection coalesces to a logical flow, each tune could be isolated and examined. After several listens you might even find yourself humming some of these melodies (does anyone hum anymore?).

There are no unsatisfactory tracks to be found here, and while some may dazzle or impress more than others, the last two, “48 Days” and “La Rota”, warrant special mention. Alternately serene and sombre, these closing statements comprise an elegiac, deeply moving conclusion. There is beautiful music and there is moving music (the best, of course, can combine the two), and then there is music that goes to that other place which is at once inscrutable and oddly familiar. By the time the last notes have been played it will occur to the tuned-in listener that something significant is happening here. This is a different type of music.

Music remains the ultimate antidote against cynicism and apathy: all it asks is you lend it your ears and in return you may just get something that makes the world more beautiful than you thought possible. If that sentiment is, understandably, a bit much to process with a straight face, let it suffice to say Kef is as extraordinary an album as I can recall listening to in a very long time.

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/148645-aram-bajakian-aram-bajakians-kef/

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The Intersection of Art and Innovation, cont’d: Evolving Models of Music — A Conversation with Jon Madof

madof

On Friday I had the opportunity to do another Google Hangout, part of an ongoing series called “The Intersection of Art and Innovation”.

(Some previous discussions can be found HERE, HERE and HERE.)

It was my great pleasure to speak with Jon Madof, a remarkably talented artist who happens to be one of my personal favorite musicians from the past decade. Check him out online, and I’ll put some snippets below, with links to previous pieces I’ve written about him and his music.

As expected, and consistent with the themes that have developed during the course of this series, the primary topics involve how music gets made and marketed in an increasingly digital world where previously unimaginable avenues of distribution and connection exist. Of course there is also the tension inherent in the ubiquity of digital content and the ease with which it can be pirated. How can an honest musician thrive, or even survive, when it’s so simple for less scrupulous opportunists to make the work available, for free, on illegal sites?

Beyond that, we interrogated the pros and cons of today’s scene and agreed that, on balance, it’s still a remarkable time to be creating art: what we might sacrifice in potential revenue, we benefit in terms of exposure. All artists, whatever they are up to, must acknowledge that there are ways to advertise, promote and connect that even a decade ago would have been fantasy. Madof confirmed that, all irony aside, it’s now possible to make genuine, personal connections online; the same forum that is so frequently lambasted as being cold and impersonal is actually a free and painless way to converse across countries and cultures.

We also agreed that we are very much in early days: the ways we make and sell music (and literature, for that matter) are still shaking out, and only one thing is guaranteed: the people who will lose out are the people resigned to the status quo or continue to lament a way of working and living that is gone and never coming back.

Check out our 30 minute conversation, below.

Here is a link to a long, awesome feature on Zion80 wherein Madof talks about the process of creating –and leading– a 13 piece band. Some key takeaways:

At a concert in New York City a few months ago I saw two things I’d never witnessed before. The first was a group of Jewish jazz musicians playing Afrobeat. The second was a yarmulke soaring through the air in the midst of a guitar solo.

So, if Jewish Afrobeat played at a pace where no yarmulke is safe sounds like your thing, boy have I got a band for you. And even if you don’t especially care for, or have never even heard Jewish Jazz or Afrobeat, Zion80 comes highly recommended.

Madof, continuing his fruitful association with John Zorn’s Tzadik label, is not making a departure so much as a logical if inspired continuation of the ground he’s covered the past decade. All of his projects thus far (with his band Rashanim) have explored traditional Jewish sounds with a skillful blend of surf music, thrash, jazz and calmer acoustic. Each successive effort has seen Madof stretching and pushing himself farther, in as well as out, utilizing exotic instruments with feeling always at the forefront.

The disc is a triple-threat: an ideal introduction to Zion80 as swell as Kuti and Carlebach (both of whom will reward interested listeners). Where Kuti’s legendary jams are sprawling, sometimes exhausting affairs, Madof’s arrangements are tight and accessible. Every player gets a chance to shine, and the full range of instruments is ably represented throughout.

From 2009, another piece that discusses his trio Rashanim. Their album, The Gathering, was my favorite of the year and remains in heavy rotation. Some key takeaways:

So, who are Rashanim? They are a jazz trio operating out of New York City who describe themselves on their website as a “Jewish power trio: Rashanim (‘noisemakers’ in Hebrew) combines the power of rock with the spontaneity of improvisation, deep Middle Eastern grooves and mystical Jewish melodies.” Led by guitarist Jon Madof, the band also includes bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and drummer Mathias Kunzli. They record for John Zorn’s label Tzadik and are categorized in its “Radical Jewish Culture” series. (Being neither Jewish nor radical, I still find this concept rather rad, and to be certain, some of the very best music in the world is being created on Zorn’s middle-finger-to-the-industry label.)

So…what does it sound like? The music is impossible to isolate or explain simply, in part because it incorporates so many disparate influences, using them all as a point of departure. Madof is quite clearly deeply grounded in tradition (both religious and musical), but his invocation of other places and times are very rooted in a modern sensibility. Klezmer? Ancient Jewish music? Jam-band? Surf guitar? All of the above: it’s definitely jazz and it is certainly imbued with a distinctively Jewish sensibility. Above all, it rocks.

Well, the great news is that we should properly relish the runaway democratization of content, with artists (like John Zorn) creating their own labels to more effectively disseminate their unfiltered (and unsanitized) vision. This is happening with all art, but musicians have arguably taken most advantage of the opportunities inherent in the increasingly viable DIY model. This, of course, is a very positive development for both artists and their audience. That said, we are still very much living in a corporate-sponsored country where suit-wearing weasels determine the bottom line based on a focus-grouped free market. For an artist to survive in this era is not an inconsiderable achievement; for an artist to thrive, defiantly crafting an original voice and sharing that vision with people, is cause for genuine celebration. That a musician like Jon Madof is fully committed to expressing his gift of music is enough to restore one’s faith: in music and the people who make it.

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Talking Tech with Eric Taub

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Eric Taub has been writing about the tech industry for more than two decades.

His new book, Does This Plug into That?, is a tremendous and overdue public service. In readable, relatable prose, he deconstructs –and demystifies– the myriad ways technology makes our lives more complicated while ostensibly making everything easier and more convenient.

Tackling everything from what TV to buy, the efficacy of universal remotes, setting up a web connection, installing a home network or even the future of light bulbs, Taub offers practical, easy-to-understand advice and insight. As someone who has followed, and written about, the technology industry for over a decade, I can honestly say I’m glad I read this book, and would suggest it to anyone. The one exception might be anyone who can read (or who has ever written) a user manual. Then again, Taub talks about the myriad ways even those jargon-laden, perhaps intentionally impenetrable tomes could do with some editing for clarity, concision and value!

I was happy to have a chance to speak with Eric at the 2014 CES: video of our conversation is below.

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