Brandon has switched to playing tenor saxophone almost exclusively, and we're very excited about these sounds!
Saturday, June 30, 2018
Thursday, June 28, 2018
Cartoon Justice/Elliot Levin/Mogauwane Mahloele-Musicians Union Hall Local #6-San Francisco CA; 6/24/18
Cartoon Justice had been collectively blown away by poet/woodwinds Master Elliot Levin on our recent visit to Philadelphia, and we were all very much looking forward to playing a gig with him. Additionally, percussionist and educator Mogauwane Mahloele sat in, expanding our group to a sextet. Levin and Mahloele are very familiar with each other as both are long time denizens of the Philly creative music scene. I had never met the latter before, as was the case for most of Cartoon Justice as well. Our set started out a bit tentative, with Elliot reciting some of his wonderful poetry while the rest of us seemed to be probing for ways in which to interact. The sound heated up eventually. I had great fun playing to Levin's flute sounds and powerful tenor sax wailing. Man, that guy can play, and it's thrilling to try to keep up with him. I tried to leave plenty of room for everyone, especially Mogauwane; I definitely didn't want to step on his toes. There were moments of what I felt was good musical interaction, along with moments that seemed somewhat unfocused and maybe even a bit uninspired. At one point, the bass drum pedal simply fell apart, which was rather disconcerting. I dealt with it by focusing on trying to get bass drum-like tones from the floor tom tom. Not sure if that really worked!
Talking with Mika a few days later, he mentioned that the he was not able to hear much of anything from any of the other instruments. I'm inclined to agree: we should have gotten a soundcheck, but there was just no time for that amenity, mostly due to said traffic jamming. Ah well.
All told, we played a set of satisfying length, enjoyable to me as a player for its "getting lost" nature. Perhaps some of the assembled enjoyed that action as well. Many thanks to Elliot Levin and Mogauwane Mahloele for joining up with us for this one.
Below: drummers-always check the back line kit for signs of default!; Mika and Kersti setting up
Thursday, June 21, 2018
Monday, June 18, 2018
It had been pretty much forty years to the day since I'd last set foot in Philadelphia. In 1978 my family flew from there to Frankfurt am Main in West Germany. I've dreamed often of the skyline of Philly in the intervening years, and it was cool to finally see it again. Additionally, I got to visit with an old pal from Germany, Ryan Holiday. Ryan's a great, sweet dude, and it was fun to catch up with him, albeit somewhat briefly. The Rotunda show started with a Broken Whole set. Broken Whole consists of Mika on electronics, Eli on bass, and usually two drum sets. Calvin Weston and I took on the latter roles. We got into some good drum spaces, with Calvin providing all sorts of power. I tried to weave ideas in and out of what he was playing as Mika's Mac-generated tones blurped and beeped and whizzed atop of the maelstrom. Eli stepped in about half way through our twenty five minute set and threw out low tones from his bass. Good and abstract, I'd say. Following all of this, Elliot Levin played with an absolutely smokin' trio. I wish that I'd caught the drummer's name, as he was incredible. Elliot ranted great Beat poetry and blew some seriously righteous tenor sax. What a band! Cartoon Justice followed this tough act with a nice, long, heavy set. Calvin got his Funk side out: he was stomping on his home turf. After about thirty minutes of one piece, we stopped to catch our breath. Mika called out for Spirit Aligned Truth, but Eli and I had been playing that rhythm for it for the last ten odd minutes. We had to quickly come up with some new way of playing its 6/8 groove. Our efforts seemed to work, but I was sweating it a bit, and definitely felt drained afterwards. Kind of weird vibes all evening, but it was cool to get to play a lot. Added bonus for getting to sleep on an actual bed overnight.
Below: Broken Whole/Cartoon Justice shots, by and courtesy of Ryan Holiday (thanks, Ryan!)
A few days off, spent walking around Manhattan and Brooklyn had done me right. If you're in NYC within the next few months, do yourself a solid and seek out the Rammellzee exhibit at Red Bull Arts. Holy cow that guy saw a lot! Our Trans Pecos set started off by getting to know a real cool woman named Imani; she does sound there, and was very helpful. She grabbed me this venue's beat up old drum set, which was surely the funkiest and most questionable one that I played during this trip. I love old, beat up drums and cymbals, so I was pretty stoked on it. It took a while to get the sound dialed in, but she gave us a nice, loud mix. Kind of a languid start as we adjusted to the absence of Calvin again, but things cooked up into some good, raw Psychedelic spaces. Good flows followed, and we got groovy and free toward the end of our thirty five minutes' return to Brooklyn. One thing I learned for sure during this set: Love Is Love and it can test our abilities to accept the actions of others. This is completely fine, even in the face of resistance.
Below: ugly beautiful drums
The last show of our short East Coast tour, and the edges were wearing thin. Lots of emotion, lots of quiet contemplation, lots of angst. Time to finish and go home, for sure. Adrianne's cello had somehow gotten broken in-between Brooklyn and downtown, so she ended up playing Kersit's m'bira for the whole set. Some people showed up, but I suspected that they were disappointed that Calvin was not with us. No pressure, hahahaha....sigh. We started off with a good, flowing version of Spirit Aligned Truth (how hard I worked on that 6/8 for months before the tour), leading further into scattered mayhem and block-ey patterns of Mika's tribute to Gnawa, Desert Roads. Things came crashing to a halt, and I looked up to see some people in the audience, still there and clapping. All right. The second half of our set started off with abstract bug music, lead by Eli and his cell phone/bass guitar combo. I dropped in and got clicky and clattered, and Kersti, Mika, and Adrianne followed suit. This felt like the best improvisation of the trip to me. I was satisfied with the odd moves of it all, a nice, long set that seemed intimate and connected. Downtown Music Gallery is an awesome space, run by great people. Plus, they have a pretty decent back line drum kit, save for the janky old high hat stand that comes with it. It was a bit tough for me in that Calvin's absence loomed large over this show, but I had no control over that. Minutes after we'd finished, Vinny from Vinny's Music showed up to pick up our rental gear, and we were done.Above: Cartoon Justice at Downtown Music Gallery, this photo speaks volumes
We joked and goofed all the way through our cab ride back to Bushwick from China Town, the weight of expectations giving way to the elation of finishing something started.
Cartoon Justice will play with Elliot Levin in SF this Sunday......
Thursday, June 14, 2018
We made it out there to play. It was good. It was not good. It was by turns ugly and beautiful. In other words, it was a tour.
Thoughts from the first half.....
Calvin and I showed up early with a whole mess of drums in tow. We waited for Mika, Kersti, Adrienne, and Eli to show up; when they did, we all found out that the evening had been double booked on account of the guy that had booked Cartoon Justice having been fired. I guess that Muchmore's did not honor his bookings, or he had not left his scheduled shows up on their master calendar. Either way, the situation was fucked up, and our humble little improvising band from California almost got shafted out of our first New York performance. Thankfully, this did not happen, mostly on account of some supremely adept political moves by Adrienne and some strong willed assertiveness from guitarist Ron Anderson, whose Improv Metal band was also scheduled to play. Ron's group set up and killed for a short, 17 minute set of flying shard improvisation, very much colored by Metal. Cartoon Justice got to play for about 25 blissful minutes. Calvin and I basically took one drum kit and split it in half on Muchmore's decent stage. I utilized a brush beater on my bass drum in order to contrast a bit with Calvin's bass drum, which is so strong. After a bit of initial back and forth click and clack testing of waters, the band segued nicely into a good, groovy version of Spirit Aligned Truth, from the CD. After that, we got into a crazy, fun energy jam that felt damn right. Aesthetic victory out of chaos, and a fun, albeit truncated set. I realized that many odd things were going to happen on this trip, but also resigned myself to that being a simple reality of independent touring.
Below: Mika, finally on stage, gets ready to rip into his guitar at Muchmore's
Bushwick Public House-Brooklyn, NY; 6/4/18
After the manic energy of the first night, it felt really good to me to show up and Bushwick Public House and meet the organizer of this night's show, Stephen Gauci. He was setting things up in the basement venue of the club. Featuring a nice big space for plenty of drums and instruments and good lighting, I felt confident that this would be a much easier place to have an event. This feeling was borne out. Cartoon Justice played third on a five band bill, and even this was OK, as every band was cool and kick ass in their own way. Such a pleasure to hear and see all this great music! On our set, keyboard player Eli Wallace joined in, and his sounds added some great flavor to the sound. Two full kits from Calvin and me seemed pretty well locked, with Calvin playing very powerfully. I kept the brush beater on my bass drum for continued contrast with the other bass drum. We tried to use a graphic score that Mika had sketched out, but I'm not sure how closely it was followed. A fun, crazy set that felt a bit short to me, but in light of the large bill, we all agreed that it was best to keep it that way and leave room for the other acts.
Below: a graphic score!
AS220-Providence, RI; 6/5/18
After the crazy energy of Brooklyn, it felt good to drive up into New England for a gig in Rhode Island. I've never played in Providence, and was duly excited to be able to do so. It was also a real honor to spend some time with Alan Sondheim and Azure Carter before and after this show. They're the kind of people that one feels honored to have spent any amount of time with. I'm humbled by their graciousness and generosity. Our two sets at AS220 featured only me on drums, as Calvin had to head home to Philadelphia in order to take care of a family emergency. As such, they were a lot more quiet and free flowing, more relaxed than the previous nights' sets had been. Kersti really shined on sax, and Mika brought out his flute for a nice extended time. I had a great time leading the way with brushes and mallets, trying to keep things a bit more quiet and subdued. It seemed like a good opportunity to pull the energy back and really go deep into the listening vibes, which I felt I did pretty well. The second of our two sets featured digitally generated films by Mika. We hadn't played to them since 2015 or so, and it was awesome to get to do so again. Before heading back to Brooklyn, we stopped off at HP Lovecraft's grave site. Spooky!
Below: Cartoon Justice setting up at AS220
My main takeaway from these first three gigs: independent touring is crazy, uncertain, and fraught with weirdness. Hey, that's life! Stay tuned for rundowns on shows in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, coming up soon!