Jazz music, news and views

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Waiting for Signal

I rarely dig this far back into my past when blogging, but for the sake of background, I'll be revealing a bit about my teenage years in Sacramento, CA. I was studying drums formally and performing regularly with some friends from another high school in a local alt-rock outfit called Harper. Our influences were very '90s: Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, Deftones, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, etc. Levi Winegar was the band's rhythm guitarist and manager, but he could also play drums -- and quite well. His main influences were Abe Cunningham of Deftones and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden. (Being less focused, I was trying to bring together Cunningham, STP's Eric Kretz, and something resembling Live's Chad Gracey.) After disbanding around 1999, we all went different directions, physically and musically, and over the years, Levi and I inadvertently switched instruments. Having neither the space for the drum set nor the understanding neighbors, I now play guitar. Levi is up-and-coming in the Kansas City scene as the drummer of Waiting for Signal.

Make no mistake: Waiting for Signal is pure rock -- heavy, dark, and adrenalized -- but unlike most overdriven, testosterone-fueled acts, their sound is also well-crafted and deliberate. Drawing inspiration from Queens of the Stone Age, Interpol, Failure, Dredg, and KC heroes Shiner and Season to Risk, W4S bolsters their songs with thick, chunky chords, queasy guitar lines, and refreshingly strange melodies. "Illogical" is solid and punchy but also distinguishes itself with some crunching, unconventional chords in its verse. They show a knack for the atmospheric with the ethereal, echoing layers of guitar in "Vegas." Ryan Bates's creative lead contributions are almost ambient, giving the tunes a depth seldom heard in bands like this. Nice, too, to hear Gene Abramov's unique vocals, ranging from a haunting new-wave drone to a modern rock scream, especially on the radio-ready "Mistakes of the Century." This tune and "Sending the Generation" are also great examples of how Winegar's ideas keep the music both fresh and aggressive. His playing introduces variety, intelligence, chops, and dynamics to a genre in which most drummers would merely keep (very loud) time.

Head to any of their shows and pick up The Catastrophe EP. Several songs are also available at TheirSpace.

The Catastrophe EP [Amazon; iTunes]
Waiting for Signal
Gene Abramov: vocals, guitar
Ryan Bates: guitar
Brent Kastler: bass
Levi J. Winegar: drums

[Cover art by David Iseri.]

Monday, March 03, 2008

RIP Teo Macero

No doubt you've seen the round of obits of producer Teo Macero (NY Times, LA Times, Pitchfork). Some might say Teo wouldn't be remembered as easily if not for his presence on Miles Davis's best-known albums, but many more would say that's a vast underestimation of his influence. His legacy is indeed closely linked to Miles's and we might not be as ready to give a producer the same credit and respect due to a musician, but (1) he actually was a musician himself, a saxophonist and composer, and (2) his storied contributions to Miles's finest works go above and beyond mere session supervision or artistic advisement. Miles's daring, prescient concepts are, of course, the main dish, but Teo's significant, pioneering producer-ly touches give them a more appealing presentation. Arguably, his razor-and-reel sound manipulation shouldn't be remembered as "the entire point of the exercise" as he believed (see the NYT article), but his legacy holds up all the same -– and to the benefit of the music, in my view, the issues surrounding Quiet Nights notwithstanding. And it's worth acknowledging his supervision of Mingus's fine Columbia work (notably Ah Um and Dynasty) and, of course, Brubeck's Time Out.

In any case, if Teo hadn't made his mark as a producer, his musical talents would have likely come to the fore all the same. His compositional and performance skills are well documented on record. Kyle Gann's blog, PostClassic, has a very cool mp3 of Macero performing an original quarter-tone piece. Darcy has some good links as usual, including a video interview of Macero and a personal anecdote. Also check out this WCPN interview with Bobby Jackson from June 2001 and a great Q&A with Perfect Sound Forever from September 1997. (Note Teo's response about "the purists.")

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