Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Stuff Shawn Did in the Past Year and a Half - Part II: The Year of Akai and J Grim

Sorry, more edits made. I can't leave anything alone, can I?

Having just returned from a visit to my northern home, I was unexpectedly invited to what amounted as a funerary concert for me. Where I was not the deceased but rather the previous year was grieved. There were no eulogies, only attestations to the time tested truth that music, as any language, survives and prospers through change. Only a touch of sadness was felt. It indeed had been the time for me to move on, and likewise it had been the time for the music to lose the drama laden performance of this overeducated jack-of-many-instruments (and proficient-of-few).

It was a rainy November evening (2006) that my friend of barely a year, played and sang for me a few selections from his impressive arsenal of original repertoire. This being the first time I had been privileged to hear a sample of his talent, I was genuinely shocked, and so inquired why he had not been playing out at venues since I’d made his acquaintance, or had any recordings of his work.

I do not recall if there was a succinct answer given on that evening, but over time I’ve come to know that to this artist, a song is not something to be written and then subsequently performed, but a living creature subject to growth over the years, months, days, and hours; making it difficult, painful, even criminal to encage it within a piece of recorded media or to do it the injustice of a single display to an audience. I once accused him of perfectionism, stating something like, “Do not let a mock procrastination be a thin guise for your perfectionism”; but I now see that even this was a shallow and unimaginative diagnosis.

There may be someday soon, an accessible piece of recorded media featuring my friend (known as J Grim amongst the Minnesota independent music scene) on which I hope I am extant as sideman and/or arranger. The best way to experience the spooky, folkish, work of this inscrutable figure though is in a small, dark, venue tucked away in a neighborhood known only by locals. Look for him, you’ll find him performing out now (photo by Holland Grimes).

And so it has been just over one year ago that the aforementioned friend introduced me to Akai, see www.theakai.com (photo by Ezra Moore - anyone know Ez's photography url?).

We began playing venues in Minneapolis/St. Paul early in the spring of 2007. The true birth of Akai though, I strongly feel (though I might be alone), was during a short tour of the Pacific Northwest, specifically where we opened for The Young Immortals outside of Portland at one of their frequent hotspots.

Allow me to recount the occasion: Having flown into Seattle, Washington the days before, J Grim and I were enjoying the hospitality of the illustrious KOA while our star duo and glockenspielist had taken up their temporary residence within a nearby suite. A bit sleep deprived from the previous evening spent with Dennis Driscoll and Dear Nora in a rather exclusive evening of performances at the Capitol Hill institution known as Atlas Clothing (photos from this point forward by Aaron Klied, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/itookyourpicture/sets/), we set sail southward for Vancouver, Washington near Portland, Oregon (not to be confused with the other, larger, Canadian Vancouver, BC chronicled upon previously in the Western road trip).

The excitement started as all began to arrive, including our headliners, but without the sound guy. He was nowhere to be found, and I believe was discovered absent from the area once contacted via his cell phone.

So the evening looked dicey: We were a newer band out of our element for the first time, using some of the Immortals equipment, and we were not getting the sound system to work. We spent a couple of hours, someone did eventually arrive to assist us with the sound system, while there was a rowdy pseudo-metalhead crowd forming. My woodwind mic was never made to be heard, therefore I was to play flute and clarinet in a loud bar against the usual battery of amplified instruments and drums, also miced.

Hours after arriving, we began playing. Yes, the sound was less than steller. Yes, the performance I’m sure was less proficient than others soon to follow on that tour. But the energy was unmatched. I, not being miced, was free to walk around the stage where I was able to interact in the rockinest combos; such as the flute, mandolin, and glockenspiel trio of ‘Camera’, could it get any more masculine! And the metalheadish crowd loved us, they purchased many cds and autographs were demanded.

Then TYI rocked the house joined by a rather enthusiastic dancer who was kindly escorted out more than once.

As mentioned in the introduction, Akai has now taken on a new, slightly more compact, somewhat more rock and/or roll incarnation. There has been a new CD in progress for some time now, and I do believe woodwind stylings along with a bass part, or two, from yours truly will be heard.

With Akai and J, some of the best times of my life were had, and will never be forgotten.

Since you’ve made it this far, allow me to depart from the lighthearted nature of this blog in order to voice a factor making my involvement with these performers even more special than it would have been otherwise. On that rainy November evening in 2007, in the living room of our crooner-guitarist, I was experiencing what was to later be determined as my first attack of Multiple Sclerosis symptoms.

Beginning suddenly after a return, from the other side of pond just a few days prior, were the strangest head rushes, a limp, and right arm/hand coordination problems. While going through life as normal, activities were to me, notably and mysteriously, hindered. I was not able to play arpeggiated guitar figures that I could play just weeks prior; the fingers just did not work the way they should have on a woodwind instrument; and I was, for the first time in my life, physically exhausted.

I have never been a terribly confident performer, my musical strengths being composition and theory. But this was so terribly discouraging to me, especially after the diagnosis, that I considered giving up any hopes of performing on any instrument again. It was in this moment, that the invitation to play with Akai was extended and side performing with J took hold.

The good news: The symptoms are now gone, which is typical of relapsing-remitting MS, especially when treated. They may come back someday, they may not. In any case, I now know that this will not prevent me from living the life I want to. Especially considering…

The better news: I performed before the symptoms were gone. During one show, I hit some wrong notes on Bass due to a flare-up and discovered that my hand needed just the right amount of movement before playing to function properly. So throughout the rest of the night, and in shows and rehearsals soon to follow, I developed the method of turning down the volume (on the Bass) and discretely playing along before my entrance. On woodwinds, I just played a few less notes, and for this my bandmates were grateful. The fatigue? It was forgotten once the music started.

There may be, as a remote possibility, more proficient musicians in the world; yes perhaps Chick Corea or Anne-Sophie Mutter might compete regarding technical mastery. There may be, hard to imagine I give you, better songs written throughout history by the likes of George Gershwin and Robert Schumann. There are not however, better people anywhere in space and time with whom to make music.

It should also be noted that surrounding the aforementioned musicians is a community of amateur songwriters and performers displaying an unusual quality and quantity of material. Just last week when I was briefly in Minnesota, one of these – completely unschooled in theory except for the tidbits I’d shared with her – while working on an original arrangement of a Tom Waits tune and striking upon a CmM7 due to intuitive voice leading, says to me, “Isn’t this just a 7th chord? Why is it kind of dissonant? Oh well…I like it.” I don’t think my answer sufficed; something about the internal augmented triad and the unstable nature given the lack of a perfect fifth in combination with the…blah blah blah.

Is there more from my past year and half to write about? Yes there is, but this will have to wait for “Stuff Shawn Did: In Paperback!!”. I know, the demand for this is unparalleled. Contact your favorite publisher immediately.

Thus, we shall now enter the exciting present! Or I suppose what is now present will still be the past, hence the title of the blog. And! But! Yet! I will also shine a light onto my future plans (which have changed a tad from what many of you have heard me touting) and many of which have still yet to congeal into anything real as most anything in my life, at least for a few weeks.


Blogger The Fenbi International Superstars said...

Shawn - I also remember that Vancouver show fondly. It was even better crashing your pad in Minneapolis and hanging with ya'll. I wish you the best of luck with the MS situation. That must be scary! Hang in there, and let us know if you ever come to PDX again ... although Scotty and I have since disassociated ourselves with the sole member of TYI ...

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Beata said...

Thanks for writing this.

9:47 PM  

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