Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Saxi-versary at the Little Balcony in Paris

February 24, 2015
bradspurgeon

Le Petit Balcon (Paris)

Le Petit Balcon (Paris)

PARIS – I’ve written one or two times about this young, new music bar in Paris called Le Petit Balcon. But being invited back to celebrate the birthday of Stephen Saxo – an American expat sax player in Paris – gave me the chance to see just how much this little joint has grown in such a short time.

From two fairly quiet musical nights a couple of months ago or so, this place has turned into a really big bopping concert and hang-out venue bar. Located off the beaten track in a part of Menilmontant not usually visited by wandering pedestrians, the reason this place is becoming such a success is clearly because the owners are music lovers, and musicians.

I felt that particular vibe even the first times I visited this place. But a few days ago, at Stephen’s birthday, when after the evening’s concert the cellar room was opened up to Stephen and his musical – and other – friends, I could see that the place was more than just buzzing.

It was full of musicians, audience, diners, drinkers, and other kinds of people, and the general feeling was of complete festival activity and music. Music. Music. Stephen turned his birthday party into something of an open mic, and I managed to play several songs, both with my acoustic and a few other musicians – including Stephen – and with Andy Bone’s electric, his Epiphone, while he played my acoustic.

An amazing night, but I did not manage to get more than two or three videos.

Salt Petal Revisted – After all these (3) Years

February 20, 2015
bradspurgeon

Salt Petal

Salt Petal

PARIS – One of the satisfying – and essential – aspects of doing this mostly music blog is being able to talk about bands I have discovered, and sometimes having people present me with their music, or the music of bands they are representing, thinking that this blog would be a nice place to have it talked about. A few days ago, I received an email from a PR person involved in talking about a hot new Los Angeles band. Within a few seconds I had bells going off in my head, and I realized that this was a band that I had already heard, met and written about in the context of open mics in Paris: Salt Petal.

What a joy it was to see that this band that had so impressed me back in 2012 at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance (in its heyday) and when Salt Petal played at the Highlander, had continued to progress, to grow, and to turn into a band that is being hailed by publications across the U.S. – including Billboard, apparently – and is being played on MTV and has won a prize from an international panel of judges in the World Music Battle of the Bands.

The salty memories came back, I checked out my own blog, and found that I had been thoroughly impressed by the freshness and excitement of the two band members who came to Paris in 2012 – Autumn and Rodrigo – and had so enraptured the Ptit Bonheur and the Highlander. And so I checked out the video of the song that won that World Music prize, “Por la Luna.”

I compared it with the videos I had taken at the time, and said, yes, that’s the same two. Now it has turned into a collective with several musicians – and not just the two who were in Paris – and they have added different nationalities, expanding from American and Argentine to Japanese and others, and making a true collective of world music.

The PR reads well too: “Los Angeles is a city of diversity, a place of mixed cultures with a colorful tradition. Few bands better represent this than LA musical collective Salt Petal whose cross border musical influences of Argentinian folk, Brazilian tropicalia, Cumbia and up tempo indie rock blurs ethnic and musical boundaries. The band’s sound is one of the freshest to come out of Los Angeles, showcasing deep South American rhythms with vibrant indie pop harmonies and textures.

“Salt Petal has played high profile venues and festivals such as SXSW, Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books and Make Music Pasadena. Performing alongside well-known artists including Lila Downs, Grimes, Hello Seahorse!, La Santa Cecilia, Dengue Fever, Las Cafeteras, members of Blondie and Jane’s Addiction. Their videos have been featured on MTV Tr3s and have been written up in Billboard etc.”

But ultimately, as I write these words, I listen to all of the tracks on Salt Petal’s SoundCloud, and it is beautiful stuff, combining the South American – Argentine and Brazilian – rhythms with a very clear American Indie sound, thanks in no small part to Autumn Harrison’s vocals.

They’re even calling it “Tropical Surf Rock.” What do I know? It’s very strange, but I actually find a tiny, tiny little touch of a sound that is similar to the American singer April March, who is known more in France than elsewhere (I think) for her modern version of French Yé Yé music. Is that what this is? An American interpretation of Tropicalia and other South American sounds? Updated? Give it a listen to see. May they pass through Paris again.

5-Minute Documentary About Dad at Open Mics by Daughter: Me by Emily

February 17, 2015
bradspurgeon

PARIS – Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my ongoing project making a film about open mics around the world. Well, guess what? My daughter, Emily, beat me to it! As a student at the Ecole de la Cité film school outside Paris, she had a class exercise to make a 5-minute documentary film portrait of a person. She decided to choose as a subject her wacky, crazy Dad who travels around the world doing open mics – while writing about Formula One car racing as his real job….

One of the main riddles she had to solve in doing the 5-minute film, called “Rebellious Youth,” was what story to focus on in the telling? My bizarre past working in a circus, acting on TV and in films, in bit-parts, or busking in London and working as a bartender at the National Theatre, or writing about Formula One car racing and writing short stories and novels, etc. Where to start? So in order to find coherence to the story within the 5-minute limit, she decided to focus entirely on the story of a guy in his 50s who has a straight – or actually really exciting – day job writing for a major newspaper, who spends his spare time singing in bars at open mics with a generation that is generally many times removed from his own.

So that’s why there is the emphasis on the “old guy” playing music with young people…. Check it out for yourselves. I’ve been given permission by Emily to put it up on the blog. There are a few moments of pretty average sound quality, but keep in mind that Emily filmed the whole thing by herself with no crew, and then she edited it too. Thanks a million to the Coolin, the Galway and the Escargot Underground venues for letting her film during the open mics – and thanks to the people she interviewed for being so nice about what you say about me!!!!

A Brief Stop-In at the Oasis

February 14, 2015
bradspurgeon

Oasis 244

Oasis 244

PARIS – I guess and oasis is really a drinking spot where you’re meant to stop for a brief moment on a long walk through the desert. That’s how I could describe my visit last night at the Oasis 244 in Paris, where I had such a great Friday night last week at the weekly gig of John Redford, Stephen Saxo and friends.

I arrived very late last night, so did not get to hear that much of the music, not get to see that much of the vibe. But from all I could see and hear, it seemed like it was as great as usual. And I got to play twice – once solo and with cajon, and another time with an electric guitar accompaniment – even at that relatively late arrival hour. So the brief visit was all I could hope for at the Oasis 244. Only one short video to show for it, though:

The Cool and Laid Back Scene of the Café Jean Open Mic

February 13, 2015
bradspurgeon

Cafe Jean Open Mic

Cafe Jean Open Mic

PARIS – An open mic is made in a big way by the location, by the MC and of course by the musicians and the spectators who turn up. I’ve been meaning to go to the Café Jean open mic in Paris for something like a year, but as it was at first once a month it took a long time for me to find the right month. Now it is twice a month, and I finally got there last night.

One of the reasons I was really keen to go was because it is run by Nicolas Blampain, a wonderful guitar player and singer, and great open mic host who ran the open mic at the Lou Pascalou bar in Menilmontant for a couple of years or so. He did a great job there, but the bar itself was somewhat limited in its layout.

So I really wanted to see what Nicolas could do in another location. The Café Jean is a little on the edges of Paris, near the Ourcq metro, not too far from the Abracadabar where there is a monthly open mic and a lot of live music – but really on the edge of things. In any case, I was surprised to find at the Café Jean a very hip sort of café restaurant with what looked like great food.

The public did not really look like it was there for full involvement in the music, but when the food is that good looking, it’s no surprise. On the other hand, Nicolas does such a great job of hosting the evening, and makes musicians feels so welcome – you can play covers, your own stuff, or even sing to his guitar playing if he knows the song – that it was a real pleasure to play at the Café Jean last night.

https://www.youtube.com/my_videos?o=U

The sound system was good, the public was definitely listening despite the chatter, and the people running the bar felt really open to the music. Definitely worth a visit on the second and final Thursdays of the month. But don’t forget the competition at the Escargot Underground open mic the same night!!!

Something New at the Baroc Open Mic in Paris

February 11, 2015
bradspurgeon

Le Baroc open mic

Le Baroc open mic

PARIS – Sometimes I wonder during my winters in Paris when I’m not travelling and I’m attending the same open mics week after week, I wonder how I can write anything new about them on my blog. Such was the case again last night when I went again to the wonderful Baroc open mic in Belleville. I’ve been going for years now, and for years the MC, Réjean Mourlevat, has been doing a great job. But from one week to the next, how do you find something new to write about, let alone to “live”? Last night, Réjean himself gave me the answer.

Towards the end of the evening, which had many of the regular musicians I see there from one week to the next, Rejean got up behind the mic while a pianist from Strasbourg (not a regular musician here, and boy was he good), began to jam away with a sax player. Suddenly, Réjean began to sing. No please note that Réjean is a wonderful MC, and a multitalented musician, who often plays either piano or drums while others play their stuff at the open mic. But he is something of a quiet, shy guy, and I have never heard him sing before.

This may not sound like much, but really, listening to Réjean sing was one of the high moments of the night! It was so cool! In fact, it was so cool that I didn’t think about taking out my camera until it was almost too late. I did manage to get a bit of it on film, though. So check it out.

Other than that, it was a pretty typical night at this warm open mic where you rarely know quite what to expect from one week to the next in the way of small differences, but at the same time you know you can always expect something to happen.

Brad’s Morning Exercise Music Rundown, 9th Installment: Thomas Arlo, Paolo Alderighi (and Stephanie Trick), Juliette Jules, 3rdegree and Forebear

February 9, 2015
bradspurgeon

Sit Ups

Sit Ups

For my ninth “Morning Exercise Rundown,” – the eighth of which ran on 28th June 2014- I am in the unusual situation of having misplaced all of the CDs that I intended to review from the last six months! Yes, having made a recent move, the CDs got misplaced and I have no idea where they are. But since this is possibly the longest period between Morning Exercise rundowns, I decided that I would simply approach this instalment from my memory; That probably means it will be a great instalment because it is made of the stuff that stood out most in my memory over this period. Another slight difference with this rundown is that a lot of the EPs and albums here were listened to online only – not sure why those are the ones I remember too….

The Morning Exercise Music Philosophy

As a reminder to readers, therefore, the idea behind this regular column is that for most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to avoid it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged inspiration and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T exercise. (No time in life for exercise? No! No time in life to NOT exercise!) That did not, however, alleviate the boredom of doing them. So it is that when not doing my nighttime exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – or jogging – which does bore me to a degree – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) while listening to new (and old) CDs that I acquire from compilations of magazines, that I also occasionally buy or receive from budding musicians at open mics, or any other source.

I do not pretend to be a music critic, but simply to talk about and describe, and give my impressions of the music I listen to during my morning exercises. Keep in mind that my impressions and opinions, therefore, will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.

The Haunting Rock ‘n’ Croon of Thomas Arlo

Room EP by Thomas Arlo

Room EP by Thomas Arlo

Thomas Arlo is a young American expat musician who I have seen for years at the open mics, almost always playing solo with his guitar and his interpretations of cover songs – Beirut, Gainsbourg, others – in a voice part rock and part crooner, as well as his own well-constructed songs. There’s a touch of Elvis in the croon, and a touch of I don’t know what in the rock. But there’s truth to it, and an otherworldliness. In any case, when Thomas sent me the link to the songs of his first EP, called “Room,” I was truly delighted to find five recordings done in the same complete simplicity and purity of his performances at the open mics, but with some tracks having light touches of overdubbing, other musicians and instruments, and the most effective, a duet with Amélie Pagenel. I’d also seen Amélie at the open mics, but when I heard her voice here, I wondered who was this amazing singer. Thomas now seems to have disappeared to live in Greece – without a word, without a trace – but we’ve got his music here wherever else we might be in the world, and I highly recommend it. My two favorite songs are “Bolder of Men,” which is constructed in a similar way to “Sympathy for the Devil,” (and a touch of Dylanesque diction and phrasing) but is amazingly haunting. And then I like the one with Amélie, called “Either Way,” with alternating singing between the two. So go and give a listen to this great Room, by Thomas Arlo.

Paolo Alderighi and the Italian Stride Piano

Paolo Alderighi & Stephanie Trick

Paolo Alderighi & Stephanie Trick

A few years ago, while flying from Tokyo back to Paris, I loaded my guitar bag above my seat in the Air France flight, sat down and the young man next to me asked about the guitar. We got into a conversation, and I learned that he was a pianist, Italian, and returning from a concert in Japan. We ended up talking music for most of the night flight, and I even let him hear some of mine. What I learned later was that I had been discussing music with one of Italy’s greatest upcoming jazz pianists on the international scene: Paolo Alderighi. I immediately looked him up on YouTube to hear his music, and found this amazing thing of an Italian playing that distinctive American style of jazz piano known as Stride, that arose in parts of the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s – notably St. Louis – and that he was highly respected even in the U.S., and around the world. It was only last September that I finally got a couple of his CDs, and had a real good listen. We have met several times in Milan now, when I travel there for the Grand Prix and if he happens to be in town. And since we first met, he has also had a kind of fairy tale meeting with a woman named Stephanie Trick, an American who is a world leader in the stride piano style: The two of them got married, and now in addition to playing concerts separately, they also play together in the magnificent and awe-inspiring “four-hand” mode. So I listened with great self-division as to which thing I preferred: The CD of the two of them together – “Sentimental Journey” – or Paolo’s solo album called “Around Broadway.” The former is full of punch and dazzling fireworks, while the latter takes classic broadway songs – Berline, Gershwin, Rodgers, etc. – as a starting point, and Paolo then flies off into his own bits of interpretation and improvisation. The conclusion? I love both CDs. But I am no expert at all in matters of jazz piano. So how best to describe Paolo’s music? There’s a great description on the liner notes from the respected Michael Steinman: Although some may characterize Paolo Alderighi as “a jazz pianist,” “a fine young musician,” “a gifted improviser,” his true designation is both simpler and more profound. Paolo Alderighi is an artist.

Introducing Juliette Jules – a French Teenager Gone Global

Juliette Jules

Juliette Jules

And speaking of fairy tales, one of the more interesting stories – and voices – that I’ve heard recently is that of a 16-year-old French girl named Juliette Jules, who was playing songs on her guitar in a park in Paris a while back when she was overhead by a Canadian music producer. The Canadian approached her, listened, spoke, queried, whatever… and ended up taking Juliette Jules on as an artist, recording her, promoting her, and now the 16-year-old is in the midst of a fully-fledged career beginning, with great reviews from around the world for Juliette’s first EP, “Black Crow,” containing her own songs but also the Leonard Cohen hit, Hallelujah. She has been praised all over for a voice of experience beyond her years, but for me, years never matter: Only the music counts. I first listened with a sceptical ear, as someone who has attended more open mics around the world than most people, and so heard just about every form of talent that exists. (Well, not quite.) But from my immediate first impressions with an obvious comparison to Lana Del Rey, I’m picking up new sounds and impressions every time I listen. There is definitely something rich and interesting in this woman’s voice. I can’t wait to hear her live, and to see where the next batch of recordings will take us (she recorded a new series last summer). Definitely a cool story.

A Progressive 3rdegree Takes Me Back in Time

3rdDegree

3rdDegree

At the beginning of the era of progressive rock, I was a fan. I listened to bands like Gentle Giant, Genesis, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Van Der Graf Generator, Yes, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, you name it. I loved it at the time because it was progressive rock music. It was taking rock into another future realm, going the next step, beyond the clichés, beyond the blues. It was adding a classical element to rock too, in fact, but in a “progressive”-feeling way. I never lost my interest in those bands, really, even if I listen to them rarely now, and have rarely listened to them for decades. So all of this is to expose my musical ignorance by saying that although I only had the vaguest idea that there was still a genre called progressive rock, it was really only in reciving an invitation to download the latest album of a progressive rock band from the U.S. called 3rdegree, which is well known in American progressive rock circles, did I realize that progressive rock had actually ceased to progress much since the days I listened to it. But that is NOT to denigrate it! In fact, if you listen to the blues, you realize that it is a style of play, and that it is made up of certain themes, styles, chords, etc., and that it has not exactly “developed” either. Great musical styles do not necessarily have to develop. So I was completely amazed when I listened to this band that has been around since 1989 was playing music that I completely understood the basis to, felt was speaking a “progressive rock language” and that I could comfortably say I knew where they were coming from. The album, “The Long Division,” (wait, what was that Pink Floyd album? The Division Bell?) just felt so familiar, yet at once different. I could understand and identify with the riffs, I could expect certain themes, knew where they came from, whatever. It was an acquired language. Now, the only thing I can say about my initial feelings about the name of this genre is that I feel it unfortunate that it was ever named “progressive,” since that indicates to me that it should be like a James Joyce situation where each novel gets totally more crazy and progressive than the next… or am I mixing up the idea of “experimental” music and writing…. Anyway, suffice it to say that I got a lot of exercise out of the Long Division and the computing I did in my head over progressive rock….

And Finally, a New Beautiful Indie Band, Called Forebear

Forebear

Forebear

And finally, thanks for having got this far with me, if you did. One of the things that made me get this edition out now, was that just a couple of days ago I received an interesting email via my BradSpurgeonMusic.com site, but referring to this blog, with a few links to the debut EP of an interesting indie band from the U.S. called Forebear, inviting me to download the Forebear EP. I had nothing to listen to for my morning exercises and I immediately downloaded it, and listened. I stopped exercising for a while on a couple of the tracks to listen to the music and lyrics!!! I preferred the slightly slower, more folk-oriented songs – if you can call it folk – and especially loved the guitar on one of the tracks, which reminded me distinctly of the sound of a friend of mine who lives in LA also, and whose 1997 album, “Billy’s Not Bitter,” won an LA Music Award for the best independent album that year. There are some fabulous melodies, I really like the singer’s voice, but that ethereal guitar stuff is the winner. As are some of the lyrics, particularly this one line that really stopped me in my stride: “we are same sides of a different coin/permanently engraved with the year we were born” Just go and check out Forebear’s EP immediately.

Well, that rounds that up. Another, rather large, morning exercise crop of CDs, my ninth edition since I started doing this in April of 2013….

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