Tag Archives: Meschiya Lake

“TRUE FAMILY”: A FILM by TAO NORAGER ABOUT MESCHIYA LAKE, NEW ORLEANS, “POSITIVITY AND JOY”

Meschiya

In the past few years, I’ve heard a good deal about the singer Meschiya Lake from friends in New York and England, and been able to enjoy her debut CD — you can hear her music here.

A new documentary by filmmaker Tao Norager, TRUE FAMILY, is a superb evocation of this compelling musician, the changing face of New Orleans, and a group of young people utterly in tune with the deepest improvising impulses.  I urge you to visit here.  You’ll see why I am so captivated by the film.  It’s not a stodgy documentary that opens with a serious voice-over giving a history lesson.  Now is it an amateurish exercise with a hand-held camera.

Rather, Tao has gotten to the heart of things with passion and directness — while staying out of the way.  The result is warm yet unsentimental, with surprising mobility: in one scene, Meschiya Lake is eating cookies and milk at home; then she is getting ready for a gig in Berlin.  Anything is possible, TRUE FAMILY reminds us.

True Family

Watching the film, one feels transported to delightful scenes — as Meschiya and her families of musicians create remarkable art on the streets of New Orleans, visiting clubs where dancers cavort in total harmony with the band.  And Tao is a truly mobile filmmaker: we ride alongside Meschiya on her way home as she points out history and local geography.

But the film isn’t just an adoring portrait of one singer, one group of young musicians who are living fully connected to the music.  Subtly and quietly, it makes us aware of the lives of improvising artists — their history, their life in the present moment.  And the film is full of glorious music, as Meschiya and friends — hot jazz nomads, blues troubadours, spiritual guides and chroniclers  — move from site to site.  You’ll see amazing impromptu swing-dancing contests and tap-dancing buskers (frankly amazing “tap kids”) on Bourbon Street.

On one level, the documentary is an instant trip to the heart of New Orleans — but it gets beneath the surface of that brightly-colored city to show us artists honest about their lives and their music.  “It’s a life in motion.  The wheel has to constantly be turning.  If I can’t play music, then I can’t make money to live,” Meschiya says.

There is the exuberant spectacle of Meschiya and her band jamming SATAN, YOUR KINGDOM MUST COME DOWN on a summer day in New York’s Washington Square Park — but the film keeps asking the question, “Where can art be nurtured and prosper and continue to be free?”

Ultimately, TRUE FAMILY is more than a performance film; it chronicles the near-death and vivid rebirth of both its subject, Meschiya, and the city that surrounds her.

And it glows with the joy of its music she makes with her Little Big Horns, with anyone who is spiritually allied.  When she and pianist Tom McDermott are navigating through BACK WATER BLUES, we know we are in the presence of emotions and craft that come from the heart.

As the closing credits unfurl, we hear Meschiya singing MY LIFE WILL BE SWEETER ONE DAY.  It’s clear that she, her friends, and her art have buoyed many people: TRUE FAMILY is imbued with a deep sweetness.

Usually at this point in a post, I would be writing that the film might be coming to a theatre near you — someday, eventually — or that you could purchase a DVD copy for a moderate sum.  But I have better news.  Without passing the cyber-hat for hot jazz, I can direct you to the  TRUE FAMILY site where you can download and watch this engaging and quirky film for a few dollars.  I commend it to you!

May your happiness increase.

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YES, DO TRY THIS AT HOME: “SKINNY MINNE,” by GLENN CRYTZER and his SYNCOPATORS

If you’re at home while you’re reading this post, take a moment to look around you.  If you’re elsewhere, close your eyes and visualize your home and the largest room of your house or apartment.  (If you’re reading this on your phone while walking, I wish you wouldn’t.  But enough of that.)

Now, look at this picture.

Imagine that your place has suddenly been transformed into a swing-dance sock hop (or, if you prefer, the dancers can keep their Capezios on).

Impossible, you say.

Highly possible, I tell you.  No, you probably can’t make your studio apartment larger, and the neighbors below would get restive if you brought in all these Peabodying friends.  But the transformation can be done musically with the help of a small plastic artifact weighing around an ounce:

Yes, the new CD by Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators, SKINNY MINNE, recorded live on May 4 and 5 at the Midwest Lindy Fest in Minneapolis (hence the title) has just that effect.  I know the idea bends time and space and delivers an uppercut to the laws of physics, but when Swing is concerned, it trumps anything you learned in high school science class.  And this CD is all about the many colors and flavors of Swing.

The Syncopators are Steve Mostavoy, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Solomon Douglas, piano; Glenn Crytzer, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums; Meschiya Lake, vocals.

And, typically, they mix fresh readings of venerable songs (with roots in Count Basie, Fats Waller, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, Illinois Jacquet, Artiie Shaw, Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, and Sidney Bechet) with originals that are so deeply idiomatic that they are both delicious surprises and totally in the groove(s).  And Meschiya’s singing is as rich, smoky, and enticing as ever.

The songs are ONE O’CLOCK JUMP / J’ATTENDRAI / SKINNY MINNE / BOTTOMS UP / THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER / THE SAD SACK / YACHT CLUB SWING / BLUE SPIRIT BLUES / JACQUET IN THE BOX / EL SALON DE GUTBUCKET / THE GRABTOWN GRAPPLE / DEEP DOWN IN CAROLINE / C JAM BLUES / HOP, SKIP AND JUMP / EGYPTIAN FANTASY / BLUES FOR NORMA / IT DON’T MEAN A THING (IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING).

And because this music was recorded live at a Lindy Fest, the band is especially loose and animated . . . there’s none of that constriction that sometimes befalls musicians in the recording studio where they can’t see each other, they hear each other through headphones, and they are understandably xonxerned that no mistakes be made.  You’ll hear what it sounded like to be there: an immense asset!

To effect this magic in your own home, which translates as “To order the CD,”  click here.  Once you’re on Glenn’s site, you can hear samples of the music he has created on three compact discs.

May your happiness increase.

SWING, YOU CATS: A VISIT TO CAMP JITTERBUG 2012

Here are two videos created by the fine musician / videographer Candace Brown — taken on the spot at Camp Jitterbug in Seattle on May 27, 2012.  The first is just under a minute, but what a delightful world it evokes: happy dancers swinging out to live hot jazz provided by Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five (Jonathan, guitars, vocal; Meschiya Lake, vocal; Steve Mostovoy, trumpet; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone; Dave Brown, string bass; Paul Lines, drums; Casey MacGill, piano, vocals.)

And something for the those of us who need a minor-key romp to pick up our spirits — DIGA DIGA DOO played by the band, with a vocal by Casey — watch the band and the dancers!  And the band gets extra points for the KRAZY KAPERS riff:

I don’t think I could get admitted to Camp Jitterbug — my dancing needs remediation — but it looks like the place to be!

May your happiness increase.

GLENN CRYTZER and his SYNCOPATORS COME EAST (November 14, 2011)

I had admired HARLEM MAD, the new CD of Glenn Crytzer’s compositions — with a swinging ensemble that included Ray Skjelbred, Solomon Douglas, Meschiya Lake, Dave Brown, and other hot luminaries.  (If you’ve never heard the band, here’s my review:  https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2011/07/19/harlem-mad-glenn-crytzer-and-his-syncopators/.

A small version of the Syncopators: Kevin Woods, trumpet; Pete Petersen, reeds; Solomon Douglas, piano; Glenn, guitar, vocal, original compositions; Mike Weatherly, string bass; Mark Ribera, drums — played several sets two nights ago at SALOON on the Upper East Side of New York City.  I was impressed: the group has a charging energy.  They’re a jump band, somewhere between the 1939 Goodman Sextet (Glenn likes that Charlie Christian fellow) and a Louis Jordan unit.  Frankly, although all the members of the band appear to be fair-skinned, they could pass easily for one of the small bands in the Decca studios in the late Thirties, making records for Decca’s “Sepia Series.”  Or a powerful version of the little band Lee and Lester Young led.  Hear for yourself.

Here are three selections from the first set (I would have liked to stay, but work beckoned with its bony finger):

An original by Glenn, its title not explained — but we don’t mind a little mystery — SKINNY MINNIE.  That’s Mr. Woods on the hot mouthpiece:

Here’s an undisguised homage to the 1939 Goodman Sextet, the Christian – Hampton blues, SOFT WINDS:

And the best for last — Glenn’s deadpan paean to elevation, THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER:

If you find fault with the lyrics or the concept, just remember it’s in praise of stilts, step-stools, elevator shoes, platform heels.

The Syncopators live up to their name.  And you can’t see the happy dancers — including the very hip Dawn Hampton and Lynn Redmile, but even the Beloved got out there and cut a very stylish rug on that floated wood floor.  Good job all ’round!

HARLEM MAD: GLENN CRYTZER AND HIS SYNCOPATORS

The stuff is here and it’s mellow!

Many jazz musicans present themselves not only as players but as composers, with varying results. 

Seattle-based Glenn Crytzer — guitarist, banjoist, singer — is one of those rare creative beings who beautifully fills both roles.  The evidence is on YouTube, and most recently on a new small-band CD, HARLEM MAD, which presents twenty (count ’em) originals by Glenn, with star turns by Meschiya Lake, Solomon Douglas, and Ray Skjelbred. 

Instead of brooding “compositions” that serve only as jumping-off places for long solos, or thirty-two bar borrowings that take their A section from something familiar and their B from something even more so, Glenn’s songs have real shape and authenticity. 

On HARLEM MAD, you’ll hear a broad variety of performances that could be taken from the archives — unissued takes and masters from 1926 to 1949, from Glenn’s own take on rough-hewn South Side Chicago of the Twenties (Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Bertrand) to cheerfully lopsided jump tunes that nod to Monk as well as Jacquet and Byas. 

And there are vocals as well — for the justly-praised Meschiya Lake, who comes through on this CD as a fully-developed star personality, whether moaning the blues or suggesting that we get rhythm and jump with her.  The songs romp, groove, and moan — there are paeans to getting frisky on the dance floor, as well as heartbroken blues and naughty laments about making love to the wrong woman in the dark . . . all genres are more than adequately spoken for!’

I thought of Rod Serling — a jazz fan wanders into a diner where he’s never been, in an unidentified time and place.  The coffee is hot; the apple pie is fine . . . . and the jukebox needs no coins and plays one wildly appealing yet unfamiliar song after another . . .  But this isn’t the Twilight Zone, and HARLEM MAD isn’t a science-fiction dreamlike artifact.  

Here are Glenn, Meschiya, and the Syncopators performing one of Glenn’s originals from HARLEM MAD, NEW YEAR BLUES.  (And, yes, who could mistake the trumpet player in the clip?  That’s our own Bria Skonberg.):

And TEN ‘TIL FIVE, which suggests both the 1941 Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian and one of the Minton’s sessions recorded that same year by Jerry Newman:

See what I mean?  The compositions on HARLEM MAD are the title song / TEN ‘TIL FIVE / YOU DON’T SAY / WITCHING HOUR BLUES / FORTUNATE LOVE / BARNEY’S BOUNCE / PAYIN’ NO MIND / CENTURY STOMPS / NEW YEAR BLUES / WALLINGFORD WIGGLES / I GOT NOTHIN’ / LAZY / THE CLAWJAMMER / MR. RHYTHM / FUMBLIN’ AROUND / THE DEPRIVATION BLUES / RAINIER VALLEY RHYTHM / PARC ON SUMMIT / THE BEAVER BUMP / NICE AND SLOE. 

The multi-talented musicians on the CD are Steve Mostovoy, trumpet / cornet; Dave Loomis, trombone; Craig Flory, clarinet / tenor; Paul Woltz, alto / brass bass; Ray Skjelbred or Solomon Douglas, piano; Glenn Crytzer, guitar / banjo / vocal; Dave Brown or Matt Weiner, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums / washboard; Meschiya Lake, vocals. 

It’s not nice to tease people, but if you’re feeling whimsical when one of your jazz pals is visiting, you might pick a track from this CD and put it on, unannounced and unidentified . . . when the eyebrows go up and the friend wants to know exactly what that music (newly encountered) is, see how far you can go with a straight face, “Oh, that’s an unissued 1930 Champion by an otherwise unknown Chicago band,” or “That’s something they dug out of the Savoy vaults from 1947.  Like it?” 

Glenn  Crytzer and the Syncopators are just that good, just that swinging. 

There’s a great interview with Glenn at SWUNGOVER: http://swungover.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/interview-with-glenn-crytzer-of-the-syncopators/

and for more information about HARLEM MAD, visit Glenn’s website: http://www.syncopators.com.  Mellow indeed.