Posts Tagged ‘ clinton curtis

Making Waves in Brazil

I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to get to travel the world with the Clinton Curtis Band, from Santo Domingo to Turkmenistan. This month, we returned from a 3-week romp through Brazil in the midst of World Cup fever, organized by the US Embassy and consulates. The guys at b2 Filmes did a fantastic job with this clip, detailing 4 days in the state of Pernambuco, engaging in concerts and workshops with Brazilian artists such as Maestro Forró in Recife and Projeto Batuque in Garanhuns.

The problem with Brazil, though, is that the more time you spend there, the more time you want to spend…

Congó drummer Sagrilo in Vitória, Brazil

Why Keep Doing What You Love?

We’ve met lots of kids here on our travels through Latin America: kids fortunate enough to learn English in American schools and visit family in the US, other kids who have never left their hometown. We’ve seen kids 8- to 12-years-old working on construction on a poorly maintained mountain highway.

Clinton Curtis and Gray Reinhard pose with local children after our concert in Danli, Honduras

Last night, before our open-air concert in Danlí, Honduras, some disheveled-looking kids asked me for change. I apologized, but as I asked them about their town, their home, their expressions changed from miserly to curious. It was as if they had never before met an American who wanted to know about their lives. They asked about the band, about the kinds of music we play, about who we are and where we come from.

There are times when my practical nature questions the value of encouraging others to pursue artistic pastimes. For as many who are fortunate enough to carve out careers in what we love to do, there are countless more who flounder. If it’s so hard to make a living playing music with all the opportunities available to us in New York, is it right to encourage a child in a developing country to pursue their passion when it may frustrate their ability to build a stable life and family?

Students at La Casa De Cultura, Danli

But somehow, meeting these Latin American kids with (often, though not always) less opportunities than I’ve had gives the phrase and sentiment “keep doing what you love” new resonance. Why is it worth shooting for, no matter what your background? Because it’s difficult. Because not everyone gets to do what they love. But because some of us can, and because when we lead lives enriched by our passions, we can share and exchange that wealth with everyone else we can reach.

Justin Goldner is a bassist, guitarist, producer, songwriter, language junkie and lover of culture in all its manifestations. Follow him on Twitter @JusBass.

American Music Abroad Tour: Merengue in Santo Domingo

This month I’m on tour in Central and South America with the Clinton Curtis Band, through a very special program called American Music Abroad. Organized by American Voices and the U.S. embassies in each country, they send numerous American musical groups around the world to perform and engage in cultural exchanges.

Colonial Zone, Santo Domingo

We just finished a week in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic filled with several concerts for absolutely outstanding audiences. We also had the chance to give several master classes for Dominican students, which has been one of the most rewarding parts of our tour so far. It’s as if we have the opportunity to rectify every sub-par educational experience we had in childhood, and the responsibility to pass on every positive educational experience from which we benefited to the next generation.

Moreover, we’ve met tons of incredibly talented kids who are eager to share their own talents and cultural background with us. Yesterday after our master class at UASD in Santo Domingo, music students showed us some traditional merengue rhythms.

Holiday in Turkmenistan

This Thanksgiving, I took turkey to the extreme with a trip with the Clinton Curtis Band to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan to perform at the American Culture Days Festival organized by the U.S. Embassy. For those unfamiliar with the Central Asian steppes, Turkmenistan is a former Soviet state nestled between Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. It’s capital, Ashgabat, lies 10 miles from the border with Iran.

Clinton Curtis & Geoff Countryman visit music conservatory students in Mary, Turkmenistan

Things started getting exciting when we arrived at the gate in Istanbul for our midnight flight from to Ashgabat. We were greeted by a plethora of women in gorgeous Turkmen dress who employed some serious puppy dog eyes when asking me to carry aboard some of their (abundant) duty-free bags. We were careful to walk the thin line between offending anyone and inadvertently carrying contraband onto an international flight.

When we landed at 4am after about 24 hours of traveling, we were informed that Americans rarely fly in via Istanbul, because in the case of bad weather, the flight diverts to Tehran. My initial disappointment was supplanted by relief when we learned that Americans in Tehran without an official invitation are promptly jailed. Guess we dodged a Persian-rug-sized bullet.

Turkmen Ministry of Water building, shaped like a plunger

The city of Ashgabat is dotted with enormous, gleaming monuments, built since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and set against the backdrop of mountain ranges surrounding the flat desert city. The Ministry of Gas is designed to look like a giant Bic cigarette lighter, while the Ministry of Water is somewhat reminiscent of a plunger. The ornate “Palace of Happiness” is where newlywed couples go to register their marriages.

Portraits of their current president adorn the interior– and exterior– of most buildings and the national airline. Not only a dentist, he is an avid equestrian as well as a guitarist and accordion player. We were given complementary encyclopedic volumes that he wrote on “Medicinal Plants of Turkmenistan”.

Monument to former president Saparmurat Niyazov that previously rotated to perpetually face the sun

The trip was particularly special because we were able to experience a taste of Turkmen culture with companions, including the phenomenal bluegrass band Della Mae, the jazz virtuosi of Ari Roland Quartet, and New York breadmeister, founding owner of Sullivan St. Bakery and Co., Jim Lahey.

But the Turkmens’ response to us was also overwhelming. Volunteer students, seemingly from the upper echelons of civil society (many were ethnically Russian), flocked around us before, during, and after the concert. After gigs with Ryan Beatty and Ed Sheeran, I’m accustomed to how to act around starry-eyed teenagers (hey, I was accustomed to being one), but the distinctive element here was that we too were bubbling over to have been catapulted here halfway around the globe, meeting these people whose lives and experiences differ widely from our own but whose interests and aspirations are so familiar.

Clinton Curtis & Della Mae sport traditional Turkmen hats

Della Mae and Ari Roland’s group put on tightly calibrated, wonderful shows for a very receptive audience. We stepped on stage last, unsure of how an auditorium filled with dignitaries of conservative generations and students of arts institutes would respond to our overly cranked amplifiers and raucous posturing. Clinton is, of course, incapable of playing it safe. We opened with “Best You Can“, and tossed each other sidelong glances as he delivered ambiguous lyrics on Cat Stevens. As the set ground on, we repeatedly elicited unison clapping from the audience. It soon became clear that there were widely different factional responses, from hardened women in traditional dress with intractable scowls, to younger kids whose enthusiasm was contagious. Experienced in drawing some reaction, anything from a crowd, we quickly resolved to leave our everything on stage, do with it what they would. As we skanked through “Only Way Out”, Clinton left them with an impromptu screaming guitar solo worthy of Marty McFly. In that moment, I wondered how many Turkmen teens were developing plans of musical world domination like those that we in the band still nurture.

My own inclinations for the situation were perhaps a little bit safer, but once the gauntlet had been thrown down, I had to follow. “Riverside Hotel” tumbled into a drum and bass breakdown, but how do you communicate to an audience who may never have seen such explosive live drumming just what is happening on stage? I climbed onto the bass amplifier, unaware that it was perched precariously between two levels of the stage. 15 seconds of energetic wobbling could have ended in physical and diplomatic disaster, but somehow I managed to stick the landing right as Clinton and the band flung us into a double-time coda. Springsteen would have been proud. The Turkmen Minister of Culture was not as easily impressed, later requesting that I not repeat the stunt for our closing concert.

4 out of 5 of us discovered the hard way that many foreigners get sick the first time they visit central Asia and we spent several days bowing to the porcelain throne. In the midst of digestive troubles and band members dropping like flies, Clinton, saxophonist Geoff Countryman and drummer Drew McLean toured the city of Mary, once a major stop on the Silk Road, and put on a moving improvised performance there for local students and dignitaries. Fortunately, the rest of us were able to pull ourselves together for our final concert Sunday evening. After our performances, we were invited back on stage to join the native performers in a 15-minute disco clap fest. (By that point, half of the audience seemed to be on stage with us.)

We were also surprised to discover that the American Culture Days Festival was sponsored in part by Chevron, ExxonMobile and the Ashgabat-Alberquerque Sister Cities Foundation. According to Wikipedia,

Research conducted by the World Pensions Council (WPC) suggests that Turkmenistan’s political isolation ended remarkably in the years 2011-2012 as US, Chinese, Russian, Iranian and Turkish institutional investors courted Ashgabat, vying for a piece of the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas.[25]

On the way back, a few of us made a stop in Istanbul, which after a week of no sleep seemed rather like Valhalla. Istanbul is one of the most beautiful, enchanting, historically rich and cosmopolitan cities in the world– an onion layered with thousands of years of eastern and western culture.

Stepping into one of the scores of local music shops near the Galata Tower, constructed after the 1453 Ottoman capture of Constantinople, our noodling quickly sparked an impromptu jam session with passers-by. Not to be outdone, the store owner whipped out an Ottoman military double-reed called a “zurna”, which is easily the noisiest and least in-tune instrument you will ever hear. Gray Reinhard shredded on a bağlama sax, whilst Clinton Curtis and each I brought home a fretless “cümbüş” (pronounced joom-boosh), a hybrid instrument between a banjo and a rice cooker. You can expect the sweet smell of rice and some vaguely out-of-tune noodling at a Clinton Curtis show in the near future.

Here you can see even more photos from our trip – taken by Geoff Countryman and Clinton Curtis. Thanks to Clinton and Geoff for the generous use of their photos and videos in this post, and to the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan as well as the Turkmen government for making such a unique trip possible.

Curtis & Reinhard’s “No Nothing” featured on So You Think You Can Dance

I can’t even begin to express how proud I was to see Curtis & Reinhard‘s “No Nothing” tonight on So You Think You Can Dance, from our record Live At The Pigeon Club. It was stunning to see the tune choreographed and performed so well by Witney and Marko:

The heart-wrenching tune is without a doubt a favorite from the album and at our live shows. I distinctly remember hearing Blaire Reinhard‘s voice through the headphones as we recorded it, incredulous that I was hearing such a sound, that I was part of something so moving occurring at that very instant. It’s those kinds of moments that drew people like me to music in the first place and that keep me coming back, day after day.

Clinton, Gray and Blaire write about the unique collaborative process for this song here on the Curtis & Reinhard Blog, and you can download “No Nothing” directly from iTunes.

Congrats to Blaire, Gray and Clinton– I find it inspiring that such a moving, meaningful song can make it onto national television to find such a wide audience.

Year-End 2011 Best Albums List

I’m notoriously slow on the uptake so some of these records may have seen the light of day prior to 2011, but here is some music that that I’ve been digging on this past year:

Becca Stevens Band - Weightless

Becca Stevens Band – Weightless
Beautiful, out, sophisticated original vocal melodies and creative covers with subtly textured vocal and instrumental arrangements. She’s a bit of an open secret in New York and probably won’t stay under the radar for long.

Punch Brothers – Antifogmatic
Chris Thile’s new project, produced by Jon Brion. All of the gritty bluegrass and sophisticated/out harmony of Thile’s old band Nickel Creek, without the slicker pop melodies. It’s weird, and great.

Shusmo – Mumtastic
I love this New York cross-cultural fusion group. This follow up to their EP One features the same ensemble with a few more breakbeats and a dirrrrrrrty sound for Tareq Aboushi’s buzuq. Until tomorrow, they’re running a holiday promotion where you can download the album for only $5. Well worth the bandwidth.

Fayvish – YIDDPOP
A German group singing contemporary, original Yiddish music. Sounds something like Soul Coughing– vaguely jazzy, bare but colorful. Check out “Akhtsik er, zibetsik zi”.

Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Revelator
Combining some of the best blues singing and guitar playing there is out there with 9 other incredible musicians culled from Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks’ respective bands.

Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
Produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Mavis’ voice still chills to the bone. Organic, traditional sounding and awash in tremolo.

Bon Iver (Self-Titled)
Bon Iver managed to follow up his successful For Emma, Forever Ago with a record that maintains the vibe of its predecessor but greatly expands on its sound. It’s organic and electric, intimate and vast.

Meshell Ndegeocello – Weather
What can I say, I’m a devotee. Groovy, vibey, sometimes crunchy, and surprisingly hooky. If you go into a Meshell record without expectations, you’re bound to come out the better for it.

Clinton Curtis – 2nd Avenue Ball
In full disclosure, I’m lucky enough to play in Clinton Curtis’ live band. 2nd Avenue Ball was made before my tenure, however, and I think the 15-track record is quite a masterpiece front to back. I’ll leave it at that.

Erin McCarley - Love, Save The Empty

Pomplamoose – VideoSongs
Nataly Dawn is one of my new favorite bass players, for the weird, angular lines that she lays down on these and other Pomplamoose tracks. Her other half, Jack Conte, is a brilliant producer combining an ear for creating sounds with incredibly interesting uses of electronic music techniques. Apparently this album is from 2009, so I’m just catching up to the party.

Erin McCarley – Love Save The Empty
Jamie Kenney‘s production takes the best of Fiona Apple/Jon Brion collaborations without quite so much brooding. The first three tracks alternate quirky verses with Coldplay-style epic hooks.

Sara Bareilles – Kaleidescope Heart
Super piano-poppy and awesome. This is how you write a pop song. Producer Neal Avron, who made his break with Everclear’s So Much For The Afterglow, sets the standard for textured but efficient arrangements, and ubiquitous LA session rhythm section Matt Chamberlain and Justin Meldal-Johnsen are so damn tight.

Maxwell – BLACKsummers’night
Already a couple years old, but this is the gift that keeps giving. An unbelievable soul/r+b record combining a tight live band with careful programming and production.

Any albums that should have been on this list that I need to hear? Let me know in the comments!