Olive Street, Jonestown, San Diego black activists, Sherley Williams, the blind, the fat, the author's family
Jangchup Phelgyal 8:30 a.m., May 26
“I’m not sure what to call it. Electric space jazz, I guess.” On Saturday February 25 tenor saxist Ian Tordella will host a CD release party for his second album Tragic Comedy. He’ll be joined by Jeff Miles and Joey Carano on guitars, bassist Danny Weller, and Richard Sellers on drums.
“The sound of the band is different than other jazz bands. I use two guitarists with effects and they get to do whatever they want. You hear things like the sounds of amps breaking up and distortion, not the clean sound of the jazz guitars of the ‘40s and the ‘50s.”
In crafting the overall statement of Tragic Comedy, what influenced Tordella? “I don’t know.” He laughs. “I had originally planned some songs with guitars and some songs with piano but all the piano players I work with were out of town or unavailable at the time I booked the studio, so I went with two guitars.”
Influenced by the modern jazz sounds coming out of New York, Tordella shows vestiges of trad jazz and pop music as well. “It’s almost obligatory to do Radiohead and Bjork covers. I guess I got a little more esoteric in putting on the Stereolab covers.” He agrees that his quintet is...different. "This is going in the direction of weirdness, abstraction, and trip hop.”
But Tragic Comedy is not abstract to the point of being inaccessible -- and it could easily have gone in that direction. Yeah, there’s noise, but it is not gratuitous art noise for the sake of noise. Tordella’s players reign the sound in before it goes off into some form of useless discordance. In this case, the processed guitars add textures to the tracks not unlike the stuff one hears on South African pop recordings.
Then, this is most definitely a sax player album but where Tordella could rip and show off his chops he lays back and crafts deliberate, simple lines in renderings that are both clear and melodic. “A lot of jazz musicians want to play fast,” he says. “Testosterone music.” Tordella surely can do the testosterone thing but on this record he makes his horn sound aloof and almost melancholy in the way that electric violinist Jean Luc Ponti drenched an entire career with blue tones back in the 1970s. Is Tragic Comedy more tragic than comic?
“You’re not wrong.” He laughs. “I think in some of my writing, some of that comes out. It’s a collection of depressing tunes,” he finally says. “Tragic Comedy is about what it’s like to be a jazz musician today. You can do it, but you won’t get paid.”
Originally from Washington DC, Tordella now lives in Golden Hill. He’s been called a hard bop stylist with a sound that draws inspiration from boppers past such as Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, and Wayne Shorter. The name of Wayne Shorter in fact comes up a lot in conjunction with Tordella as a style reference. Does he mind the constant comparisons? No.
“I love it, actually. He’s the greatest living sax player.” He says Dexter Gordon along with Shorter’s earlier sound back during the 1960s were influences when he was starting out on jazz sax. “If I get compared to him, that’s okay.”
Hard bop came about as an extension of the cool (not smooth) jazz movement. Both hard bop and cool jazz guys took their cues from the bebop of the 1940s, a music that was fast, chromatic, dissonant, and wild. Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk are both prime illustrations of the bebop playing and life style. Hard bop blended rhythm and blues, gospel music, and blues and emerged during the mid-1950s. Miles Davis is said to have been the first to play hard bop style jazz to the public; Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and more would follow soon after. The late Michael Brecker is a modern example of a hard bop sax player.
Tordella attended the University of North Texas in the small town of Denton before coming to San Diego in 2003. North Texas is to jazz music what the University of Iowa is to creative writing. “For your sax curiosity,” he says, “they have the largest enrollment of sax players in the world – 150? Something like that. And all of them auditioning for 55 or 60 spots in bands. The competition there,” he says, “is intense.”
In San Diego, he studied privately with hometown altoist Chuck McPherson. “He’s a positive guru of the saxophone. He’s got a good ear and can analyze your solo as it goes by and pinpoint stuff where you can play better. Better phrasing, the shape of your line.”
Jazz may not pay well (did it ever?) but it is more vital than ever, Tordella says. “Jazz musicians are finding other ways to make money,” like holding down day jobs or teaching music. Tordella himself teaches sax, and he also produces a monthly pod cast at dirtythursdays.com. It started out with jazz friends and expanded over time, he says, to include singer/songwriters and even bluegrass musicians.
“I have a ton of studio equipment and I decided to use it to do something positive for the local scene. I wanted to get guys to come in and record so I could capture the music from bands that may only be around for a short while.”
Ian Tordella Group CD Release and Glashaus Device Gallery’s 3rd anniversary party, Saturday January 25th, 6pm-11pm 1815 Main Street Suite B, San Diego, CA 92113 The Mattson 2 and guitarist Dusty Brough also perform.