Tag Archives: borghi teager

Borghi | Teager at Muskegon’s The Block on Saturday 02.21.15

All has been quiet on the blog front this last month due to the wonderful new addition to our family. Regular posting should resume soon, but first a concert announcement:

This Saturday, I’ll be performing what I believe to be my first hometown show as a leader. I’ve played a number of fun (and occasionally featured) gigs in Muskegon over the years, but none of those have included my name in the top billing. This weekend, however, the Borghi | Teager ambient juggernaut will land in and sound throughout Michigan’s City by the Lake. The weather should hold for the evening, so please come out if you’re in the area. And don’t just take my word for it – we’re #1 is this weekend’s Top 5 Things To Do in the Muskegon Chronicle.

We’re performing at The Block, a wonderful, intimate venue opened by the West Michigan Symphony a couple years ago that offers up-close performances in myriad styles. Matt and I have long thought that our music is more akin to a listening space such as a concert hall as opposed to a rock club (even though we’re happy to play the latter!). Generally, for this type of music in that type of an environment, it’s been Philadelphia’s The Gathering or bust for us, and so we’re excited to have such a great opportunity close to home.

From the official press release:

Performance duo Borghi and Teager bring “jambient” music to a February performance at The Block in downtown Muskegon.

Matt Borghi (guitars, effects) and Michael Teager (saxophones, flute) are a recording and live performance duo focusing on improvised ambient, or “jambient,” music. The duo combines guitars, winds and electronics to make each performance a unique experience. The program starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21. Doors and cash bar open at 6:30 p.m.

Matt Borghi is a sound artist, music composer, writer, but he claims that above all he’s a musical improviser, using his guitar in traditional and non-traditional means. His recordings have been featured on NPR, BBC and CBC.

Michael Teager is a Muskegon native and versatile musician, performing frequently throughout the Midwest in a variety of styles. He also serves on the faculties of Spring Arbor University and Michigan State University’s Office of Study Abroad, teaching each summer in Bregenz, Austria.

Saturday evening’s concert is titled “Soundscape. Improvised. Jazz.” When asked what audiences might expect form a Borghi and Teager concert, Michael Teager, who also regularly plays saxophone with the West Michigan Symphony, explained that the concert would be “a unique, contemplative evening of sound. Our music is too active to be considered traditionally ambient, it’s melodic and heavily improvised but doesn’t swing, and there are formal structures that constantly evolve.” Teager continued, “There’s something for everyone. We’ve also put together some visuals to make it a more immersive, sensuous experience.”

Overall, musicians Borghi and Teager are focused on the spontaneity of live performance and on taking the listener on a journey into sound.

Tickets for Borghi and Teager’s concert “Soundscape. Improvised. Jazz.” are $20 and available at the West Michigan Symphony ticket office: 231.726.3231 ext. 223; online at https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/WMSO/; or in person at 360 W. Western Ave. in Muskegon. For more information, visit www.westmichigansymphony.org/the-block.

Info:
When: Saturday 02.21 @ 7:30 PM (doors & cash bar at 6:30)
Where: The Block; Muskegon, MI
Tickets: $20, available here

Catching Up

It’s been too long since a new post (not counting the last one, a gig-related update), and the last big entry was pretty inside baseball. The last few months have been quite busy. There are myriad reasons, but the largest of which is likely the prep, execution, and recuperation from the Borghi | Teager East Coast Tour. It was a grassroots, DIY affair and it couldn’t have gone better. Seven shows in four days (not including the bookended days of driving and one day of rest), many of which were in different cities and times (from 4:00 PM to 4:00 AM), including radio sets (both live and pre-taped), genre shows, and non-genre shows. We slept on floors and couches and a few beds and managed to come home with small but comfy profit. Now we’re home, the new studio album is out, and we’re already busy scheming away for 2015 (including a big show in Muskegon – a homecoming of sorts – I’ll plug more at a later date).

But I’ve also been busy teaching and working and attempting a family/social life. And The Fencemen are also quietly rumbling away, dusting off old tunes and writing new ones. And I’m raking leaves. Yada yada…

So I figured I’d perhaps doing a quick roundup of miscellaneous thoughts and notions and updates:

• I actually listened to U2 Songs of Innocence – yes, the free iTunes album everyone was typing in ALL CAPS about. This was about a week ago, actually. I didn’t hyperventilate over it as so many others did. I watched the initial announcement (which was after their performance at the Apple Event) and thought it was more odd than anything, particularly because I thought the song they performed was pretty weak. Granted, I’m a mostly passive U2 fan. I had three albums (not to mention the Batman Forever soundtrack) before Songs…, and I listen to them occasionally at most. I wasn’t too offended that the album was available to download in my account (it didn’t appear on my computer without my authorization), but I was very skeptical and slightly disturbed at the notion that the “freemium” culture had now achieved total corporate saturation. My best case (and hopeful) scenario is that this is hopefully a jumping of the shark of not paying for music. But we’ll see.
Anyway, why did I listen? Because I had read and heard so much about the calamitous PR surrounding and released of the album and almost nothing about the actual content. Well, after one complete listen I can report that most of it didn’t stick with me, save for a couple decent moments. And considering all the hype around the immediate announcement of the album, those moments should’ve been much more than “decent.” I’ll be removing Songs of Meh from my library. I had considered doing a full New Listen going through each song, but that would’ve been more about the act of doing it than caring about the actual music. Which I don’t in this case.

• No matter how big or small a genre or scene may be, I’m continually amazed at the lack of unity or community. You’d think that all would band together and that a rising tide would lift all boats. Instead it’s more like a rising tide is an opportunity to sink your neighbor…

• I recently performed in a chamber recital, my first in a couple years at least. It was lovely to revisit that world and aesthetic, and it has me wanting to possibly do more.

• I’m continually impressed with and amazed by my friends and colleagues. It sounds cliché, but I’m surrounded by some damn talented folks. Some of my favorite music was (and continues to be) created by them.

• The Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross score for Gone Girl is quite good.

• PRISM Quartet’s The Singing Gobi Desert has been nominated for a Grammy. I was happy to see that, as it’s a great release. You can read about it here.

• I should mention again that the new Matt Borghi & Michael Teager effort is out now. Shades of Bending Light is our second studio album. Among many other things, it marks my official return to alto saxophone in a non-classical or musical theater environment. I’ve kept that horn separate for years, for whatever reason. It’s nice to have it back in the fold.

East Coast Performances This Week 10.08-12

Just a quick heads-up, as I know that there are some readers on the East Coast. Should you want to take in some live ambient music, come see Borghi | Teager, my main project with friend and colleague Matt Borghi. The quick rundown:

10.08 Wed. – Baltimore, MD
10.09 Thurs. – Greenwich Village, NYC
10.10 Fri. – Brooklyn, NY
10.10 Fri. – Princeton, NJ (radio)
10.11 Sat. – Philadelphia, PA
10.12 Sun. – Philadelphia, PA (radio)

For full date and venue information, please check our dates page on http://borghi-teager.com.

Previous blog posts on ambient music and stuff related to this project here and here.

Available Now: Borghi | Teager on ‘Ambient Music to Heal’ Compilation

Ambient Music to Heal Cover DD

I’m pleased to announce that Matt and I will be included on a wonderful new album from Dave Luxton‘s ambient label Wayfarer Records. Ambient Music to Heal: An Album for Our Wounded Warriors is a compilation of new works featuring a wonderful lineup that we’re pleased to be a part of, also including: Boreal Taiga, Jonn Serrie, Byron Metcalf, Steve Roach, Dave Luxton, Jon Jenkins, Vic HenneganRobert Rich, and Matt Borghi & Michael Teager. Our contribution, “Cosmic Impression,” is an original piece created and recorded specifically for this release.

Aside from all of the great music, this release has a special aim and is for a noble cause. Dave Luxton is also a clinical psychologist and veteran, and these particular works are meant to “provide a relaxing, therapeutic ambient music for service members and veterans suffering from [physical, mental, emotional health-related [disorders].” All profits of this release will be donated to the Wounded Warriors Project.

Anyone can listen to and enjoy this album, of course. It is available today both digitally and physically from the following outlets:

iTunes
Amazon
CD Baby
Bandcamp

Style & Canon

Style is much larger than a happy mix of canon and jargon. In fact, it can be downright incendiary.


(Photography by Jillian Hakala)

The week before last, my partner Matt Borghi and I – together known as Teag & PK – had a couple local radio spots. The first was a part of 89.7’s Coffee Break and featured a brief interview, during which we were asked the dreaded question: what type of music do you play? We offered a lengthier-than-necessary non-answer (telling the host what styles we don’t play as opposed to those we do), hopefully hiding our annoyance – not with the host, but with the question. We abhor discussing it. As I touched upon in this post, our collaboration features many different musical avenues: one night we’ll feature electronic ambience and improvisation, the next it’ll be completely acoustic and Matt will improvise vocal blues a la Son House (and well, might I add). Simply saying “folk” does more to exclude a large chunk of what we do than cast a wide net. We’re not bluesy enough for the blues-ers, not folky enough for the folkies, and not jazz enough for the jazzers. Instead we are what we are and quite happy with that. (Although it does present an ongoing PR problem.)

I mention this because “style” in general has been a personal nuisance for many years. A label, on paper, may just be a single word – folk – or handful of words (post-hardcore [huh?]), but in context it presents a multitude of problems. If something is “folk,” then what kind? Appalachian? Woody Guthrie? Hungarian? Ani DiFranco? If none of those, does the label then somehow do a disservice to those disparate forbears? If it’s completely different, why use the label at all? Simply because it’s acoustic and not on commercial radio?

A few weeks ago I finally watched Jazz In The Present Tense: Icons Among Us, the 2009 documentary that “answered” (to put it lightly) Ken Burns‘s Jazz. Now, I know that people love to complain about the Ken Burns behemoth, and I’ll be the first to jump all over it. After all, it spent ~19 hours exhaustively discussing everything jazz from 19th-century roots music through hard bop, but then gave ~45 minutes of lip service to the 1960s avant-garde and highlighting Young Lions of whom Wynton Marsalis approves. Cute. But for all its sins, Burns admittedly did a lot of good – the archival material alone is worth the time and money. And it does a wonderful job of presenting jazz and its beginnings as a product of African American culture, and (rightly) how the music fits into the context of US race relations. However, perhaps the biggest fault (or virtue, depending on your viewpoint) is that the whole documentary is based upon a particular canonical view of jazz and its stylistic definition. It really is pretty solid for the first 5 or 6 episodes, but becomes exponentially narrower as the series progresses. It goes from being all-inclusive  to a museum exhibit, allowing access only to those musicians (curators) who once associated with those now-or-soon-to-be-dead icons. (Wynton played with Art Blakey and therefore is the designated torch-bearer, right?) As one of my favorite professors in graduate school said, “Classical music is now mainly an amusement park for old people.” (This coming from a harpsichordist.)

Enter Jazz In The Present Tense. While the documentary of course features many contemporary musicians from the broader jazz spectrum, it’s thesis has to do with the word “jazz” itself. Whereas Burns (and Wynton, or rather Wynton via Burns) stated This is jazz, JITP asks What is jazz today?. The answers come from all sides – Terence Blanchard, John Medeski, Bill Frisell, Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Robert Glasper (his newly-released Black Radio is getting much press), Donald Harrison Jr., Marco Benevento, and more – and it’s quickly evident that these disagreements aren’t  slight. For example, Harrison’s obsession with both hard bop and his association with Art Blakey would even make Wynton blush. The divide between the more traditional jazz-is-anything-up-through-hard-bop and jazz-needs-to-keep-changing-to-stay-alive camps is quite evident. The filmmakers also take some time to focus on the word jazz‘s parallel in rock: jam band. I was very refreshed to see that, as “jam band” is more of a bad word than anything according to many musicians. After the Grateful Dead, most bands who featured improvisation wanted to be called anything but a jam band, a problem that continues to this day. Of course, Herbie was the one to perhaps best state the problem, saying, “The term jazz, in a sense perhaps, is its own worst enemy.” Herbie, one of the last remaining living legends – literally – is still light years beyond not only many of his peers but also the younger generations, both artistically and intellectually. (One of the many reasons I hold him on such a pedestal.)

[Side note: I couldn’t help but literally laugh out loud when Nicholas Payton appeared on my television as the first interviewee, spouting his nonsense. For those at least peripherally aware of online jazz “debates,” he’s heated up the blogosphere the last few months with self-righteous, incoherent rants, stating that jazz is now dead and that we should call what we think of as jazz “Black American Music” instead. Payton’s new term isn’t the problem – it’s his schizophrenic non-explanations of it. He does make compelling points now and again in his various blog entries, but the ongoing argument as a whole is…something. NPR’s perennially-disappointing A Blog Supreme has given Payton’s tripe far more attention than it’s due. If you’ve seen #BAM on Twitter, that’s probably why…]

Of course, this isn’t a film review. My viewing the documentary, coupled with the recent radio spot, are simply two instances out of countless similar experiences I’ve had. But the whole dilemma of style isn’t just an matter of definition, but one of context, as it’s reliant on many factors. One such factor is canon. Every style has its major works that serve as hallmarks. However, once you scratch the surface, you become aware of just how deep the rabbit hole can go, as not everyone will agree on everything. As with the two jazz documentaries, Burns was comfy with most styles through Hard Bop (except for Cool/West Coast), and Icons found almost no consensus on anything.

The classical canon, and expectations of students’ familiarity with it, has stuck in my craw for many years. Going to college and graduate school for (mostly) classical performance is interesting for a saxophonist, considering the instrument is only ~165 years old. Consequently the instrument’s repertoire is only a fraction of the size of the flute’s, violin’s, or piano’s. This causes two issues: 1) saxophonists, unlike most other classically-oriented instruments, are immersed in contemporary music, but 2) this also causes a deficit in performing and knowing older (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, early Romantic) literature. While most classical saxophonists probably couldn’t pick out the second movement of one of Beethoven’s string quartets, we also can pick out and understand the sequenzas of Luciano Berio better than most other classical musicians. Does that mean that classical saxophonists are somehow “less than”? No, it’s just a different animal. Speaking for myself, I have an interest in many of the older/other styles and genres, specifically Renaissance and Baroque music and Wagner. (The latter goes deep.) And my personal (not just academic) interest in orchestral music has really deepened these last couple years. But of course home base, classically speaking, is still contemporary music. (To reference another recent internet meme, I’ve been correcting a musical blind spot. With much enthusiasm.)

I definitely agree that in order to learn a particular style of music (be it a broad category such as classical or jazz, or perhaps narrower like heavy metal), one should be intimately familiar with both the style’s history and the details of its evolution and various iterations. But I don’t believe that it ends there. Not at all. Those who’ve forged ahead to create something new – large or small – have almost always included some sort of outside source or influence. Besides, regarding the above jazz discussion, the biggest argument against the jazz-must-continually-evolve-and-include-outside-styles crowd is that it overlooks or even disregards earlier styles. Following that logic, however, why is it that pre-Hard Bop purists are allowed to do the same for later styles without similar condemnation?

As regular readers know, I’m equal parts classical, jazz, and pop. (Only in that order for alphabetical reasons.) I cringe each time I write, say, or type “classical and jazz saxophonist,” or anything else to that effect. Honestly, I just consider myself, plainly, a “saxophonist” or “musician.” And frankly, at the end of the day, the only canon I’m really concerned with is my own – the canon that has shaped me. As a musician, I’ve worked for years on developing my own personal style and aesthetic. Much work indeed remains to be done, and I’ll arguably never be complete. If someone were to assemble the canon of Michael Teager’s musical education, there would of course be saxophonic references – Coltrane, Liebman, John Harle, James Carter, etc. – throughout, but it would also include the music of the Top 5, Elton John, Richard Wagner, nineties rock, and ECM, just to name a few. Yes, I know A Love Supreme forwards and backwards. (And rightly place it above most other works of art, where it belongs.) But I’m just as familiar with CrashMellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and Aenima (to focus on ’95-’96). And they’re just as important to the musician I am and continue to become as any other “major work.” I discussed this latter point slightly over a year ago here.

It’s not that I think standard repertoire need be diminished or negated, but room must also be made on the pedestal for other, more individualized preferences. In fact, such personalization should be encouraged. While younger generations are becoming more open-minded, it seems that the old guard, especially in classical music, jazz, and other academically-associated musics, remain set in their ways. Slowly but surely, the boundaries are eroding.

This topic has many tributaries, and if I go any further you’ll need breadcrumbs to find your way back. But it does tie together. Style – jazz, classical, folk, blues, rock, etc. – is more than just a word, like it or not. It implicitly suggests and entire tradition and repertoire. Even slight deviations from a stated style can jar the listener, promoter, booker, and/or critic, taking me back to the introductory anecdote about Teag & PK‘s “style.” What do Matt and I call our project? Does it matter? It seems to be in our interest to avoid  such categorizations, or simply make one up just to end the discussion. Common problems we’ve encountered are:
• We’re not “folk” because of the sax (and occasional electronics)
• We’re not “jazz” because of all the verse-chorus songs
• We’re not “blues” because it’s too folky
• We’re not “rock” because it’s guitar and sax
• We’re not “indie” because…we’re not hipsters? 🙂 (We still haven’t figured that one out.)
• Those ambient improvisations? What the hell are those?!?

And to top it off, we really don’t care what it’s called. We’ve considered calling it “acid folk” – not to be confused with “psych folk” – just to have something consistent. And it doesn’t offend any purists we may encounter along the way. When Matt’s canon – ambient, rock, Flight of the Conchords, and blues that Alan Lomax would approve of – meets mine the result is something beyond either of us. It’s also beyond simply picking one style and sticking to it.

The result is what matters. Not what we call it.