All posts by John Paul Carillo

Percussion, Allsorts, and Vermont

King Crimson played their first American gig in Vermont, at Goddard college. My first band, Tin River Junction, played its first gig at Goddard also. Unlike Crimson, we didn’t know what we were doing yet. Considering that fact, it went well. But what made the show
memorable for me was a conversation guitarist Drew and I had with a musician from the dub band that was scheduled to go on after us.

We didn’t know what instrument he played yet, so, in this nervous youthful way of starting a conversation, we asked him.

“Guitar,” said Dub Dude.

“Oh,” said Drew, “so do—”

“And I play delay pedal, tremolo pedal, wah pedal, distortion pedal, overdrive pedal,
reverb box…”

Dub Dude went on and on. He went on to list, like, twenty-two pedals that he considered
“instruments” that he “played.”

I remember, when we got out of earshot of this guy, laughing at him. “Man,” I said to Drew, “this guy’s burnt.” Dub Dude was stoned. He was very very high. “Listing his effects as instruments. He’s crazy.”

But that was twenty-five years ago and I’ve come to see things differently.

*

In 1973, King Crimson released Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, arguably their best work. One of the many reasons this album is so wonderful is Jamie Muir, the percussionist who is on this album only and stuck around for like maybe six shows. On the CD release of Larks’ Tongue I have, and I assume on the original LP release as well, Muir is credited with playing over 70 instruments. Each individual piece of percussion is listed. “Hollow Log” is one. “Whip,” I think, is another. “8 x 10 piece of sheet metal” is listed separately from “4 x 6 piece of sheet metal.”

Jamie Muir of King Crimson
Jamie Muir of King Crimson

When I first read these liner notes, I remember bursting out laughing. What a joker! It had to be that British sense of humor, a remnant of the colorful and psychedelic sixties, Monty Pythonesque even. Hollow Log! That’s the one that really got me.

Yet, from listening to the album, and watching Muir perform with Crimson on a video filmed on the set of Beat Club, it makes sense. Live, he moved around the stage fur-clad like a madman on the hunt, picking up individual percussion instruments, then dropping them to move on to the next while he blew a whistle that hung around his neck.

Whether it’s meant as a joke to list all those instruments, or it’s a musicological / philosophical statement – or both, which is the way I see it (the phrase “percussion and allsorts” is what Fripp uses to credit Muir when time and/or space is limited) – I think it’s great. And hilarious. And all those sounds are certainly an important part of the album.

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Radio Bean, Burlington VT
Radio Bean, Burlington VT
My current band, Joy on Fire, just played Vermont for the first time. Radio Bean, in Burlington. It is now one of my favorite places to play, and I’d like to thank Brittany of Ivamae, who we met when she was on tour in Baltimore, for setting the show up. By the way, I’m John Paul
Carillo, and I play bass, guitar, distortion pedal, delay pedal, wah pedal, overdrive pedal, micro synth…

Chris plays drums, cymbals, congas, djembe, frame drum, temple bell, jingle bells, seed shell shakers, cowbell, claps, vibratone, …

Anna plays alto sax, baritone sax, tenor sax, soprano sax, glockenspiel, claps, piano, synth, tom drum….

—John Paul Carillo

What Kind of Music is This?

Between sets at Fox & Crow in Jersey City, a man sitting at the bar, near the performance area, said, “How would one classify your music?” He looked like a rock’n’roller in his 40s—he had the bowling shirt with a name, maybe his, stitched in red on the pocket—but it turned out he was also into King Crimson and Miles and a lot of our influences.

“Yeah, we’re not sure either,” said Anna, “but we call it ‘punk-jazz fuzz-rock.’”

This dude, a good dude, cool to talk to, didn’t accept our description. “Is it fusion?” he said.

“I’m afraid of the word ‘fusion,’” I said. “It’s gotten wanky. Fusion has gotten wanky since Miles.”

“We don’t want to call it prog,” said Anna.

“Oh, it’s definitely not prog,” said the dude—though, later in the night, the three of us had a long conversation about King Crimson, who may or may not be prog considering one’s
definition.

King Crimson
King Crimson circa 1972

“Call it 70s fusion,” said Kipp. (I’ve decided the name on the shirt is actually his, not just thrift store happenstance. Somehow, introductions were never properly made, or maybe drunkenly forgotten, though we hope to run into him again, possibly as per this writing.)

“But then it sounds like we do Miles and
Mahavishnu and Weather Report covers.”

“Oh, no,” said Kipp. “You don’t have to do covers. Just keep doing what you’re doing! The way you use saxophone, the way she plays, it sounds like an electric guitar, it takes place of the electric guitar. It sounds like she’s using effects, even though she isn’t.”

Anna smiled.

“Right!” I said. “It just sounds, you know, like we do covers if we say—”

“Call it 70s style fusion,” said Kipp.

Later, during our second set, between our tunes ‘China, North Carolina’ and ‘Slayer Jazz,’ Kipp turned to a friend, who had come into Fox & Crow as the set started, “How would you classify this music?” I heard him say.

*

At another venue, in another state—Test Pattern in Winston Salem, NC—the club’s soundman came onto stage after our set, excited by our newest material. “I don’t think ‘punk-jazz fuzz-rock’ does your sound justice,” said Jenkins. “I think you should call it ‘Cinema Rock.’” I like this, but what does it mean?

photo: Roger Piche
photo: Roger Piche

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A quote often attributed to Miles Davis, though I’ve heard it attributed to others, and it’s probably been invented and reinvented many times: “There are only two kinds of music: weird music and boring music.” No, that’s not the quote. You know the quote.

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Come see us in Harlem this weekend: Friday, August 4 at Shrine; Saturday August 5 at
Silvana. Both sets 9-10pm.

—John Paul Carillo

Joy on Fire at The Cloud Club (and after (and before))

We had decided to make a few changes in our set list after walking around the courtyard of Boston’s celebrated and magical Cloud Club. Cloud Club Fire EscapeThe spirit of the place had put us in a different mood. The evening’s events were being held outside, and we wanted our music—at least for the opening half of the set—to cohere with the wild, overflowing city garden we’d be playing in front of. As I walked around the brick paths before the night’s music began, I noticed the artistic touches in the garden’s construction—hobby horses stuck onto iron gates covered with ivy; Greco-Roman plaster heads, also covered in ivy; heads carved from coconuts that sprouted flowers; huge spheres of light that appeared, from a distance, to be floating in mid air—and this feeling of delight continued as the evening’s events began. Cloud Club OrbMali, singer/songwriter/pianist for Jaggery, who had organized the show, began the music with a wonderful song for bells and voice she had written especially for the event (ironically, the metaphorical conceit of the piece concerned weather). Three very good short films were shown. Folk artist Josh Cole passed out percussion instruments as he played his set. Valerie Kuhn’s new cello/violin/vocal project Naked Roots Conducive featured the hilarious lines: “When the Demon comes/It’s time to grow up/When the Demon comes/It’s time to shut the fuck up.” As much as I like these lines, and laughed out loud from the back of the courtyard when Val sang them, I blame Val—or thank her, as the case may be—for what happened next.

Joy on Fire was the closing act of the night, and as we were plugging in and tuning up, Mali ran up to us and said, “It’s going to rain! It may start in an hour, or it may start—” and then we felt the first drop.

The decision to move the show inside was pretty swift. Within ten minutes, the show had changed from a garden party to a basement punk rock blowout. The change of vibe required a change of set, and we stomped into our driving opener, “Le Phant.” It worked, and the energy was good. By the time we got to our closer, “Punk Jazz,” the Demon came, and I stopped the song in the middle to yell at everyone because they weren’t dancing. “This is dance music!” By the time we picked it back up, I had shut the fuck up, and most everyone in the room—including the band (excluding the artist who had been and still was painting a picture of us as we played)—was dancing. So we played one more song—untitled but with the working title “Disco Metal”—as the garden-party-turned-punk-house-show-turned-dance-riot was almost complete.

Cloud Club NightWe were on the road by midnight, headed on Interstate 90 back to the Hudson Valley to demo a new tune with engineer Jesse Melito; to the Hudson Valley, where we’d played two shows booked by our friend Corinna Makris only 24 hours before….

-John Paul Carillo

Joy on Fire at the Storied Grounds of Tompkins Square Park

After seven weeks away from our home in Greensboro, North Carolina, Anna and I finally came home in early July. Looking back at all the good gigging and recording and jamming that Anna, Chris, and I did in the Northeast from May to June, the gig that stands out for me is International Make Music Day, June 27, which, for Joy on Fire, and thanks to Corinna Makris, who acquired the permit (this permit plays an important role in the story), took place in Tompkins Square Park, NYC.

As per circumstances—an early morning uncancellation of the gig due to sunshine after a late-night cancellation due to thunderstorms, Chris’s car being in the shop, etc.—we got a late start, and with the gas generator pull-started and roaring and coughing and spewing exhaust and creating a rhythm all its own while powering our amps, we were set up and ready to play by 2:40pm. A crowd had already begun to form, and in this crowd, beside the street punks, weed dealers, families eating ice-cream, and at least one guy on a unicycle, was a man who worked for the NYC Parks Department. He asked if we had a permit. Corinna was ready for him and brandished the permit. “This is only good to three o’clock,” he said. “You’ll have to shut down by three.” We debated this, but he was insistent. It was now 2:45. With wide eyes we looked at each other. This was surely a lot of set-up and all kinds of other work for a fifteen-minute gig. On the other hand, it definitely created a sense of urgency.

We brought this urgency into our playing and blasted into a stomping version of our opening number, “Le Phant.” By the time we were done with our second tune, “The Spider’s House,” the crowd had grown to twice its original size, photos were being snapped, and people were taking videos and dancing—and we had two minutes left to play. We only have one piece that fits this short format, so Anna switched from alto to baritone sax as quickly as she could, and we played “Punk Jazz,” a tune with a head, a solo, and then the head again, and that’s it.

It was now three. The Parks Department Guy was nowhere to be seen. With the crowd’s encouragement (they knew the score) and to their enjoyment, we kept playing. By the time we made it to “Disco Metal,” the last song in our set, Parks Department Guy, with his arms crossed, was once again part of the audience. Though he insisted on cutting us off as per his badge, he seemed to enjoy what he heard, and when it was all over, the members of the crowd dispersing on their ways to the rest of their New York City days, we gave him a CD.

-John Paul Carillo

A unique shape?

Sam Smith just lost his case for copyright infringement because he stole the tune from Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.” But the controversy’s not over, because copyright infringement wasn’t the controversy in the first place. The real controversy is: Why is “Stay With Me” up for a Grammy at all?

Smith can sing, I guess, but the song shape is boring, and the production is mawkish. Jimmy Page, no stranger to lawsuits of this type, and recently sued by the band Spirit for supposedly ripping off the opening of “Stairway to Heaven,” defends himself in these cases by basically saying “My composition has a unique shape.”

Does this idea — a unique shape — even make sense to your average contemporary listener? Probably not, and that’s too bad….

Here’s a short YouTube video I found overlaying both songs for just the first few bars. Enough to show the similarities and the differences. What do you think?