Soundbites: Brian McCarthy Unveils 'After|Life' | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Soundbites: Brian McCarthy Unveils 'After|Life'


Published November 6, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.

  • Courtesy Of Brian Mccarthy
  • Brian McCarthy

Spaced Out

Where did we come from? How did we get here? What is the nature of the universe? For Christ's sake, is there someone out there pulling the strings, or is it all just random? Obviously, no one can definitively answer any of these questions. But that doesn't stop philosophers, scientists and artists from trying to come up with satisfying explanations for life's biggest mysteries.

Enter local jazz composer and saxophonist Brian McCarthy. Along with his nonet, the Saint Michael's College and University of Vermont instructor is set to unveil his latest composition, a heady work of modern jazz called After|Life. He'll debut it in a pair of back-to-back performances on Thursday and Friday, November 7 and 8, at the FlynnSpace in Burlington.

McCarthy points to a famous quote from Carl Sagan as an inspiration for his new project.

"The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff," the famed cosmologist wrote in his 1980 book Cosmos.

McCarthy's last nonet project, The Better Angels of Our Nature, which he released as an album in 2017, was a high-concept piece that reflected his extensive research into Civil War-era music. In partnership with his manager, nonet player and wife, Linda Little, McCarthy reinterpreted the 19th-century works and composed modern jazz pieces inspired by them. The album was well received locally and nationally, garnering attention from major outlets such as the Huffington Post and DownBeat.

"[I'm] being more adventurous, pushing myself a lot further [to] see if I can go deeper and push concepts further," McCarthy said of After|Life in a recent phone interview.

McCarthy offered some abstract descriptions of the concert's sound, noting that the suite interprets the formation and dissolution of the primordial nebula, the reigning scientific explanation of how our solar system was formed.

For now, the two shows are the only scheduled performances of After|Life, with the possibility of more dates in the near future.

Double-Checking the Boxes

Last week, I mentioned a new survey of Vermont's music economy from local music incubator and archive Big Heavy World. Available on the nonprofit's website, the survey asks musicians and other industry professionals a series of questions on topics ranging from demographics to income to the connectivity of local music networks. Modeled on a similar census in Austin, Texas, the questionnaire is the result of a partnership between Big Heavy World and consultant firm Sound Diplomacy.

After thinking about what I wrote last week and taking into consideration some conversations that resulted from it, I realize I may have breezed through it all a bit. Not that I can go too far down the rabbit hole now — the survey results haven't been published yet — but I did think it was worth checking in with Big Heavy World executive director Jim Lockridge for a smidge more context.

"The survey is meant to help figure out what the needs are for Vermont's music industry," Lockridge wrote in an email. "With the help of Sound Diplomacy, we should be able to land on a few priorities that can become part of a public conversation that includes policy makers."

In a subsequent phone call, Lockridge explained that the survey results will foster "data-driven conversations" and that "anybody who contributes to this is contributing to a significant analysis of how Vermont could better serve creative people and businesses."

He compares his effort to Building on a Legacy of Creativity: Understanding and Expanding the Creative Economy of the Northeast Kingdom, a report produced for the Vermont Arts Council and Vermont Creative Network in 2018. The nearly 100-page document presents hard data about the ins and outs of making art in the rural, tri-county region.

On Monday, Lockridge let me take a peek at anonymous data that had been collected so far from slightly less than 50 respondents. The info already showed some interesting trends and perplexing revelations. I shouldn't say too much more about that, since responses are still being collected until roughly the end of November. But I strongly encourage anyone who plays music in Vermont or works in the music industry to fill out the survey. It shouldn't take more than 10 to 15 minutes, assuming you already know the answers to such queries as "Please identify your 2018 pre-tax income from all income sources."

Just a bit about Sound Diplomacy: Lockridge assures me that the global firm is vetted, reliable and not taking the lead on this project. It has been brought on board simply to help analyze the data, which will become a valuable asset and reference point for the local music economy.

In a nutshell, no one can have accurate conversations about Vermont's music sector without reliable data on it. The more people get on board and honestly share their experiences, the more everyone can learn and adapt to the existing circumstances that folks are trying to navigate.

Results and analysis of the survey are anticipated soon after data collection ends.

Blondes on Blondes

Rev. Blonde of the Dirty Blondes - COURTESY OF LUKE AWTRY
  • Courtesy Of Luke Awtry
  • Rev. Blonde of the Dirty Blondes

Give it up for one of the sauciest and most in-your-face Burlington bands, the Dirty Blondes. The group, which features Seven Days art director Rev. Diane Sullivan, celebrates 20 years of bitch slapping, throat punching and ball crushing its way through the local scene on Saturday, November 9, at the Monkey House in Winooski. Surf-rock outfit Barbacoa, who are led by Seven Days circulation technician Bill Mullins and often feature other 7D staffers, open the show.

"I thought it was really just an elaborate Halloween costume-slash-prank," Sullivan said of the group's vodka-soaked first show at Club Metronome in 1999. "We had to scramble to get people to pretend to be a band."

In recent years, the Blondes have usually come out for special occasions, such as the impending double-decade debauchery. And, while I would never advocate unsafe consumption of alcohol or other substances, the Dirty Blondes are best experienced three sheets to the wind. That way everyone's on the same level.

Listening In

If I were a superhero, my superpower would be the ability to get songs stuck in other people's heads. Here are five songs that have been stuck in my head this week. May they also get stuck in yours. Follow sevendaysvt on Spotify for weekly playlists with tunes by artists featured in the music section.

The Pipettes, "Finding My Way"

King Princess, "Hit the Back"

La Roux, "International Woman of Leisure"

Muna, "It's Gonna Be Okay, Baby"

NewVillager, "Time the Light"

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