Penthouse at the Venue

I’ve been a fan of Luna since the early 90s. Their albums and performances over the years have become perennial favourites for a legion of fans that never quite grew large enough to propel them to arena stages and platinum sales. And while that meant an endless road of playing mid-size halls and small clubs, it also made for more satisfying live experiences. They were not made for coliseums! But the lack of “next level” success tired in 2005 and they called it a day.

When they reformed and returned to Vancouver in 2015 I was thrilled to be able to design a concert poster collectable for the band that was signed and sold at the merch table. I posted about it here . I thought that was likely going to be it for any future concerts though. But then they did a west coast tour again in 2018 and I went to Seattle to see them at The Neptune Theater. It was a cold January night but they were, as always, very warmly received. This is a band people really love. And they’re a real treat as people. Funny, warm and generous with their time. We reconnected and stayed in touch.

And then they came back for more, only this time it was a tour of their classic 1995 Penthouse album which Rolling Stone called “The 99th Greatest album of the 1990s” or some such. Thankfully they played the Venue rather than the Biltmore. It is lovely to see the fan base still holding and even growing and it’s obvious how much fun they have on stage. An added bonus was that we decided to do another collectable poster. Instead of something I cooked up, it was necessary to reference the artwork from the LP. Dean forwarded me the original art files from the LP, a set of images by legendary New York photographer Ted Croner whose mid-century B&W images of the city are now iconic. I chose the image they’d used on the back cover, a slightly shaky winter night’s view of buildings on the upper west side as seen from Central Park, and adapted Gotham to imitate the original font. I snuck Ted’s credit in the lower right, kept the gig info minimal, and the band signed in white ink.

I’m going to trust that after the Covid-19 pandemic is done, Luna will be back and we’ll have another poster for you!

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Nova Pon – Wrenegade

The summer of 2019 saw the beginnings of a very fun new video project featuring the music of Bowen Island-based composer Nova Pon. The piece is for solo flute and is based on the song of the Pacific Wren, an unremarkable looking little bird that makes a grand impression through its calls! The piece largely alternates between a degree of actual birdsong transcription played on the flute and imagining it slowed down to be performed so the human ear can appreciate its structure. It ends with the performer whistling the song as though it had been finally processed and internalized!

Naturally, the performer is the irrepressible Mark Takeshi McGregor, clearly one of the nation’s best flutists. When I saw the lovely and eye-popping jacked he’d chosen for the shoot (we’d wavered between wanting him to stand out, like the birdsong … or blend in, like the actual bird) I decided to add a hint of fire weed to the edge of the video frame to complement the jacket.

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Gordon Smith – Tangle Master

One of Canada’s best loved painters, Gordon Smith is approaching 100! Still painting at his West Van studio/home, this was taken a decade ago for Vancouver Review’s spring 2009 article on landscape painting in British Columbia.

You can check out his work and peruse his extensive CV at:

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The Quiet Ones (Part Two) – Benoît Pioulard

I suppose the first question I wanted to ask was why Seattle’s Thomas Meluch records under the name Benoît Pioulard.

“It appeared in a dream during a semester at university in which I was taking a few French classes – I woke up, wrote it down and found it a week later when I was putting together a CD of new recordings for my friend Jakub.” I take that as a perfectly suitable answer given the often dreamlike music he creates.

The music of Benoît Pioulard would have fit well with the early eighties minimalist post-punk scene. I can easily imagine him sharing a bill with The Young Marble Giants, Felt, Durutti Column or Eyeless in Gaza. But Thomas is very much a contemporary minimalist. And by “minimalist” I don’t mean in the musical vein of Steve Reich et al. I mean in terms of his relationship to material goods, to consumption and the means of creation. In terms of using what’s to hand in the production process as those early post-punk groups did. “We don’t need to make any more stuff” he tells me during an improvised photo shoot in a Seattle parking lot around the corner from Everyday Music and Elliot Bay Books (ground zero for those of us who still love hard copies of cultural artifacts). And he needs nothing more than Apple’s Garageband to create his music.

His is a wistful but sharp brand of introspective, atmospheric almost pop music. As he puts it: “I make textured & harmonic things primarily with guitar, tapes and voice.” The songs may seem low-fi at first but they’re superbly mastered and his soft, beautiful clear voice is frequently set back in the mix. They could almost be heard as collages, with solid, conventional song foundations overlaid with distortion, warbling analog tape, tastefully applied electronic atmospherics and snippets of field recordings. His lyrics are very personal, often reading like inner dialogues about disappointment, thwarted expectation, simple joys and wonder laced with references to the elements and the cosmos. Exemplary song title? How about The Sun is Going to Explode But Whatever It’s OK. And if you have difficulty making the words out they are, like in olden times, reproduced in the CD booklets at a readable scale. They are worth your time.



He also excels at long form soundscapes shot through with melancholy and adorned with gently abraded indefinable sonic detritus. Two years ago Thomas injured his wrist and put out a piece called Radial on Bandcamp. It sounds not unlike something from Eno’s first collection of Music For Films but with added length and a bit more grit to get lost in. The cover (see above) features his x-rays from the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital. “My wife and I were hiking up to Snow Lake on our sixth anniversary, I hopped off the trail to get a photo and on my way back up got a poor footing on a slick boulder – slipped and landed on my wrist, palm out. I knew immediately what happened.” The single piece is titled The Very Center of its Flame. It’s beautiful and painful simultaneously. And that is a hard thing to get right in music of any genre.



Also from 2016 is Thine, a three track digital EP (cover image above). The first takes its cue from late 70s Eno; Music For Airports meets Discreet Music. On the second there is even a hint of Ariel Kalma’s Osmose (now we’re getting obscure). But the three tracks, Ribbon, Loire and Minuet pay any debts with interest. Both of these releases are among the less than ten “digital only” releases I’ve ever bought.

Thomas is, not surprisingly, a fan of the Polaroid SX70 and he has a great eye. He creates beautiful images often featuring natural elements of the Pacific Northwest sometimes refracted through translucent or reflective found objects/materials. His photographs manage to capture the wet, sunlit flora of the region in a deeply felt way, like someone who’s long absorbed the landscape and can snatch moments of beauty out of the damp air. At the end of the day, that is the best most of us can hope for.



Benoît Pioulard plays the Red Gate on October 19th with Marcus Fischer and Hotel Neon.

He has a new CD out on Kranky called The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter. Please check out his music here:

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The Quiet Ones (Part One) – Tord Gustavsen

The jazz piano trio format contains a universe of possibilities. It took me a long time to appreciate that after years of seeking what I thought was more adventuresome music. Perhaps it’s a function of maturity, akin to growing into a greater appreciation of classical chamber music after pushing hard for the avant garde. Or perhaps it was hearing some of my favourite “out there” players reining it in on quiet jazz standards and hearing them anew.

Norway’s Tord Gustavsen Trio released Changing Places on ECM in 2003 and at first listen I considered it too “candle lit dinner” for my tastes. Then I noticed the presence of drummer Jarle Vespestad who I’d last seen here with Norwegian improvising supergroup Supersilent. I gave it a closer listen and felt compelled to slow down and appreciate the delicacy and precision that propelled the unabashedly romantic set of carefully crafted tunes. Pure loveliness from start to finish! I’ve since picked up all of his subsequent recordings and saw him play a remarkable set with Simin Tander at the 2015 Jazz Fest (see my earlier post on this). That is when I came to fully appreciate Tord as a compelling live performer.

Tord has a new CD out on ECM titled The Other Side and it continues in the warm, melodic vein of its predecessors. However it does begin to explore around the edges a little more. There appear some welcome and unexpected left turns particularly on Duality. And Left Over Lullaby No. 4 possesses a kind of devastating beauty that relishes the presence of haunting shadows among the melodies. As well, there are arrangements of two pieces by J.S. Bach and two arrangements of traditional tunes. Overall the music feels a little looser, a little darker, and more insistent overall. Gone is any sense of preciousness surrounding the notes.

Live, this trio smoulders and ignites in perfect measure and they are a delight to watch. They are performing on September 29th at the Blue Shore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts, 2055 Purcell Way, North Vancouver. It should be a season standout and well worth the trip across the inlet!

Here is a recent clip of Tord in concert, solo, for the BBC:

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Sphaerae 2

My latest music video project. This was shot on, near or en route to Galiano, Pender, and Bowen islands. The music, by loscil, was originally composed for one of eight photographs from a series begun in 2005 and which were exhibited in 2009. Subsequently they provided the source material and thematic inspiration for three videos; Sphaerae, Sphaerae 1, and now Sphaerae 2.

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Tigran Hamasyan – An Ancient Observer


One positive outcome of the changes affecting the music industry has been the increasing turn to more intimate and deeply connected live performances. And so a sold out house for Tigran Hamasyan’s solo performance at the Vancouver Academy of Music in February was to be expected. The recently remodeled venue normally holds small recitals and though it was a cold, wintry day (for west coast standards) this promised to be a big gig for several reasons. The presenter, The Armenian Cultural Association of BC, brought him to town for a culturally connected audience eager to hear his music, inflected as it is with traditional Armenian folk melodies and a deep dedication to bringing ancient and modern Armenian music (Tigran Mansurian and Komitas come to mind) to wider audiences.

Also on hand would be many from the jazz community who recognize him as one of the great new voices in jazz, particularly fans of players who are renowned solo performers such as Keith Jarrett, Brad Meldhau etc. There would also be those in the prog rock world who might recognize the muscular trio work on much of Tigran’s Mockroot to be kin to some of the best of the “Rock in Opposition” style of modern classical chamber music-influenced rock typified by the likes of Univers Zero et al.

I was there for all those reasons. But it was an ECM release, Luys i Luso featuring fresh arrangements of Armenian liturgical music and performed with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir that really got my attention. It is very much part of the recent ECM vogue of showcasing deep, melancholic music from the edges of Europe that so many labels seem to have neglected. Then came Atmospheres, a double CD recording on ECM with Eivind Aarset, Arve Henriksen and Jan Bang that was supposed to be a rather ambient outing. But Tigran’s melodies kept leaping out at me so I embarked on a search for more. That lead me to his latest solo release Ancient Observer on Nonesuch. This album is essential listening for fans of solo piano/electronics regardless of tastes. A rich, subtly shifting tapestry.

Tigran also sings. And for some jazz piano fans that can be an issue. But his voice is no Jarrett-like audience divider. It’s a beautiful instrument perfectly suited to the material and is a joy to listen to whether foregrounded or woven into the whole. His application of electronic treatments is also perfectly judged. But the one thing that is so important is how effortlessly he fuses all these things into an emotional performance with impact that avoids sentimentality or excess. There were no moments where I could think of or care what influences I might be hearing in his music. He is absolutely unique.

Thanks to Arto Tavukciyan I was able to meet Tigran and do a portrait in the chill air near the south end of the Burrard Bridge where, nearby, under the bridge, were the trappings of the displaced and homeless. Tigran let me know he was recovering from surgery and that it was possibly going to affect his voice for the concert. He may have not sung as much as he’d liked to but his voice was very much heard.



Here is an excellent and generous helping of Tigran Hamasyan in a solo setting at the Montreal Jazz Festival. My advice would be to see him in any context at all. His music will stay with you long after the last note has rung off. That said, seek out his CDs on Nonesuch and ECM.

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Snow Globe

Sometimes you just point your camera out the window some mornings and there’s a delightful scene. Vancouver has had only a couple of snowfalls this winter but each has reminded us that snow can be a lovely thing, especially as it bounces light up into our homes in the darkest months.

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Heavy Snow

Rumours of the demise of the CD format continue to come up against the hard reality that not only is the format alive and well, there are labels still dedicated to investing in cover art. ECM comes to mind as one of the great independents still dedicated to the format but worldwide there are small independent labels like Japan’s White Paddy Mountain who also maintain a busy release schedule and take equally great care in the presentation of the music.

This is a new release from Chihei Hatakeyama called Heavy Snow and I’m delighted to have provided the cover art culled from a series of images from Vancouver’s somewhat rare severe winter of 2016. I have listened to Chihei’s enveloping soundscapes for nearly a decade and it was his music that helped soundtrack my unexpected hospital stay after an accident in 2010. That we should eventually come to work together is a real joy and I’ve just completed a video to go with this release.

Here is a still from the video for the track Heavy Snow II:

And here is the full, fifteen minute video. Please take the time to watch it on a big screen and keep the volume low. Enjoy!

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This latest CD cover project is for composer Colin MacDonald’s Saxophilia, a saxophone quartet dedicated to playing and commissioning new works for saxophone by Canadian composers. Recently, on a cold, grey afternoon at the venerable Ironworks Studio on Vancouver’s working waterfront, we convened to photograph Colin, the quartet and to get some images of Colin’s sax for the new CD. And here is the result. It also offered the perfect opportunity to use the ornate display face Restraint, designed by my good friends Marian Bantjes and Ross Mills. The very name of the group practically demands it! Look for a December release of this. Available on Redshift. More info to come…

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