Monday, 17 May 2010

Dawn of Midi - First

Dawn of Midi - First

I was surprised to receive an email from Aakaash Israni, the bassist from this free improvising trio known as Dawn of Midi. It seemed that I had been chosen (or so I thought) to review this CD on my blog due to my connection with music and of naturally my blog, not so. But however, it was of course a nice surprise to receive such an interesting CD of improvised music, and of course as a musician, and complete fanatic and collector of all styles of music, another CD never goes amiss in this household!  

In this day and age the first thing you do when checking out a band or new/old release is 'Google' it. To my surprise, I found quite a list of blogs with reviews already written. Most, in fact all, praised the CD, and in some cases even wrote essay length critiques, most of which could of been accepted as PHD's if at university. However ........

The CD (their first I believe) :

Dawn of Midi is a trio based in New York, although I notice that Aakaash is living in Paris. The trio consists of  Qasim Naqvi (drums and toys), Aakaash Israni (bass) and Amino Belyamani (piano). The music is improvised, but having said that, what makes this group interesting is it's accessibility in terms of free music. The group approaches it's music much along the same lines as Mujician, an improvising super group that plays free jazz, yet remains highly listenable. Dawn of Midi seem to approach their music from the same direction, the results on this CD being a set of 10 improvisations that one could almost call miniatures. Each track works a particular atmosphere and idea like an artists sketch that gradually becomes a picture, and the atmosphere that dominates the record is one of complete tranquility, which in the world of improvised music is something which is not often expressed at such length.  One could write a detailed description of each track on this CD, but somehow this seems unnecessary, the improvised music here is often melodic and so throws up references (inspires comparisons) - glittering piano arpeggios on Civilization of Mud and Ember evoke for me Messiaen's - 'Vingt Regards ......', as does much of the music. There are pulsing rhythms on Hindu Pedagogy and sparse scuffling bass and drums that brew like a storm on In Between.  My one criticism would be to say that it's a shame they didn't try a few longer pieces (*)  letting the music play itself out and develop even further, but then again that's just the way I would have gone.

All in all there is much to enjoy here and anyone who want's to find something new (meaning something that excites the senses) will find plenty of beautiful moments here. Not only will you find yourself being absorbed by the music, but you'll probably find yourself feeling most relaxed after such a voyage through these lovely soundscapes.

Difficult to chose just one track to represent the CD, however I went for this one because of the title Civilisation of Mud and Ember.

(*) The last piece In Between does this and clocks in at 11+ minutes.

For more information check out the CD label's website ACCRETIONS.
Or the bands website, of course. 

Monday, 3 May 2010

12 Points Festival (and the lost groups).

After a conversation with Tony Malaby whilst sitting drinking a beer and 'chewing the fat' after a gig with Stephane Kerecki's trio. The conversation (among other things) was about the amount of money going into jazz education and of course the money being spent by well off, or at least better off parents able to buy into the jazz system, or one could almost say investing in their sons futures. Tony Malaby also talked about the benefits of trying to get onto the Banff course in Canada, where nowadays most of the young 'nu-jazz' stars have been at one time and not only spent an intensive time playing music but more importantly (*) have made contacts for the future.

Anyhow, whilst reading my monthly copy of Jazzwise I noticed a couple of interesting articles which made me wonder if jazz has finally become a bourgeois art form. More and more rarely do groups play in clubs and cafés where they are on equal footing when it comes to being discovered, as their predecessors did. Nowadays you attend a conservatory, are nurtured, and told how to play. You don't develop your own voice over time (with experience) by playing live for many years. In the past there were less cultural institutions controlling what was to be seen by the public - for their own good - and of course as mentioned just more gigs, which after all is what it's all about. Imagine only being able to see rock bands, or at the time punk bands, in your local arts center on a European sponsored arts tour (**)

So where are we going wrong? Why all this money being spent on promoting one particular group(s) rather than letting the market find it's own way? In Jazzwise two articles that attracted my attention which highlighted this situation. The articles on the 12 Points Festival, one of these new institutions (since a few years), and Look North, an article which takes a look at the Norwegian Jazz scene and on cultural exchange programs, one being Birmingham and Trondheim in the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
What do these festival's and other initiative based exchange programs do, and why do I find such developments in jazz depressing?

What are theses initiatives? The 12 Points festival - a festival where twelve European groups are chosen to represent the cream of up and coming jazz artists in those countries. Artists may be no older than 30. The Birmingham/Trondheim exchange at Cheltenham jazz - 'a special collaboration between players from Trondheim Conservatory and Birmingham Conservatoire, two of Europe’s most creative jazz institutions. The performance will feature three bands, containing a mix of players from both countries, performing their own original works. A chance to catch the jazz stars of the future.' And more and more of these initiatives are cropping up all over Europe. Belgium's Flemish Jazz Meeting (as an example), takes 13 groups from flanders and presents them to a group of invited guests - jazz journalists, promoters and the like from throughout Europe. These groups are presented as 'the' best jazz to be found in the country. Interestingly no french speaking groups from the southern part of Belgium were chosen. 

Who chooses these artists and what makes 'them' the cream of the crop?
What about all the other groups and musicians in theses countries?
What happens if you're aged 32 (or +) and making very original or/and exciting music?
Why is it that these initiatives rarely promote more avant-garde (improvised) jazz?

To answer these questions one has to be on the selection committee of course, but one wonders why jazz has been, or is being, taken out of the hands of the public and so denying taste and curiosity take it's own directions. Little by little we are being told that 'this' is the next thing to listen to, where as in reality it is often just the tip of the iceberg and not even the most interesting tip. In most cases it's also just because someone on a committee knows (or likes) someone who has a group and often not based on valid judgments concerning the quality and real potential of the music or musician concerned. After all we don't want to blow anybodies mind, or not too much anyhow!

What are the consequences of this? Well, it seems that one has to pass before a committee, or rather your CD does, to get a gig, or more often a festival or subsidized tour. We complain about subsidized opera but jazz is fast becoming that same culprit and one has to wonder whether a better solution would be to put music back into the hands of the public, more live music pubs, cafés, bars and the like and less  cultural centers and committees. Rock festivals are often based on 'names' and their puling power and so jazz is turning in this direction, no name, no gig! Of course if you can persuade someone on a committee to give you and your band a break in some well funded high profile festival, exchange program or tour then you to may become a household name.

(*) = I say more importantly as I wonder why we are unable to have such courses running in Europe. It seems that since the number of players attending the courses in Banff are made up from a healthy number of European musicians it would seem more logical to have the same course based 'here' in Europe somewhere. Another discussion without end on why we feel the need to head stateside to learn jazz, why aren't our teachers and players more recognized here and why spend your money taking a plane to the other side of the world when ..... etc. 
(**) = I'll write a short article on this phenomenon at a later point as it seems that our 'gigging' system is gradually becoming controlled by the establishment, which is never a good thing when it comes to choice and who gets the money.
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