Wednesday, 31 October 2012

What's in a jazz solo, and why not play solo?

One blog that I read from time to time is Sam Newsome's blog. He's been one of my favourite players since way back, his playing in the early formations of Terence Blanchard were for me great models of intelligent soloing that was clearly musical and original. He really developed his solo lines, not just finger twiddling and high class plagiarism that we mostly hear, including great players even. Listen to the early recording of the Terence Blanchard's 5tet - 'Simply Stated', 'Terence Blanchard' and 'The Malcolm X Jazz Suite' to hear how Sam often took very simple ideas and moved them, either transposing, or developing his idea in such a graceful way. For me it was a very logical (and not unsurprising) step for Sam to make when he started working on solo performance, and also the soprano sax, although I always found his tenor playing particularly good.      

Photo taken from Sam's blog (Copyright to ??)
Recently one of Sam's posts was about playing solo, as in solo performances - totally unaccompanied. The short but interesting article titled 'Me, Myself and I : Reflections on solo playing' brought up a very interesting point which was : why don't more jazz players play unaccompanied performances? So, why is this? Here's the reply (comment) I posted on Sam's blog, although for it to make complete sense read the blog-post first which I've linked just above this. 

I wrote :

"Interesting idea Sam. You're of course quite right when pointing out the difference between classical and jazz solo performances. However, I would suggest that Steve Lacy's solo concerts are an exception to the rule, in fact I find some of his work akin to the Bach Cello suites (comparison wise that is). But most jazz performers do not play original melody when improvising, that is to say most players play the same thing BUT it's the way they do it which makes it original, and so interesting. Lacy, was a true original and played improvisations that were certainly well rehearsed - he practised ideas which used and developed in his solo work - and extremely individual for each performance. He also had a highly original approach melodically, another comparison to Bach.

There are a few players such as yourself and Evan Parker (as an example) who work more on the performance and construction, which means it's more solid as a listening experience. Classical music is composed and thought over so that it will be interesting, likewise folk music also which are again compositions.

What's probably most interesting is that when we realise that jazz doesn't translate to solo playing so easily, we can identify (probably), why jazz is less interesting to the general public. It may also make jazz players reassess their work as not real art, but a form of plagiarism. But that's moving away from the subject.

Thanks again for the blog."

And Sam's response :

"I agree that 'jazz does not translate to solo playing easily.' And not that it should, being that they are two very different formats, each requiring a very different sensibility from the performer. Just speaking to solo playing, the reason why Steve Lacy and Evan Parker recordings are engaging and don't make the listener feel that something is missing, is because of the thought and planning that goes into the construction of the piece as a whole and not just being focused on the improvisational component of the piece. This holds especially true with regards to Lacy, whose performances are akin to a classical composer using the jazz vocabulary as a resource. And also as you succinctly put it: "Classical music is composed and thought over so that it will be interesting."

And I appreciate your thoughts on this matter. Maybe it will spark further discussion from like- and maybe, not-so-like-minded individuals.


And indeed it does make one reassess what jazz musicians and jazz music is actually about now? I don't think it was so much different in the past, one just has to listen to Hank Mobley, Dexter Gordon, Clifford Jordan to name three brilliant players, to hear that they all used the same vocabulary/patterns. There is nothing strange in this, that's the nature of jazz, and to be honest if we compare this with language we understand that we all use the same words and phrase constructions (in any one language), but this doesn't make us any less an individual. What did interest me though is that musicians that go out of their way to be creative. Or try melodic possibilities that are maybe not so accessible on first hearing and also develop areas of their instruments possibilities that are less used.

However, I can think that it's interesting to think of a few solo recordings that I've found particularly interesting over the years. Probably the BIG four for me have been - Lee Konitz 'Lone-Lee', Anthony Braxton 'Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979'(*), Steve Lacy's 'Snips (live at Environ)' and also Evan Parker's Six of One which just the first track alone has kept me hypnotised each time I listen to it! What would be interesting would be a listing of all solo saxophone records. Unfortunately this won't be happening on this blog for obvious reasons concerning time and space. Just to think of a few more interesting soloists (not their records) that come to mind are Joe McPhee, John Butcher, Louis Sclavis, Roscoe Mitchell, John Surman, Daunik Lazro, Ab Baars, Sabir Mateen, David Ware, Dave Liebman, Lol Coxhill to name a small number. Naturally I can't include everyone who's made a solo recording, and I certainly haven't heard all of them! If you're interested to check out a limited list of recordings look at this list on the free jazz blog (some of which I've heard as I write for the blog).

Here's Roscoe Mitchell playing 'Ericka' from the album 'Nonaah' apparently a truly remarkable recording. I haven't heard the 'whole' record, so I didn't put him in my top 4. I've heard (from people) that this is one of THE recordings to hear. I'll be checking it out one day soon ..... finances/time permitting.

Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins .... weren't on my list, why? Well, I certainly think they are great saxophonists (read : giants), but somehow I don't find what they recorded 'solo' as pushing the limits in terms of the saxophone. Yes, it's true that Coleman Hawkins was doing something truly original when he recorded 'Body and Soul' solo - nobody had even thought about that medium AND, he was also harmonically ahead of his time. But, he didn't do any other solo recordings from that period, probably because it was completely 'non-commercial'? However, it seems more of a historical document, rather than a true sax solo record. As for Sonny, he just does what all jazz musicians do when they're practising. They blow round chord progressions in their little apartments, on street corners, practice rooms etc, Sonny just went onto stage/studio any recorded the same thing.

Lastly what makes a solo recording/performance relevant? I think a true solo recording/performance should be a piece or performance specially thought out as for that instrument, and not 'oh well, I'll just pretend there's a rhythm section here' and play a jazz standard in 4/4 or whatever. What makes Lee Konitz recording 'Lone-Lee' so interesting is his approach to playing without a rhythm section, almost (to my ears) like a Bach Cello suite.

Anyhow, thanks Sam (Newsome) for bringing up the point about solo performances. I hope to look into this a little further and see what else can be deemed from working on, or listening to, such music.        
*= Strange that this seminal album doesn't have a more interesting summing up on any musical website. AMG - shame on you!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Music from another world

Earlier this summer I participated in a weeks workshop at Musiques et Recherches in Belgium, the course : Acousmatic composition, taught by Annette Vande Gorne, one of Europe's leading Electro-Acoustic, and more importantly, Acousmatic composers. Unless you're a member of the small group - worldwide - of musicians, or electro-acousticians, who are interested by the  possibilities of reorganisation of sound into music, this might be an unknown word. However it is probably one of the most interesting areas of music I've become involved with since a long, long time. If you've seen my blog articles concerning my project with Roald Baudoux (Kurt Schwitters - The Man with the Glass Nose) you'll have already seen or heard some of my experiments with sound away from the traditional directions. It also seems (to me) a very exciting area of music which completely re-defines our perception of what is music. 

Acousmatic music, in a brief explanation, is music made up of sounds, either real or electronically produced, transformed into soundscapes which are interpreted into musical (a bad word in this case) compositions. Probably an easier way to perceive the idea is to think of it as a film sound-track without pictures. Another image used to describe acousmatic composition/music/sound is like an illusionist - the composer - which has the ability to stimulate the imagination into hearing things that may not be there. 

Sounds are often constructed (to be used) in a composition, and that means they can be produced/generated in many different ways -  one example could be :  

Taking two sounds, joining them together, such as the sound of hitting a cushion (a) added onto a bell sound (b). Sound 'a' can be edited and added onto sound 'b' producing a new sound, often unavailable in the real world. The above example would thus be the 'hit' of a cushion and the reverberation of the bell, and thus clearly two opposing, or contradictory sounds, which come together as a completely new sound. The new sound may not have any reference point for the listener, almost like imagining salty sugar! Of course you could also just use one (1) sound source, altering it to create a new sound, as an example by reversing or altering it in various ways.

As you can surely imagine there are many techniques and ideas which can be used to form new sounds in fact far too many to discuss here. However if one is interested you can find several bits of information here (pdf text) about Pierre Schaeffer and his ideas on Solfège de l'Objet Sonore (*) an interesting interview with Schaeffer transcribed into English (in pdf form). Of course Wiki's take on the subject of electro acoustic music is probably interesting to look at, but more importantly acousmatic sound, which is something different again, may give you some fresh ideas.  

To move back to the weeks workshop I should add that five pupils took part all of us new to the subject, and all curious to discover more about ways of opening up our minds and ears to musical sound possibilities offered by acousmatic composition. One of the main obstacles is to overcome preconceived ideas of composition, such as melody, rhythm and harmony. One has to learn to hear sound as images that can be linked together, and hopefully lead the listener from one idea to another. This might seem (at first look) as very easy to do .... but not so. To a certain extent free improvisation also has some of these problems. How to play without using preconceived musical language or structures, and yet continue to play for (in a concert) up to 1h30 at a time! All five pupils listened intently to a morning class given by Annette Vande Gorne who talked us through ideas and examples from the vast catalogue of her past experience. As an ex-pupil of Pierre Schaeffer and Guy Reibel, she had the chance to meet and work with such greats as Francois Bayle, Bernard Parmegiani, Pierre Henri and a lot more. She talked about ideas for creating sounds from singular or multiple sources, using techniques such as I described above. Also how to use sound to attract, or hold the listeners attention using such ideas as insertions or silence. There was so much to discuss and digest as it really is an intensive course (which normally takes up the first year of the BA Hons course that she teaches). However, I think we all came away with a lot of material to work on, and with. The afternoons were workshops with Loup Mormont another professor at Mons Conservatory. He worked us through recording techniques and also sound manipulation on our computers. Every afternoon we worked, listened, discussed ideas, heard suggestions and so gradually developed over the 6 days a composition. The final afternoon we all listened to each others works and commented in a mini concert. 

I hope to be able to present my colleagues compositions from that week at the workshop a little later on. However, for the moment I'm placing my short piece (03m07sec) from that week, which I really enjoyed working on. To give you a quick idea of how the piece was built up I should say each one of us spent time wandering round the area (of the workshop) recording sounds from : the garden, roads, studio doors, gates, water taps etc. It is from these sources that all the sounds (on my piece) were built. You'll probably (certainly) be able to recognise some of these, others I hope will be a little more camouflaged! I should add that to get the best from the piece you should either a) listen through headphones. b) plug your computer into the hi-fi.

Workshop #1

I'll certainly be continuing with this style of music/sound, I was very inspired by the whole week and now wonder how to develop the material learned, either in live situations (combined with an instrument), or as pure compositional work. Of course if you have any questions, don't hesitate to leave a comment or contact me. 

*= It's easier to read about this theory - Solfège de l'Objet Sonore - rather than explain it on a blog. 

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The ghosts of Chicago and Aram Shelton.

A few weeks ago a little white box dropped onto my doorstep from Oakland (USA). Inside were two albums sent from Singlespeed Music, Aram Shelton Quartet : 'Everything for Somebody' and Arts and Science : 'New You', a nice surprise indeed. I'll get to the excellent Arts and Science later on, but firstly ....

The ghost of Ornette (?!), and Aram Shelton ...

I'd come across Aram's music a few years ago when reviewing an album from 'Grey Ghost' on the Free Jazz Blog. From re-reading the review I obviously liked the record and it seems that it was a good introduction to the work of Aram Shelton, a saxophone player who's presently based in Oakland. Since then I've heard one of Aram's 'Arrive' projects which I also found excellent and probably more in tune with the most recent release. What's so refreshing to hear is Aram's approach to playing, his harmonic concept in musical language. Most players today take their models as Mark Turner (=Warne Marsh+Coltrane), Chris Potter (=Bird+Coltrane) or maybe a more modern giant such as Mike Brecker. But rarely do I hear younger players developing their ideas from the free-er schools. Here Aram Shelton and his team really develop this area in what (I guess) seems to be something of a Chicago school style? Players such as Von Freeman, Ken Vandermark, or even that of Joe McPhee, Roscoe Mitchell and Braxton don't seem to be on the top of the list for younger players looking to develop musically in conservatories, and I must say (on hindsight) I wonder why? More recently some of the younger players emerging from the shadows are looking again for new directions developed from lessons learnt on the free scene. The AACM and Ornette Coleman are two names that are more known by the general 'jazz listening' public, however the average club or association still finds it difficult to program more experimental sounds. This is where the music of Aram Shelton really finds an interesting crack in the armour. His style of composition and playing certainly look for new directions, at the same time managing to stay bluesy and open ended.

Lastly, one shouldn't forget the team that works with Aram on this album. It seems (from what I read) that Aram spent much time up in Chicago and met and started working with various top players from the windy city. His excellent quartet is made up of fine players - from Chicago - all of whom make the music happen, as it should. Tim Daisy (is to my mind) one of the top drummers on the jazz scene. Due to not living in NY he doesn't often feature in top lists of drummers. However, to my mind, Daisy is on the same lines as drummers such as Tom Rainey or Jim Black. A very swinging drummer also playing improvised music, abstract or melodic. Check out the Engines, or Vandermark 5 for a few references. Keefe Jackson (tenor sax) is very active on the Chicago scene and seems to be involved in many projects. His playing somehow reminds me of the direction that Dewey Redman took in Ornette's band, certainly a player that I'll be following up. And finally Anton Hatwich the bassman on this record swings like the clappers and provides solid support for the front-line to play their winding melodies or improvisations. There are few moments on the record that we get to hear Anton play some solo points but he basically anchors the whole thing together along with Tim Daisy ... amazing stuff.

Here's the review I posted on the Free Jazz blog :

As the press release states, this is jazz music inspired by the likes of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Mingus and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. I guess that looks like a tall order to fill, but Aram Shelton doesn't fail you one second on this excellent release. It's also - for those interested (like me) - the second album from the 4tet on Shelton's Singlespeedmusic label.

Everything for Somebody is one of those albums like much of the music coming out of the Chicago scene, a mixture of free and composed jazz. Although Shelton isn't based in Chicago he seems to have put together this group from his earlier residency there. Members Keefe Jackson (tenor sax), Anton Hatwich (bass) and the most recent addition Tim Daisy (drums) .. a name that shouldn't need any introduction! One could try and get philosophical about this music, but somehow there doesn't seem to be any need as it's music that touches the listener right from the opening notes. 'Anticipation' which dances away on a simple joyful swinging melody leaves space for the two major soloists of Jackson and Shelton to blow simple melodic improvisations. The dancing melody starts as an easily memorable melody but the two soloists dig deep helping to yield hidden secrets gradually, balancing a fine line between free-bop and more dense melodic improvisation. It's this 'fine line' that carries itself through the record, and for me makes this not only highly listenable, but also a refreshing breath of air.

The opening sounds of 'Everything for Somebody' almost takes you back to hearing Ornette for the first time with his famous quartet, although here it's two saxes. Keefe Jackson blows some powerful free-bop lines that really hang together in the same way the Dewey Redman managed. Aram Shelton seems to play some serious lines on this tune which are a marvel to behold, floating over the swinging bass and drums like a butterfly in the wind. The energy of the the whole group never lets up for one minute, holding your attention throughout. All the tunes on this release are very strong, adventurous in style and thinking, they ultimately carry the musicians to areas where they can find new ideas. 'Joints and Tendons' really explores sound textures for all the group, setting up each member in a duo context whilst cleverly weaving in melodic fragments.'Deadfall' is a mournful cry for the solo alto of Shelton cueing in the group (several minutes into the piece) into a gorgeous arpeggiated melody. The rest of the band grab this and gradually build into a wailing free-for-all before finding their way back to the serenity of the initial melody. 'Fleeting', the final track treats us to some fine free flowing ideas from the whole band with solos from all and a wonderful Ornette-esque melody to sandwich the ideas.

Another fine album from Aram Shelton who seems (from what I've seen) to be a very interesting voice in the world between improvised music and free jazz. His wonderful Arrive albums (*), electro acoustic experiments, Cylinder and other such projects go to show that Shelton is constantly looking for new avenues of experimentation.

A highly recommended album for those who enjoy the meeting of swing and free jazz. Some tags could be - Ornette Coleman, Atomic, Motif, The Engines, Vandermark 5 ... if you see what I mean! 

*= There's a first Arrive album is on Singlespeedmusic.

Barely Talking (Tk 4)

Lastly, if you find all of this interesting I've noticed that Aram Shelton seems to be open to working with many people and can be found on a vast array of albums coming out at the present. Some of these are Fast Citizens, Art and Science (to be reviewed soon), Cylinder, Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown, and of course his own projects. If you pass by Aram's website you can investigated all the various projects and latest news of releases on his Singlespeed Music label.

A few tips ... visit to find a copy of Grey Ghost and a LOT of other tasty pieces of music, for free (although a little donation won't hurt).

Monday, 30 July 2012

AG8tet - blowing my own trumpet.

Since the past year (or less) I've been rehearsing with the AG8tet. AG = Antoine Guenet, a keyboard player I met whilst playing for a short while with Michel Delville's Wrong Object. Antoine and I enjoyed writing and playing tricky charts for that group, and since we had plenty of shared references (music and musicians) I was very happy that when he decided to form his AG8tet he invited me to be a part of that project. The basic principal for his octet is 3 groups made up of two trios, and one duo. The groups are as follows : 

Antoine Guenet : Yamaha CP-80 Electric Grand Piano
Susan Clynes : Vocals

Steven Delannoye : Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet
Lieven Van Pee : Double Bass
Simon Segers : Drums

Joe Higham : Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet
Dries Geusens : Electric Bass
Stijn Cools : Drums

The music that Antoine writes is written differently (mostly) for each ensemble. That means that whilst one group is busy counting away in 5/8 the other one may be counting their scores in 7/4 etc. There's also a fair bit of room to decide (in some cases) which notes you decide to play also as sometimes you have rows of notes to play in rhythmic groups, of which you must choose when and how to play. Antoine seems to play both parts, making a kind of harmonic glue which holds the whole thing together. Susan Clynes writes the words which at times reminds me of Annette Peacock's psychedelic alternative look at the world type of texts. And to a certain extent her voice (Susan's) comes across in the same way .... interestingly she hadn't heard of Annette Peacock.

The first concert that we did was a small try-out in the Trefpunt, a Gent institution which prides itself on nurturing new talent. However the 'big' concert, or premier, was to be at the Gentsefeesten (*) a large yearly event which (if you look at the program) features loads of live music, theatre events and other animations, with non stop drinking for ten days. Anyhow, luckily for us the festival (which is organised by Trefpunt) was filmed. It was interesting to be able to see how the whole thing sounded, and looked, after all that rehearsing. The concert can be found on YouTube (in six parts) if you're interested, and of course you can follow through to see the whole thing - see below. 

I'd of posted all the videos but unfortunately the embedding code is switched off, however as you can see below there is one part (Pt3) that's available. If you like this then click the following link and happy viewing and listening - it's about 50mins in total. 

*= If you're interested you should look up the history of this festival as it's rather interesting.   

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A summer breeze is here!

There's a kind of buzz in the air here in Brussels. The buzz which last for a few days is the waves created by by the exodus of thousands of people leaving the city for the summer. Many head back to their families in Morocco or Turkey, the rest of them head to France, Spain, Italy or wherever they can find sun, or is that the holiday house? Summer is nearly upon us, well at least we have a bit of sun and blue skies, my kids are on holiday officially and things are not so busy. Time to find something that's bright and breezy to listen to? No problem there as David Caldwell-Mason came to the rescue a few weeks ago when he sent me this excellent CD - titled, 'Cold Snap'.

Yes, I don't expect anything when people send albums to me. Most are a pleasant surprise, although I don't always write about all of them. The best thing is to remember the old Monty Python idea of 'expect the unexpected', and either the music is completely mind blowingly avant-garde or on other occasions it's mainstream music (often jazz) that has a slightly different edge to it. After all, not everybody has to re-invent the wheel, although often some seem to think they do. In my (limited) experience just playing honest music gives the best results, although not always an audience or fame. Here we have an album which to me is a great example of pure jazz, modern and accessible, swinging and melodic. David Caldwell-Mason's Cold Snap is anything but cold. In fact - to my ears - it's the opposite, more like a warm breeze which blows through your house. The trio works it's magic around some very catchy melodies which is certainly an important argument when recommending an album such as this. Often young players today have formidable techniques, play at any tempo and can swing in 4/4 or any odd meter thrown at them. But unfortunately there's one gift that cannot be taught and that is a melodic ear! Whether you talk about mainstream jazz or avant-garde searchings, someone who has a melodic ear will make music out of whatever resources they have at hand. Caldwell-Mason seems one such person, and his music is surely very romantic in melodic richness, a little along the same lines as Fred Hersch ... if I have to make a comparison. Here David Caldwell-Mason has used a set of compositions which are often deceptively simple, yet give the group ample scope to exploit the form and melodies in many different ways. Tunes such as the opening Unfold (tk1) and Don't Worry, Mama (tk2) along with Without Fear or Trembling (tk8) all seem to have a strong sense of modern Americana in their melodies, conjuring up images of an American landscape of small towns that are familiar to all yet not often visited. Maybe this connects the music to folklore of sort, and probably hints of European roots as well.
But not all the melodies are bright and breezy. With Fear and Trembling (Tk3) is exactly what it says and the title track Cold Snap is certainly more of a thoughtful reflection, a moment of introspection. Two tracks which both jump off the CD are the inclusion of Beyonce's Single Ladies and great re-take on Meteor from the very original pop group The Bird and the Bee. Both tracks are well crafted versions of the two pop songs. I suppose that we're now well used to hearing updated versions of chart hits redone for jazz records, and these two little remakes certainly add to the originals. It's particularly interesting to hear how much the group gets out of Beyonce's monophonic hit, in it's original version a melody that pivots harmonically, spinning around a very basic monotone riff. Here David Caldwell-Mason finds some very nice middle ground in-between, keeping the basic idea but really adding some subtle touches to open up the tune to improvise on. 'Meteor' is already much richer material, but the group really changes the main section (originally a verse?) becoming a laid-back swinging pedal with hits and an altered melody which develops into a gentle improvisation. Talk Talk (Tk 7) is almost a pop tune in it's own right - who will write some lyrics for this one - and for me one of the highlights of this CD. 

Without fear or trembling (Tk8)

In all of this you have a very solid rhythm section that pushes David and the music to all possible places. Kellen Harrison (*) and Ari Hoenig play in a very fluid way which carries the music way beyond your average piano trio. There seems to be a great vibe going on between bass, drums and piano, playing somewhere between straight ahead jazz and with a slight pop sensibility, very relaxed and very swinging.

All in all I'd thoroughly recommend searching this one out, especially if you're a piano trio fan, and of course if you like your jazz modern but not 'out'. Lastly I suspect that this could be one hell of a group to check out live (if they play live), and one only hopes that we'll hear more of David Caldwell-Mason as it will be interesting to see how he develops this very accessible jazz music that he's developing.   

* = Kellen seems to get around, and probably very versatile if this album is anything to go by. I couldn't find out much, but I noticed he was already reviewed on the Beninghove's Hangmen .... another nice group! 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The ghost of Getz, or how recordings once sounded!

As an avid vinyl collector I love it when an LP comes through the post to be reviewed. I could almost say .... it makes my day! I was born in 1960 when that was the way of the world. I remember saving up my pocket money until I had enough to buy a 45, or single as it was known. I'd head off down to my local record shop looking for a particular record with particular a title or song in my head that I'd heard that morning on the Ed Stewart show on Saturday mornings, or even better Alan Freeman's Pick of the Pops (*) with his great Sign of the Swinging Cymbal theme tune. Of course if you weren't sure if it was the right record, or that you actually liked the record, you could stand and listen in a booth.

So why the nostalgia? Well here's a record recorded recently with the loving technology of the past, and with (what to me seems) great respect for sound and musical quality which reminds me of the work of recording artists in the 50s. As you will notice (from the cover) this is a recording from James Allsopp (tenor sax), Riaan Vosloo (double bass), Ross Stanley (piano), Tim Giles (drums). They've made a slight detour away from the normal paths of modern jazz that they follow in their own spare time to give us a 'blast from the past', but on their own terms. Once In A While is dedicated to the sound and style of the great jazz recordings of the 50s. It's a collection of standards with a couple of tunes re-written over standard changes that conjure up the atmosphere from past times perfectly. You may wonder .. does that mean the music is old fashioned, not so! For anyone who follows the jazz scene today we know the majority of musicians are trying to find new avenues of adventure to present themselves in - which is a good thing. However, it's rare to hear young musicians taking such care to reproduce not only the music, but also the sound. Tunes such as Moonlight in Vermont, Isfahan or Chelsea Bridge are not only loving remakes (which will have you curled up around a real fire), but also fine pieces of playing in their own right. The sound of James Allsopp's tenor sax literally gave me deja-vu. Even if his solos are truly his own one can help but hear 'The Sound' (**) himself hanging in the air, as if somewhere unforeseen in the studio. Yes, the ghost of Stan Getz (for me) looms high over the group, giving the music a timeless feel. One For Swiss played over the changes of Cherokee bring back memories of Getz and Oscar Peterson's versions of Tours End, or Cherokee itself from the Getz and Lionel Hampton meet Peterson collaboration. All the players on this release seem totally immersed in the music and play it with the true feeling that is needed. Ross Stanley accompanies the group totally within the idiom, and he solos hard when needed. Tim Giles and Riaan Vosloo do what a rhythm section should do .... play time and make everybody sound good! The solos are short and never outstay their welcome, giving a balance to the recording which makes it thoroughly enjoyable on many levels. One can enjoy the music for what it is, and from a modern viewpoint looking back as a tribute of sorts. However this is not some sort of nostalgia record, the music swings hard when needed (in fact most of the time), and with the inclusion of Coltrane's Syeeda's Song Flute you have reference to the bridge between the Broadway musical tradition and modern post bop which brought us contemporary jazz as we know it today. 

Lastly the aspect which caught my imagination (and ear) so much is the beautiful sound of the recording, something which I think is worth more than a passing phrase. When listening to the record one notices how warm the music is, not only the notes but also the sound itself. This not only adds to the music, but is in fact part of the music, and something we rarely hear (or notice) nowadays on recordings. A band on CD sounds nothing like a band live, due to the 1s and 0s being so perfect. However, this recording places the group right in your front living room with just the right balance between the instruments and the brightness of the sound, or as already mentioned it's warmth.     

I asked Riaan about the making of the record to which he replied :

"We wanted to make a record that was relaxing to listen to, not only in terms of the musical content but also in terms of the sound. There was no digital involved in making this record at all, we recorded to tape, mixed to tape and then mastered directly from the tape to the lacquer! The only time digital came into the equation was when we recorded the vinyl into the computer!"

What more can I say about this record? Not much really, it's a record to own not only because of the excellent music, but also the concept and presentation of the project - you can always check out this album here. But if you want a real treat buy the LP (***) and enjoy that lovely warm sound of vinyl which will fill you (and your room) with music as it should sound.

Footnote on the art of the LP : Of course all that seemed to have disappeared and we now have mp3 downloads, and CDs with covers that are so small it's difficult to read some of the text, if they have any cover notes. Here we are in 2012 and it seems that vinyl is in a healthy state considering it was meant to have been wiped out many years ago. For a few I won't have to convince you, but for others who threw away their systems, LPs, decks and amplifiers I recommend you spend a few bob and reconsider moving back into the vinyl world. It not only has the advantage of being it's sounds great (especially with the new 21 gram releases), looks great, AND it can't be copied, or at least as easily as mp3s, and it's a real object ... you can hold it! Long Playing Records, also known as LPs, a 12 inch or a 33 (because they turn at 33½ rpm), also have the advantage of their 12" square cover size, inspiring many great covers (or art works), something that CDs don't lend themselves to so easily. Check out some of the more original, or bizarre covers for jazz here, or rock here. Oh well, enough of all that, who needs convincing, they're just great, I wouldn't give them up for anything!

* = Check out this amazing link with a complete recording of Pick of the Pops. What's amazing is the reel-to-reel featured. We also (my dad) used to record the program sometimes so we could listen later. This way I'd single out certain tracks and be able to find out who'd sung or played what. It's also wonderful to be able to hear (again) what we were listening to at the times.
**= Stan Getz was know as 'The Sound', and rightly so.
***= Be warned, this a limited edition (of 300 copies)!

Monday, 18 June 2012

I still have a life, I think?!

There seems to be a glut of article recently on topics which bring into question some of our basic understandings and values concerning free time, creativity, the family, our private lives and today's modern society. UNICEF recently published a very interesting report which highlights some of the major problems facing our society today. It seems that and our materialistic approach to life is not helping to create happy and stable families.........what a surprise! One of the most interesting things in the BBC article was the comments section where people again and again talked about family values, Sunday opening times, the pressure of both parents having to work, meal times, and even property prices being on a long list of possible causes. I doubt anything will change in the future as politicians  and the public alike seem to be unable to get a grasp on our society which is running out of control. This little blog article doesn't seek to change anything, but I was inspired to put some of my thoughts into writing, and as a child of the sixties remember things from a different vue-point.

Recently in a language class we were talking about activities at home. Many of the students all answered when asked to name activities in the house (with and without their children) everyone said "I watch television." When it came to my turn I had to think of an alternative answer, as I have no television. The teacher asked, rather surprised, "You have no television?"
"No" I replied. 
"But, what do you do with you time?" One of the students asked.
I must admit I was at a loss as what to answer for two reasons. 
a) I didn't have enough vocabulary to answer the question properly - It was a Flemish (Dutch) course.
b) I'd never been at a loss for things to do, in fact there just isn't enough time in the day to everything I'd like to do.
I finally answered "I read, or listen to music!", which was perfectly true also.
At that point the classroom went into near mass hysteria debating between themselves (and across the class), how was that possible, nobody can live without a TV. If you can imagine Chicken Run being re-enacted in my classroom, then you have the picture. However, it did make me understand that the majority of our society in the western world (and other technologically reliant countries) are all controlled, or one could say 'slaves to', the television and it's various derivatives.  Of course the fact that you're reading this online means I use this medium, and you to read it.

The great 'Banana Splits' from the late 60's.
Being a child of the sixties I was brought up on television. Saturday mornings meant The Banana Splits (which we loved), Batman, Spider Man, along with a whole load of Gerry Anderson - Captain Scarlett, Thunderbirds, Doctor Who and many others. However, television was not only controlled - yes children's TV was ONLY from 15h30 to 17h45 on weekdays, and a few programs for schools in the morning such as Play-School, BBC 2's program for children. I think adults TV also stopped at midnight +/- which probably sounds boring, but somehow I suspect is a little healthier for our society. From day to day I find books of all sorts piling up, novels and non-fiction, CDs and LPs lying around in bigger and bigger piles, sometimes just for my own pleasure others for reviewing. At that point I haven't even started practising my instruments (I'm a musician for all those who don't know), composing, writing parts and scores for the various groups. I love photography and could spend all day walking around taking pictures, working on them etc (I was working in 'real film' until recently, but my last camera started to break down .... so I've gone digital, for the moment). And of course the list goes on with - my children, getting out to run or bike or go walking, and so on and so forth. I think one can see that an average 24 hour day is not long enough, and I hope that the same applies to you (whoever you are), after all there's so much to do and so little time AND it's exciting to create, discover and learn, don't you think so?

How do we fill our creative time now and are we aware of how important that time is? Do we make our own decisions and are we able to ignore the sheer power of large corporations, social media sites and the like? Here's an article on the BBC news pages that you should take a look at, and in my opinion ask yourself some serious questions on how we are living our lives -  Beyond the couch : TV goes social, goes everywhere.

The above article from the BBC seems to confirm for me the worst fears concerning today's modern world, the inability to make our own choices. What makes an individual is the possibility to be creative, or at least I would think so. I'm astounded at the amount of people who still support Facebook - and for that matter (me included) MySpace - especially when you see what these sites end up being used for, marketing. I was surprised to notice a remark from an outraged Facebook user recently who seemed shocked that he was being 'tailed' by Facebook, even when so called off-line. For all facebook readers who don't realise it, you are not logged off, even if you think you are read this article! I'm also surprised that people seem surprised they're being controlled or followed on a daily basis by their own computer. It's kind of scary to realise that social media sites are helping control what to watch, make suggestions about which websites your browsers will find interesting,  and so take away your creative choice. Some may argue that having such systems means that you're constantly being kept up to date, but in reality it has been shown that if you don't wipe your cookies (daily) from your web browser then you won't actually discover new web pages. Your browsing history determines what you see, or I should say what Google, Stumbleupon or whoever thinks you should see. In his very interesting article 'The Dark side of the Internet' Andy Beckett explains - among other things - what browsing is and why we should ask ourselves who controls what we see, and of course 'what' we see. If you're interested (i.e. you don't find what you're looking for on Google) you can always head to the Freenet - here.

Finally, the X-Factor and such programs seem (to me) to misdirect people as to what is and isn't good music. The TV is flooded with quiz shows that show our general ignorance but surprisingly appeal to a mass audience. Not only are the executives busy boycotting to get your attention, I have to wonder what the internet and controlled media are doing to the arts? In the music world the market for more experimental music is harder and harder to access and of course promote. Due to the ability of certain artists to spread themselves around the net like viruses it's difficult to make your own smaller (and humble) presence known. Many artists are now becoming experts on website building, tweeting, or just sending emails to alert people of their next concerts - even if you don't live in the same country. How do we know what is good any more? It's frightening to think that what you know, is only what you're being shown. Or maybe it doesn't matter and the phrase 'survival of the fittest' is what it's all about?

A small final thought : I once imagined a situation where an alien spacecraft was passing by our solar system and (without meaning to) somehow sent a massive magnetic pulse or wave out affecting our planet. The result of this magnetic wave was to knock out all electrical systems for the next 1000 years, the result being no electricity, total destruction of our computer systems, telephone networks, and all the rest. We of course would survive no problem, and so would literature, acoustic music, manual labour, agriculture and craftsmanship. I wonder if the future would be so bleak? 

As usual I apologise for straying away from subjects that are more in line with my profession (music) and will have something more in line with that subject to publish on the blog ... soon! Thanks for following.

Friday, 1 June 2012

HHAW - Hanslip, Higham, Antunes, Waremenbol.

An update after four gigs in Belgium, a wisdom tooth being pulled, and the financial crisis starting to kick in - or at least it's being felt over here. I could say something about that, but it's maybe best to keep that out of the blog, after all politicians have never supported the arts even if they pretend they do. In fact, they don't support anybody except themselves and to my amazement seem unable to see the misery they cause. Enough said, better still, and more important .... read on for more joyful fulfilling news. 

Well, I'm finished after a hell of a week (a few weeks ago now) of gigs with associate Mark Hanslip. Mark and I have been chatting away via the internet for the past few years sending each other questions, remarks and various reflections on music in general. The final result being a few small gigs which I organised over here in Belgium using my team of bassist Hugo Antunes and a fine young drummer Jakob Warmenbol.

Although the idea started out 'let's just play improvised music' I brought in a couple of loose tunes which we used as pivot points in the set to play either over, or move from section to section. I think that the music came across very well, and in most case (concerts) I was surprised at how easy it was, the music just flowed. The sound of the pieces, part from a Mingus type ballad, was very intense or one could say dense. Playing with Hugo and Jakob is like being in a boat out at sea where you can be floating in the gentle sway one minute and being thrown around in storm with sixty foot waves - all very exciting! Mark fitted in straight away and even mentioned that he had a few 'Outhouse' flashbacks (*) at times, which is not a bad comparison as maybe the music had some echoes of that period.  

Luckily Mark brought along his Zoom recorder - big thanks on my part - which meant he captured a little bit of those intense musical evenings. I've listened to most of the music and have to say it's pretty much 'steaming away' most of the time. The music, to my ears, flows naturally from the very first notes. Of course the quality of the recording is not your Abbey Road level, but that's not the idea, it's more of a musical souvenir. On another level it's also the starting point for maybe a real recording .... who knows?

I've included this recording (it's 18 minutes) of the beginning of the second set taken from the Muze evening in Antwerp. It's based around a loose melody known as 'The Line' which somehow seemed to inspire us each night into playing some very fine fiery music - which you'll hear if you listen. It's a concept that I'd like to develop, using melody and free improvisation to move the music in the directions needed. There's couple more hours of music sitting on my computer - all from Mark's 'Zoom' recordings - so who knows, maybe I'll post something else in the future. Or better still maybe we'll pull together, record something ... and do another little tour, hopefully somewhere near you! 


The Line - live at the Muze, Antwerp May - 2012

*= Mark was an original member of Outhouse, which is where I heard him for the first time.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Hanslip, Higham, Antunes, Warembol .... aka, HHaw ??

I sometimes chat away with Mark Hanslip via email where we talk about jazz, improvisation, the London Scene, the improvisation scene worldwide, and various other topics generally linked with music. Since I had a few open gigs in my agenda I decided to ask Mark if he'd like to come over to Belgium to play, the result being 3 dates in Brussels, Gent and Antwerp. It's all been a bit short notice, so we won't be doing anything 'incredibly rehearsed', but we will hopefully be making some interesting music for anyone who likes way out sounds. So, if you're in Belgium next week and you like a bit of free jazz, or at least something a bit adventurous come and check us out. As you can see the line up is :

Mark Hanslip - Tenor sax
Myself .. Joe Higham - Tenor and soprano sax/clarinet
Hugo Antunes - Bass
Jakob Warembol - Drums

Gigs are :
13th May - The Roskam
16th May - Hot Club de Gand
17th May - De Muze (I don't think their website's working so ... Melkmarkt 15, 2000 Antwerpen)

Why not come and say hello? 

I should also add .... check out my gigs page from time to time for more concerts (I usually keep it up to date).


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Rock this town .. with Beninghove's Hangmen!

If you've been wondering what to put on at your latest party, or just looking for some good time music which isn't schmaltzy type slick R'n'B, or Lady Gaga, then look no further here's Beninghove's Hangmen. In fact just at the moment when you were wondering what could possible fit in between your John Zorn, Shock Headed Peters (*), The Lounge Lizards, Nino Rota and 3-Mustafa-3 records along comes this fine raunchy band lead by naturally Brian Beninghove, a saxophonist with a mission, or so it looks like if you check out his website. Here he's following up on a sort of retro music that mixes film noir, punk, rock-a-billy and of course a slice of jazz. It's a great mixture of 'genres' which as I mentioned earlier is easily digested in plenty of situations, and like John Zorn's vision of the world of film noir and all that surrounded it Brian Beninghove obviously knows his references in this style. The album comes across as a suite, although I don't know if this is intentional, as the tunes don't link up or segue into each other, it's more a matter of coherence in the writing style that produces this effect. The tune's titles say much about the music and it's stylistic references, with names such as 'The Puppet-master', 'Tarantino (tarantella)'  or 'Jack Miller'(**) one can't miss the film, pulp fiction or comic book references.

To add to all this excitement is the fine sax playing of Bryan Beninghove who plays some splendidly screaming solos, completely in tune with the atmosphere of the music. The other players are no slouches either with some excellent guitar playing from either Dane Johnson or Eyal Maoz ... yes there's two guitarists, so whilst one is holding down the fort the other one gets a chance to rock (***). Both guitarists really let rip, balancing rocking chord player with feedback or raunchy distorted solos that risk taking your head off. It's nice to hear the blend between the various instruments, there's no ultra long sleep inducing solos, not on the album at least, just interventions with plenty of punch delivered at just the right moments. The front line of sax and trombone (the excellent Rick Parker) keep a good balance between pastiche and modern jazz when playing melodies such as Xopo (tk 2) a klezmer/Greek/Bulgarian horo type theme. Or Sushi Tango (tk 7) with it's retro melody which moves into party mode in the middle before returning to the serious elegance of the initial tango. In fact all the tunes have something on offer, Mingus like jubilance Roadhouse (tk 11) and even a ballad (of sorts) which signs off the album Film Sketch 1 (tk 12). There's not much to add really, if you like plenty of punchy music mixed in with fine themes that conjure up other worlds, real or invented, then try this one. Remember one more important thing ..... PLAY LOUD!

The Puppetmaster (tk 6)

* = Do they still exist?
** = I guess this is John Jack Miller the crime writer, or maybe it was the screen writer who wrote some Tex Avery screen plays, or was it Jack Miller of DC comics fame?
*** = If you enjoy two guitar format, and especially something with plenty of hard rocking energy and sophistication, then don't miss out on an excellent Canadian band - Fond of Tigers. Highly Recommended!

Friday, 20 April 2012

GEMA verses YouTube

Just avery quick posting after noticing this article on GEMA (the German copyright society for Music, and Arts) who claim that YouTube owes them, and if they win probably all the other music publishing societies out there (SABAM, PRS, SACEM etc), a LOT of money! Of course everyone has their own opinions, but it seems clear to me that posting music on YouTube doesn't hurt anyone, as long as you're not making any money from it, in fact it's quite the opposite. 

As a musician (who has some videos of himself - but never posted any - on YouTube) I see no problem as long as the performers are happy with what's posted. One stands to have some excellent publicity from being found there. Of course if they're (the musician/s) not happy there's an easy solution - ask for it to be taken down! Small artists who work in jazz and other alternative music fields use these possibilities, which after all are free of charge, uploading videos of their own concerts as publicity material, passing on links to festivals, clubs, pubs and any other people that may be interested in hiring the band/performer. 

A few other things that should be known about performing rights societies.....

These pirates DO NOT pay out royalties to smaller artists, only to large boycotting record companies and advertising groups who naturally own the rights from television commercials or films (*). In theory all money collected from unspecified rights (i.e. general music licenses in cafés, bars, restaurants etc) should be equally shared between performers who belong to these societies. But do not be fooled, it is not! The thinking behind this lobbying is that probably the only music that's being played in a bar is that of someone famous, and not a 'non commercial' artist. That means (in real terms) that only the top earners get a percentage of the money collected - i.e. Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, U2 etc. Other artists get either nothing, or a 0.002 of a Euro-cent.

What this all means is that I have no sympathy for the likes of GEMA who will be being pushed by much larger and heavyweight companies who feel they should get more money than they're due. I should also add that the smaller artist will again suffer if this ruling goes through.

What happens when I wish to upload my own work, will I have to pay royalties to myself? Performing rights companies wouldn't do this, would they? The answer at the moment is yes ... strangely enough. In Belgium when you make a record you're OBLIGED to pay the SABAM up front royalties - of 1000€ - for making a record. Theoretically you get it back later, but in some cases this doesn't happen - if you have a faulty pressing and have to re-press you obliged to pay a second time!! You are NOT aloud to print a record or CD without a bar-code unless it's under 50 copies. Of course if you have a bar-code ... you have to pay, even if you don't want any money back, and/or are not interested in registering it in a copyright society (who rips you off anyhow). At the moment Belgian musicians are fighting their local SABAM who wish to pay light music and classical music less money and pay more to jingles (commercials). The reason for this is lobbying from the music companies who own the commercials and consider that they should get a larger slice of the pie! 

Meanwhile back at the original thread ....

Anyhow, back to GEMA verses YouTube. I hope that someone gets their brains working in the legal department of the internet and YouTube and throws out this ridiculous ruling. If large famous pop groups don't wish for people to see their videos, hear their music tracks on YouTube, fair enough, take them down. For the rest of us leave us alone, and mind your own business. 

* = Recently a large film company took an English pub to court because the pubs name was The Hobbit - the pub had been named that for many years. However the film company said that the pub was cashing in on the name. Can you believe it?
 **= Some of this information maybe not 100% correct as I just route this off the bat. But as a musician I can certainly vouch for most of it.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Let's go down which path?

I love browsing round the web in the morning whilst drinking my coffee. The kids are either upstairs playing (if it's a weekend), or at school and it means there's time to read what's being discussed either on the news or just as often on the various music blogs to be found - consult my blog rolls at the side of this page. One of the blogs that I browse from time to time is Ronan Guilfoyle's Mostly Music blog which always has something interesting to say, whether I agree on it or not, and seems to have an avid readership which follows the various discussions and arguments that Ronan throws up. 

One of the good points about Ronan's blog is the possibility to comment on the various articles, something that Ethan Iverson on (Do the Math) seems unprepared to do, probably due to the heavy editing of comments that it may entail? I personally believe that if you write something, and particularly statements, concerning touchy subjects - in these cases music - one should 'face the music and dance' as the saying goes. Anyhow, recently Ronan has written a couple of articles/essays (here and here) on the musicians who cross over the road from jazz, or in real terms jazz musicians that end up playing pop music and having some publicity, or success. It's difficult to come down on one side of the argument or the other, however I was interested to read - in the comments - that there's still much dissension over what is jazz and what isn't. More interestingly it seems that these people are most offended by those musicians who can play jazz yet decide to follow a more commercial direction - a la Esperanza Spalding or Robert Glasper. I should immediately add that Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper do plenty of other things (musically) that are definitely risk taking and jazz in the true sense of the word. These two video are simply the videos that seem to have sparked off the original discussion on Mostly Music.

Of course this is an old discussion which harks back a long way, and who's beginnings have disappeared in the mists of time. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery are all names that had mud thrown at them for daring to play music which is more accessible commercially, and of course also financially. Grover Washington is one artist who suffered at the hands of the jazz police, although luckily for him musicians came to recognize his brilliance, if only a while before his death in 1999. There are also legions of musicians and groups who have had their music (and musicianship) downgraded via this discussion - ex: The Crusaders, Ronnie Laws, Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers and George Duke to name a few (see here for more info). Most, if not all, of these musicians believe(d) in their music and fully invested their artistic values into producing it. At the same time some, such as George Duke, played parallel careers working with less commercial ventures in this case Frank Zappa (as an example). There are also musicians that come from 'the other side' of popular dance music culture that have had a great influence on the jazz music world. One that springs to mind is Meshell Ndegeocello. Sadly though Meshell Ndegeocello, great as she is, hasn't really caught the ears of younger listeners at street level, her music, which is deeply personal, danceable, and political (in the true sense of the word), is probably far too sophisticated for the average youth. Those younger (and older) listeners that are attracted to such commercial sounding music tend to be those whose musical palette is already developed or developing (*). But, just because some people can't understand why jazz players head for the funky back beat with few (if any) solos, those same people probably can't understand other extremes either ... after all who is open to all music, what is jazz, is the video below 'jazz', or even music? I suspect that many people reading Mostly Music would not call the performance (or sound) on the video below music at all, in fact they'd probably think it was a joke.

So what is the purpose of jazz if it's not to develop music in all directions? Most jazz oriented listeners today consider that real jazz should be contained within the musical norms (and time period) of the 1940's to the 1960's. In fact all jazz courses today teach improvisation techniques and harmony that take it's base from the aforementioned time period. All young student players are taught that the word of Charlie Parker up until that of John Coltrane are the norm, and what every self respecting jazz musician should (has to) be able to emulate. In recent times players such as Mark Turner have had a great influence on young students and in turn Turner's love of Lennie Tristano and his pupil Warne Marsh have completely turned fashion on it's head making the names of Tristano and Marsh famous again. But what about the other side of the fence (as the video above), where's the real new music coming from, certainly not from conservatories producing Bill Evans, Coltrane and now Turner or Kurt Rosenwinkel clones (**). In fact conservatories do not teach students to push out into the unknown and to work in lesser accepted fields. If you look at the video below of Evan Parker (circa 1985) you can immediately ask yourself, would they teach this in a conservatory? This is no the only example. Players such as guitarist Derek Bailey (1930 - 2005), pianists Cecil Taylor or Alexander Von Schlippenbach , drummers Paul Lytton or Sunny Murray have all worked on their art forms and as yet have little 'public' acceptance. These are just a few of the names that could be mentioned, and even the area that they work in is still fairly accessible, even if only to a limited audience.

Unfortunately it seems that our educational institutions are the ones holding us back. The boundaries or the way forward in improvised instrumental music and jazz are being hidden from students by teachers who are afraid of change. Although the names of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk or Charlie Parker are certainly very important in terms of jazz improvisation, one has to start asking if we should maybe also be prepared to open the doors to other forms of improvised music. The names of the 21st century are probably more like John Butcher, Misha Mengelberg, Derek Bailey, Keith Rowe, Evan Parker, Arve Henriksen, Toshi Nakamura, Ab Baars, Wadada Leo Smith, Bill Dixon or Anthony Braxton. However, to make this a reality I suspect that one of the most important battles to be fought will be in the teachers common rooms where opinions can be be very severe (and stiff) over what is and what isn't jazz!

 However, almost subversively what isn't being noticed is that quietly in the wings, or I should say universities, there are courses springing up teaching students the art of technology. These students also have a love of music and many enjoy the idea that they to can improvise. Newer forms of music are being embraced by musicians and the technically minded. No-input Mixing Boards, computers using Max/MSP or Pure-Data, circuit bending, vocal transformations using pedals, guitars and other instruments being treated out of all recognition are all now part of this movement. Unfortunately (or fortunately) it seems a long way from the rather light discussions (or argument) on whether jazz musicians that crossover to more popular forms of music such as pop and soul are or not jazz. Who cares, let's clear out the cobwebs from the conservatories and start making music that not only challenges our concept of music but also doesn't bow down to the sugar laden diet that is fed to the masses. That side of things I don't think can ever be changed, so I guess we'll just have to live with it.

Some sites to follow up :
Wikipedia's entry on Free Jazz
European Free Improvisers pages - Here

* = Developed or developing? I tend to find that the more music you're open to the further you're able to delve into musical realms. Many students arrive at college/university with the CDs/mp3 of Weather Report and Brad Meldhau and leave with albums and scores of Shostakovitch and Bach. Those that really 'wake up' in music school often advance even further into the world of free jazz, avant garde music and electro-acoustics.  

**= Bill Evans, Coltrane and of course Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel are all excellent musicians. In the case of the last two I should add that these two fine players are pushing the limits of music also. However, they are still connected to the long line of tonal players and so take less risks than avant garde players. Of course once one leaves the path of commercial radio friendly music it's clear that you music will get less airplay. Rosenwinkel and Turner have clearly chosen this path and have at the same time given students of jazz new inspiration in working on fresh directions concerning rhythm, harmony, intervalic playing and a freer conception of time. The bad news is .... everybody wants to sound like them!  

Sunday, 11 March 2012

BABs - Diving Bells (and the art of sound processing)

Part One :

Here's a recent arrival (if only electronically) on my laptop, sent on to me by Olie Brice. BABs stands for Olie Brice (double bass), Jammes Allsopp (bass clarinet) and Alex Bonney (laptop), although not in that particular order ..... as the old saying goes.

Alex Bonney has never popped up on my blog (as yet), although I wrote a review for Splice over on Free Jazz blog late last year. That record mixed sound manipulation techniques by Pierre Alexandre Tremblay someone who's already a respected electro acoustic composer. That record mixed live and processed sound also, although in a melodic direction, using electronic processing as an accompanying instrument rather than a central point of sound control.

On Diving Bells, BABs uses sound manipulation as it's main reference. Bassist Olie Brice and reed-man (this time on bass clarinet only) James Allsopp rise to the challenge of providing extra material for Alex Bonney to work with. Among the looping sounds and clicks there's the cry of bass clarinet, spittled mouthpieces, detuned bass strings, hit bass strings, and didgeridoo like shrieks to name but a few. They manage to keep the whole thing up in the air wonderfully well, finding new angles to add which all end up in the melting pot of sounds. Of course when computers step in it's often difficult to really know who's doing what - a little like Woody Allen's remark in Radio Days about ventriloquists on the radio. But to a certain extent that's not important, the best thing to do is to sit back and just let the sound mixtures wash over you.

Kelp Forest Embraces (Track 3).

It's important to point out that the laptop, and it's prominent role, never means the album becomes totally abstract. The added interplay of acoustic instruments constantly reminds you that this is live communication between musicians, not some abstract sound painting. From the opening 'Fatal Nest Egg' with noises which echo up as if from a dungeon, to the closing 'Becalmed .... finally' with sparse use of bass clarinet and bowed double-bass talking like two ships in the fog, BABs work with all stops pulled out. In fact I often found myself wondering whether this is what Northern European Aboriginal music could sound like?  The album has 5 tracks and is 35 minutes long. The two longest pieces tracks 1 and 5 - both 11 minutes - bookending three short pieces.

In conclusion although this doesn't have any 'tunes' on it that you may wish to dance to, it is another record confirming the influence of noise and electro-acoustics on the world of pop, jazz and improvised music. It is a long way from Bjork's experiments in pop meets Max/MSP, but goes to show that this musical art form is here to stay and becoming more acceptable and so visible on the live music circuit on a daily basis. Laptops were once a thing of a small minority when talking about instruments, whereas within recent years no concert program of any worth would dare to ignore musicians and their groups who use this machine as an instrument. If you enjoy discovering new areas of music, then don't shy away from trying this one ...... just remember to listen with the lights on!

A Gavilan Computer (1983). Considered to be the first 'working' laptop, or was it the Osborne 1 (I'll have to look it up later)? The first laptop was designed by William Moggridge in 1979 called the Grid Compass.
Part Two :

It's difficult (*) to write about this record without adding a few words about the art of 'the Laptop meets live instruments'. I always enjoy hearing music that uses live and processed sound. As a Pure Data nerd I love seeing, or hearing I suppose, what other sound manipulators come up with when trying to combine the live with the processed. It's an area which is still in full evolution, and so open to new possibilities. When thinking of successful projects using the two areas (live and processed sound) it's difficult to make recommendations, much of the music covers such wide areas from very new age style sound to abstract noise. One could site a few contenders such as Supersilent and eventually Food (featuring Thomas Stronen and Iain Ballemy). Both have made major inroads using a combination of improvisation, live instruments and processed sounds, however Supersilent is probably a little more 'noise' orientated. Evan Parker's Electro Acoustic Ensemble is probably a good example and also one of the most interesting and successful projects to have combined the two areas ... at the present time that is. I should also point out one shouldn't confuse Laptop impro with serious Electro Acoustic composition (see below for a few names to look for), which works in a different sphere altogether.

As already mentioned, and less jazz/impro orientated, is Bjork who seems to have embraced this medium to the point of releasing (if I understood correctly) an album with iPad apps on it. The idea being that the person who buys the album can play with the applications used to make the music as they wish. Those responsible for helping Bjork develop her music in this field are Matmos. Matmos, comprised of Martin Schmidt and Drew Daniels have been making experimental music albums for many years which combine electronica, sound manipulation and live instruments. Their music is extremely accessible without making any concessions to their art form. Albums such as Civil War, A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure (which used sound samples of aesthetic plastic surgery tools at work!) combine many genres of music from rock, jazz, folk and dance. A few other artists with a little more improvisational direction to their work are Christian Fennesz, Ikue Mori, DJ Olive and Michael Moser - just a couple of names that come to mind when thinking about the laptop as an improvising instrument. 

For all those interested read this excellent article from The New Music Box which maps out the development of music, the computer (and the laptop), in a much more detailed way than my short article. Of course if you read this article and have some suggestions I'd be most interested to hear/read about them. Much of this musical art form is difficult to find when searching the net. As you can imagine typing the word 'laptop' into Google won't get you very far, and even adding the words music or jazz tend to lead nowhere. Anyhow, if your interested by this little taster of an article ..... get looking as there's a lot of very interesting new sounds to discover out there!

*= Not exactly true, I just enjoy writing a little about the subject. It also helps for those who are starting to discover this area of music. Of course, for those interested to look further there is a whole field of music which ranges from the abstract to the melodic which can be found if you start looking up names such as Pierre Schaeffer, Stockhausen, Dieter Kaufmann (one of my favourites), Babbit, Berio, Varese and the list goes on. There are plenty of modern composers working in this field - Pierre-Alexandre Tremblay, Monty Adkins, Dennis Smalley, Suk Jun Kim (to name but four) - with the easy access to computer programs and audio recording programs such as Logic or Pro-Tools universities have plenty of young students and teachers all now becoming very adept in developing this area. See labels such as audiobulb, electrocd, or empreintes digitales for more ideas!  There's a lot to discover, so be patient and more importantly very curious.
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