Monday, 25 March 2013

Funny stuff!

I love these 'Nocturnal Comedy' videos. You should have a look at a few more on youtube. Here's an excellent one that concerns a medicine (that I personally don't know) for I guess helping you sleep? However they have plenty of funny videos on subject from ransoms to condoms. Enjoy .....

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Could I be more famous?

I was just reading the BBC article on Esperanza Spalding (posted 3rd June '12) with her take on making music, or as the article mentions 'Bringing Jazz to the Masses'. I should maybe also bring to your attention articles from Ronan Guilfoyle on his Mostly Music blog (article 1 - article 2) which talk about the effect of pop music on jazz and how some musicians benefit from the 'press' of popular music by playing a type of jazz music which is less 'pure', or one could say leans towards pop music. So, who is this guy >> on the photo, what's he got to do with jazz musicians playing more commercial music, and so why did I put him there?

Some of you reading this will already know the identity of the 'Viking' in the photo. However it's maybe enough to say .. "Once upon a time there was a man who believed in his music so much that he didn't care about anything but just living and making his music, and his name was Moondog". Of course he was (and is) just one of thousands of musicians who are prepared to die for their art form. But does that make their music any better for it? I guess not, because believing in your music (or art form) is what really matters, and one cannot say that musicians such as Esperanza Spalding don't believe in their music. I think Esperanza Spalding really does, and to add to it she's a great musician. What's more interesting (for me) is how 'selling out' seems to be a very American thing to do, and in particular a jazz musician's thing to do. So what makes these musicians - with great potential - feel the need to become successful in a more commercial area?

It's unclear what started this trend off, or even if there was a starting period. After all musicians such as Louis Armstrong or Sidney Bechet both liked the idea of 'playing to the audience'. Jelly Roll Morton also loved the idea of being popular and like all the others around him understood that for them jazz was about entertainment, and not necessarily about pushing boundaries forward. I imagine that none of these musicians ever thought about trying to substitute chords, change time signatures and play in odd meters superimposed over 13 bar forms. I guess that whilst jazz was fashionable young players didn't feel the need to look elsewhere for a public. However after 1960 jazz music, even though important, started to loose ground to popular music of the day, and by 1970 many more young people were listening to rock than jazz. This is probably where dissent started to creep in and those who were lucky enough to have mass appeal (and had selling power) such as Charles Lloyd or Dave Brubeck were lucky enough to play what they wanted and sell out large concert halls to a younger audience. Labels such as CTI (standing for Creed Taylor Inc) had artists play in more commercial setting and some of the results were great. Wes Montgomery, George Benson, or Freddy Hubbard produced fine crossover music without compromising their artistic values. The music also spoke to younger people, although due to it's sophisticated sound it didn't make inroads into the area of rock and roll youth culture. In fact one of the main complaints today (among jazz musicians) is that the average age of the public is often quite old. The age of the public, however appreciative, does have an effect on the musicians. The energy of a room full of 50 year olds (my age) and a room full of 25 year olds is different. 

So what is it that drives theses musicians to be commercial? I imagine that it's mostly from public attention, after all it is exciting to see a whole room (hall) of people jumping up and down to your music, even if you're not that convinced. Musicians enjoy public attention, something good for the ego, and a source of inspiration. The fact that you become commercial also doesn't mean you're not relevant, or innovative. Some groups that combined commercial and popular music, ex: Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds, were pioneering in terms of cross over music, and to a certain extend this jazz-soul approach certainly shaped much of our musical culture from the 70s. It's also left a very strong mark on the younger musicians of today such as Jamiroquai to name just one. Many writers and groups have been heavily influenced by the sound of 70s film music and 70s soul. Of course less commercial cross over jazz such as Herbie Hancock's 'Crossings' and the Mwandishi 6tet has also been highly influential even if due to logistical and financial concerns it isn't reproduced by modern day groups. The Soul music coming out of the states at the time was very political in direction, and the Free Jazz movement was also interested in making a statement about society, something which is less prevalent now. Music such as Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' and Curtis Mayfield combined biting social commentary into their lyrics along with very danceable rhythms and more importantly sophisticated harmony (chord progressions, melody and arrangements), something which today seems less relevant to mainstream performers.  

Following the same thread that politics and music making are linked, an interesting idea that comes from the times of Plato and his Timaeus is the idea that the world, when in harmony, produces music which is also in harmony. M. Murray Schafer illustrates this very well in his 'Tuning of the World' by quoting Herman Hesse, "Therefore the music of a well-ordered age is calm and cheerful, and so is its government. The music of a restive age is excited and fierce, and it's government is perverted. The music of a decaying state is sentimental and sad, and it's government is imperilled." Or in real terms what this means he explains: "The Thesis is also borne out well in tribal societies where, under the strict control of the flourishing community, music is tightly structured, while in detribalized areas the individual sings appalling sentimental songs." I wonder if this rings any bells when talking about the development of popular music today via such channels as the 'X-Factor', '.....'s Got Talent', or 'The Voice'? You could even take a look at the average chart selection for any month/week of the year to then wonder if this statement reflects something about our society and the politics of these past years?

So finally we could ask is it possible to sell out? I guess in real terms the answer is no, I suppose the bottom line is; if you're happy doing what you're doing who can criticise you?

To read more about the politics of music and life in the community read Steve Isoardi's 'The Dark Tree', a brilliant biography of the life of Horace Tapscott, someone who decided to choose community over fame.

Monday, 4 March 2013

ILK releases + Mark Solborg.

I was surprised to realise that I've been a fan of the ILK music label longer than I'd realised! In fact I'd be tempted to say that along with Clean Feed it's probably one of the most interesting and forward looking improvised music labels out there. One look at the catalogue and most jazzheads that enjoy something a little different will be wondering which albums 'not' to buy! Artists such as Lotte Anker, Herb Robertson, Evan Parker or Kirsten Osgood can be found on the label in various formations. Although I haven't heard all the records (naturally) each one that comes my way is certainly worth more than a quick listen. In the past month I've received three excellent records, one from last year of 2012, and the other two from this year 2013. The records in question are Mark Solborg's '4+4+1' from 2012, Mark Solborg's 'The Trees' (2013) and a very gifted trumpet player Tomasz Dabrowski's 'Tom Trio' also from 2013.

I'll review Tomasz Dabrowski's record on the next post, but here I'll bring you up to date with two excellent releases from Mark Solborg, a guitarist who is obviously able to work in both areas of free improvised music and written arranged composition. He also clearly has a very melodic ear when it comes to writing a tune ... read on to find out more.  

Mark Solborg 4+4+1 (ILK music, 2012).

Here's the review of '4+4+1' which I posted on the Free Jazz review site:

Well this is one of those discs I wished I'd heard earlier, it would definitely have been on my top CDs of 2012. Anyhow, it seems this one,like a few others we're reviewing recently, slipped through the net and got left to one side. Furthermore ILK has steadily been releasing some excellent albums over the past few years, some of which have been reviewed here and often with very positive remarks. 

I remember reviewing another record of with Mark Solborg (see below) which also impressed me. His ability to cross between improvised and composed seems one of the major strengths in his style. This extended line up also moves very gracefully between completely improvised passages into beautifully written material. His writing uses a rich mixture of brass that includes a tuba and a bass, really giving the music real punch yet also bringing a very warm and rich sound to the ensemble. The group playing is very high quality, judging dynamics, solo space, tempos and open improvised sections down to a 't'. There isn't one wasted minute on the record.

Looking at the musicians below you'll notice Chris Speed, the +1 in the ensemble. His solos when they appear are spot on as always, but it's refreshing to hear that Solborg didn't over use him, giving over plenty of space to his other musicians as well. One voice that stands out is that of Gunnar Halle, a fine trumpeter from the same lineage as Arve Henriksen or Jon Hassell. Halle gets to shine on the delicate '2620' (tk2), sounding like a voice echoing in a valley that drifts around you in the early morning air. He also unites the ensemble on the excellent 'The Whispers' (tk4), where along with Anders Banke's fine bass clarinet playing the two horns rise above the group, gradually bringing them back together like a feather landing. Solborg takes a 'modest' position in the group, adding dynamics, chords, doubling melodies (etc) as needed. But of course he leaves his mark not only with his very subtle interjections but also with the immaculate compositions. 

The music is so full of details that I expect every listen will bring out new details. Furthermore they are all fairly lengthy pieces, which makes for perfect listening. Every one - five in all - has something unique, an ambience, or a theme which is developed throughout the composition by using free improvised sections, ostinatos, silence and hard hitting themes. A theme like 'Almost' (tk3) unfolds from a simple drum/tenor sax duet into ensemble passages which each time open up to more collective improvisations, yet unknowingly we are transported into a menacing theme which has somehow crept in without anyone noticing. All this simply shows how well this music has been crafted together, and was probably, from what we hear, a great concert also. However, luckily for us it's all on the record, so to say!

On this record, recorded live in 2007, the line-up is made up of two quartets: Anders Banke (tenor sax/bass clarinet), Solborg (gtr), Jeppe Skovbakke (bass), Bjørn Heebøll (drums) + Gunnar Halle (tmpt), Laura Toxværd (alto sax), Torben Snekkestad (tenor:soprano saxes/clarinet), Jakob Munck (tuba/trombone) + Chris Speed (tenor/clarinet) = 4+4+1. 

You can listen to a few extracts from the album here.

Mark Solborg 'The Trees' (ILK music, 2013).

A more recent release from Mark Solborg is his glorious 5tet, made up from Solborg on guitars, Mats Eilersten: double bass, Peter Bruun: drums, percussion, kalimba, Herb Robertson: trumpet, voice, pump organ, kalimba, Evan Parker: tenor & soprano saxes, kalimba & gong.  

This is one hell of a record, and - for me - yet another direction taken by Mark Solborg. Solborg seems to be able to take elements of music and mould his writing and the choice of players to get the best out of them. On previous recordings such as '4+4+1' and 'Hopscotch' the music has been more 'conceived', whereas this project obviously relies on team work. In fact what stands out on this recording is the empathy between the players and the natural group sound, everyone places themselves at the service of the music. One example that stands out is Peter Bruun's drums. He probably never really hits the drums in a way one would expect to hear from this instrument. He uses his kit in such a subtle way that you only realise that the drums are not 'in your face' quite late in the recording. He plays percussion as well on this recording which may account for the subtlety of the silent sound approach. It makes me think of some of the Supersilent and early Food records where Deathprod (Helge Sten) took out instruments giving the music space, which often has more impact. 

Describing the individual tracks on this record isn't really very helpful as in reality the album works best as one whole piece/listen. Once you've pressed the play button you'll find yourself in a dark world of sounds which keep you fixed to your sofa. I imagine you could pick out 'a' track to listen to, but the atmosphere of the combined tracks seems more natural for a listening experience. There are moments where the sax of Evan Parker or Herb Robertson's trumpet come right to the fore such as the opening track. The two horns play a mournful duet which suddenly stops to let Mark Solborg's guitar step forward playing a solo as if accompanying a silent partner. The music steps off from this point never looking back. I could name a few moments where each instrument takes it's place as the principal voice, but probably the fact that the others decided 'not' to play is of equal importance. I should add that there are several tracks where the horn players play kalimbas or other percussion instruments which adds some very nice textures to the music and of course adds even more space.

The majority of the music is restrained, not unlike the cover photo, and comes across a little like sunlight trying to break through a dense forest. Picking an extract from this record is extremely  difficult, after all where to break into the flow of things? Finally I just went for a short piece called 'Dogwood'. The group goes into full flight for just a few minutes before plunging back into the silent filled gaps of the record.

Dogwood (tk 3) from Mark Solborg's 'The Trees' (ILK music, 2013)

Both records are thoroughly recommended. I'll be following up more of ILK's catalogue in the future, certainly a very interesting label. Look out for the next review which will be Tomasz Dabrowski's 'Tom Trio' also from ILK music (2013).
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