Sunday, November 12, 2006

from the road: novel social structur(e|ing)s

Not quite a road story, but….

It’s in novel situations that you often find out what your dogmas, habits and prejudices are; when playing somewhere you’d never been before, with players you’d never played with, or for an audience you didn’t already know. The place in question was, looking this up, less than a hundred kilometers away from the nearest town than I have some experience of, but the socio-musical interactions were as unfamiliar as any I’d encountered recently.
There I was, playing (improvising, in fact), and I note that, musically, there was a little more literal interaction—verbatim imitation—between musicians than I’ve been accustomed to, and I was aware that there was much less distinction between, let’s say, foreground and background voices than what I expected. Admittedly, the former—this less ambiguous interaction—may have been the result of having a couple of horn players (single reeds in particular) who were familiar with each other’s sounds, and two players are hardly representative of the whole scene, but the latter—the lack of foregrounds and backgrounds—says as much, I think, about my own assumptions and expectations as it does about the place I was in.
And, looking back, I notice how much of a surprise this was, that I was there, fumbling around trying to understand why certain things—things that should have been ‘sure-fire’ tactics—fell flat, while certain things, apparently without effort, floated right through the mixture.
It’s probably the (semi-literate) aural diffusion and transmission of improvised musics that results in this strong, localized, regional character. The distance that separates the familiar and the unfamiliar in this case, those ninety-odd kilometers, is not an unimaginable commute in our mass-transit condition, but, for traditions heavily dependent on practice and by-example coaching, it is quite a leap. Somethings transmit across those distances with little problem—the raw sound of the music, for instance—other things are more likely to stay put. Playing that evening, for example, I could hear a little bit of Evan Parker in BC’s playing, but I was still bewildered by the local musical customs and protocols of interaction.
Like I say, it’s always interesting and instructive to find out exactly what your prejudices and lazy dogmas are.

A little side note: It was very nice of be.jazz to include improvising guitar on the jazz and blogs list. Cheers.

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