Sunday, May 27, 2007

ten reasons lists might be trouble

sjz: More lists please!
tig: I’m happy to oblige.

  1. Do lists tell us we’re different?
    Do they help us tell each other apart…?
  2. …Or do they confirm that we are the same?
  3. Nothing wrong with vibrators of course, and the devices in question can evoke playful responses (they fire-off ideas of technosex and cyborgism in me).
    However, if list-making is a form of ‘big dick daftness’ (like men comparing themselves), it’s entirely appropriate that Sequenza21/ (whose discussions often border on the juvenile) would ask for pieces of music to “drive the adventurous iGasm user into sensory [sexual] overload”. For Sequenza21/ thoughts of self-stimulation sans penis can only lead to list making. (Susan McClary would have a field day.)
  4. There’s no canon—certainly no The Canon—there is only canonizing.
  5. I hope there is a difference between history (rich, convoluted, complex and contradictory) and list-making (simple, neat, reductionist and positivist)…
  6. …but I sometimes fear there may not be.
  7. What inconvenient complexity do we need to sweep under the rug to make our lists? Do they privilege objects—static (‘unchanging’) and durable (‘timeless’)—and devalue performances—process, practice and labor?
  8. As the Great Derek Bailey (you see? I’m not immune to the canonizing impulse either) pointed out, over the years, the number of Greats in the jazz tradition reduce in number. I don’t want to see people disappear and communities get erased.
  9. And why 10 (or 40 or 100)? Why would 10 (or 40 or 100) be (more) complete?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

the best of jazz of the 2010s

  1. AMM, Unbroken (Oslo, 2013)
  2. Archie Shepp and Frank Zappa, The Shepp/Zappa Tapes (archival)
  3. Darius Brubeck, Darius Digs Da HarmoloDics
  4. Kenny G, Spirits Rejoice
  5. Lee Ritenour, Kelvin System Structures
  6. Eugene Chadbourne, Eugene Chadborne Plays the Music of Wynton Marsalis
  7. Lindsay Lohan with Joëlle Léandre, The Lacy Songbook
  8. Aebersold et al., Company, Play-A-Long Vol. 182
  9. Butch Morris/Ensemble InterContemporain, Z and R
  10. Ankhrasmation & Fitch, With Apologies to Destination:Out

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

thoughts from a jazz recital

Still crazy here at TIG & MLM central, so the blog posts will be erratic at best for the time being…. Anyway, I was listening in on a student recital in the jazz division (not my class you understand—I was just an audience member), and a few things caught my ear.

complex heads, simple heads

I admired the group’s courage in tacking some pretty tricky material (a Joshua Redman piece which I wasn’t familiar with). A bit of a gamble by the performers since the head was pretty intricate, and, as I suspected, their solos didn’t quite live up to that level of complexity. It did get me wondering about some of the harmonically elaborate compositions of Coltrane and (earlier) Shorter, say, and how the melodies of those were often quite simple.
Take ‘Giant Steps’ or ‘Countdown’: were the simple ‘melodies’ (which, given their simplicity, almost seems like the wrong word for it) engineered to subdue expectations about the solo? Given the difficulty and, as Evan Parker calls it, ‘problem solving’ nature of the changes, did Coltrane create low-key melodies so that the solo would be a shock of energy? Did he fear that writing complex melodies would make the soloist’s job, given the experimental nature of the changes, untenable?

(Later, most notably in jazz-rock and fusion, you’d start getting intricate ‘melodies’ (and considering their complexity, that also seems like the wrong word for it) over similar changes, but with the promise of solos that were of an even greater bravado of virtuosity, but that’s another story….)

(Another solution might be, admittedly from a rock sensibility, Zappa’s in which the solo only tangentially had anything to do with the ‘head’. The rhythmic and harmonic riot of ‘Approximate’ followed by a riotous guitar solo over a relatively straightforward r’n’b groove, for example. That’s, however, definitely another story….)

jazz: year zero

Listening to the bass player walking in a pre-Carter, pre-Holland manner, the question that came to my mind was why does so much of jazz pedagogy take its year zero as 1945 (±10 years)?
Okay, we all learned jazz guitar from, say, Freddie Green onwards, but does that make sense in terms of careers—in terms of developing an individual sound—in this latter-day jazz context? We could take the model of Tal Farlow as the starting point, or Wes Montgomery. But there’s also a certain logic to taking, perhaps, John Abercrombie as a starting point. As far as I can hear (and I know I’m on very slippery ground saying this), we are living in an after-Abercrombie jazz guitar environment.

(Hey, I might be tempted to start with Nix or Sharrock, but that probably disqualifies me as a jazz guitarist ;-)

There’s an argument that goes, well, the earlier traditions—their methodologies, their practices—shaped what followed, and to understand the latter entails first learning the former (e.g. Abercrombie’s sound was informed by his models). Well, fine, however, although we could arbitrarily turn the pedagogical clock as far back as the historical record enables, we don’t do that in practice for pragmatic reasons: life, at school and after, is too short. Neither Charlie Christian nor Django Reinhardt feature much in orthodox teaching literature, for example, for, I imagine, this reason. (Tangentially, I’m not sure that learning to ape Palestrina, as interesting in itself as it may be, is going to help a budding West European composer find their place in an after-Lachenmann sensibility.) We all learn by choosing some arbitrary (historical) starting point, and shift and skip (forwards/backwards) as the learning experience takes us.
Additionally, we (mainstream jazz audiences) don’t generally expect young(er) jazz musicians to sound like old-timers. We expect them to come from an after-Shorter, after-Jarrett, after-Carter, after-DeJohnette common practice. Very few young(er) jazz musicians are asked to perform in the ‘older-style’ unless as some kind of post-modern pantomime act, or as a house band for visiting elder luminaries (and, as that generation departs to that great club in the sky, I’ve heard less and less of these over the years). Certainly very, very, very few of the jazz musicians I know play ’bop anymore (but maybe I just have weird friends).

Even the neo-classicists take (and now I’m on extremely slippery ground) The Jazz Messengers (c. 1960) as their year zero.

Furthermore, a vibrant local scene gains international recognition, not through its ability to pastiche, but through its display of some distinct take on this common practice (e.g. the recent rise in visibility of many Scandinavian jazz musicians).
So why is so much of formal jazz education still stuck in the Aebersold time-line?

(BTW, I’m talking about ‘mainstream’ jazz here, sidestepping the question of how, as Bailey asks, Ayler’s music could be distilled into a ‘method’. Also, I’ve only witnessed formal jazz education at three institutions (admittedly in three different countries), so this might not be representative.)

it’s electric, dummy!

The notion that an electric guitar is just an amplified version of an acoustic has done no good whatsoever to the teaching of that instrument. Come on, man, turn up the amp, and pick lighter!

Friday, May 11, 2007

great moments in elvis history

Mythologies abound in all traditions. It may be the thing that defines a tradition. Big Computer Music has narratives of ‘the future’ (to which, technoculturally assisted, we inevitably(?) escape); it’s hard for me to imagine an Early Music which doesn’t enroll ‘historical informants’ (whether present-day constructions or not); and latter-day improvised musics have stories about ‘freedom’ (stuck in a contradictory oscillation between individualism and collectivism)….


Let me bring in a visual aid:

Intertextuality has, or anachronisms have, rarely been so much fun (or stupid (or funny)).

Bonus question: Is the Elvis portrayed above, an imperialist?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

bailey, the problematic pt. 0: preamble

This started out with my flippant remark (I should stop doing these in the semi-public sphere of a blog) which Dominic Lash rightly flagged me up on. I left that discussion with what I’ll take as a kind of mission statement for this thread:

…Although [Derek] Bailey is one of my models… I think I should flag up the problematic in (some of) his rhetoric….
…The non-engagement with (and consequent invisibility of?) the issue [of race], I think, is actually part of the problem….
One last thing before I go: I was avoiding the word ‘racist’ in this discussion. I did this not because there’s no such thing, but because it can put an hard-edged boundary between ‘the good guys’ and ‘the bad’—between ‘progressives’ and ‘reactionaries’—and that’s not really the politics I wanted to be discussing in this context.
Like many improvising guitarists, I owe Derek Bailey a great deal (my humble lexicon is a kind of transplantation), but I also find his work (his writings in particular) a problematic.
Perhaps I was being unkind to Bailey in my remarks: re-reading Improvisation (Bailey, 1992) has been a bit of a revelation—it’s not quite the troublesome book I remember. I have, however, a complex relationship with this text. On the one hand, I cite it often (including in this blog), but it is a book steeped in a certain sensibility that I intersect with but don’t wholly endorse.
Before I continue with this discussion, I want to lay down what I hope to avoid: I don’t want this to become a character assassination, nor give the impression that I am guilt-free in comparison to Bailey. I’ve been guilty of many ill-considered and/or foolish statements—remarks that make public my private prejudices—and I don’t wish to give the impression that Bailey was a unique case. I certainly do not want to single out Bailey as a sacrificial figure head—a scapegoat—for what is a broader systemic problem.
With that out of the way, I want to look specifically at the statement that opens the first Jazz chapter in Improvisation:
There is no doubt that the single most important contribution to the revitalization of improvisation in Western music in the 20th century is jazz…. But for the Western musician its greatest service was to revive something almost extinct in Occidental music: it reminded him that performing music and creating music are not necessarily separate activities and that, at its best, instrumental improvisation can achieve the highest levels of musical expression.
Ibid., p. 48.
To be continued…


Bailey, Derek (1992), Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music (London: British Library National Sound Archive).

Monday, May 07, 2007

‘responsible’ listening

I was introduced to (for lack of better word) ‘responsible’ listening by some of my teachers, and, as I begin to teach, I’m returning to these ideas, trying to get my students to listen this way.
By ‘responsible’ I don’t mean to evoke an ethical dimension to listening (although that can certainly be a part of it), but I mean parsing, and engaging with, the social function of what you are listening to. It is a form of analysis, but, unlike Music Theory™, we’re listening out for the social.

It’s simple:

Put yourself in the position of the players.

I don’t necessarily mean this in the sense of putting yourself in, say, Marilyn Crispell’s shoes in a ‘what’s my motivation?’ kind of way, nor anything like an interpreter ‘channelling’ (dead) composers. I’m not asking you so much to understand the psychology or ‘intentions’ of the musicians, but I’m asking you to imagine what your choices might be under similar circumstances, stimuli and context: what would you have done surrounded by A and B? Or between B and C? What’s the effect of A doing bloop-bleep in this context of B doing bleep-bloop (while allowing for contrasts and juxtapositions)? What are the implications and consequences of their actions (keeping in mind the performative in all of this)? How does that shape what is to come? How does that (re)contextualize—(re)invent, (re)construct—what has already happened?
As you learn more, you can hear more. As you learn to recognize, for example, the pitfalls and hazards of collective music making you’ll begin to hear how these pitfalls and hazards that are (perhaps deftly, perhaps dramatically) circumnavigated or subverted. Musicians might have their standard responses—you’ll learn to recognize these—but among these you’ll find many surprises. I have little concern for whether these choices are good or bad, but getting to grips with each choice/tactic can open up new possibilities, and that’s the important thing.
Hopefully you’ll learn to recognize these surprises in your own playing—those moments when you escape from habit and formula. Maybe you’ve already been making out-of-the-box choices without recognizing them. These surprises don’t come as often as maybe you might wish, but I think you’ll find they come more often then you think. Whatever the case, once you can spot these moments, you’ll be able to capitalize on them—feed it back into your playing. (I’ll return to this topic in a future post.)

Incidentally, when I’ve caught Fred Frith in performance, I’ve felt (and I hope he won’t mind me saying this) I could almost (but not quite) anticipate his choices. I had similar experiences listening to George E. Lewis: I knew (some of) his moves even though his were made quicker, and with greater fluidity (if that makes any sense) and ease, than I could ever manage. And knowing Lewis’ playing (I still have a lot to learn, but I think I know his sound reasonably well by now), I was still bowled over—struck by the fantastic (and fantastical) choices and tactics that were being made and executed.

(This post is a bounce-off from ‘the face of the bass’ at Bottom Lining.)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

woodshedding & paperwork

Sorry for the sparsity of posts of late. Been doing some low-grade woodshedding and planning a recording (and chasing up old recordings and other documentation)…. And I really oughta get around to catching up on my reading. (sjz says he’s been stuck reading a couple of chapters for six years, but frankly that’s nothing compared to having read and re-read the first half dozen pages of a book for that last eight (count ’em) years.)
Anyway, another thing that is occupying my time is only peripherally related to music.
I swear a musician’s life is 20 days of paper pushing for one day on the road. When you’re up on stage, it’s all worth it, but I doubt any of us chose to be musicians based on our love of paperwork. (Incidentally, I’d just like to say that sympathetic and skillful promoters / managers / producers are very rare figures. I’m privileged to have worked with a few earlier in my career (ha ha ha—can I call it that?), but right now, I’m afloat on my own.)
However, I do plan to get back to this blog. In addition to the tutorial material and usual unplanned collection of thoughts, I want to continue the discussion of laptops in performance (including a more positive and optimistic look at the practice), and the upturned piano (eventually turning to look at the technological dramas surrounding electric guitars).

tig will be back shortly.