Friday, August 17, 2007

warmup: the rudiments

File this away with Airto’s tambourine solo, Bennink’s shoe solo, and maybe Prévost’s snare ‘piece’.

I’m not in the habit of writing obituaries here—many bloggers have done better elsewhere—so I won’t other than to add that one of the things I found fascinating about Roach was his complex relationship with pedagogy and technique.

What I do want to do is a little more modest: I want to talk about warming up. I don’t buy the idea that playing, say, scales across the guitar’s fingerboard counts for much of a warmup (those who disagree, please let me know). I’ve used various warmup routines over the years (some of which I plan to write about at some point), but none seem particularly well suited for the task for the improviser- guitarist. However, watching drummers warmup, going though simple rudiments (single strokes, double strokes, flams, etc.), I’ve begun thinking about possible transpositions of these techniques onto the guitar…. I’ll report back with more when I’ve explored this further.

In the meantime, a question: how do you warm up? and why?

Monday, August 13, 2007

recovering from keithy-poo jarrett

Apologies: this is a scatterbrained post that I managed to fit in my break from the paperwork.

Hopefully the above youtubified clip will help all of us (perhaps including DJA who feels he “inadvertently opened a can of worms”) relax after The Keith Jarrett Incident. (…But, no, I don’t know why Williams’ hands are never shown.)
Talking about pianists, thanks to the ‘HurdAudio Rotations’, I got introduced to the music of Paul Plimley who has a track entitled ‘We Got Noh Rhythm’.
This reminded me of when I was a (young and stupid college student) Composer (capital ‘C’), and I had this silly idea that, if I could fuse the ventilated rhythms of Feldman with the dramatic tone-deafness (and I mean that in the nicest way) of Xenakis, I’d have found my niche. ’Course I failed (anyone who’s ever tried even a cursory analysis of the above score-makers’ works will know why). I did eventually manage something a little like this, but in improvisation, not in composition. The sound world I arrived at was on parallel docks with Noh (what Zappa called Science Fiction Music)….

Apropos of nothing, Jeff Albert offers some fine audio recordings for download.
(Incidentally, in light of Paul Rutherford’s passing, a question: what is it about trombonists improvisers? why do they seem (grossly generalizing for a moment) more extravagant and extrovert? and why are half my—a guitar player’s—favorite improvisers trombonists?)
Finally, Andrew Durkin (under the perhaps unfair label ‘navel-gazing’) has a personal/political/idiosyncratic take on bodies and music (something that interests me also, but under a much more straightforward label—‘body’).

That’s my break from my administrative duties over: back to work….

Sunday, August 12, 2007

the carbon footprint of musicking

After all that angst, my schedule for the next few months is, despite losing a couple of dates, turning out better than I had expected. Some exciting performances coming up—new people, new places; old friends, new contexts. The only real bummer is that they aren’t in any kind of logical configuration, geographically or temporally: a gig here, a gig there, back to fulfill teaching duties, over for another gig, etc. Still trying to patch up some more dates to make this a little less wasteful, but I shudder at the thought of how many carbon points I will be burning up doing this.

Anyway, ho-hum, back to the paperwork… :-(

Thursday, August 09, 2007

brought to you thru the miracle of electronovision

From the mouth of the director of The Blues Brothers: “This is probably the greatest film performance of James [Brown].”

More commentary from John Landis: “Leslie Gore… was the biggest star there. She got the biggest ovation; she was the hottest act.”

“The guy who blew me away… was James Brown and the Fabulous [Famous?] Flames. I’d never seen anything like that before. This was one of the first U.S. performances of the Rollings Stones who were kind of boring after James Brown.
“…Mick Jagger looking 12 years old. …Who is this English twerp?”

Watch the trailer with or without commentary.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

the audience vs. keithy-poo jarrett

Apparently there’s a little hoopla about Keith Jarrett’s crowd control skills. In response Daniel Biro writes an open letter to chastise Keith Jarrett (via DJA). Like another seemingly trivial story flagged up by On An Overgrown Path, there’s something fascinating going on here.

I’m not questioning whether people were bruised by the incident, but who exactly is upset? It seems that those taking ‘the audience’s side’ are put into a difficult position of simultaneously having to say that each audience member is individually responsible for their actions (“it is a gathering of individuals who are put together by chance…”) while speaking on behalf of ‘the audience’ as a corporate entity.
And why exactly are they upset? Is it, as some are phrasing this incident, a matter of offense, or is Jarrett’s behavior disturbing?
I have (a) complex relationship(s) with ‘my’ audience(s). Not difficult, necessarily, and certainly not unrewarding, but complex. I think we all do, and maybe those that don’t see complexity (or want to wish it away) are hiding behind unwritten rules that may prove fragile at best.

As an artist Jarrett is sublime, but as a person he leaves much to be desired. It was unfortunate that we had to witness the schizophrenia of these two aspects.
There’re discourses and there’re discourses: I’m not so much interested in whether The Keith Jarrett Incident was troubling because it was insulting (the truth of which will no doubt be debated elsewhere), but because it represents a kind of transgression—a boundary violation.
I reserve the right… and I think the privilege is yours to hear us, but I reserve the right….
Jarrett didn’t know his place as far as the audience (or those vocally audience-identified) was concerned. The flip side: the audience didn’t know its place as far as Jarrett was concerned.
MLM points out that the modern concert going culture in the West, emerging from the context of aristocracy, gets inherited by the bourgeoisie—the cultural elite and the economic focus. In this model, the audience embodies the ruling class; the performers, their servants. Is Jarrett’s behavior being perceived by those offended as a revolt by the servant class? As MLM asks: do the aristocrats fear their performing monkey becoming uppity?
When Biro states that “antagonism breeds antagonism” is there an underlying fear of a kind of class warfare mapped onto musical practice? That the ‘ideal’ state of things is that we should all be friends? That (materially expressed) love (“people pay lots of money… to see you play because they love you!”) should be reciprocated?
I see that red light there, and that means you, you, you….
Alarm bells go off when we hear this story: the many is found guilty of, and ‘punished’ for, the actions of a few. We know this injustice all too well in our post-9/11 political paranoia. We smell an abuse of power. We can map this easily: many = the well behaved majority in the audience; the few = the small number of pesky photo junkies.
But who or what does Jarrett stand for in this case? The “sadistic schoolmaster”? The colonial taskmaster? The White House? What exactly is resonating here?
…Tell all these assholes with cameras to turn them fucking off right now.
Once, MET, one of my teachers, was obliged to attend a meeting with wealthy patrons. I suggested that getting drunk, turning up with a half-finished bottle of whisky, and trying to start a fight would make the proceedings less painful, but MET pointed out that they would probably respond, “how wonderful: a real artist!”
We would never have expected ‘gentility’ from Miles Davis, of course. The Davis I witnessed, even mellowed in old age, performed someone from ‘the street’ (conveniently erasing his privileged upbringing), pumped full of a dangerous male, African-American sexuality. If Jarrett’s ethnicity and sexuality were, from a reception standpoint, less veiled and confused we would surely have an easier time.
The ‘unacceptable’ language in question: why should that be a shock? Is it because we all thought we were in the presence of a ‘classical’ musician—a musician with ‘class’—who’s suddenly revealed to be 50 Cent? This is, after all, a performer who famously recorded the Goldberg Variations, whose catalog is sprinkled with classy sounding titles such as The Köln Concert, and who appears on that classy label that boasts “quality… at all levels… [and] has been widely recognized and… has collected many awards”. A label which, nonetheless, is transparent (read: identity-free) and user-friendly (“All that can really be said about ‘ECM sound’… is that the sound that you hear is the sound that we like”).
Who do we expect our performers/artists/musicians to be? And why? And what happens when they don’t perform as expected?


The phrase in the title of this post (“Keithy-poo Jarrett”) is taken from Cecil Taylor (“…I don’t listen to Keithy-poo Jarrett, I’m not particularly interested in that”) quoted in Brian Priestley (1991), ‘florescent stripper’, Wire (issue 82/3, December/January), p. 24.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

playing irresponsibly: addendum

One more borderline irresponsible thing I did that I forgot to mention in the last post: at one point in the performance, I set up a steady little pulse (a simple additive ditty). We went with that a little while, but when the drummer joined in, I switched to a much more elastic time feel.
By this time I had a feeling that the drummer tended to follow the ‘leader’—autonomy was not the strong point of the evening—and had a taste for the regular pulse (nothing wrong with that, I do too). I suspected they wouldn’t, but I hoped that the drummer would pick-up on that pulse, keep it going, even as I and the rest of the ensemble (who also tended to play sheep) dropped it.

Didn’t happen.

In the end, the drummer just sheepishly dropped out altogether.

Was I being a stinker?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

playing irresponsibly: a moderately weird situation

Just did a gig. The group / collective / band in question, for whatever reason, couldn’t get their numbers up. So I get a call: I get to be the outsourced labor.
In the end I only play for, I don’t know, five, ten minutes—one ‘piece’.

Weird feeling.

My playing of late has been divided between the solo context; ad-hoc, getting-to-know-one-another musical meetings; and reunions with old musical comrades. If you’re playing any significant duration of time (a performance that lasts, say, twenty minutes or longer), you really need to pace yourself. Especially in solo playing, it helps to be judicious with the deployment of atoms / gestures / lexical elements (a lesson learned from For Alto). And there’s a certain tactical advantage in holding your cards close to your chest in novel musical encounters.
On the other hand, the gig I just did (those five, ten minutes) was weird. Knowing that I had only a few minutes, knowing that I was unlikely to be invited back up on stage, I let rip—threw everything (well, not quite everything) out there. With all the chips on the table, I could afford to play a little recklessly. I mean, what did I have to loose?
Bizarre. Was that a responsible thing to do? Probably not, but it felt oddly liberating.