Buy Renaissance Man - my new recording featuring John Abercrombie, and String Quartet!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Art and Science of Time


Again this is an older post which I originally published on my website. But it's still current and I'm placing it here in case anyone hasn't seen it before and is interested in reading it. It outlines my thoughts on the whole area of rhythmic technique and the development of good secure time.

In the course of the essay I blithely mention the fact that I'll be putting together my next book/DVD (which deals with this subject), on rhythm 'over the next 6 to 8 months', but I'm ruefully looking at the date that I wrote that - September 2007! I haven't got that book together as yet, though I have started to catalogue the myriad exercises which will be in it. I have promised myself to make a concerted effort over the summer to finally get this together and get it out there, and I will - no really, I will! Promise! In the meantime, I hope you find something useful in the essay and I have a few things up on Youtube that relate to this HERE, HERE, and HERE

As always any and all comments and feedback are welcome.

The Art and Science of Time II

Over the course of the next 6 to 8 months I'll be putting together my next book and DVD on rhythm, which will be entitled 'The Art and Science of Time". Unlike 'Creative Rhythmic Concepts for Jazz Improvisation' which dealt with the specific use of extended rhythmic techniques in the jazz idiom, this one will focus on more basic rhythmic elements - specifically how to develop good musical time and how to be in control of all the rhythmic elements in one's music. The essay that follows takes the form of an introduction to some of the ideas that will be demonstrated at length in the book/DVD.


The Simplicity of Rhythm

I've been dealing with extended rhythmic techniques, as a player, writer and teacher, for more than fifteen years now, and over that period a lot of issues relating to rhythm, time, pulse, metre etc. have both clarified and simplified for me. One of the initial attractions for me in expanding my rhythmic vocabulary was a love of what I saw as complexity - complex polyrhythms, odd metre modulation - all was grist to my mill in the search for the new and the interesting. I took in information gleaned from Indian, African, Arabic, and Balkan music and it all enriched my rhythmic vocabulary.

However over a period of time I began to notice similarities in how one could approach understanding the rhythmic aspects of such very different musics as those from Indian classical music and Balkan Folk music. I began to see that rather than rhythm being a complex issue it was in fact a very simple issue that could be understood in two simple ways - a) what I call the 'division of the space' and b) the concept of rhythmic relationships.

Now when I say rhythm is simple, I do not necessarily mean easy - those are two different things. But the understanding of the elements of rhythm, and what we have to do in order to have a good rhythmic technique, is simple in my opinion. Whenever rhythmic activity is going on - from the most basic to the most complex - it can be explained and understood in relation to the aforementioned rhythmic elements - the division of the space, and/or by the rhythmic relationships created by the rhythmic activity of the music. I would describe these two elements as follows:

Division of the Space

Whenever a pulse is conjured into being we automatically have a division of space. The simple, one after another, beats of the pulse are dividing space into evenly measured units. By space in this instance I mean a space in time. The passage of time is itself an abstract concept that is measured by us using mechanical devices such as clocks - and we do the same thing in music by the use of machines - computers or metronomes for example. By creating a pulse, or making that pulse tangible by whatever means (either by explicitly playing it, having a metronome playing it, or implying it by the way we play the rhythmic phrases of our music) we are dividing the space.

A musical space can be any duration or length - it could be a measure, a beat, 8 beats, or even 8 measures. It could be described as the space of time between an event, and the regular recurrence of that event. So, for example an 'event' might be the tick of a metronome, and the recurrence would be the next tick. So if we, (to explain in this in a conventional notational manner - though I'm not always a big fan of this), call those ticking metronome events 'quarter notes', then a 'space' occurs between those two quarter notes. How we divide that space will define our rhythmic perception of the music we're playing. So if we understand our metronome as being in quarter notes, and we play 8th notes, then we'll be dividing each unit of the space into two equal parts, if we play 16ths we'll divide the space into four equal parts, 8th note triplets three parts etc.

All rhythmic activity in a single melodic or rhythmic line can be explained according to this principle. When thought of like this, subdivisions which are conventionally thought of as being 'complex' (such as 5's , 7's, or 9's) can be seen to be no more complex than a division of the space in 3 or 4. If we play what are called 'quintuplets', or 'septuplets' (a more appropriate term for large numbers of offspring than for rhythm in my opinion!) the space is still being divided, just into groupings other than the conventional 4 or 3. The process is the same. Now, possibly one may not be able to play quintuplets or septuplets accurately, but this is probably because of a lack of familiarity with how a division of 5 or 7 sounds, rather than because this subdivision is any more complex than a subdivision of 4 or 3. When more than one rhythmic line is being played at the same time, and the space is being divided in two or more different ways simultaneously, then we have to deal with the other principle I mentioned - the concept of rhythmic relationships.

Concept of Rhythmic Relationships

Whenever more than one rhythm is being played at a time, a rhythmic relationship is called into being. To take a very simple example, if we imagine a metronome playing quarter notes, and we play eighth notes along with it, then a rhythmic relationship exists between the metronome and what we're playing, in this case a relationship in a ratio of 2:1. If a third rhythm were to be added, say in 8th note triplets, then we'd have another relationship happening at the same time - the resultant relationship could be expressed as 3:2:1. But these ratios are not so important, what is important to understand, as a performing musician, and especially as a performing improvising musician, is that we need to be able to perceive simultaneous rhythmic relationships in order to keep our place in the music - both in relation to the pulse and in relation to what the other musicians are playing. We need be able to react to whatever we hear and still be aware of the pulse and the relationship of ourselves, and the other musicians, to it.

In any group that's playing anything other than simultaneous quarter notes, (or whose members are all playing exactly the same rhythm), then a rhythmic relationship system is in play. The rhythmic relationship may be fixed, as in most rock and classical music, or fluid and changing such as in jazz or Indian Classical music, and the relationships in play could be as simple as those contained in a Sousa March, or as complex as in drum music from West Africa. But in all of these, from the most simple to the most complex, a system of rhythmic relationships is in play and we must be in control of this aspect of music if we are to play effectively in any situation.

So we can see that pretty much everything in rhythm can be understood as being one or other, or (more likely) a combination of these two things - the division of the space, and which rhythmic relationships are in place. An analysis of the rhythmic elements of the Rite of Spring can be as easily accommodated by this form of analysis as can the aforementioned Sousa March. In order to have a good sense of time, the musician needs to be able to do both of these things well - divide the space in whatever way is desired and be able to hear where he or she is in relation to the other rhythmic activity that's going on simultaneously.

The Art and Science of Time

Musicians speak a lot about a person's 'time' and their 'time feel', but what does this mean, and what constitutes good time? In my opinion a person can be said to have good time when they are able to place their notes consistently in relation to the pulse, and are in complete control of that placement. I think the word 'consistently' is very important here - having the ability to place your notes in a consistent relationship to the pulse is the foundation of good time and indispensable if one is to have a good time feel. A person whose time is not good does not have this consistency, they rush some phrases and drag others to compensate, they are aware of the notes in terms of pitch but only have a hazy awareness of how those notes should sit into the pulse. I have heard many players like this over the years, often playing the instrument at a technically high level - at least in terms of digital dexterity - but lacking control of the time elements that are so vital not only to professional performance of music, but to its emotional effect.

Rhythm and Time as an Emotional Device

People often speak about emotion in music, but usually they are referring to the use of the melodic or harmonic elements of music - one rarely hears people speak of rhythm as being emotional. Yet it is one of the most fundamental aspects of music and one that affects us immediately. If a band starts playing a good solid groove at a gig, the audience will automatically start moving their bodies - tapping their feet, bobbing their heads etc. This body movement, akin to dance, is a direct emotional response to the music. Nobody at a concert thinks to themselves 'I like this music, I must move my head in time to it'! No, the movement represents the automatic physical response to the emotional stimulus - the enjoyment of the music - being generated by the way the band are playing the groove. The greater the musician, or band's ability to generate good rhythmic feeling the more the audience responds.

There are numerous examples of musicians whose command of time feel and ability to generate great rhythmic energy through note placement played a huge part in their popularity and connection with audiences - Louis Armstrong, Errol Garner, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderly, Ella Fitzgerald - these were all famous for their time feel as well as for other qualities. But it's not just in jazz that we can see this effect on audiences - Bootsy Collins the legendary funk bassist made a career out of his ability to energise an entire band, and by extension the audience, by the power of often simple basslines. His time feel was so good and his mastery of time so complete that he has been one of the most in-demand and famous bassists in popular music history. And the example of Bootsy Collins or Errol Garner is no coincidence or unique occurrence - a person who has a strong time feel will inevitably affect a listener's response to the music, a person with a poor or ragged time feel will have much less impact on the listeners, no matter how apt the notes they play may be in terms of pitch and harmonic correctness.

So if rhythm is an emotional device in music and has such an effect on audiences it's obvious that we need to be in complete control of our rhythmic technique, as least as much as we are in control of our harmonic and melodic techniques. To be in control of your rhythmic technique means being able to control the exact placement of the notes in the space that I spoke about earlier. And to be able to do this consistently. The importance of being in consistent control of the rhythmic aspects of your playing cannot be overstated.

Most musicians of even the most basic level would not be happy if they could not produce a specific pitch if requested to do so - if the music requires the player to play a C, then even the most basic player would be considered incompetent if they could not do so. Let's imagine that they were only able to hit the note in the vicinity of C for example - sometimes on C, sometimes close to a Db, sometimes closer to a B - well if this were the case and if they didn't decide to go off and practice in order to fix this inconsistency themselves, they would certainly be advised to do so in no uncertain terms by their colleagues! Yet how many players get away with this same inaccuracy in relation to the rhythmic elements of their playing? How many players when playing 8th notes play them inconsistently, how many rush certain phrases, how many are constantly adjusting their phrasing in order to compensate for inconsistency in pulse relationship? Far too many in my opinion, and, considering how important this area is, far too little attention is given to proper and thorough rhythmic training. Often the extent of that training begins and ends with the mantra 'work with a metronome'!

I think one of the problems that teachers have with teaching rhythm is that they often don't really know how do it, and so they skate over it and place their trust in the generally competent ability to play in time that most musicians have. Harmony or instrumental technique is much easier to teach than rhythm, since in these two subjects the teacher can give the student a set of explicit tasks with clearly identifiable and 'correct' solutions and outcomes - 'if you are given this chord you can play these scales over it', or 'if you do this fingering then this scale will be much easier to play' etc. etc. Rhythm - since it involves a control of note placement in an invisible space, and relating to a pulse which is supposed to be internalized - is much more abstract, at least as a teaching subject. Quite often the teacher, if faced with a student with rhythmic problems such as rushing, has no tangible suggestions to make other than pointing out the rushing to the student (who's usually aware of it anyway) and the aforementioned suggestion to work with a metronome. Yet people often need help with rhythmic issues and unless rhythmic issues are addressed they become a permanent block to the musician's development.

Rhythmic Spatial Awareness and the Phenomenon of Rushing

By far the most common rhythmic problem that people have is that of rushing, and in working with many students with this problem I've thought a lot about why this is so widespread and what the causes of it are. I've come to the conclusion that people who rush (and people with other rhythmic problems) are suffering from a lack of what I call 'rhythmic spatial awareness'

There is no doubt in my mind that there are people who are naturally rhythmically talented and who have what's referred to as 'good time', and these people have an innate sense of what I think of as being rhythmic spatial awareness. They have a sense of how pulse inhabits space and the space around those pulses, and the result is that they don't rush, because they seem to have a heightened awareness of the where the pulse is in relation to wherever they are. I believe this to be innate with some people – nature not nurture – you can see it in even the youngest children singing a nursery rhyme – some children rush all the spaces between the notes (especially at the end of a line), while other children's placement of the notes in the space create the sense of the underlying pulse, even when these children are singing on their own.

I think this kind of talent can be compared to great athletes in games like soccer, or tennis, or basketball – the really great players seem to have more time to execute their manoeuvres than lesser players, the game seems to move slower for them – sometimes when watching them you get the sense they're moving slower than anyone else. This is a kind of talent that can't be manufactured and I think this ability is very similar to the rhythmic spatial awareness I'm talking about - the people with this rhythmic spatial awareness, like their counterparts in sport, seem to also have more time (in the chronological sense) to create their phrases. Their playing, even at speed, is characterized by a sense of relaxed clarity.

I think people who don't have this innate ability are more inclined to rush since they seem to have difficulty perceiving that space around the beats. But I think in most people the tendency to rush is caused first and foremost by anxiety, by a restless mind – a combination of self-consciousness in their playing and a fear of sounding bad, with the result that they rush their phrases in order to 'get it over with' in a way. And also in performance, as people play, they often become more excited in a self-absorbed kind of way as the piece goes on, becoming more focused on what they're doing and less and less able to have an overview of where they, and where others are in the music and in particular in relation to the pulse.

In my opinion I would say those factors – nervousness, inability to be both subjective and objective while playing – have more to do with causing the rushing phenomenon than anything else. Of course we are human beings and not machines and some rushing is to be expected when a group of 4 or 5 people are improvising together in a piece that can last 10 or more minutes. In fast tunes in particular one can budget for a certain increase in tempo over the course of the piece, in fact it can be argued that this adds to the excitement of the piece. Indeed in some musical traditions - such as Balkan folk music, or Gnawan music from the Maghreb - a sense of speeding up is a stylistic feature of the music. But I'm not talking about this when I'm talking about rushing as being a problem - I'm referring to the situation where phrases are garbled because they are rushed and/or where, due to rushing, the soloist and the rhythm section are out of sync to the point where the groove is adversely affected. In a worst case scenario the rushing can reach a point where a musician becomes almost unable to play with due to their inability to be in the right place after just a few measures have been played.

'Dragging' can also be a problem though this is less common in my experience and tends to be a direct result of technical problems, where for example the tempo is just too fast for the player, or where problems of physical coordination make the player slow down. So is there a solution for the chronic rusher or for someone with other rhythmic problems? Yes, become what I call a 'rhythmic being'

Becoming a Rhythmic Being

Quite often, because of the way we learn music -through an instrument - we give the instrument we play a prominence in the creation of the music that it doesn't deserve. What I mean by this is that we have a subconscious sense that the music is somehow produced, at least partially, by the instrument. Of course the reality is that the instrument is an inanimate object that is mute until we pick it up and do something - pluck, press, blow, strike, etc. - to it. We are producing the music, the instrument is the conduit - it is our physical action (those actions themselves generated by our creative musical mind), that produces the music, not the instrument. The instrument makes sounds, we organise those sounds and make music with that organised sound. Once we understand and recognize this we can also see that any rhythmic problems we may have will not be solved on the instrument. Since it is the body that is playing the instrument, we must be rhythmic within our own bodies, then we can put that rhythmic physicality onto the instrument and at the service of the music.

Our bodies need to be physically rhythmic in order for us to be rhythmically strong on our instruments and in our music, and there is a huge amount of practical work we can do in order to achieve this. This involves lots of singing and clapping! Basically what we're trying to do is make ourselves coordinated physically and rhythmically and to make ourselves relaxed rhythmically and physically aware of where the pulse is at all times. If you can't coordinate yourself physically, if you can't clap in time, if you can't sing in time then you certainly won't be able to play in time. Conversely if you can sing and clap with a good time feel then (given an appropriate level of instrumental technique), you will certainly play with a good time feeling. Of if you can sing one rhythm (or melody) and clap a different rhythm, and physically experience how these rhythms relate to one another then, in a real time playing situation, you will be much better at hearing how what you're playing relates rhythmically to what another person is playing.

There are many exercises one can do to improve one's sense of pulse and feel that space that I talked about earlier, and many exercises one can do to work on rhythmic relationship vocabulary. In my teaching of this subject I have literally dozens of exercises that I use to help students with different facets of rhythmic technique, and after working on these exercises for a while it's extraordinary what the students achieve. After a while and with consistent work, almost anything seems possible - from playing consistently well in time, to knowing where one is in relation to the pulse even when using phrases that cross the beat asymmetrically, to having three completely different rhythms going on simultaneously. The beauty of these exercises is that you don't need your instrument to do them so they can be done anywhere - the only equipment ever needed (and that only sometimes) is a metronome which can be slipped into the pocket. After a while, with consistent practice, anyone can improve their time and get in touch with, and be in control of this most elemental of musical forces - the power of rhythm. All great jazz musicians are or were truly rhythmic beings, by doing rhythmic exercises that involve singing and clapping, we can become rhythmic beings also.

As I mentioned earlier I will be producing a book/DVD on this subject over the next while, but before that I will post a few of these exercises online, so if you're interested in this area please keep an eye out for them.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Boy's Music and Emotional Apartheid


An American guitarist friend of mine told me a story about how his father – a mid-western hardware store owner with little prior knowledge of jazz – asked his son “Why do jazz musicians always look like they’re smelling shit when they play?” I’ve always found that story to be hilarious, in that it’s both witty and observant – why so often DO jazz musicians often look like they’re, if not smelling shit, then at least involved in some ugly and very serious task when they’re playing? And light-hearted as that question might seem, it does raise a point which has intrigued me over the past few years – at what point did so many jazz musicians come to feel that the music they play must inhabit such a narrow emotional bandwidth?

A lot of contemporary jazz, especially coming from Europe and the loosely titled ‘Downtown Scene’ in the US, seems to only recognise one shade of the emotional spectrum – the darker one. So a lot of improvised music will have a feeling of such things as anger, seriousness, turbulence, melancholy, and a kind of macho brow-furrowing intensity that many musicians seem to feel is the stamp of ‘real’ music – the stamp of music that is serious, of music that is deep, and of music that is worth doing.

And when I speak of this kind of approach, I speak of what I know, believe me! I say this because for many years I was as enthusiastic for this kind of dark-hued emotional approach as anyone – perhaps even more so. And I still have a great taste for it, to tell the truth. Bartok String Quartet No. 2? Excellent! Late Coltrane? Great! Steve Coleman-esque astringency coupled with complex polyrhythms? That’s the shit! But in recent years I’ve also become tired of the relentless diet of grimness served up in the name of contemporary jazz.

And it’s not just subjectively that I’ve begun to question this approach, but also objectively and even philosophically. Because I think there’s a kind of emotional apartheid going on here in that it would seem that some emotions are permitted in the music (the above mentioned anger, seriousness, melancholy, etc.) but some are not – happiness, joy and celebration for example. But the people who produce this music are usually people who are happy from time to time, who have reasons to celebrate occasionally and who no doubt experience joy like the rest of us. So why is this never represented in the music? I remember speaking to a musician friend of mine about this last year – he’s a guy who is one of the most positive and up people I’ve ever encountered – a pleasure to be with because of his unrelenting good humour and sunny outlook. Yet his music is unreservedly dark – you would never know from his music that he was a generally happy guy. I asked him about this and he seemed genuinely surprised by the question, I don’t think he’d ever been asked it before, or ever really thought about it.

Of course we eventually come to the question of what constitutes ‘dark’, and the inevitable argument that ‘it might sound dark to you but it doesn’t to me’. However I think this argument is disingenuous on the part of the people who make it – I think most of us can agree on the basic difference between happy music and sad (or non-happy, or serious) music. No arguments about the musical prerequisites for happy or sad music need be gone into - music is either dark-hued or it’s not. Just like the civilians in the audience, we in the jazz army can tell the difference. Now we may enjoy sad, or serious or dark music – that’s a different point – but we can’t pretend that sad or dark music is happy music, whether we are happy to listen to it or not, or whether we are happy to play it or not. I think there’s a difference between music that we’re happy to play and/or to listen to, and music that represents happiness – these are very different things.


So why is happiness and general celebratory music a no-no among many contemporary jazz musicians? It wasn’t always so – jazz was originally a dance music and therefore by necessity had to be upbeat. Dancers in general want something happy to dance to, since dancing is usually celebratory in nature. But even when jazz moved off the dance floor and onto the stage it retained this generally optimistic and sunny outlook. Listening to the great Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie – the two people given the most credit for changing jazz from a pop music into an art music – playing ‘Blue’n’Boogie’ live at Birdland is to hear two guys having a great time playing music together, and showing it. This is sunny, happy music. In general bebop and hard bop is. Dave Liebman in a recent blog, makes a very good point in relation to how he felt after playing some gigs dedicated to the music of Dexter Gordon. He describes it as follows:



"Playing all Dexter tunes it struck me that so much of pure bebop is uplifting and joyous music, often played by people who were prejudiced against, often had drug problems and never really made much money, whereas guys like me who come from pretty secure bourgeois backgrounds play so much dissonant, melancholy and “down” music. It’s interesting what the human spirit is capable of doing."


Precisely – these guys lives were in general much harder than ours are, yet they managed to produce uplifting music. How is it with our much better lifestyle that we find it impossible to play anything blatantly happy? Is it a matter of style? Is it because playing happy music is not hip? I feel it’s probably a combination of these things.

In film and TV there’s a point of view that comedy is easy, not anything like as hard as ‘real’ acting. I think in contemporary jazz there’s a similar misapprehension – a feeling that happy music is light music, is less worthy of consideration, or is less deep than serious or dark music. There’s an association in the minds of many musicians that happy = frivolous, or commercial. Happiness is something that pop musicians do – not us serious guys over here in contemporary jazz! Pat Metheny is for me a classic example of the suspicion with which generally upbeat music is viewed in jazz. Metheny is someone who has never been afraid to show a sunny disposition to the world and has been incredibly popular due to the accessibility of his ‘Pat Metheny Group’. This latter group is one of my least favourite of Metheny’s bands, but the optimistic vibe of that group is brought into other Metheny projects, and that’s something I really enjoy about Metheny, his willingness to indulge in bright music that has an unashamedly celebratory feel to it. But many times I’ve heard Metheny being dismissed as a lightweight by jazz musicians – or they excuse Metheny the celebratory stuff by pointing out that he also played with Ornette Coleman – which proves he must be serious, right?

And Metheny’s obvious technical ability is another thing that gets him off the hook with the Jazz Police – because we admire technical ability. And in a commercial environment where more and more of the jazz audience consists of jazz students, jazz musicians, or ex-jazz students and musicians, this obsession with the technical details of music has become more prevalent. With this kind of audience the hipness factor is very important – is this music in an odd metre? Does it use complex chords? Even better, does it use odd metres AND complex chords!? If so then it must be good. A musician friend of mine calls this the ‘boy’s music syndrome’ - if it’s hard it must be good, the harder it is, the better it is. The more arcane the structural devices used the better the devotees of boy’s music like it. In the world of boy’s music you’ll never hear something in a simple 4/4, or if you hear a major chord it will ALWAYS have a #11 on it, or even better, a #5 (or for real seriousness, how about a #9!!).

Once again I should point out that I have nothing against complex music or emotionally dark-hued musical environments, I enjoy them both as a listener and a player. What I do object to is the exclusive focussing on this kind of musical sombreness – like anything it becomes wearing after a while. And anyway, who says that happiness and complexity are mutually exclusive? The music of Hermeto Pascoal is relentlessly joyous and life-affirming yet contains enough gnarly odd metre and harmonic complexity to satisfy the most hardened boy’s music advocate. Have a listen to Mundo Verde Esperança for a classic example of complexity meets joyousness.

And for myself, I believe that if I never write and play music that is happy or celebratory in nature then I’m not honestly representing myself as a person through my music. And we have very good examples of how great it can be in the midst of a sea of seriousness to be given an island of celebration and positivity. Check out the final movement of Bartok’s ‘Concerto for Orchestra’, or the playfulness of the second movement of the same work. Or how about Coltrane playing ‘Bessie’s Blues’ on ‘Crescent’? If even these purveyors of some of the most serious music ever written and performed felt the need to smile and celebrate occasionally then surely we can follow their lead and do a bit of smiling of our own?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Charlie Mariano


I just heard that the great Charlie Mariano passed away, at age 86. I played with Charlie many times over the past 15 years, always in the company of Indian musicians, particularly the Karnataka College of Percussion (KCP). Charlie was an extraordinary man, a dyed-in-the-wool bebopper who played with Mingus and McCoy Tyner, but who moved to Europe and spent extensive periods in India studying Indian music, learning the Nadhaswaram, and meditating. Despite the strong Indian links, in company he retained the persona of a jazzer, with an easy Boston drawl and a typically subversive jazz wit. In fact he was an incredible source of good jokes, with an endless supply of new ones. When I first met him he was already 71 years of age, but could sit in the lotus position for hours and only a couple years ago, i also remember him bounding up five flights of stairs in a typically steep Dutch apartment, leaving me gasping in his wake! Other things I remember about him was that he was a stickler for punctuality and had the most incredible collection of colourful socks I've ever seen.

We always played Indian music together, but one time at a soundcheck in the Bimhuis we played 'You Stepped Out of a Dream' together - the only time i got to play any jazz with him, and what a pleasure it was to play with someone with that kind of great swinging phrasing.

He was a funny, gentle and above all nice man - may he rest in peace.

You can see Charlie in action with the KCP, from only two years ago here

Getting with the Programme!

I’m currently in an Artist’s Retreat, writing some music which will accompany a silent film. The film is about the area I live in – Dun Laoghaire, and my writing of the music for the film is being greatly helped by some great software that allows me to sync the music I’m writing to the film as I write it.

The composing of the music is going very well, and much to my disbelief, I’m ahead of schedule. I’ve been thinking about why this is – why is this going so well? Is it because it’s easier to write something for which you have a visual stimulus? Is it easier to write programmatic music than to write music in the abstract? Or am I just on a hot streak?

This is an interesting question for me, because for years I found it difficult to write programmatic music of any kind. I always wrote in the abstract and found any contemplation of a non-musical source to generate musical ideas to be next to impossible. And then gradually over the past five years I started to use extra-musical inspiration for pieces – birdsong for one piece, Haikus for another, audio-visual stuff for a third. With this piece I’m writing to the film, as we’ll be performing the music live, and so as I listen to the music I’ve written I can watch how it will interact with the visual information. So I start to ask myself, is the reason that the music is flying out of the electronic quill because I’m particularly inspired, or is it because some of my responsibility to make the music be as good as it can be is watered down a bit by the fact that the film is there to take up the slack, if slack there is? Would I be as happy with this music if there was no film to accompany it? Would I be writing it so quickly if there was no film to write to? Hmmmmmm....................

Monday, June 8, 2009

Questionnaire 2 - Europe


So here's part two of my questionnaire. In this edition I ask the questions of some of my European friends and colleagues and, as always, the answers are fascinating. You can see Part 1 in which I asked the same questions of my colleagues in Ireland Here )

Chander Sardjoe (Holland - drums)


Give us an example or two of an especially good or interesting:


1. Melody:

"Santo Canto" by G.Rubalcaba New Cuban quartet on PASEO (2004) a great record with a unique musical language, i strongly recommend it!
"4 am" by Herbie Hancock on "Mr. Hands" (1980), "Neutral Zone" by Steve Coleman (1990)

2. Harmonic language:

Olivier Messiaen's Préludes pour Piano (1929), also the legendary chord changes on Dienda by Kenny Kirkland .

3. Rhythmic feel:

Linley Marthe, Anthony Jackson, Cannonball Adderley, Ignacio Berroa: in my book these are some of the people all worth transcribing in cut time to notate the details of their incredible phrasing as exactly as possible.

4. Classical piece:

Bach Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo 1720, Charles Ives Central Park In The Dark 1906

5. Jazz album:

My Favorite Things by John Coltrane 1961

6. Book on music:

Art Pepper Straight Life, for more technical stuff: "Musiques Formelles" by Iannis Xenakis - and K Ramachandrans "Mathematical Basic of the Thala System in Carnatic Music"

7. Name a great recording by someone that has influenced you:

Rhythm People by Steve Coleman and 5 elements 1990

8. Name someone whose music has influenced you, but that people who know your music would probably be surprised by:

Sting

9. Name a player on your instrument whom you think is very underrated:

Too many to name, but a few that come to mind are Larry Bunker, Mickey Roker, Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith



Lars Jansson (Sweden - Piano)


Give us an example or two of an especially good or interesting:


1. Melody:

Bartok; Konzert für Orchester (Sz 116); IV. (Intermezzo Interrotto) Allegretto, Igor Stravinsky from Firebird - 'Ronde des Princesses', Lars Jansson-Ensemble MidtVest Worship of Self (Spice of Life)

2. Harmonic language:

II-V-I is still a lot to explore, the harmony of Olivier Messiaen

3. Rhythmic feel:

The Miles Davis rythm section, Hancock-Carter-Williams

4. Classical piece:

Alban Berg Violin Concerto, The String Ouartets by György Ligieti

5. Jazz album:

Herbie Hancock Trio with Ron Carter + Tony Williams (Sony), Ray Bryant 'Alone with The Blues', Jimmy Smith 'Organ Grinder Swing' (Verve)

6. Book on music:

All books by Bill Dobbins, Hal Crook 'How to Improvise', Fred Sturm 'Changes over Time', Stephen Nachmanovitch 'Free Play'

7. Name a great recording by someone that has influenced you:

Chick Corea 'Now He Sings Now He Sobs', Paul Bley with Gary Peacock (ECM)

8. Name someone whose music has influenced you, but that people who know your music would probably be surprised by:

The music of Anton Webern, Alban Berg, György Ligeti and John Cage

9. Name a player on your instrument whom you think is very underrated:

Swedish piano player Tommy Kotter




Nils Wogram (Germany - Trombone)


Give us an example or two of an especially good or interesting:


1. Melody:

Bach cello suites, "So Tender" by Keith Jarret, Michelle (and many other songs) by the Beatles

2. Harmonic language:

Birth of the Cool, Quartet for the End of Time, Wozzek,

3. Rhythmic feel:

Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison, Tony Williams/Ron Carter, Philly Joe Jones/Paul Chambers, Hermeto Pascoal's rhythm section

4. Classical piece:

Wozzek by Alban Berg, Piano Etudes by Ligeti

5. Jazz album:

'Expectations' by Keith Jarrett, 'Steaming' by Miles Davis

6. Book on music:

"Dharma Art" (it is not just on music but on arts in general)

7. Name a great recording by someone that has influenced you:

'Expectations' by Keith Jarrett, Miles Davis 'Steaming', Hermeto Pascoal 'Sa Nao Toca Quem Quer, Jimmy Knepper ' Idol of the flies'

8. Name someone whose music has influenced you, but that people who know your music would probably be surprised by:

Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Zappa, Beatles, Radiohead, The Ruins

9. Name a player on your instrument whom you think is very underrated:

Jimmy Knepper



Julian Arguelles (UK - Saxophones)


Give us an example or two of an especially good or interesting:


1. Melody:

I particularly like the slow movements to many symphonies and concertos, (for example Mahler 5 and Ravel Piano Concerto - the two handed one). On the jazz side i love Kenny wheeler's tunes, Django Bates' too ..... i could go on.

2. Harmonic language:

The same as above.

3. Rhythmic feel:

Tony Williams groove on the Miles albums, the same goes for Jack DeJohnette's on the Miles albums. I still love the grooves on Stevie Wonder albums, and of course Herbie's Headhunters. Paco De Lucia with Camaron (especially when they were playing a Bulerias) was up there too.

4. Classical piece:

Beethoven late string quartets are great.

5. Jazz album:

The Jarrett albums with Dewey (all of them), the classic Coltrane quartet (any of them

6. Book on music:

I've not read many books on music but Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns by Slonimsky, and the Charlie Parker Omnibook were huge influences on me

7. Name a great recording by someone that has influenced you:

'Survivors Suite' by Keith jarrett, 'A love Supreme' by John Coltrane, Kenny Wheeler's 'Gnu High', Miles' 'Kind Of Blue', Ornette's 'Shape of Jazz to Come'

8. Name someone whose music has influenced you, but that people who know your music would probably be surprised by:

Paco De Lucia/Camaron

9. Name a player on your instrument whom you think is very underrated:

Heinz Sauer



Simon Nabatov (Russia - Piano)


Give us an example or two of an especially good or interesting:


1. Melody:

“In Tune” by Kenny Werner. It is, of course, not “just” the melody (the material in the upper voice) that fascinates me – everything there is working together – but the melody itself, the way it so organically, naturally slinky navigates it’s way through the rapidly changing meters, moods, even the whole genre-hints, while remaining perfectly homogeneous and true to the chosen story-telling mode. Delightful...

2. Harmonic language:

“Third World” by Herbie Nichols. Not so many, unfortunately, aware of the fact, that it was Nichols who, back in 1947, formulated the chord connections later known as “Giant Steps” progression – and that almost 15 years prior to Coltrane’s immortal contribution.
Well, in this case the chord pairs move the whole-tone scale down instead of the circle of fifths, but in some later tunes Nichols uses different strategies of stringing together those pairs, thus proving that it was in no way a fluke. Groundbreaking (no matter on how “small” of a scale) and wonderfully fresh, even today.

3. Rhythmic feel:

Maracatu – the powerful mesmerizing rhythm from Pernambuco, the northeastern state of Brazil. Of course, Maracatu is much more than the rhythm – it’s legends and stories, theater, sagas, costumes, dances, own carnival , poetry – it is a huge cultural tradition, harking back to the African ancestry and meshed together with the Brazilian sensibilities. The main rhythm itself, with the weak (or omitted) first and the strong accentuated second sixteenth of each group of four 16th, played against a bell pattern, has a wonderful duality about it, being strongly “off-centered” and clearly cyclical at once.

4. Classical piece:

Gérard Grisey “Vortex Temporum” - a breathtaking piece by the greatest spectralist composer. The way the most complex technical and formal procedures turn into the sensual (in the best French tradition) experience – also directly, as our sense of hearing is tested and challenged by the universe of the microtonal relationships – fantastic! And the piano cadenza, tuned 1/4 tone down, is as thrilling as anything I know...

5. Jazz album:

Nils Wogram’s “Root 70 on the 52 and 1/4 Street” – an ingenious blend of swinging jazz and quarter-tone music.


6. Book on music:

Helmut Lachenmann - “Music as existential experience”

7. Name a great recording by someone that has influenced you:

“Press Enter” - Kenny Werner

8. Name someone whose music has influenced you, but that people who know your music would probably be surprised by:

Caetano Veloso

9. Name a player on your instrument whom you think is very underrated:

Paul Plimley, Craig Taborn




Stéphane Payen (France - Alto Saxophone)


Give us an example or two of an especially good or interesting:


1. Melody:

Perspicuity by Doug Hammond, (or any of Doug's melodies). But especially the melody of the drums chants ! And knowing the melody of the drums, you know how to hear the melody. Those two lines don't make "sense" if played separately, but when played together, it sounds amazing !!


2. Harmonic language:

the work from Malik Mezzadri (aka Magic Malik), using what he calls "signature tonale". Also the work made by Octurn - a band/collective based in Bruxelles - around modes from Olivier Messian on the music of Bo Van Der Werf. And the harmonic world of pianist Benoît Delbecq

3. Rhythmic feel:

The different rhythmic feels of Sabar music from Senegal. And this so-called "traditional music" is really alive.

4. Classical piece:

"Musica Concertante Per 12 Archi" by Hungarian composer Sandor Veress. "An Index Of Metals" by Fausto Romitelli.

5. Jazz album:

Marc Ducret "Détail" - Benoît Delbecq "Pursuit"

6. Book on music:

"Polyphonies et Polyrythmies d'Afrique Centrale" (2 volumes) by Simha Arom

7. Name a great recording by someone that has influenced you:

I haven't heard it for years but I remember I was listening to it all the time : John Lindberg Trio: Give and Take with George Lewis, Barry Altschul (1982)

8. Name someone whose music has influenced you, but that people who know your music would probably be surprised by:

Michel Magne, great French composer well known for his soundtracks, but who did much more ...

9. Name a player on your instrument whom you think is very underrated:

Guillaume Orti !!!!





Chris Wiesendanger (Switzerland - Piano)


Give us an example or two of an especially good or interesting::


1. Melody:

Many of Ornette Coleman`s deep and beautiful melodies (Lonely Woman, Kathelin Gray, Tears Inside), "I Have Dreamed" (Rodgers & Hammerstein), "I See Your Face Before Me" (Schwartz /Dietz), Harry Richman`s "There Is Danger In Your Eyes Cherie"

2. Harmonic language:

Morton Feldman "Coptic Light" , Japanese No Theater and Gagaku Music, Son House.

3. Rhythmic feel:

Stevie Wonder playing drums on "Music of My Mind", "Dearly Beloved" from Sonny Rollins` "The Sound Of Sonny" (Percy Heath
bass and Roy Haynes drums), all the Wilbur Ware recordings, Aretha Franklin`s piano on " A Brand New Me" from the album " Young, Gifted and Black".

4. Classical piece:

Mozart`s 2 last symphonies (G minor and "Jupiter"), Beethoven`s Symphonie Nr. 7, Schubert`s String Quintet in C, Sibelius Symphony Nr.4,

5. Jazz album:

Miles Davis/ Gil Evans "Porgy and Bess", Art Tatum "God Is In The House".

6. Book on music:

Gerald Moore "Am I Too Loud?"

7. Name a great recording by someone that has influenced you:

Steve Lacy with Don Cherry "Evidence"

8. Name someone whose music has influenced you, but that people who know your music would probably be surprised by:

Marc André Hamelin, the great swedish metal group Meshuggah, Johnny Cash, Rosemary Clooney

9. Name a player on your instrument whom you think is very underrated:

Billy Kyle, Mel Powell, Cy Walter, Jimmy Yancey

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Great Online Radio Programme

I've recently discovered a very good online series of radio broadcasts called Nightlights. The host is David Brent Johnson, and the programmes, while clearly scripted, are very well put together under different themes - Benny Goodman’s Interlude in Bop, Young Wynton: Early Marsalis, After the Vanguard: the Return of Bill Evans, Jazz Impressions of Paris, Too Little, Too Soon: Booker Little - etc.

I've heard some really good music that I wasn't familiar with and the whole idea is really intelligently and musically done.

If you're interested in the tradition of jazz and discovering unfamiliar music at the same time, check it out