Thursday, July 31, 2008



I realize that this all starts to sounds a bit negative, and god forbid, a little too self-conscious. What happened to fun? But I hate hot, humid weather; sitting at the piano while thunder rumbles around in the distance, making the dog listless, threatening but never fulfilling its promise of rain and a cool breeze. You keep playing five chords over and over again, hoping they'll sound a bit different the each time; listening to them , moving the voices around, sometimes holding the pedal down and trying to catch something in the decaying outline of the upper harmonics. You can almost hear it - maybe the next time, when you re-order them once again, and then try to remember the grouping that seemed to work in retrospect five minutes ago, especially compared to the crap you're hearing at the moment. So I take the five chords, derived from a pitch group, and try to do something interesting (?) with them. They occur first here, and then start to evolve into a spine of what they might become.

Pare down the possibilities and listen. Then try to imagine them off the piano, on something else, say strings, with some kind of shape. Visualize the shape, as if in space, as a physical gesture, like a dancer. And what happened to the pulse? There was one when I started all this; we always get hung up on notes, piling them up, great vertical cumulonimbi of static, lifeless harmony. As Cage said, rhythm is the most fundamental structural element, but when you read about music it's either about the notes, or even further removed from the original problem, the text.

I love writing music - it's the end result of the whole process that's the problem. You wouldn't think so.

The morning had started well: making new floor for the porch; no power tools - just a pencil, a saw and a t-square, strong coffee and birdsong. Every now and then there was a quick spattering of thick raindrops, almost like someone flicking drops from wet laundry across a wall. Drag everything inside, but it doesn't rain. And the whole time, hearing those stupid chords you played for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon, and will again today. Ideas come and go, and you know you'll have forgotten them by the time you stop for a hunk of bread and cheese at noon.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dave's trio recording out soon:

Something to take note of, Dave's Trio should have its next CD out shortly. Superb stuff.

This is a clip of my trio's most recent recording: Ole Rasmussen bass, Paul Cavaciuti drums, from a recording we did last year. It's the title track, and it should be out on CD soon. . I'm not sure I've got much to say about it. It was a mantra I learned from the 'healing voice' expert Jill Purce. We sang it about 200 times, and the more we did, the more I started to hear it as a trio track. We recorded it at Livingston Studios in Wood Green on a Fazioli piano, and will appear as a track on the CD 'Second Language', to be released on ZahZah records.

have a listen to a clip of the title track here.

see & hear more of Dave's stuff on amp and his own website


Friday, July 25, 2008

Beer Chair Observations, part 1.

First of all, we'll discuss the beer chair another time, when I can find a picture of it to scan in. It features on the last album I did with Chris, and has a certain emotional resonance for me; that and a quart bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon. ("From Milwaukee to Motown, through the Pacific Northwest and back East again....brown, friendly and beckoning" ...this was a lower-end guy-ish beer long since swallowed by the Miller conglomerate) which would be consumed in the chair after work building (somewhat incompetently on my part) inshore trawlers and swordfish boats in Po-town .

And before we say anything else, let me point out that it was
so not Andy who cut me up on the fixed the other day; as the the rider was identified as being from France, not in France, which Andy currently is, which besides everything else makes it literally impossible that he was present in the UK yesterday for the alleged shunt . Paranoid?

I felt I had to answer that post as it was something of a watershed in the life of any blog, that of the first comment; I now feel I have been blooded, in a sense, and now stand ready to blithely delete the expected deluge of extremist rants in howling capital letters, as if the caps lock of the cold, unfeeling universe was accidentally stuck, its blue indicator light winking unseen, just beyond us, under various Hubble-lit nebulae.
No, this post is about that moment of elation that doesn't occur everyday; that of discovering something new: I can practice soprano sax in the hammock. No, really.

After years of standing around for hours with a tenor slung lashed to my neck, like Ahab in the final chapter (I always see Gregory Peck lashed to the whale, waving them on to perdition), giving myself assorted back problems, curvature of the spine, hernias and god knows what else, I finally find this. I could go one further, and add a cold Guinness to the equation; watching the new-fledged wrens pick bugs off the beanpoles in the veg patch while the buzz in my head slowly grows louder. But, as I found many years earlier, it makes your horn smell funny, especially the day after. Better to go with things like, say, vodka, or green tea... or both. The strange thing I found, after exhaustive experimentation, is that only certain kinds of things work: scales and such are fine, from strange altered Messiaen rip-offs, to cod-arty attempts to enter the clean, detached snow-kissed worlds of obliquely-lit ECM artists - cool, close miked, vibrato-free tones cutting through the foliage like a sparrow hawk on the stoop. However, not everything prostrates itself before you in this prone new world, while staring at your toes just above your line of sight. There are still pockets of resistance: if you want to play bebop, you have to stand up.

but we all always knew that.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

What was I thinking?

I am really aware that this should be a witty dissection of the whole business of trying to get something a bit left field going, funny anecdotes and other vignettes, and commentary on the world around us.... strange goings-on at the last gig in terms of various musicians opting for cosmetic surgery, the DVD Tokyo Drifter (a suit to die for, completely with wildly camp 60's Japanese pop backing music) that's waiting for me when I stop messing about with this blog tonight, getting knocked off the fixed today when my mate over from France turned left instead of going straight ahead on an otherwise pleasant ride this afternoon, my sister-in-law's (hugely ugly) Winnebago-type thing that is parked in my garden and destroying my piece of mind (I can always, always see it, just there, out of the corner of my eye... waiting), and so on. Soon...

I think, though that I want to articulate what the hell I'm trying to accomplish with this new stuff - if only to make it more clear to myself. The idea behind the Riprap project was to investigate some new ways of musicians and poets collaborating , and to figure out some fresh ways of structuring compositions/improvisations around the poetry. Ultimately, it would be great if the poets would also feel there were ways they could also join in with texts they felt could be treated as a starting point, as the main idea is to explore the same kinds of freedom within a performance the musicians are using. Perhaps their text shouldn't be viewed as an fixed object, but something they could also change on the hoof, adapting it from gig to gig. I think it would be nice to re-align the idea of the text into the same approach as the music, with the emphasis on 'sounding', rather than a fixed, finished visual text. we'll see...

Any way, I've been obsessing over a couple of composers who I'm hoping might show a way of restructuring the musical element for all this. I suppose the criterion I'm looking for is the use of non-musical formula, namely those taken from literature. Because of this, I have spent the last month locked on a particular piece: the string quartet Ainsi La Nuit, by Dutilleux. Listening to it daily, playing the score at the piano, reading his essays and various analytic dissections of his music. I hear it at night lying in bed trying to sleep. Kinda Asperger's really; boring but necessary. Never really being a 'natural' musician, I find I have to kind of go through these total immersion phases to get anything really down.

His avowed aim in this composition was to explore ideas of memory as used by Proust. As he explains it, music often tends to move in a kind of forward-looking narrative arc, exemplified by something like, say, theme and variations. This could be crudely illustrated by the normal modus operandi of bebop; a head followed by solos on the song form... and then the head again. no surprises, in a sense, both the musicians and listener having all the clues straight from the off. But to view the form as something that goes backwards as well as forwards, information being given inside the piece that can move either way; ideas and textures only slowly being hinted at... how to create this in a straightforward, digestible form compatible with improvisation?



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I suppose I'll blame Phil

It was Phil who suggested this state of affairs..."you should have a blog" , so I promised to have a go. So this is just a bit of an introduction, hopefully buried by subsequent posts.

Anyway, this will mainly be about the trials and tribulations of trying to get something a bit left-field off the ground, namely the poetry project. I have spent about a week in total over the last month going through revisions of an endless grant proposal process to help try and offset the costs of the first half-dozen gigs, as this is, as usual, somewhat unprofitable music, and will of course have to be helped along with the taxpayers money. Little do they know.

I am extremely lucky to have an interesting crew along for the ride on this one: so think of this as an opening credits-sort-of-thing.
-Phil: arty punk (you're never an ex-punk, really) web guy who has been incredibly supportive/hectoring over time.
-Malcolm: poet, biker; aka the 'Rocking Rev', the only man I know who still owns a fringed leather jacket, non-ironically.
-Brownie: bass player, cyclist, stoic and vicar?
-Dave: too talented and well-dressed by half, keyboards, closet maths genius.
-Russ: the wild card, pulse, sifu, large and small sounds.
-Jo: who will probably learn a lot from this, namely not to work on 'edgy' projects.

so off we go...