Sunday, May 30, 2010

mai nichi, mai nichi

mai nichi, mai nichi...The back has slowly gotten better, I'm through marking the mounds of portfolios in the yearly academic cycle, and the summer beckons; I can make believe I'm a musician again for a couple of months. As well as that, I had hoped at this point to have done more than a couple of 200k runs on the fixie, rising at 5am once a week to get back from a 100k all smug for breakfast, with a view towards a couple of big ones around the lengthened days, along with a bash at the Dunwich Dynamo, an overnight run of 220k, not so bad in itself, but then after a breakfast of egg and chips at the cafe and quick snooze on the beach I'd have to turn around and ride home. As you get older, since you can't ride any faster you start riding longer distances, it seems. Still, all is not lost. You could go along with Clark Kent here recommending a proper breakfast to get you through it.

But anyway, I'm back on the bike, the Guzzi squeaked through its MOT, (must work on the brakes) and the only bad thing left from the back episode is a stiff neck. I'm going to try a WSW club run early tomorrow for the first time in a month and a half... and I'm sure I will suffer.

Although I should be doing something serious and finishing up the Holy Goof, or a couple of solo pieces I've promised, I find myself instead sitting at the piano going through some Ralph Towner solo pieces, and listening to a lot of Saariaho. The economy of Towner's writing for guitar is beautiful, most of the harmonic infill and middleground comping being suggested by just a few dyads instead of full ten-fingered textures that writing on a piano would normally result in. And the Saariaho is completely otherworldly - I've just gotten a DVD of her opera; must get some scores. There's a lot of stuff I like there, and more than a bit of Takemitsu. As far as my own sorry efforts go, I've finished about half the Neal Cassady piece anyway, and the concert has been put back to January, so no pressure - just another 10 minutes to write. I just need some words.

And it's been a fairly busy couple-three weeks; the John Clare Festival went well, and I've just been having a run of local gigs: jazz trios, funk bands, backing up singers and so on.
So time to get my finger out and harass Malcolm to get me the second aria. Just spending a bit of time trying to hustle a few gigs for next year, and start writing some stuff for the Chuck Perkins gig in October.

But here's a bit of a gig with Malcolm:

Monday, April 19, 2010

living in a gursky world....

So, I'm standing in a Gursky world; a deserted, hanger-like 'local hardware store' near closing time staring dully at a chaotic galaxy of wall-plugs, which is slowly moving in and out of focus as the happy pills I'm taking for a sudden re-occurrence of sciatica create a soft edge to my vision - almost (but not quite) counteracting the constantly changing spiderweb of electrical spasms that are pulsing up my lower back whenever I move from the hips to turn at look at something instead of rotating my entire body, locked zombie-fashion, to change my field of vision. All I need to do now is gurn a bit and groan to complete the effect of being a renegade from Night of the Living Dead

How could things get worse? I slowly become aware of the badly amplified tinned musak being piped, in an echoing, almost indecipherable state, around the store. Of course, it's Elton John singing I'm Still Standing.... sounding like the nasal, arch temper tantrum of a spoiled and successful multi-millionaire affirming his 'wretched' life of shopping hasn't broken him. The hook is followed, like Beethoven's 'Hammer of Fate' , with a tripartite avowal of the aforementioned fact...."yeah, yeah, yeah.." Three affirmations taking up half the space in any hook is a confirmation that the lyricist is in fact Dead On Arrival in the world of the creative. And then it got stuck in my head for the next three days.

Reading back through that, I can sense that I am quite ill-humored at the moment, but flashing back to a couple of weeks before, everything had started so well.

After a week walking the coastal path in Devon over Easter, I was well back into things - composing, upping my mileage, practicing... we were sitting by the wood stove (bit of a cold snap - almost lost the spuds we had just put in) watching the sunset and listening to re-mastered recordings Rubinstein play Chopin in his prime; hiss and all. It's all just incredibly moving, in a way that a lot of technically better modern performers don't quite reach. Everything seemed possible after a couple of riojas.

But now here I am, twitchy back, happy pills, plowing through all the freshly arrived coursework as the semester has finished and now it's the annual sprint to finish in time for the award boards. Missed the long audax rides I was going to do, no more zazen, and had to stop playing tenor a couple of hours a day- I am just halfway between two seats at the moment, trying to play standards after a long period of modal playing, and trying to bring in a fresh vocabulary into my more traditional playing; I tend to have two separate hats at the moment, which feels increasingly false. It's exciting and frustrating at the same time; The Great American Songbook (all respect) tends to force me back into a somewhat tired sounding bebop-based vocabulary instead of being able to approach it in a no-mind fashion. Soon.

Still, I got to ride as a motorbike marshal for the regional pro bike criterium (the only way I'd ever be able to keep up with them; that's me on the guzzi in front) .... a good laugh

Monday, February 15, 2010

the hero moves a thousand leagues in the wrong direction

Spring is upon us: (apologies to SJH for the photo), and after taking more than a few offs on the black ice over the last couple of months trying to keep my pod at bay, (plus after that wussing out with riding with a bunch; just going solo about midday when there's a chance the ice might have melted) it's as if someone has just suddenly thrown a switch....crocuses, daffs and the Guzzi is back on the road. Up till a week and a half ago, I couldn't even get it down the driveway rubber side down. Now it's back...

Anyway, After recently helping to set up a masterclass with some excellent players, (which went really, really well, and I learned a lot from the other guys involved) we later all had a quiet private grizzle over crap coffee as the dust settled. And it suddenly struck me how we (and I mean old gits such as me) are dangerously close to being wildly (repeat that word a few times) out of touch in terms of our expectations of what constitutes a young player. Not the wild as Snyder defines it, either. The conversation revolved around issues of core repertoire, 'young guys today', run before they walk, and so on.

But, of course, a moment's reflection would reveal that calls to master the bebop language allied with the 'Great American Songbook' are even more out-of-sync in terms of time then the original 'Dixieland' revivalists were in the 1950's. After all, they were only 30-so years past their sell-by date; if we think of bebop, we're more than 60. Twice that distance, and we're still kvetching. It had only been 20 years for the New Orleans guys since the 'territory band' sounds coming out of Kansas City had begun to undermine the prevalent two-beat sound for dancers with a more flowing (but less obvious for punters) democratized four-beat feel, which in turn begot bebop.

Scary. So we must constantly look very hard at how the canon is changing over time, and how that changes for our practice. And I have to admit I was feeling more and more uncomfortable with the drift of the conversation, that of established players trying to preserve the thing in aspic. Sharks move forward, or slowly suffocate while sinking in lazy circles into the ink-blue sunless, crushing depths. So goes bebop.

And these guys talking were the ones who were very hip and a bit dangerous in their time - touring everywhere, the best gigs and festivals; but now we're sitting here sounding like the clarinetists who used to mercilessly ride me because I didn't know 'Nagasaki' when I was first coming up. (and those two dancing in that previous video are nothing on these two, the Nicholas Brothers) Always, in whatever era, and somewhat necessary of course, you would think, to keep these young folks in their place.

But the title of this essay comes from Zeami's 13th century book of Noh techniques, this being one of two main types of plays, the other dealing with the supernatural. Things feel vaguely (and for no good reason) as if I have spent the last few years marching furiously, if not in exactly the wrong direction, perhaps in need of the guidance of the sages to find a another path up the iron mountains and silver cliffs which stretch out in the distance...

I just saw John Adams conduct the LSO doing his recent orchestral adaptation Dr.Atomic, plus some Britten and Sibelius, which was inspiring. I've been diligently bashing away at the Holy Goof, plus starting to think about setting some of the John Clare pieces for the festival this summer.

I really must get back into studying some of his scores, so I've just been going through Nixon in China - an excuse for a lecture.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

holy goof

Buried in a long interview (originally in the New Yorker, I think) with John Adams, is a description of how at one point the interviewer looks over at Adam's work desk and casually notices the sketches for a new opera. He seems surprised, because all he can see is a single long vocal line interspersed with a few piano chords stretching off into the distance. And with just that, goldfish-like, his attention wanders somewhere else and the interview continues. I sat there staring at the article, whacking my forehead repeatedly, trying to will him to go back and investigate it further.

One of the most difficult things is try and discover is just how someone starts. Most composers seem to be amazingly cagey about this, even between friends (and I frequently ask). To somehow articulate the beginnings of a piece would seem to rob the process of all the magic it might posses; and one suspects that everyone sits there in the same half-assed way, mucking about with a few notes or sounds they have in their heads before they start to structure it. To admit this level of haphazard working-out of ideas (or lack of) would fly in the face of the reductive view of analysts and the quasi-scientific use of instrumental reason that it is hoped to give a musical piece any legitimacy. And it is strange that of all the arts, only contemporary music seems to labor under this need for something mapped against the physical world rather than in the intentional.

But back to that quote. The picture above is that of the switchyard at Escobedo. So I've been sitting here most days with the lyrics that Malcolm fronted me a month ago sketching out an opening aria for Neal Cassady, with his final journey one winter night on the Altiplano (up at 7000 feet in central Mexico), walking the railway tracks on a cold rainy night in just a t shirt after partying in San Miguel De Allende for days, planning on getting to the next town, which was Escobedo. Legend has it that he counted the railway ties as he went, and it was the last thing he said while delirious from exposure when they found him the next morning. "Sixty-four thousand nine hundred and twenty eight." But his departure that day, February 3, 1968, was just that bit too soon for him to pilot the Magic Bus to Woodstock, where it was all going to change. Well, for a while, anyway.

So that quote about Adams workbench precipitated the onset of The Great Doubt , but not in a good way; or maybe it is.. I'll have to go back to Hakuin about this. So out went a couple of months of work; 6 minutes of a full orchestral realization, and I started again with a blank page: a pair piano staves beneath a vocal line. So here we go. This is where I sort of endeavor to violate the law of the excluded middle. And the painting by Hakuin below would seem apt, not only featuring a long thin line, but the subject matter of the bridge with the blind attempting to cross it.

But it's not all work; well, Jane's been in India, and I've just been having wild bachelor parties here all month, full of girls in bikinis with beehive hairdo's twisting till dawn around the pool while a crazy Modern Jazz Quartet platter is on the turntable... man.

You know, who doesn't love those those cocktail parties full of safari suits and A-line mini skirt-suits in 60's just go out and large it. But now I've got to tone it down a bit. Just kind of chill out with some MJQ vibes and a dry martini. Just like at Lupo's, which I visited again over Christmas. Lupo himself was going from booth to booth, recounting (again) the DEA raid to any customer who would listen while they wearily tucked into their fried clams and onion rings - he just always seems a bit unnaturally bright for whatever time of day it is; probably too much coffee. But be sure to get there on Wednesdays.