…That’s what my brain is asking when I’m improvising.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the great pleasure and good fortune to spend a day recording with Mike Outram – guitarist extraordinaire. I’ve been a fan of Mike’s for a long time, having heard him in a couple of different settings with Singer/Songwriter Rebecca Hollweg, and more recently with Theo Travis’ Doubletalk quartet.
We were able to snag a day recording in the rather lovely studios at Leicester College, giving the students there something to record, and a very different type of project to work on.
We went in having NEVER played together at all. In fact, we didn’t even soundcheck together on the day – the first thing we recorded was the first time we’d played together. We just hit record, started playing and carried on playing for the rest of the day, with a short break for lunch.
The extend of the conversations prior to each recording included ‘OK, this time I’ll just loop you’ on one tune, ‘let’s play some weird shit’ on another, ‘shall we try for something a little shorter?’ on more than one occasion… For the most part, one of us started playing, the other joined in and it unfolded from there. And that’s where the question above came in – what was happening? was it good? yes (the answer every time, thank God) – what could I do to make it even better? do that.
For those kind of questions to work and not be hi-jacked by other questions like ‘is what I’m playing OK?’ ‘I hope he’s OK with where this is going’, ‘is this jazz enough? I think I’m supposed to be more jazz’ requires a level of mutual trust that allows you both to just get on with it. I needed to not be worrying about what Mike might play, or what he thought of what I was playing. Naturally, I wanted him to like it, but being unable to ask him in the moment, I just assumed that my own taste would work as a reasonable benchmark for that which is good, and worked from there.
I also did my best (by smiling a lot) to let him know that I loved what he was playing (he’s amazing), in order to foster more of that trust.
At that point, when you’re both playing and digital tape is rolling, there’s no time to think about what you can’t do, what you should do, what you wish you could do if only you’d brought your other bass with you… it’s all about that initial question? Is this good? what can I do to make it better? And being prepared for the answer to part b) to be either ‘stop playing’ or ‘just keep doing what you’re doing, and let him be awesome’.
In the event, we ended up with a lot of music that I’m more proud of that anything I’ve been involved in for a long time. It’s fun, it’s refreshing, it’s very tuneful, it’s spacey, extravagant exciting music. We’ve got a couple of hours of it from which to choose and mix the bestest bits for an album release. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
For now, here’s one of the VERY rough mixes – the first bit of the project to be made public – pretty much as it came out of the computer in the studio…by