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Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 8 – Lobelia

May 13th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: 10 Collaborators |

After a break, Vol 8 of this lil’ exploration of the collaborators who changed my music life, and today I’m going to tell you about Lobelia.

In 2006, I made a conscious choice to move away from playing to rooms full of bass players. No shade to the bass-monkeys, I just needed to get away at that point from the perceived expectations that a room a whole bunch of people who play the same instrument as me brought to any gig, and the weird/meaningless stylistic comparisons to what other people are doing with the bass. So I started to look at house concerts as an alternative. I’d done them before (my second ever solo gig was a house concert, hosted by the parents of one of my students), but it hadn’t been a focus in the interim.

So when Lo and I met at the beginning of 2007, and started to plan some shows together, they were a mix of venue shows and a few house concerts. Some of the venue shows were fabulous, but many of them were far from ideal. The template for our initial collaboration was a combination of some of things I’d been experimenting with with Cleveland Watkiss and Julie McKee in bass/voice duos beforehand, coupled to Lo’s songs and our shared love of doing unusual cover tunes (it’s worth noting that the interim years have made quirky covers the de facto novelty currency of the music-Internets, but that was far less the case in 2007 🙂 ) – we found that the very specific setting that worked best for what we had as a duo wasn’t really compatible with the standard bar/cafe/rock club options (for the most part – we did have some great gigs on that first tour, but many were really tricky) and that the best shows we played were the house concerts. They were also WAY more viable financially. Clearly no-one was going to get rich doing them, but on a tour when we came away from a couple of the venue gigs having made less than $10, house concert economics were a godsend.

So what was – and is – so great about working with Lo? I think what amazed me from the start, and still does, is how naturally she adapts to the intersection of improv and songs – whether it’s covers or her own songs, we have always been pretty loose with how arrangements would work, and her ability to turn whatever I threw at the song in question into an amazing performance was really inspiring. It freed me up to experiment with songs the way I would an improv, or one of the skeleton compositions of my own that I was playing at the time – to minimise the amount of material that constituted ‘the song’ and allow us both to create something new, unique and specific to the setting we’re in (which is, after all, my most basic of reasons for improvising) – that project of working out how to bring the best of improv’s localisation to a set of songs that people might recognise is one that has made me a better improvisor, and allowed me to explore what makes a song work in a much more nuanced way. Being able to adapt tempo, arrangement, sounds – and for Lo, even lyrics (!) to the situation makes for a hugely compelling music-making experience (and also allowed us to think about how some things that are perfect for the moment don’t work as recordings…)

So thanks to Lo, I was able to bring together my love of songs and my love of improv in ways that I could only have hoped for. Long may it continue!

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