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Entries Tagged as '10 Collaborators'

Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 8 – Lobelia

May 13th, 2018 · No Comments

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!

Tags: 10 Collaborators

10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Pt 7 – BJ Cole

April 26th, 2018 · Comments Off on 10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Pt 7 – BJ Cole

Today’s influential collaborator is BJ Cole, and for someone who changed my music-life as much as BJ did, there’s precious little documentation of us playing together. This is because the vast majority of the development that happened for me while playing with BJ happened in my living room. For a couple of years we got together as often as possible to just play. Sometimes it was every other week. When we were busy, our sessions were a little more spread out. But it was time and space to experiment with a particular kind of abstract textural improv that was utterly formative for me. BJ was quite involved with the London Improvisors Orchestra at the time, which gave him space to apply his mind-bendingly broad approach to the pedal steel guitar to some pretty out music. He was also working with Luke Vibert and others on the EDM scene, so his development of his own voice was an extraordinary thing to witness – especially in a musician who was already the most influential practitioner of his instrument that this country has ever produced (for those who don’t know, BJ played the pedal steel part on Tiny Dancer by Elton John, and played with David Sylvian, Robert Plant, Bjork, Deacon Blue, Paul Young, REM, Beck, and was in the Verve, as well as making groundbreaking ambient records under his own name).

Our experimental sessions in my living room were space to push ideas to breaking point – BJ had a Gibson Echoplex, and I had my Looperlative (or probably a pair of EDPs when we first started playing together) so we could create a massive layered sound – we built, and the dismantled, a whole load of cinematic and occasionally terrifying soundscapes. The great thing about it for me was that, because we had a tendency to occupy similar sonic territory (the steel has a huge range, and as I was using the eBow an awful lot at the time, we were both producing a lot of sustained chords in similar registers) I had to listen more intently than ever to try and find the space where our sound-worlds met. Often in those sessions things would go off the deep end, and we’d end up with harsh noise (I wonder if any of that music is on a hard drive somewhere? We did record a lot of it…) It was a project that involved a lot of trial and error, a lot of rescuing of improvisations that got away from us.

The thing that I think made it most interesting for me was how successful the music was whenever we played live. Those safe-sessions in my house allowed us to push boundaries that meant that when we played live, we had a whole load of experience to fall back on, and were less apt to fall over the cliff-edge. Allowing yourself to find what happens when things get too messy, or when sounds pile up to the point where it begins to lose meaning – those are important and formative experiments. I’m deeply grateful to BJ for all the time we spent finding sounds and ideas, pushing things too far, and then applying it to a range of gigs in different combinations – my favourite of our projects was a trio with Cleveland Watkiss. We played a number of times at my night, The Recycle Collective, and it was an amazing experience and a great combinations of sounds. But I also loved opening for and sitting in with BJ’s group at the time, with Eddie Sayer on percussion and Ben Bayliss on laptop, playing the music from his brilliant Trouble In Paradise album.

It was such a privilege to get to play with a musician of BJ’s stature, but moreso a musician of his deep, ceaseless commitment to moving forward in his own creative path. I learned as much just from the experience of playing with someone who was already ‘a legend’ in the pop world, already absolutely at the top of his game, but who never stopped reaching for new things, who was ceaselessly curious about what else he might be able to do with his instrument. I carry that inspiration with me every time I pick up the instrument, and I really hope we get to play together again soon. It’s been way, way too long.

Tags: 10 Collaborators · Musing on Music

10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 6 – Poppy Porter

April 25th, 2018 · 1 Comment

OK, here’s an interesting one. The 6th collaborator on my list that changed my music-life is Poppy Porter, and it’s apt that I’m writing about her today because the new issue of Bass Guitar Magazine has just come out with an interview with me in it, and a lot of what I’m talking about is this project.

What’s interesting is that, in the context of our duo, Poppy doesn’t make sound in order to make music. Our project, Illuminated Loops, involves me improvising, and Poppy – who is synaesthetic – drawing what she sees while I play. And then, I get to see whatever she’s drawing as she does it, and treat it as a graphic score for the music that comes next – to reinterpret the shapes and patterns and colours, the pastel strokes and swirls, and turn them back into music. It’s one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever been involved in, and has resulted in a bunch of music that is both wholly me and simultaneously entirely dependent on Poppy’s input for it to be what it is. It’s a co-creation project, where the lines between the visual and the audible are blurred in terms of who is making what happen.

For both Poppy and I, Illuminated Loops is a chance to inject another stimulus into our work, to see what happens when something else shapes the process. For me, that’s have the twin focus of both making a noise with the aim of ‘triggering’ images, and then reinterpreting them, and for Poppy, it’s taking a process that’s done for a while – that of turning the images she sees while listening to music into art – and making that a real-time performance. That’s a pretty terrifying shift of modality for an artist who makes things in a studio and then presents the finished work. To have a creative process that ends in a product suddenly morph into a performance is a massive change of context, and has big implications for the aesthetic of her work. For my part, I end up making a different kind of music in this context – it’s both me and not me at the same time. It’s all my sounds and stems from my musical vocabulary, but I react to things differently, and assemble things in a different way because of the visual cues and the that glorious feedback loop between Poppy and I.

With all of that magic going on, it’s no surprise that this project is at the heart of my ongoing PhD study, looking at my audience’s experience of improvisation. So we should be doing a lot more Illuminated Loops shows in the near future. Til then, grab a copy of Bass Guitar Magazine, and have a read of the new article. And if you subscribe to me on Bandcamp, Illuminated Loops vol I is already available, and vol II is out in the next couple of weeks (spoiler – Vol II is easily one of my favourite recordings I’ve ever done 🙂 )

And definitely check out Poppy’s work on her website – www.poppyporter.co.uk – and have a read of her blog, she’s a fascinating thinker, and extraordinary artist.

Tags: 10 Collaborators · Musing on Music

10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 5 – Theo Travis

April 22nd, 2018 · Comments Off on 10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 5 – Theo Travis

And on the 5th day, Steve talked about working with Theo Travis.

Day five of the ‘collaborators that changed my music-life’ series, and we reach someone with whom I had from the very first time we played a quite amazing synergy. Not til I played with Daniel Berkman did I find another musician with whom it felt like we could do nothing wrong… Theo and I met on a gig in Norwich, the day after the end of the tour I did opening for Level 42 in 2002 – it was a mini-festival of solo performers, each of whom had to overlap with the next player. I’m trying to remember which was round it went, but I either joined the end of Theo’s set, and then ceded to Roger Eno, or the other way round. Suffice to say, the little bit of crossover in my playing with Theo was enough for us to make plans to play together again soon after. It must’ve been very soon after, because I remember the first time we played, I was still using a Soundblaster soundcard, with just a stereo input, and I replaced that with some of the money I made on the Level 42 tour!

Playing with Theo was the pinnacle of the early collaboration period for me, and there was pretty much nothing we ever did that I didn’t love. It was really interesting because our sound was constantly developing and evolving through the time we played together, but we never went through a period of making a bad noise. Some of the musical relationships I’ll be detailing in this series were great because they provided space for experiments that didn’t initially bear fruit, but Theo was definitely the first person I played with where just about everything we ever did was releasable. He was also the first melody instrument collaborator that I’d had – although his exquisite use of the DL4 allowed him to do some amazing textures and harmony – for a lot of the time, my primary role was harmonic and textural, and that gave me space to focus on those sounds, on building my vocabulary of textural pad sounds and looping techniques to layer them in interesting ways. Which had a massive effect on my solo playing thereafter (compare Not Dancing For Chicken with Grace And Gratitude, and you’ll hear what playing with Theo did to my solo work!)

When we finally recorded For The Love Of Open Spaces, every track was a pure improvisation. No discussion of keys or moods or anything, except on the track ‘Lovely’, where I said ‘let’s try one without any looping’. But, for every track we did, we tried to repeat the same idea, and see if there was a better take of that idea once we’d played it through. The whole album is first takes. While we did quite successfully transition those recordings into re-performable compositions, at the time, the spontaneity of the original each time was where the magic was.

Theo and I played a fair bit together between 2003 and 2006, including a Jazz Services-funded tour, from which we have a really good live recording that I’ve recently remastered and will be reissuing soon as part of an expanded deluxe download version of For The Love Of Open Spaces, along with a remaster of our earliest record – It’s Not Going To Happen, which was released in a limited edition of 100 to the first 100 pre-orders of the CD when it came out in 2003. We also met up recently when LEYlines opened for Soft Machine, and talked about doing something new together. I really hope that happens. Theo’s a wonderful human, and a quite extraordinary musician. Go check out his other music on his Bandcamp page.

Tags: 10 Collaborators · Musing on Music

Ten Collaborators Who Changed My Music-Life. Part 4 – Andy Edwards

April 21st, 2018 · Comments Off on Ten Collaborators Who Changed My Music-Life. Part 4 – Andy Edwards

Right, day 4 and we’re going to bring this right up to date because today is his 50th Birthday, and we’re going to talk about Andy Edwards.

And to talk about Andy, requires me to talk about drummers. Because, for the most part, I avoided drummers in improv situations for close to a decade. I played with a couple in that time who were AMAZING (Seb Rochford and Roy Dodds), but for the most part, I wanted to steer clear of trying to do my loopy-layering thing with drums. This was for a number of reasons – one was simply that there was more than enough groove-based music with drums on it happening elsewhere. It felt like a creative space that was pretty swamped and I didn’t at the time have anything specific I wanted to bring to it. But it was also because finding drummers that could follow as well as lead was really hard. Finding drummers whose sense of dynamics was a smooth line from silence to deafening, with everything in between being a possible choice, was REALLY hard. So many drummers that I heard playing in (idiomatic) improv settings assumed that their job was to play like it was a normal gig in whatever style they were most comfortable, and just leave the harmonic and melodic elements to everyone else, rather than treating it as a a genuine open act of co-creation with all the potential for variation that that supplies.

I obviously found the most brilliant foil for that in Daniel Berkman, but not long after that I also started playing with Andy Edwards.

Andy’s career path was one that saw him become a bit of a legendary prog/chops/crazy-time-signatures and polyrhythmic genius drummer, alongside playing with Robert Plant in Priory Of Brion. Not the obvious start point for a groundbreaking Stevie-Collaborator, but as we talked more (we teach in the same college – Andy manages the course, and found me online before convincing me to go and teach with him) his history in improv, and our shared love of so many experimental forms emerged. Particularly a mutual obsession with Miles Davis’ 70s output. So Andy and I started doing improv gigs. Initially with invited guests to come and play with us – Julie Slick, Jem Godfrey, Bryan Corbett – it was duo-plus-one, and we got to explore some fascinating territory with each of them (the gigs with Bryan and Jem are available to my Bandcamp subcribers!) And then we started playing as a more regular trio with the third part of our teaching team at Kidderminster, guitarist Phi Yaan-Zek, calling ourselves LEYlines.

Andy has brought two wonderful things into my music life again – one is playing with an acoustic drummer that has the most extraordinarily brilliant sense of space and dynamics, and the other is the option to get seriously heavy! That we can explore the intersection of metal and improv, blending it with all the other prog, experimental, jazz and electronic ideas that get thrown in by the three of us, is a joy.

Andy and I have a brilliantly interdependent relationship as a rhythm section. Neither is reliant on the other for anything, and can couple and decouple a groove for any given length of time. I can wander off into ambient territory, or noise, or weirdness of some sort, and Andy will do whatever he feels is the right thing to do for the music, rather than bringing any weighty expectations about what ‘ought’ to happen to the gig. His extraordinary technical and stylistic knowledge gives us so many places to go in any improv setting, and that coupled to the unpredictability of what he might turn up with gear-wise (it could just as easily be a guitar and a MIDI drum kit as a set of acoustic drums) keeps everything as fresh as can be. I look forward to every opportunity I have to play with him, especially in LEYlines where our shared and ever-growing vocabulary is an art project all of its own.

So happy birthday, you old bastard, thanks for keeping me constantly on my toes and making me reach deep for the best that I bring every time we play!

Tags: 10 Collaborators · Uncategorized

10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 3 – Michael Manring

April 20th, 2018 · Comments Off on 10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 3 – Michael Manring

Day 3, and today also happens to be the 20th anniversary of my first website going online! The one that eventually became this site here. When I got my first laptop in 1997, it was because I’d started writing for Bassist Magazine, and the first thing I ever wrote to them I actually hand wrote and posted to them. So, that was insane, and I needed a way to get stuff to them more easily. So I bought a laptop, and not long after, a dial-up modem for it. I got myself a Compuserve address, and used some kind of by-the-minute dial-up access thing for a while, before finding an email company in Orkney via some excellent geek friends, called Zetnet. Zetnet email came with webspace, but I initially assumed making a website required expensive software and stuff that I didn’t have. It didn’t take me long to work out that if I knew just a little HTML, I could hand code a site just in notepad, and if I saved the text files as .html and one of them was called index.html I could upload them to my Zetnet space and have my own website! What an extraordinary thing. The version on archive.org dates it to 20 years ago today, but in thinking about it, that may actually be the day that I added a counter, as that’s what the image shows…

Anyway, what does this have to do with collaboration? Well, one of the first things I was able to do when I got online was start to contact my music heroes, people I wanted to be able to interview for Bassist magazine, and the companies that made the gear I was interested in. I remember finding Modulus’ website, and discovering that their artist relations person was also a big Bruce Cockburn fan…

And one of the people I first got in touch with was Michael Manring. I already had his Thonk album, and having read a bunch of interviews with him, was deeply inspired and influenced by his take on solo bass. This was before I’d released anything solo, but I was starting to play things at guitar shows, and I was on a record with a quartet called Ragatal, with flamenco guitar, tabla and electric violin. I sent a copy to Michael, and we struck up an email correspondence.

Fast forward to my first NAMM show in 1999, and I met up with Michael and interviewed him for Bassist mag. I was driving up to the Bay Area to visit Rick Turner, Modulus and Zon Guitars and found out that Michael was playing a solo show opening for Trey Gunn (who I’d recently interviewed for Bassist Mag in London). So I thought ‘I’ll go to the show’. Michael offered to let me stay at his house, and I set off. But I had no map, and sat nav didn’t exist then. So I drove through San Francisco, with no idea where I was going, out the other side, and over the Golden Gate Bridge. That was obviously not the way to the venue (which I only knew was called the Last Day Saloon and was in-or-near Chinatown) – so I turned round, came back over the bridge, guessed a turning, eventually stopped and asked someone randomly who told me I was about three blocks away… 🙂

Anyway, that’s not what this is about. Collaboration is the theme here, and Michael became a collaborator the following year, when we both played a solo bass gig in Santa Cruz and did a thing together at the end. Over the next few years we did a LOT of shows both in California and around England, and in those duo shows I got to discover much of what was possible at the intersection of two bass guitars (albeit to heavily processed and decidedly weird bass guitars). We played sold out shows, did clinics together, and drove a lot of miles – I think at this point I’ve probably done more shows with Michael than any other improv collaborator besides Lobelia. And the whole thing was an extraordinary eye-opening experience. Remember, here was the person who introduced me to the idea of looping, whose records made me want to be a solo bassist, who had inspired me for many years, and there we were playing loads of weird and wonderful improvised music. We’ve never rehearsed together, never played not in front of an audience. Only twice ever played a prewritten tune together (we did Autumn Leaves as a duo, and played Blue In Green in a trio with David Friesen… Oh, and we did a version of All Blues in a trio with the very brilliant John Lester when he opened for us on tour!)

Part of me wishes I had more recordings of those early gigs. Part of me is happier to remember how they felt than get hung up on what the music actually sounded like. But I was being stretched, trying to rise to the challenge of playing improvised shows with easily one of the most brilliant musicians ever to pick up the bass guitar. He was ceaseless in his encouragement and support for me – and still is! – and he became a supremely valued friend.

There were so many things I learned playing with Michael, and watching him play solo, so many times when I wondered if what I was doing was any good, and his words of encouragement dispelled doubts. And none more so than when we played a house concert at the home of the inventor of the Looperlative, Bob Amstadt, in 2012, and I suggested doing two solo sections in the first set and then some duo stuff later on, and he said ‘no! let’s do it all duo!’ And we did, and I was finally able to record what we sounded like properly, and get it out there. The album, Language Is A Music, is still subscriber-only, and you can get it here – it’s something that I’m not only deeply proud of as a work of art, but which represents almost two decades of playing together, of friendship, encouragement, of growing as a musician and improvisor, and learning from one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever heard, let alone been on stage with.

Tags: 10 Collaborators · Musing on Music

10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 2 – Jez Carr

April 19th, 2018 · Comments Off on 10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 2 – Jez Carr

Right, so today is part 2 of my new series, and we’re talking about Jez Carr! Jez is such a monumental presence in my improv career, I’m genuinely not sure I’d be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for his influence…

We met at a jam session arranged by a mutual friend that I’d met on a session gig – and really hit it off. We started getting together multiple times a week to play (to the point where one of his flatmates in a freudian slip on the phone counted me amongst the residence of their flat 😉 ) and his studio engineering expertise was integral to me being able to turn my initial live minidisc recordings into my my first solo album. We dumped them into Protools, recorded an extra duet track for it, and that was …And Nothing But The Bass.

We then set about recording the first fully improvised recording of my life, and playing the first fully improvised gigs together – Conversations was an utterly pivotal experience for me, and still stands alone amongst my recorded output as a collaboration on which I used just one pedal (a Line 6 DL4) and as such it favours interaction over construction to a great degree. Jez was the person with whom I started to properly build my melodic and harmonic vocabulary as an improvisor. We did a ridiculous number of jazz gigs together, which were mostly standards gigs, but we’d sneak in as much improv as we could…

His presence in those formative years, and the experiences we had together making music around the turn of the millennium are indelibly present in everything I’ve done since, and I’ll be forever grateful to him for his friendship, trust, sense of adventure and truly beautiful piano playing. A life-changer, for sure 🙂

Tags: 10 Collaborators · Uncategorized

10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 1 – Daniel Berkman

April 18th, 2018 · Comments Off on 10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 1 – Daniel Berkman

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, but for the next ten days I’m going to post about one collaborator each day that has changed my music life. There are way more than ten who could fit the bill (maybe I’ll enjoy it so much I’ll keep going after ten, we’ll see) but we’ll start with these ten:

Day one, I’m want to talk to you about Daniel Berkman. I met Daniel because of another fabulous collaborator, Artemis – though I hadn’t met either of them when she suggested that Daniel and I should do a gig or two together. Sure, says I. I showed up to the first gig – a house/loft gig in San Francisco hosted by another new friend, Jimmy, and we met while setting up. As we started getting a sound, it dawned on both of us that playing solo sets and a little bit of a duo thing at the end was a bit of a waste of this opportunity, so we did two entire sets of improvised music, and finished wide-eyed and wondering if it was a fluke… But the gig we had the next night in Oakland was at least as fabulous as the first one, and something magical had been set in place.

The following January we did 8 more shows, then ended up releasing the recordings of all 10 shows – pretty much every note Daniel and I had played together up to that point (we didn’t jam in soundchecks, or play tunes outside of the gigs – just get on stage and see what happens) – the recordings also feature Artemis on vocals, and her presence became such an important part of the emotional/artist arc of the gigs, each set climbing towards a vocal finale.

Working with Daniel brought with it the most extraordinary sense of possibility – his skill set as a multi-instrumentalist is unfathomably huge, and the crossover in our taste from electronica to pop music to weird shit to folk and jazz was equally huge. So we got to go to a lot of different places. It was a really formative collaboration for me in terms of how percussion and drums related to what I do as an improvisor – a whole load of ideas and experiments fell into place in that particular musical setting.

Right now, I’m finishing up mixing the 11 shows for our third tour together, which should be out in some form or other later in the year.

For now, you can check out the work we did together via the players embedded below, and Daniel’s extraordinary solo releases on Bandcamp too… Go buy his music and follow what he’s up to. I hope we get to play together again soon 🙂

Tags: 10 Collaborators · Musing on Music