destroying all musical boundaries

A student turned up yesterday morning having been working on Jaco‘s arrangement of ‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles. He was making rather a nice job of it, but one of the things I often witter on about in lessons is the notion of active and passive learning – passive learning being just the copying by rote of a particular piece of music (or scale or interval study, or whatever) without taking it any further. Active learning would pull it apart into its various musical components, why does it work, what are the chords, how can I take that style of arrangement and apply it to other tunes, are there any new techniques that come up in this piece that I can absorb into my playing, and how else can I play this same tune?

In answering this last question, whenever anyone is doing this tune (it’s a standard for bassists to have a go at), I play them Bobby McFerrin‘s solo voice arrangement of the same tune, from his album ‘The Voice’. Which happens to be one of the greatest solo performer recordings of all time. The lovely thing about it is that conceptually it rips the roof off of what’s possible on any instrument – if one man can do all that with one unprocessed voice, how much more can I do with my bass than I am currently doing? What kind of leaps of logic, what kind of seemingly insane musical experiments have lead to Bobby being able to perform like that? It’s clearly not a style that one stumbles into, and I’ve no doubt that his arrangement of Blackbird took months and months to perfect, though he makes it sound so effortless on the CD.

If I were to draw up a list of most inspirational recordings for solo performers, this would be right up there at the top.

Oh go on then, here’s my top some, in no particular order –

Bobby McFerrin – The Voice
Don Ross – Passion Session
Michael Manring – Soliloquy
Kaki King – Legs To Makes Us Longer
Eric Roche – With These Hands
Pat Metheny – One Quiet Night
Keith Jarrett – Scala

a lot of these are solo acoustic guitar records, which I guess just reflects the fact that more people are experimenting with interesting music on solo guitar than on other instruments… or at least, I’ve been exposed to more solo guitar music than anything else…

Any others to add to the list? Stick ’em in the comments section at the bottom.

When I’m working towards a new album (as I am at the moment) I tend to ‘use’ music in a more knowing way than at any other time – I put things on to consciously take me out of my comfort zone, to re-orient my ears towards another space, to offer up possibilities for my own playing. I’m very much at the mercy of the things I listen to. in the last lot of recording I did, I recorded tracks that were heavily influenced by Morphine (the band, not the drug), M83 and Eric Roche. Bobby’s music takes me into another space altogether.

Soundtrack – Bobby McFerrin, ‘The Voice’.

One Reply to “destroying all musical boundaries”

  1. Excellent observation Steve. I too have spent a lot of time with “One Quiet Night” and “Soliloquy”. Both remarkable collections.

    More in the La Scala vein, I’ve been spending some considerable time with Jason Moran’s “Moderninity” solo piano work. It’s like a more idosyncratic Mehldau. Lots of “wrong” stuff made to sound right. Great for blowing the lid off and getting out of the comfort zone- as you say.

    In fact – just trying to listen to solo piano in the same way I can listen to solo string instrument work sends me soaring out of my comfort zone!

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