Improv…

I’m feeling rather lucky at the moment – Tuesday night, lovely Jez came round, went out for a curry, then had a jam for an hour… playing music with Jez is always a treat – he’s a very very musical chap, great listener, and exceedingly creative improviser (as those of you who have conversations will no doubt be aware) – the kind of stuff we play changes depending on our mood, the instrument (normally he’s playing an electric piano, here he was playing a real one), the room, whether I’m looping or not (I wasn’t), and whatever we’ve both been playing recently. So it really is very conversational, and quite revealing as to how we’re feeling…

Then, last night was the radio broadcast for LCR, which included lots of duo improv with Antoine Farfad – a bassist who was using a V-Bass processor to get some great synth sounds. More improv, very different context, and with someone I’d never met before let alone played with. So the whole thing was very different from the jez setting, but just as rewarding. Antoine’s playing was marvellous – something you’ll be able to check out next week when the show gets archived at the radio station website. I’ll add a link as soon as it’s there…

Then, this Sunday, I’m off to Brighton to play with Tess Garroway (see gigs page for details) – a jazz singer with a heavily improvisational slant. Just got a CD of her stuff yesterday which is excellent (listening to it right now). What fun – all this improv is great for developing listening skills, new approaches, learning new ideas, and finding new contexts for stuff that I already do…

What fun!

What else has been happening? er, lots of teaching, which has been great – new students, old students, lots of very interesting people with a desire to learn.

Got the new copy of Q through… very disappointing. Christina Aguilera on the cover? Q? huh? not good. And, in their 50 most outrageous people in rock article, GG Allin doesn’t get a look-in. And frankly, if there were a more outrageous person in the music industry, they’d probably be dead by now… GG made Marilyn Manson look like Cliff… a true nutter, very sad case, and now dead, which wasn’t a surprise to anyone. Supposedly there’s a documentary about him somewhere, but I’m not sure I’d have the stomach to watch it… dark stuff…

but I digress.

So today – teaching, and a workshop for a church band down in Kent tonight, which should be a lot of fun.

Soundtrack – lots of Mike Watt, mainly ‘Ball-Hog Or Tug Boat?’, which is marvellous. Also, this Tess Garroway CD, which is a mixture of live and studio stuff, and is very good. what else? ah, Lewis Taylor’s first album, which is unbelieveably good. Amazing. Genius.

There's no place like home…

So, I’m home, safe and as sound as I’ll ever be… Jetlag got me bad though – this is the longest trip I’ve had to the states, and after four weeks over there, my body had adjusted rather well to the time difference, so now my body clock is screwed up. So I slept a bit yesterday afternoon, then went to bed at 12 last night, woke up at 5.30, awake til 8.15, then was asleep on and off til 6.30pm!!!! Am up again now, ploughing through email and trying to rebuild some semblace of a life… Fortunately I don’t start teaching again til next week, So I’ve got time to sort through the mountain of post and email… Fortunately both the small person and the aged feline seemed to recognise me when I arrived home, so nothing to drastic can have happened. Still haven’t unpacked yet though… need to get some washing done…

So what happened while I was in the states? Really sorry for not keeping this thing up to speed – hopefully next year I’ll have a lap top with me and will be more concientious (spelling, harv?).

Anyway – first up was the NAMM show – huge great music gear trade show – equal parts hideous schmooze-fest, and great chance to catch up with musical chums I’ve not seen in ages…

Good people I saw who I already knew – Peter Murray, Geoff Gould, the Modulus and Ashdown people, Ed Friedland, Lee Sklar, Joe Zon, Matt Garrison, Doug Wimbish, Michael Manring, David Torn, Doug Lunn, Vida Vierra, Steve Rabe, Steve and Jill Azola, Mike Tobias, Norm Stockton, Adrian Ashton, Dan Knowlton, Mark Wright, Frank Gambale, Rufus Philpot, Pete McCann, Mike Roe, Dave Pomeroy, Trip Wamsley, Lenny Jordon, Bill Leigh, Jamie Faletti, Dale Titus, Kerry Getz, Rick Turner, Clive Roberts, John Ferrante, Kim Flint, Richard Zvonar…

And Fine people I met for the first time – Elijah Torn, Will Calhoun, Daniella Sheppard, Derry Daugherty, Mike Dimin, Mike Watt, Kira Roessler, Charles Normal and Softcore (his band), Tedd Killian, Chris Tarry, Greg Heet, Dan and Laurie Schinder, Kevin Van Pamel… and lots more in both groups that I can’t remember in my near comatose jetlagged state…

Playing-wise, I was playing at the Ashdown Booth each day at 3pm, doing my solo stuff, and also hanging around a bit chatting to people there… Also played a little on the Modulus stand, with Leo Nobre and then with Bill Walker. Spent a lot of my time at the show just catching up with friends, putting the word around about the gigs and clinics, and checking out new stuff, of which there wasn’t all that much (though Ashdown did have a couple of gorgeous fake-suede bass cabs – very sexy indeed…)

Music at the show that was worth watching was pretty scarce – Ed Friedland was playing some great stuff at the Carvin Booth, and Michael Manring was doing his solo bass twiddling for Zon and SWR and astounding everyone as always. Bill Walker was making a fine noise at the Duncan-Turner Research booth, and that was Matt Garrison spent plenty of time playing at the Fodera booth, playing beautifully. That’s about all I saw…

Evenings were taken up with going to or playing gigs and eating dinner – Thursday was Frank Gambale at The Baked Potato (a bit of a NAMM ritual for me, catching Frank at least once during the weekend), Friday was the bass bash, organised by Dan Elliott who booked my tour, and acted as road manager for me. That was a great event – a few technical hitches (the venue wouldn’t let them start setting up the stage area til gone 7!), and the whole thing over-ran (bit of a NAMM tradition there…) but all in all it was a great night’s bassic entertainment – have a look at some of the pictures from the event at www.bassically.net. I did a couple of long solo numbers (No More Us And Them and MMFSOG) and the Michael Manring joined me for an improv thing that I’ve got on CD, so will hopefully post here before too long…

Anyway, Saturday night was dinner with David and Elijah Torn, Dani, Doug and Vida, and then Sunday was the first gig of the tour at Roccos in Hollywood.

The gig went really well, though the turnout was low (if everyone else was feeling the way I did after four days of NAMM, it’s not that surprising) – we didn’t start til late… musically, we had no idea how Rick Walker Andre LaFosse and I were going to gel, but the trio stuff turned out great. We all did solo sets (the running order was a bit of a shambles but it sort of worked out) then Michael Manring did some marvellous solo tunes, and all of us played together… The nicest thing about it was how inconspicuous the looping element of it all was – last time we did a loop tour, partly due to the limitations of the jamman, the looping defined the music in a very strong way. This time, with the extra subtleties available with the echoplex, we were able to loop in a music more transparent way – bringing loops in and out to allow ourselves to mutitrack, but without having to just build a loop then stop…

A couple of days off on Monday and Tuesday were spent visiting Ashdown, and Dan was chasing up last minute stuff for the tour (he worked really hard and did a great job…), then Wednesday we left SoCal and headed for San Luis Obispo for the second trio gig…

…and I’m going to stop there for a while, or my arms will fall off, or I’ll fall asleep, or my arms will fall off in my sleep, or something equally bad.

anyway, the rest of the story will follow ASAP…

Talking 'bout a Resolution

(sounds like a whisper)

It’s that time of year again, when we realise that we kept very few of our resolutions from last year (though I did set myself one goal of doing 30 solo gigs, and I did over 60, so that was good… :o)

anyway for this year, here’s a few muddled up ideas for what I’m planning/aiming for/wishing for/etc.

  • read more (and therefor, travel more on the tube, as that’s where I get most of my reading done
  • eat more vegan food (should be easy as the small person is on a dairy free diet at the moment anyway…)
  • cook more (I’m on a roll at the moment, so need to keep it up)
  • keep office tidy (yeah, right – need to get it tidy in the first place. Having said that, made a start today on my desk… it’s getting there)
  • practice more (bass that is, not medicine or law or anything – at the end of the two tours with Level 42 and the Schizoid band, my playing was probably the best it’s ever been, need to work on maintaining that…)
  • spend less time just mucking about on line (opening the chat room at thedudepit.com hasn’t helped…)
  • get my tax sorted out, and then stay on top of it (fairly short term aim, but it needs to be done in the next few days!)
  • do at least 50 solo gigs (with 20 or so already booked, this one shouldn’t be too tricky to acheive…)
  • release another duo CD (plans are already afoot)
  • start work on at least one book (either method, theory, looping concepts or general musical-based musings… still haven’t decided – suggestions to the usual address…)

So there you go – that’s my year mapped out… a bit.

what are yours?

The Small Person and I had a lovely quiet new year – watched ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ yesterday, and ‘Monsters Inc’ today – both highly recommended, fine fine films. Went for a drive up to Crews Hill today – lots of garden centres there – but the whole world was aparently under about three feet of water – blocked roads ‘n’ everything…

Soundtrack – I’ve spent a lot of time these last couple of days listening to a couple of improv sessions that I did with keyboardist Patrick Wood during the first half of 2002 – one extract from that is now up on the site, as the new version of Highway 1, though I’m not sure it was even called Highway 1 back then… It’s an interesting comparison to listen to it alongside the version on ‘Not Dancing For Chicken’ (which of course, you have already?), and the live version from the Bartok gig that’s also on the MP3 page. Go on, you know you want to…

Other than that, I’ve been listening to ‘Free’ by Peter Chilvers, which is, as it says on the tin a ‘free’ album – you burn a copy, and your only commitment is to make sure you burn two more copies and pass it on! It’s a fascinating experiment in the pure power of exposure – loads of people will have the CD, and hopefully lots of them will go and buy other CDs by Peter (his first solo album ‘He Wrote This’ is excellent, and available from burningshed.com) – there’s been a lot of discussion of late on the whole merits of ‘free’ music, whether it be CDR copying or MP3 downloading. Singer/Songwriter Janis Ian wrote this article for Performing Songwriter magazine last year, and it’s brilliant – she’s my new hero! Read the article and her follow up – both very good. Then, download the MP3s, and if you like what she’s doing, buy the CDs, and prove it works…

Anyway, what else have I been listening to? oh, Anita Baker ‘Rapture’ – often when I get something out to play to a student during a lesson, it stays in the play for a few days, and this did.

Taking the Rough With The Smooth…

Ah, what an eventful day yesterday was…

Started out teaching – all good so far. The no-at-all-evil-Dann arrived, we
packed up my amps/basses/toys etc. loaded them into the car and headed
of for Norwich, in good time. Hit traffic first on the M25 – so headed off up
the A10 instead of M11 – then again, very badly, on the A11 towards Norwich.
Got to the gig halfway through the collective soundcheck, unloaded my stuff,
then it took me 10 minutes to find a parking space (10 minutes we didn’t
have). Fortunately I wasn’t going through the PA (the joys of having an
Ashdown that sounds better than most PAs…), so soundcheck took
about 8 seconds once the gear was set up…

The gig itself was marvellous – started off with Darkroom, playing ambient
soundscape-y processed noise stuff (very good noise), I then joined in
over the top, they faded out, and I went from that improv into ‘No More Us
And Them’. From a very look bleepy version of that, I went into Highway 1,
at which point, fellow solo bassist Peter Chilvers joined in, played some
e-bow over the intro, and we were then joined by Roger Eno and Theo Travis on
acoustic guitar and sax respectively. What a
fantastic version of Highway 1!! I’m so glad it was recorded and can’t wait
to hear it. If the mix is anywhere close to OK, It’ll be magic… Roger was
playing some lovely arpeggiated stuff on acoustic guitar, while Theo and
I traded lines off each other, me with my Fripp-meets-Satch lead sound,
while Peter Chilvers kept the whole ambient side of it shifting and changing.
LovelyLovely.

I then faded out, and that trio continued, and then each act overlapped with
the last – Centrazoon, Andy Butler, GP Hall, Theo Travis. And after Theo’s
set, loads of us piled onto the stage for a remarkably coherent loop-jam,
with Tim Bowness, Theo and I trading melodies over some pretty marvellous
ambient waffle from Peter, Andy, Dave Montague, GP and the Darkroom
guys! All in all, a very fine evening’s music. The audience wasn’t huge, but
hey, that’s what happens when you go for quality over pop-credibility…

Getting the car back to the venue was a fun experience – Norwich has an
insane one-way system… Anyway, arrived back, and we all went off for a
drink and a chat. Very nice it was too, and many collaborations were
discussed and plans are afoot.

About 12.50, I jump in the car to come home. All is well, til I reach
Cockfosters (about two miles from home) and the engine cuts out and the
oil light comes on… fortunately I can roll the car most of the way to the
nearest Jet petrol station, and push it the last few feet. Put some oil in.
Still won’t start. Making odd noises. ring AA. 1.5 hours later, man arrives
with truck, ‘your cam belt’s broken’. Bugger. Big expense. Anyway, car
gets towed home, I unload the gear, and get to bed just after 4.30am!

Supposed to be teaching at 10am. Small person rings them at 9 to cancel.

Supposed to have a gig at St Luke’s tonight. Due to driveway restructuring,
small person’s small-person-car is inaccessible. Ring Justin (St Luke’s MD),
and leave message saying can’t make 2.30 rehearsal, maybe can’t get there
at all… Justin calls back says get a cab… maybe…

And here we are. Good gig, broken car. As The New Fast Automatic Daffodils
once wisely sang ‘Every silver lining has its cloud’…

Soundtrack – in the car, not-at-all-evil-Dann and I were listening to
all manner of stuff – Jane Siberry, Sigur Ros, Don Ross, SadHappy, Defeat
The Young, etc. etc. Then got sick of good music and put on ‘Long Cold
Winter’ by Cinderella, which I’m ashamed to say, stayed in the player for
about an hour… :o) After that, on the way home, I stuck in a No-Man
compilation (Tim Bowness’s rather wonderful band – think Prefab Sprout,
late-ear Talk Talk mixed with the best of Marillion and something else poppy
and deep…), and now am listening to Cipher, Theo Travis’ side project
of fascinating spacey stuff. Theo’s a fantastic musician that I look forward
to working with again very soon, hopefully…

Meanwhile, this morning, while I still slept, Small person took aged feline to
the vets, only to have him stop limping for the vet, but choose instead to
deposit a huge great steaming turd on the vets examination table. A choice
comment on vetinary science in general, methinks, from the perspective of
a small furry vetinary science consumer, wishing for an easy life.

Lessons learned from a useless DJ pt 1

I have to thank Jon Gaunt… I made a fine discovery today, thanks to him.

For those of you that don’t live in London, or do but don’t listen to BBC Radio
London, he’s the ill-informed, reactionary, argumentative waste of oxygen
that comprises a big turd-stain on an otherwise fabulous schedule at Radio
London, between 9 and 12am… His is a phone in show, in which anyone
who disagrees with said loser gets shouted down or cut off or insulted and
sundry equally ill-informed losers (why on earth should I give a monkey’s
what Joe-schmoe-cabby thinks about Asylum seekers?? Has he done the
research? has he worked in a camp, or a homeless shelter? does he have
any idea what it’s like to be dislocated??? of course not!!! So why on earth
are his views being broadcast across London, at the licence payer’s
expense?????????????) phone in to agree with Mr Gaunt’s ludicrous polemic…

Anyway, thanks the small person leaving the radio on to entertain the
aged feline today when she went to work (a futile exercise, given the
profound deafness of the afore-mentioned feline, but a cute attempt
anyway…), I was subjected to about 5 minutes of Gaunt’s bile-filled
ranting, and turned over to radio 4. Woman’s Hour. What great radio!!
Quality broadcasting, expert opinions, funny presenters… good lord! any
way of getting that Gaunt loser to have a listen?

Jumped in the car to drive to Oxford to see Jez, and leave the radio on –
very funny radio play, followed by fascinating docu-thingie on inner city
schools. So thanks to Gaunty’s attempts to be ‘the british Rush Limbaugh’
(yes, my US friends, he’s that useless…) I have now discovered the delights
of Radio 4… :o)

Anyway, the visit to Jez’ was highly enjoyable and resulted in another
fascinating improv track, which will probably be available from the Pillow
Mountain Records
website for download soon, as an early Christmas Pressie
for anyone that wants it… No looping on the track this time, just my bass
and his piano and some lovely noises. Same premise as the ‘Conversations’
stuff. No discussion of key/vibe/anything. Just plug in and play… a rather
invigorating way to spend the day. Jez is a very intuitive musician, and
plays some fantastic stuff on here…

Came home, listening to more Radio 4 stuff on the way. Was hassled
mercilessly by the cat when I got in, who clearly doesn’t like being left
on his own during the day anymore, even though I’d fed him and given
him maximum snuggles before I went out… There’s no pleasing some
small furry people…

Soundtrack – well, during the few moments when I’ve not
been indulging my new love affair with Radio 4, I’ve listened to Cupid
and Psyche again, Peter Gabriel’s Up, the new Keith Jarrett double live CD,
and this new track from me and Jez, which is play at the moment…

Right, off to cook dinner now…

Some interesting recent listening

Back when I was in school (late 80s), we had a small group of friends who would all head down to fat george’s record shop on Bridge Street in Berwick on a Saturday morning to order records… any old records… the more obscure the better.

In those pre-internet times, the source of all knowledge about what was available was the Music Maker Publications big red book of records, which listed just about everything that was on general release.

I bought some great stuff through that, and some total bollocks. Great stuff, like Steve Berry – ‘Trio’, John Zorn – ‘Spillane’, the best of Weather Report etc. etc… and some rubbish like ‘Electric Storm in Hell’ by White Noise…

One record that we all really wanted to get but could never find was ‘Ladies Don’t Have Willies’ by a band called 64 Spoons. It seemed like the most preposterous title for a single – add to that the daft band name, and we had to know what it sounded like. But sadly, week after week, George couldn’t find it, it was out of print… whatever, it never turned up.

Fast forward 15 years, and in the last two tours I’ve done, with the Schizoid Band and Level 42, I’ve been touring with two ex-members of said Spoons! Jakko Jakszyk (guitar/vox with Schizoids) and Lyndon Conner (keys/vox with L42) were both in 64 Spoons!

Enter not-at-all-evil Dann, delving deep into his extensive CD collection to provide an early 90s compilation of Spoonerisms from the late 70s/early 80s… and bizarrely enough, it’s pretty good. Very good in places. Very silly and self conscious in other places, but sort of Squeeze meets Cat-Food era Crimson, meets Joe Jackson with a touch of Blockheads-funk… The kind of thing, that were it more widely known, would now be forcing people onto the dance floor at schooldisco.com events.

Still haven’t heard Ladies Don’t Have Willies though…

After that, the next CD I listened to couldn’t be more different Juldeh Camara is a West African singer/composer and player of the one string fiddle! I first heard his stuff on Charlie Gillett’s show on BBC London, but then met up with Duncan Noble – a bassist who has assembled a touring project with Juldeh, playing in the UK early next year.

It’s amazing how Juldeh manages to keep your attention… even mesmerise you with just fiddle and voice. And judging by the range of material on the CDR that Duncan gave me, he’s more than happy to recontextualise his playing and writing into whatever setting is around, from acoustic blues to funk/soul stuff… I really hope that their tour doesn’t clash with my dates in California next year, as I’d love to see this live…

Finally got stuck into the last chapter of Derek Bailey’s ‘Improvisation – its nature and practice in music’ book last night. It’s an amazing book, but I do have a habit of dropping books somewhere in or around the last chapter… seems to be a theme running through my life (do half the washing up, write half a song, tidy half my office, etc. etc…)

Anyway, the last chapter is all about the Musicians Improvisors Collective (MIC – I think that’s what it stands for…), and is very interesting indeed. The whole book is very highly recommended for anyone interested in improv and its relationship to music making as a whole…

Busy day today – meeting Jam-comedy-writer this afternoon, and going to see Moby play tonight… well, going to meet up with Greta Brinkman, who happens to be playing with Moby. Evil Harv’s coming as well, so that’ll be my dose of eville for the week sorted then…

before that, need to tidy up here, as my mum arrives for a short stay later on. Always nice to see my mum, cos she’s great!