One Step Beyond

So I was just looking for a CD to soundtrack me washing up, and thought ‘ah I’ve not listened to that for a while, let’s give it a go’. The CD in question is ‘I Can See Your House From Here’ by Pat Metheny and John Scofield, a CD that I distinctly remember thinking ‘file under not really very good’ when I got it. Was deeply disappointed with it.

It’s great. Very good indeed.

What lead me to not get it first time round? Expectation, I think. I knew what I thought a Metheny Scofield album should sound like, and this wasn’t it. I wanted it to be the album I’d half imagined in my head, and when it wasn’t, instead of deferring to the wisdom of the artist, I decided it was lame.

So what does this do to the critical process? We still have to formulate opinions on things, and something’s appear to be total rubbish, or at least disappointingly fall short of the potential that a group/collaboration/artist shows.

The problem seem to be with second guessing what a project was intended as. If there’s a stated aim, it’s sometimes easier to tell whether a particular artistic endeavour has fallen short of that. If there isn’t, it’s pretty tricky to work out whether it’s a successful rendering of the concept. Whether you dig it or not is another thing altogether, but whether it’s an objectively poor record is quite something else.

There was a discussion recently on the Jonatha Brooke discussion forum about the cover tunes on her new CD – she’s recorded ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Fire And Rain’ and ‘Eye In The Sky’ by the Alan Parsons Project. The first two are so well known they don’t even need crediting to their respective performers.

The discussion seemed to be arguing whether or not it was even valid to attempt new versions of these tunes, and involved the projection of an entire methodology onto Jonatha, implying that as a creative songwriter, she must’ve been running out of ideas or something… Whether or not people liked the covers is not something I’m too bothered by, but I found the questioning of whether or not recording them was an artistically valid thing to do a really weird leap of logic. Jonatha has, as far as I know, made no statement as to her reasoning behind doing the tunes, or her relationship to the whole original/interpretative approach to performing songs, so the whole argument seemed to hinge on the various poster’s own feelings about the importance of those songs, and jonatha’s role as a singer/songwriter/performer.

Most of it was bollocks, but it did get me thinking. Criticism can be a really good thing – sometimes bad reviews and negative comments can be helpful in that they let you know where the writer is at in relationship to your work, and occasionally – very occasionally – the reasoning of the writer is such that you see flaws in your own creative process that you weren’t aware of. That’s a pretty rare scenario, but when it happens, it’s pretty useful.

But for the most part, people tend to objectify their subjective feelings about a song or a gig or a performance – I liked it, therefor it was ‘good’. I didn’t like it, therefor it was ‘invalid’/’not good’/’a waste of time’/’the wrong thing to do’. That’s the kind of crap that as a performer you can get into debates with people about, or you can just ignore, and move on, realising that the writer has no idea what you were trying to do anyway. Even better, you can reinterpret it, extract from it their perception of what you do, and find new ways of explaining what you do that help those people get a handle on it.

Of course, in the long run lots of people still won’t get it, and lots more will think you’re a bit rubbish, but that’s all part of the fun.

Soundtrack – Pat Metheny & John Scofield, ‘I Can See Your House From Here’; Horace Silver, ‘Jazz Masters’; Jonas Hellborg, ‘Octave Of The Holy Innocents’; Jill Sobule, ‘Pink Pearl’.

only 20 minutes left of my birthday…

31 today. A good age to be. 30 was a slightly daunting birthday, but now I’m affirmed in being a grumpy old git by watching the tv series ‘grumpy old men’. The basic idea is that lots of famous not so old guys like Will Self, Rick Wakeman, Tony Hawkes and Arthur Smith complain about everything that’s crap in the world, from speed bumps to tossers who talk too loudly on their mobile phones. And I find myself agreeing with them 9 times out of 10. So being 31 is fine by me – bring on middle age!

Presents, you ask? Lots of books, very fine books like ‘Mastering Music’ by Barry Greene and Thinking In Jazz by whoever it was who wrote it (it’s next door and I can’t be bothered to go and get it). Also got the new Peter Gabriel double best-of ‘Hits’, which is just brilliant. As I’ve said before, I’m in awe of people who produce awesome best ofs, as a testemony to a fantastic career – Paul Simon, The Cure, The Smiths, Prefab Sprout, Bruce Cockburn – all got best ofs that reveal a remarkable hit-rate when it comes to writing near-perfect music.

And what have I spent the last two days doing? Sorting out my bleedin’ tax for ’02-’03, that’s what! It’s a huge task, given that I’ve got boxes of receipts that need logging and have to get all my teaching info from my diary into an excel spreadsheet. A fine way to spend one’s birthday… :o)

Much finer than that was the curry we just went out for, but I shan’t bore you with that…

Soundtrack – Peter Gabriel, ‘Hits’; Steve Lawson, ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline, Pt 1’ (this is REALLY good, even though it’s me, so I’m not really meant to say stuff like that…), Mogwai, ‘Ten Rapid’.

Syndication – the future of the net???

So, I’m a long way behind most techies, but it seems to me that Syndication/New Aggregation/RSS feed readers etc. are going to be future of how people gather info from the net…

In case, like I was until last week, you’re in the dark about this stuff, there’s a process called RSS that uses a language called XML, which is basically a way of tagging your web pages to make then easily interpretable by various bits of software, and that some of those bits of software are news aggregators, which allow to to subscribe to XML-written pages so that on one page, you get all the info from all your subscribed pages – so each morning, instead of surfing round loads of different sites to check if a) they’ve been updated and b) there’s anything of interest to you, you can use your news aggregator to collate the headlines from all of them together, so at a glace you can see what’s new on that day. At the moment, the main services seem to be news sites like the bbc, and blogs, like this one – you’ll see in the panel on the left, if you scan down, there’s a ‘syndicate this site (XML)’ link, or something like that, and if you copy the shortcut there and put it into your news aggregator page, it’ll add this to your collated page.

On mine at the moment, I get UK news and Entertainment news from the BBC, a web innovations feed that was already part of the package when I subbed, as well as updates on a lot of friends blogs.

The software I’m using is called Amphetadesk, and seems OK, though I’ll keep looking and see if I can find one with a groovier interface…

Anyway, I reckon this is going to be one of the next big waves of interest in the net, so I’m going to syndicate the news page on my website soon, and probably the gigs page too… Til then, you’ll just have to stick with my mailing list, or this ‘ere blog for your fascinating glimpse into a life less extraordinary… :o)

Soundtrack – right now, Matthew Garrison, ‘Matthew Garrison’ – Matt’s one of the most vital, interesting and innovative voices in the bass world right now – 2004 will hopefully be the year that he gets the huge success he deserves. Get this album now, and pretend you knew about him all along…

Essential Reading…

following on from essential listening, how about essential reading – a by no means exhaustive 5 essential books for musos – feel free to email me with other suggestions…

  • Beyond The Bass Clef – Tony Levin (stories, tips, anecdotes. Genius)
  • The Inner Game Of Music – Barry Greene (probably THE most important. A life changing book)
  • Effortless Mastery – Kenny Werner (tonnes of great advice here, in amongst some new age waffle. Enough top quality wonderfulness to more than warrant the cover price)
  • Improvisation – Derek Bailey (his writing is way more exciting than his music, IMHO – a fascinating book)
  • The Jazz Theory Book – Mark Levine (much more nuts ‘n’ bolts that any of the others, but pretty darn comprehensive!)

There you go.

SoundtrackPrince, ‘Sign O’ The Times’; Joni Mitchell, ‘Travelogue’; King Crimson, ‘Discipline’; Stevie Wonder, ‘Songs In The Key OF Life’.

that's entertainment

So, it’s the end of Big Brother for another year. It was pretty poor quality TV, though a nice change to see someone who genuinely seems like a decent person win – Cameron comes across as a likeable enough chap. Davina McCall has turned into a big of a tabloid-esque gossip monger, but still. Serves me right for watching it.

For far more edifying entertainment, check out the BBC‘s radio on demand service – especially the archive of Radio 3 programmes – The Late Junction and Jazz on 3 are great shows, but I’m rarely in a position to listen to them when they are on, so I listen to the archive instead. If you do tune in, please drop them a line and request some of my music – they have played me in the past, and will be receiving a copy of my CD with Theo Travis when it comes out in a month or so’s time.

Soundtrack – right now, Late Junction. before that, me and theo, before that, me, before that Bill Frisell, ‘Ghost Town’; Trip Wamsley, ‘It’s Better This Way’.

Trip the light fantastic

there’s a really cool interview with Trip Wamsley over at at the moment – Trip is a fantastic solo bassist, with a new CD out called ‘It’s Better This Way’, that I can’t recommend highly enough – head over to his site to get a copy, he’s very good indeed. The interview is marvellous, written by Max Valentino (another fine solo bassist), and mentions me a few times, which is nice, but not the only reason why it’s a cool interview – for someone who is clearly as mad as a sack-full of badgers, Trip makes a lot of sense in interviews.

Soundtrack – right now, Bill Frisell, ‘Ghost Town’ (another one of my most listened to albums in my whole life – at one point is spent a few weeks both in my CD player and my Minidisc player, so I was permanently listening to it), before that, Horace Silver, ‘Jazz Masters’; Mary Chapin Carpenter, ‘Time, Sex, Love’; Ghost 7, ‘New Directions In Static’; Joe Burcaw, ‘Dichotomy Theorem’ and Chris Bowater, ‘Still’ – I played on this one, the session was a couple of months back, and Dan Bowater who engineered and co-produced it has done a fantastic job – it’s a worship/devotional/gospel album, and I play loads of melodic fretless stuff on there, and a few bits of Ebowed ambient stuff that blends right in with the keyboards and string pads. Very nice stuff.

a new top 5…

inspired by a conversation I’m currently having with evil harv on MSN, here’s my guess at my top 5 most listened to albums of all time, in no particular order

  • Steve McQueen – Prefab Sprout
  • Strength – The Alarm
  • Dusk – The The
  • We See A New Africa – Friends First
  • Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me – The Cure

Which says absolutely nothing about my taste, really… no jazz, no singer/songwriter stuff – it says more about the albums themselves as being ones to get obsessional about…

Soundtrack – was listening to Erin McKeown on Late Junction – she’s fantastic, gonna have to get her album…

You've Never Seen Everything

a new Bruce Cockburn album is always a pretty big event in Stevie-ville. The new one, You’ve Never Seen Everything, arrived yesterday. I’d been forwarned by a couple of MP3s on the Cooking Vinyl website, but hearing the whole thing was still a delicious experience. Continuing Bruce’s flirtation with jazzier harmonies and more improv stuff than his late 80s/early 90s stuff, it’s also a surprisingly immediate album, with the usual inspiring and challenging lyrical stuffs. Some stellar basswork from Larry Taylor, John Dymond and Steve Lucas, and even a little loopage courtesy of violinist Hugh Marsh. All in all, destined to be a Brucie classic. Can’t wait for the UK dates later in the year.

Soundtrack – apart from the obvious, also been spinning Seal’s first album, Don Henley, ‘End Of The Innocence’ and more Coltrane. Oh, and MP3s of all the tunes I need to learn for the Lovesjones gig on Friday night

Let's go round again…

busy weekend. Have spent a fair amount of time in the last few days recording with Matthias Grob – Matthias is the inventor of the Echoplex, and a stunning guitarist (he built his own guitar as well, natch) and we’ve been coming up with all manner of delicious improv, ranging from ambient soundscape stuff to more funky things through to some scary out noises. All rather marvellous and invigorating. As with all this recent duet activity, I’m hoping to have some up online before too long – now that Sarda is back from the states, maybe he’ll get this server of his happening, and I’ll be able to move my site away from zetnet for eva…

Anyway, I digress – Matthias and I have been looping and chatting for a couple of days – talking lots of what we do, why we do it and how to get it across to people… All very stimulating stuff.

What else? ah yes, saturday there was a party for the 30th anniversary of the Greenbelt festival – a fun event, held at Lambeth Palace (the official residence of the AB of C – a nice gaff, which makes up for the rather crappy salary that goes with the job, as interestingly enough, all Church Of England Clergy are on the same wage, whether parish priest or Archbishop…) Anyway, was a fun time to catch up with lots of GB related chums that I’d not seen for a while.

This week is going to be BUSY – first up, I’ve got a recording sesh on Thursday )(more on that later, no doubt), then Friday night I’ve got a rather fun gig, filling in for the keyboard player in Lovesjones. ‘What, you don’t play keys!” – indeed I don’t, but I do make odd noises with a bass, so will be covering the keyboardish role on bass… then doing a solo set.. at Jazz After Dark in Soho… on Friday night.

Also got to relearn some of the improvs that Theo and I have done over the last couple of months for our gig next Tuesday at the National Theatre. So busy week of learning stuff. Still editing the tracks with theo. And the news stuff with Matthias. And hopefully hooking up again with BJ Cole. And listening through the tracks with Patrick Wood. Blimey, how much recording have I been doing lately???? loads, I tell yer!

What else is new? Oh, The CD shop at Bass Guitar Magazine’s website has started stocking my CDs, which is nice of them.

And a track from Not Dancing (Amo Amatis Amare) is on the cover disc that comes with Bassics Magazine – oh, have I mentioned that already? well, here’s the confirmation that it is indeed Amo Amatis…

Soundtrack – been listening to loads of the duo stuff with Matthias, obviously, and the tracks with Theo, and Matthias’s CD, which is great (out on Pillow Mountain Records v. soon) other than that, Kenny Wheeler’s album ‘Angel Song’ has been going round a lot in the kitchen, and today I’ve been listening to Coltrane’s ‘Complete Africa Brass Sessions’ which is incredible – I put it on to play during Mark’s lesson this morning, and it’s been in the player ever since…

two weeks of theatre, gigs and puke…

Blimey – it’s ages since I last got to write anything! I’ve now got a broadband connection, so hopefully it won’t be quite so long before I blog again (not that it’s any quicker with BB, as it doesn’t take long to connect anyway, but I’m online more than I was so may be able to get 5 mins here and there to talk rubbish on here…)

So what’s been going on? Potted history of life since the 15th (last blog date) –

went to the theatre to see The Madness Of George Dubya again, which was marvellous again – it’s transfered to the West End (The Arts Theatre in Leicester Square), and is being rewritten daily to keep abreast of current events, so it’s more topical than ever. Vital viewing, especially as there seems to be a lot that’s going unsaid about what’s now going on in Iraq – more shootings were reported this morning, that american guy who’s been put ‘in charge’ doesn’t seem to have much of a clue, and the looting still goes on…

Then it was easter weekend, which was surprisingly un-churchified – an unusual easter for me in that sense, partly cos I was just busy and didn’t plan anything in time, and partly cos I was at a wedding on Easter Saturday. Made it to church Easter Sunday morning, but it’s a while since I last missed a good friday service – anyone would thing that easter was when a rabbit got nailed to a cross, but was a nice rabbit who rose again and gave everyone chocolate eggs… I know that the timing of easter is a hi-jacked ancient solstice or something, but it does seem odd for it to have kind of stuck with some sort of christian significance in the media, but mainly it’s all about eggs and bunnies… the world is a might strange place…

Easter Sunday I went to a very fine gig – Three Blind Mice – featuring Lyndon Conner, the keyboardist who played with Level 42 on the Greatest Hits tour last year. The mice are a three piece – two guitar/vox and Lyndon on keys/vox, and feature some of the finest harmonies I’ve ever heard. Great songs, great delivery in a lovely venue (some pub near Paddington)… Well worth investigating. And after all that guff in the paragraph above, I did eat rather a large number of chocolate eggs at said gig.

Wed 23rd was a gig in Eastbourne with Tess Garroway and Joss Peach – more lovely improv, made even more fun by feeding both the piano and the voice into my loop setup to I could loop and tweak both of them as well… Small crowd, but cool venue.

The trip home wasn’t quite so much fun (this is where the puke in the heading comes into the story – turn away if you’re sqeamish) – I had a headache brewing through the entire gig, which got gradually worse and worse as we were packing up, bordering on migraine as I got in the car to drive home. It may have had something to do with not having eaten since about 2pm, and having had a beer when I arrived at the venue in the evening, but whatever, I wasn’t a well bunny.

Stopped once to wretch, didn’t puke. Stopped again, puked a bit. Was then doing 70mph along the M25 and vommed all over myself, the windscreen, the steering wheel, dashboard, seats, floor, everything. Tried catching it in a cardboard tissue box, but that just succeeded in funnelling said puke down both my sleeves (no, really, it is the most disgusting thing that has ever happened to me, which is why I just had to share it with you…)

One week previous to this, I’d been up to my armpit in blocked drain and thought that that was the grossest thing I’d ever done. This topped it, driving 35 miles covered in my own sick was really really nasty – the kind of thing that one usually associates with recovering smack-addicts…

The following day was a bit of a cleanup day, following my projectile experience of the day before.

Friday I was conducting an Echoplex clinic for the UK distributors, showing them a little of what’s possible (for lots more of what’s possible, see Andre’s site), which was great fun. I also picked up a couple more echoplexes, taking my tally to four – three are now in the rack, trying to work out how to wire the fourth one into the desk to give me a stereo main loop… hhhhhmmmnnnnnn

Friday evening was spent installing my broadband connection, which I’d got wrong somehow, and then Saturday required much rescuing as I’d downloaded too much stuff from Windows Update and had buggered up my machine, so with the help of evil harv, we got it going…

Last night, Jez and I went to see Carleen Anderson at the Jazz Cafe – we’re trying to get out to see more gigs, and were going to go out on Sunday, but there was bugger-all on in London. Boy, am I glad we waited til Monday – Carleen was brilliant, as were her band – Ben Castle on sax, Andy Hamill on bass, Mark Edwards on keys, Winston Clifford on drums and Jules someone on guitar – they are on again tonight and tomorrow, and if you can, you really ought to go… Carleen’s acoustic encore of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ was worth the ticket price itself (and you can stream it from her website – high res with Broadband of course…)

In between all that stuff, I’ve been mixing the tracks that I recorded with Theo Travis, which are sounding great, and may well end up being my next album… It’s time for a duo album (last one was solo, before that duo, and first one was solo), and these are just fine ‘n’ dandy. Hopefully we’ll have something to listen to v. soon…

And obviously I’ve been indulging in the download delights of broadband – fave site at the moment is, a music videos and streaming radio site which is very cool. Go there and watch some of the Bruce Cockburn, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos and Johnny Cash vids – all great stuff. Also been listening to radio on line, including kcrw, kvmr and bbc london.

Soundtrack – other than the online stuff, been listening to lots of Ron Miles – both ‘Heaven’ and ‘Laughing Barrel’, and listening to Paul Simon, ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’, Bill Frisell, ‘Have A Little Faith’, Alex Skolnick Trio, ‘Goodbye To Romance’, Frank Gambale, ‘Resident Aliens’ and King’s X ‘Manic Moonlight’.

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