Recycle collective one year on…

Fab gig last night. Got there nice and early to set up, so was v. relaxed. Just as well, as i’m not well at all, so couldn’t have dealt with getting there late and rushing to set up.

Catster turned up to do the door (TSP taking a well-earned night off), Cleveland and Huw sauntered in not long after 7, got set up, all good nothing bad.

And people started arriving. Lovely people, just the kind of people I wanted to see. Greenbelt people, forum people, Danes, students, poets, singers, guitarists, Orphys (what is Orphy? Clearly ‘percussionist’ is way too limiting for what he gets up to these days… :o) )… A really lovely attentive friendly audience.

I started, as is customary. First tune was a cover of a lovely song by a fantastic Canadian singer called Lobelia, who I’m going to be recording with v. soon (the wonders of MySpace) – a lovely song called Happy that while I was playing along with it to get a feel for how she plays, revealed itself to be perfect solo-version fodder. Bit of a looperlative glitch, but I know it well enough to get round those things now. Followed that with Scott Peck, then got Cleveland up, then Huw. The middle piece with Cleveland and Huw is one of the loveliest bits of improvised music I’ve ever played. Started out with a bit ambient mush thing from me drifting through loads of clashing tonalities, before settling in one place, Huw joined in, and Cleveland improvised an exquisite lyric. Food for the soul.

Onto Huw’s set, which started with a John Dowland piece, on Nord Electra… which worked. Beautifully. Another solo set of African variations from Huw, then he and I played a particularly dark electronic spikey piece (and fell about laughing at just how twisted it all got), before Cleveland joined us again for more trio fun.

Set three began with two tunes by the wonderful Gary Dunne – a great singer/songwriter/looper/house-concert-legend. Perfect Recycle material. He’s great, go and check him out.

Then onto Cleveland’s set. His Echoplex had died, but I’d brought mine as a spare so we plugged that up and away he went, including his amazing solo voice arrangement of a Chopin Prelude. Wow. Cleveland and Huw’s duo section was really lovely, with Cleveland singing walking bass and beatboxing at the same time through much of it. Really great stuff.

And onto the final act of this birthday celeb. A huge mega piece which started with Huw, Cleveland and I, with me looping both of them, then we were joined by Roger Goula, then Patrick Wood, then Orphy Robinson, then Andrea Hazell – the two guitars and trumpet were woven into this huge busy sound, which as Andrea joined me, I cross faded back into just the ambience of her unbelieveable voice and my massive reverb and delay bass part. A perfect touchdown. Particularly nice to have Patrick and Andrea there, as they were part of the first ever unofficial RC gig, before it was the RC at Greenbelt 2005.

So that’s it, year one of the RC over. A year of remarkable music, some great audiences (some small but perfectly formed audiences) a whole shitload of credibility that hasn’t as yet turned into sold out shows at the QEH, but will. :o) I’ve spent the year calling my favourite musicians in the world, and asking them to play for next to no money, and they’ve all said yes. Lucky Lucky me. Most blessed me. Thanks to everyone who’s been to the shows, who’s played at the shows – particularly TSP who did the door and helped out at all of them, BJ and Cleveland who have been involved with loads of them between then, and of course to Ahmad and Darbucka for letting us use the venue – we’re happy to have introduced so many people the delight that is Darbucka :o)

All being well, it’ll be back in February for more improvised gorgeousness. Watch this space. x

Music things over the last few days

How far back are we going? er, Thursday i think – had a rehearsal with Estelle Kokot for a gig in a couple of weeks time – Estelle is a very fine jazz singer/songwriter – rather mad, but very talented. Her songs are a mixture of lovely simply 3 and 4 chord vamps and complex compositions with loads of chords and written bass parts and odd sections. Plenty for me to get my teeth in to. Definitely looking forward to the gig.

Then Thursday evening was back in the Vortex watching Evan Parker’s quartet, featuring Orphy Robinson on MalletKat (MIDI vibraphone) – it was a full on crazy improv gig, two sets of about 45 minutes each, with no breaks mid-set at all, long periods of really full on intense squealing improv. i go to gigs like this every now and again to reorient my ears to the effect that chaotic dissonance has. It’s not something I’d ever want to do for entire gigs at a time, playing fully out stuff in that way, but with a melodic structured counter-balance, I love the effect it creates, and I’m happy to engage with occasional concerts like this as a lesson in what that kind of thing is supposed to sound like, rather than trying to pick through it for what I like and don’t like.

Friday I was back recording Ruthie Culver – the singer I’ve been helping to redo the vocals on her album, recorded in a studio where the headphone monitor mixer didn’t work. This is proving to be a most enjoyable bit of work, and the result we’re getting are sounding great – I’ll definitely be looking for more engineering/production work on projects like this (basically anything that can be done easily in my office – electric instruments, solo voice and guitar, anything that’s multitracked and doesn’t include live drums. etc.)

Then Saturday, and to the picture at the top here – during the week, jim, the Fat Controller contacted me about playing a house concert in Lymington near Bournemouth. it was at the end of a day out for a bunch of people in their late teens/early 20s, and he fancied exposing them to something new, musically speaking. And it seemed to go really well – a most mellow setting, a very friendly crowd, and some rather fun experiments with the vocal looping stuff that I did at Edinburgh last year (record random percussive sounds made by audience members, make a tune out of it). As you can see, it was a v. intimate affair, and this was before another 10-15 people piled into the room…

Anyway, it showed how well my set-up works for house concerts (I’ll have to measure the exact surface area I need to be able to do it for future reference), and if any of you readers are interested in hosting one, please drop me an email to discuss the logistics and economics of hosting such a thing (and if you’re a bassist with lots of bass-monkey or musician friends, it can be coupled with a bass workshop/improv workshop as well.)

Two nights at the vortex.

Been to two gigs at The Vortex in the last week – last Monday, I went to see the launch of Ingrid Laubrock and Liam Noble’s album ‘Let’s Call This…’ – I’ve heard Ingrid play before, in a quartet, but wasn’t familiar with Liam’s playing other than through MySpace. The music was exquisite, whether improvising or playing Monk tunes, the interplay between the two was gorgeous, with Ingrid switching between squeally extended range techniques and lovely lush full melodic stuff, with Liam providing entirely unpredictable but completely logic accompaniment – a really really interesting piano player.

The album is released – like so many great UK jazz albums – on Oliver Weindling’s Babel Label, home to such artists as Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Christine Tobin, Huw Warren… definitely worth investigating.

Then this saturday, Lianne Carrol was booked to play but fell ill, so the lovely and ever-so-slightly mad Estelle Kokot was booked to fill in, and did a fab job. It was also a rather nice London jazz hang, with JazzShark over from NYC, Orphy Robinson calling in, Huw Warren visiting from north west Wales, Christine Tobin nursing a nasty cut in her leg from a bike accident, and the aforementioned Oliver Weindling from Babel Label.

The Vortex is a lovely place to hang out – if you see something on their Programme that you’re going to, drop me a line and I might meet you there if I’m not playing myself.

Dalston feels like it’s a bit out of the way, but if you’re driving from north london it’s really easy to get to, and it’s just round the corner from Dalston Kingsland BR station… Go on, go out and support some homegrown jazz instead of wasting your time and money on an overpriced trip to Ronnie Scott’s.

Too long since I last wrote anything…

So what have I been up to, I hear you ask… Well, the usual stuff – teaching, practicing etc. More practicing over the last few days, as I’ve got two gigs this week – tomorrow and Friday (tomorrow is at the Half Moon in Putney, Friday is at The Free Church in St Ives) – need to get the new songs learnt as well as I possibly can!

Also been distributing posters for the Fret Phobia tour at the end of the month, with Ned Evett. Which reminds me, if any of you are anywhere near any of the venues (we’re playing London, Cambridge, Leeds, Wakefield, Manchester and Petersfield) please drop me an email or a comment and I’ll send you a handful of posters to stick up in music shops/coffee shops/waiting rooms/etc.

Been spending lots of time with the Ginger Fairly Aged Feline, who has made the most remarkable recovery… it’s the second time he’s come back from being that close to death. The vet’s amazed. We’re in Friday morning with him, to see what’s happening with his kidneys via the wonder of blood-tests. But as for now, he’s spending most of his time in the garden, running around (if you’d told us 10 days ago that he’d ever run again, we’d have laughed bitterly at you) and generally enjoying himself immensely. Hurrah for the tiny ginger one (no, not you Jude, the cat.) (well alright, hurrah for jude too…)

Tonight I was going to go and see Orphy Robinson do a solo gig in London, but got back from my postering outing and realised I hadn’t done the food-shopping I’d promised to do. So that took precedence. I was meant to be doing a gig tonight playing bass for a friend, but she’s disappeared off the face of the earth! how odd…

See you at the gig tomorrow!

Some MySpace Props…

as they say in the hood.

A few MySpace links to various coconspirators –

BJ Cole – genius of the pedal steel, plays on one track on my new album.
Cleveland Watkiss – Recycle Collective regular, one of the greatest singers I’ve ever heard, let alone worked with.
Calamateur – Scottish singer/songwriter and found-sound experimentalist. Writes really beautiful songs, and we’ve got a duet album coming out some time in the next few months.
Theo Travis – Saxophonist… you know who Theo is by now, right?
Leo Abrahams – guitarist at the last Recycle Collective gig. Bloomin’ marvellous.
Orphy Robinson – vibes/percussion/trumpet/weirdness. An amazing musician and composer.
Trip Wamsley – solo bassist, composer, player and writer of gorgeous music. New album coming out soon.
Jeff Taylor – played at the first Recycle Collective gig. Great singer/songwriter.

There you go, I’ll add some more soon. Click on those, have a listen, if you’re on myspace already then leave a comment, buy the CDs of the stuff you like, and check out their gig lists!

Recycle Collective III

Another fun evening at Darbucka was had!

The line-up, as you know, was me and Patrick Wood followed by Orphy Robinson and Roger Goula.

The first problem was how to get it all on the stage! There was so much gear it was untrue – Patrick had a keyboard, a Rhodes and a guitar, all running through mixers and pedals and stuff. I had the usual leaning tower of stevie, Orphy had a steel pan, bass marimba box thing, snare drum, trumpet and a huge hold-all full of miscellaneous percussion. So we did the set-up in two halves. First for Patrick and I, then for Orphy and Roger.

The set with Patrick went really well (from where I was sat!) – an opening ambient excursion, followed by a more jazzy/dubby piece, into a sort of drum ‘n’ bass/IDM workout over a heavily filtered frantic slap-percussive thing, and finally a version of ‘A Kind Of Prayer’ from The Works album, ‘Beware Of The Dog’. All of which was lots of fun. Because of the stage set-up Patrick was behind me, which was a little disconcerting for him I think – I’m kind of used to looking at buttons and not neccesarily at the person I’m playing with, so it was less problematic for me, but he played beautifully anyway. Patrick’s a really interesting person to play with, as he has myriad ways of shifting harmony against a loop – at some point I need to sit him down and find out what he actually does! The hugeness of some of his synth sounds added a lot of depth to the transitions between sections within particular tunes, and each time I use it, the Looperlative makes more sense, so I felt like I was really on top of the loop side of what I was doing – nothing happened that I didn’t want to make happen!

Orphy and Roger’s set started out in a much more ‘out’ free improv direction, with a sparse 9/8 loop off Orphy’s bass marimba thing, and lots of chaotic sounds over the top. Both the main strength and weakness of looping is that it imposes a sense of form onto what’s going on, which is great if you’re doing free stuff as it gives the audience something to latch onto, but it can be a problem if you trap a sound that you don’t want there and aren’t using a looper with an undo function! Orphy uses the Roland RC-20, which just has start stop and layer (oh, and reverse if you bend down and change it by hand, which he did at points). So the constant nature of Orphy’s loops provided both a reference point in the maelstrom of the out sections, and something for him to wrestle with when he may have wanted a more subtle transition.

fortunately, Roger was using one of the most sophisticated processing/looping/cleverness music packages in the world – MAX/MSP, a software program running on a Mac, which meant he could do all kinds of crazy stuffs to his loops and his processing.

All in, I enjoyed their set – it was a lot more out and free than previous RC stuff, and more out and free than most future RC stuff, but it felt good to stretch things a little and try some things out, and there were some really lovely moments. The quartet piece at the end was kinda fun too, which for some reason sounded to me like a Dave Gruisin soundtrack piece after some seriously heavy narcotics. In a good way. :o) So another enjoyable evening at the collective.

The great news is I also managed to get the next Recycle Collective dates booked in, or at least, two of the next three…

March 16th is the next one – not that far away – and it’ll feature me, Thomas Leeb (a brilliant acoustic guitarist from Austria, living in California) and BJ Cole. Put it in your diaries!

And then tonight, theo and I are in Cambridge – see you there!

New Music/Recycle Collective tomorrow…

Went into town this morning (town=central London), ostensibly to pick up a copy of Sibelius G7 software. It’s a score-writing package, that I need to be able to a) do my column for Bass Guitar Magazine properly and b) get a load of PDF scores of my stuff up on the web-shop ASAP. I get emails every week from people requesting the sheet music or ‘TAB’ for my tunes. Rest assured, there’ll be precious little TAB going on. Reading music isn’t hard, and is a much more useful skill that interpreting numbers of frets on imaginary fingerboards so that you can learn lots of really simple songs badly.

Anyway, long story short, no-one had G7 in stock. Shit! A wasted trip into town. Well, not entirely – I did get to call into Ray’s Jazz, and picked up a couple of very cheap CDs. One was Daby Toure’s album (something I’ve wanted since seeing him at Greenbelt last year), and the other is ‘Nordic Quartet’ by John Surman, Karin Krog, Terje Rypdal and Vigleik Storaas. It’s a fascinating album, featuring lots of classic Rypdal guitar loveliness, and inspired me to record another idea towards the new album. I don’t think it’ll make it on there, as it was just recorded to stereo, not on separate tracks, but it is a great idea that I’ll definitely revisit. Terje’s stuff always inspires me, please check out some of his CDs. {EDIT – I’ve just compared the recording of this new tune with ‘Not Dancing For Chicken’, and it’s SOOO much better – amazing how clean the sound of the Looperlative is!}

And recording that piece has got me all excited about tomorrow night’s Recycle Collective gig – I’m playing in a duo with Patrick Wood – Patrick and I have recorded together lots over the years, lots of lovely improv stuffs, some of which is in the street-team stash (or was – I’ve no idea what’s currently in the stash!). We’ve also played live together at Greenbelt, both in a duo, and he was a part of my Global Footprint huge improv thingie last year.

So we’re playing, followed by Orphy Robinson and Roger Goula – both of whom are fabulous players I’ve collaborated with in the past.

I really am like a kid in a toy shop with the Recycle Collective – I get to book all my favourite people to come and make lovely noises with me, in a gorgeous venue, to lovely audiences, which you’re more than welcome to come and be a part of. See the RC website for more details.

So that’s tomorrow. I’ve been doing LOADS of teaching of late – schedule is filling up, for sure, I’m almost maxxed out on evening teaching (if you’re wanting any lessons, best book a fair way in advance…) but I’m looking forward to my next lot of gigs – book shows in April with Muriel Anderson in the UK, and some solo stuff in April, as well as some clinics/masterclasses around… watch this space!

Soundtrack – right now, it’s my new tune, before that it was the Franks – Sinatra and Dunnery (not together!)

Dudley Philips at the Vortex last night

Yesterday day time was spent finishing off the mastering of Julie McKee’s live album from the Edinburgh Festival. Julie’s a fabulous singer – we’ve been working on some duet ideas between doing the mastering, the latest of which is to do the entire soundtrack to ‘Bugsy Malone’…! the mastering went pretty well, considering the source material. Sadly, the guy who recorded it didn’t send the multitrack sessions, just his own mixdown, so we were limited in terms of what we could do, but some compression, stereo expansion, judicious reverb and the tidying up of the bits where the recording had clipped have made it just fine. We compared it to a few other live recordings, from Donny Hathaway’s live album to my first album, and it stands up well, despite the odd pop ‘n’ crackle. Anyway, isn’t that what live albums are all about? There’s squealing feedback in the middle of Bob Marley’s live version of ‘No Woman No Cry’ and that was released as single!

Anyway, that was the daytime. Yesterday evening involved a trip down to The New Vortex in Stoke Newington to see Dudley Philips launch his album Life Without Trousers. I’ve had a copy of the album for a few weeks, and am loving it, so was excited to go and see the gig. The place was pleasingly full, lots of musicians in – Julie McKee, Orphy Robinson, Filomena Campus, John Parricelli and others, as well as friends of Dudley’s there to celebrate the album coming out.

The gig was marvellous – Nic France, Mark Lockheart and Carl Orr were the band, along with Dudley on 4/6 string electric and upright bass. great tunes, great playing, all in all a fab night out. The Vortex is such a great venue, and a vital part of the london jazz scene. I’ll be back down there next Thursday to see the Works – Patrick Wood’s band who played such a spellbinding set at Greenbelt in the summer. Please come down if you can! While you’re at it, check out the rest of the programme for December on the Vortex website, they’ve got so much great stuff on!

I also picked up a new CD while I was there, which was playing before the gig – it’s a collection of hymns sung in welsh, by LLeuwen Steffan, Huw Warren and Mark Lockheart. A truly beautiful album, on the oh-so-cool Babel Label – Babel are putting out so many great albums of late, go and check out their website and have a browse around. Marvellous stuff!

SoundtrackSteffan/Warren/Lockheart, ‘God Only Knows’.

Jazz is dead?

Spent a wonderful evening yesterday with Orphy Robinson – just called round to drop off a CD of the tracks for the gig with Rise on Oct 13th, but as is always the case with Orphy, ended up spending hours putting the world to rights, and listening to some great stories.

Orphy and I have some very similar thoughts on music, and while our own music sounds quite different (he can actually be bothered to write lovely complex through composed music as well as doing the more free improv/spontaneous composition stuff), the genesis of it is similar – both of us have spent a lot of time around people who play ‘proper’ jazz, who studied Bird, learned the omni-book and did what you’re supposed to do – transcribed thousands of licks by your favourite artists. But both of us were turned off by that in favour of looking to the narrative aspects of music, drawn to musicians like Coltrane and Monk who told stories within a jazz framework, rather than just looking to burn their ‘opponents’ in a jam.

Both of us had a fear of screwing up when playing ‘real’ jazz, but when it came to soloing wanting something of ourselves to come out, and so looked to freer improv as inspiration for self expression. I learn so much whenever I chat to Orphy about where his music comes from – he’s been pro for at least 10 years more than me, and having been signed to Blue Note and played with loadsa big names, has a heck of a lot more experience than I.

But we both see our role as story-tellers, and as such are willing to take from any musical tradition that works for us. Our origins are different – Orphy’s background is Caribbean and its musical heritage. Mine is prog-rock and 80s art-rock/pop. So both of us bring that to the table when we play, and both had a rude awakening into the world of free improv (the first free record I ever bought was ‘Montreaux Suisse’ by Air (not the french pop band), and Orphy had gigged alongside members of the band…!)

And it seems like our journeys are becoming to norm for ‘instrumental improvising’ musicians – that all the interesting stuff is ‘jazz plus’ – taking a jazz framework and dropping loads of other influences in. Whether it’s players like Theo Travis and Ben Castle who bring prog elements to their writing and improvising, or the current golden boys of the brit-jazz scene Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland who bring elements of classic rock, electronica and hardcore to their music, it’s the everything else that is keeping jazz vibrant, vital and renders moot the bollocks talked about Jazz being dead. Wynton has done his best to turn Jazz into a museum piece, and the rest of the world has ignored him, thank God.

And coincidentally, there’s an interesting interview with Brad Mehldau in the Guardian talking about this very thing.

Soundtrack – King Crimson, ‘Discipline’.

Ooh, this was a nice find!

Just been doing a vanity search to see what sites have got my Edinburgh gigs listed, and found this from the Guardian, as one of ‘July’s best jazz, world and alternative music gigs’ –

“THEO TRAVIS featuring ORPHY ROBINSON
Sax man Travis, who effortlessly straddles prog rock, ambient and genuine jazz, has built up a regular creative partnership with bassist and live loopmeister Steve Lawson. Tonight they are joined by the multi-instrumentalist Orphy Robinson, known for his work with Cleveland Watkiss, Jazz Jamaica and Steve Beresford. JLW
The New Vortex, Gillett Street, London N16 8JN”

that’s nice, isn’t it?