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?

And after the gigs, The reviews!

This was quick – the joy of the internet – here’s a lovely review of the Vortex gig from Tuesday night with Theo Travis and Orphy Robinson. Very nicely written.

And if you can read Italian, there’s a lovely review of Grace And Gratitude, in the ‘No Warning’ E-zine. Luigi Ametta who writes it has been very supportive of all the music of mine that he’s heard, and this looks to be another lovely review (though so far I’ve only read the Google translation, which is pretty garbled…)

If you’ve been to one of the recent gigs, please post a review in the forum, and if you’ve bought one of the CDs, you can post those reviews in the online shop.

Thanks!

Looking forward to tomorrow's gig.

And in other news, I’ve got a very intersting gig tomorrow, in Hackney as part of the Spice Festival. The gig in question is the Solo Summit, at The Bullion Theatre.

It’s going to be a lot of fun, and lots of my favourite musicians are on the gig – Orphy Robinson, Cleveland Watkiss, Filomena Campus, Tunde Jegedi, Celloman (Ivan Hussey), Pat Thomas and just added to the bill, BJ Cole! What a lineup that is!

I’ll be playing solo, as well as looping and processing Filomena and Cleveland, so will be kept nice ‘n’ busy. I love the idea of a gig designed to explore the various ways that people perform solo, and am looking forward to stealing some ideas from all the people there!

Soundtrack – Wheeler/Konitz/Holland/Frisell, ‘Angel Song’ (one of my most favouritest albums ever, a hugely inspiring CD, featuring some of Bill Frisell‘s best playing)

Last Night's gig.

So last night was the gig with Theo Travis and Orphy Robinson at The new Vortex in Dalston.

The old Vortex, in Stoke Newington was a vital element in London’s Jazz-life. Along with the 606 and The Bull’s Head, it was one of the few places where you could regularly get to see the best of London’s jazzers playing in a small club for not much money.

So when it close about 18 months ago, it was a bit of a loss. There was talk for a while of it opening up in Hackney’s ill-fated Ocean venue, but then that went belly-up, and it looked like the Vortex was no more.

So it’s great to have it back, just off the A10 in Dalston. Very easy to get to, nice room, all back how it should be.

The fun thing about this gig was that it was the first time that Orphy and Theo had met, let alone played together. I’ve played with both before, obviously, so I was the link.

I set up with a mic on Orphy’s vibes so I could loop him, though had to be judicious so as not to loop Theo too (Theo’s loop-ideas are so incredibly well formed, that bits of his flute and sax cropping up in my loops is not really desireable).

Anyway, the gig went superbly well – we played a bunch of tunes from Open Spaces, and a load of improvs, with Orphy playing vibes and piano (I’m still not sure how well piano works with the thickness of sound that Theo and I get – I remember spoiling a duo gig with Jez at Greenbelt one year by putting far to many layers down and not really finding that gorgeous sparseness that is there on Conversations)

The audience was tiny, as per lots of midweek gigs at the Vortex, but David, the owner, loved it and wants us back for a weekend gig.

The only downer was that I was feeling steadily iller and iller as the evening went on (and not in the Beastie Boys send of the word ‘ill’ either)… I’m still not sure if I’ve beaten this cold or the worst is yet to come. We’ll see.

Anyway, it’s great to see The Vortex back happening again – check out the programme here.

Soundtrack – Tim Berne live at the QEH

Gotta hand it to George…

“I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11, 2001,

“Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong. And 100,000 people have paid with their lives — 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies, 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever, on a pack of lies.”

“Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported.”

Now, I’m not really a member of the George Galloway fan club – I was all in favour of his militant anti-war stance, am still very confused by his ‘I salute your indefatiguability’ speech to Saddam, and don’t trust his new Respect part at all. That said, his speech to the US Senate committee investigating claims that Saddam gave him shedloads of oil to sell was fantastic – the quote above is just a small part of it, quoted from this article on CNN.com. I’d love to see the video footage…

Soundtrack – a minidisc of a gig I did at the Barbican back in 2003, with Orphy Robinson, Mano Ventura and Filomena Campus, that I’ve never listened to before – the disc was lost under a pile of stuff, so today’s bit of tidying unearthed it. Bits of it are fantastic. There’s easily 20 minutes of editable top notch stuff. I might have to have a go some time!

I'm in a composing frame of mind…

well, I’ve been recording stuff, anyway. After a rather long hiatus, the impetus to record came back with the duo project with Cleveland. We recorded the duo stuff, and I left my bass rig wired up to the computer so I could record some solo bits ‘n’ bobs. So I’ve been recording a couple of tracks a day for the last few days, and some of it’s rather good.

The format is as usual, in that I’m recording the stuff live, largely made up on the spot, but I’m then editing the tracks, and trying to get some kind of structure from the initial version, and then re-learn that to get a nice arrangement together. We’ll see how well it works!

The good thing is that I’ll have a couple of new tunes to premier at the upcoming gigs, which is nice, and will probably throw one of them in the direction of the street team, later this week. If they behave themselves.

Other news – the first of my show sponsors for Edinburgh has confirmed. Working on three more (if anyone reading this fancies sponsoring the show, you can email me for details). If I get all four, it’ll cover the cost of the venue hire, significantly droppping my financial risk!

Have also sorted out accomodation for while we’re there, thanks to hugely generous and lovely friends in Edinburgh. It’s all coming together!

So, life is good. Now I just need to get on with writing some of the teaching stuff that I’ve got to do, for musicdojo.com and BGM. Busy-busy!

Soundtrack – Zakir Hussein, ‘Making Music’; some old MP3s of unreleased stuff of mine; Tommy Sims, ‘Peace and Love’; Ani DiFranco, ‘Little Plastic Castle’; Orphy Robinson, ‘When Tomorrow Comes’.

Two gigs this week (watched) and two days at LGS.

LGS being the London Guitar Show. I was there Friday to meet up with the nice peoples at Bass Guitar Magazine to chat about me writing a column for them, which I now need to sketch out a plan for, and then get writing. Caught up with a few other friends. Went back Saturday to see more friends, and was hoping to check out the Celinder basses which are amazing (Lowell brought one to my workshop in Cupertino , California back in January, and I wanted to see more), but the noise was so loud it was pointless.

However through the din I did get to listen to Laurence Cottle, jamming with guitarist Paul Stacey, and despite the noise and Paul having to play through a bass amp, they made a glorious noise. Fab musicians. Caught up with more friends. It wasn’t a bad show for bass stuff – the Bass Centre had a stand with all manner of bargains on it, EBS, GB Guitars, MarkBass, Celinder, the re-born Trace Elliot, Ashdown, Peavey and a few others were there with plenty of bass toys. It’d be unfair to compare it to NAMM as a) it’s open to the public, and all about selling stuff not launching new products and getting dealers and b) it’s in England.

The two gigs were Nitin Sawhney on Wednesday, and The Bays on Friday.

Nitin’s gig was a bit of a disappointment – the tunes he did with the Asian singers, Nina Bhardwaj and some guy whose name I can’t find online, were amazing. Great vocalists. The other stuff came over like a load of Urban Species mid 90s mellow hip-hop grooves with some OK tunes. Nothing special. Maybe it’s just that I had high expectations. It was enjoyable, just not the mind blowing experience I’d expected. Still, Orphy Robinson came with me, and an evening out with Orphy was enough to make it all worthwhile (and I didn’t pay for the ticket – ’twas a present from Dweez, who couldn’t go due to work commitments – thanks John!)

The other gig.. actually, there were two other gigs, as I went to see Roger Beaujolais play with his sextet in the Foyer of the Festival Hall before going to see The Bays in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Roger’s band were very fine – London really does have some fantastic jazz players!

The idea behind The Bays is that they play completely improvised club-tastic dance grooves. The feel can change from night to night – sometimes its more house-y, sometimes more Drum ‘n’ Bass-ish. Friday night sounded like Gong remixed by Daft Punk. Top notch. The addition of a third keyboard player and a guy playing synth stuff on guitar was fine, but hardly necessary, as they make enough noise as a quartet. Still, the gig was fab, and I’d recommend the Bays to anyone who can cope with the volume (it was loud!).

SoundtrackEric Roche, ‘With These Hands’ (Eric’s had to cancel a few gigs again recently due to being ill, so if you’ve been playing to buy this fantastic record, now would probably be a good time! Head over to Eric’s site to have a listen – he’s one of the finest solo acoustic guitarists I’ve heard, one of the nicest people I know, and an indie artist that you really ought to support by buying his marvellous CDs!)

My, what a busy day!

It started with three hours of teaching, followed by two hours of missed teaching (occasionally students don’t turn up – it’s quite worrying when they don’t let me know, as they may have had an accident or anything – this time I only had a work phone number for the guy, so couldn’t call him…) Filled in the time with some more web tweaking – added a load of the photos from the marvellous photo sesh with the marvellous Steve Brown, and designed a little desktop image for anyone who wants it.

Anyway, that was followed by an hour chopping wood in the back garden – oh yes, it’s like victorian england here… The wood chopping in question was actually getting a pile of stuff that was cut from the bushes and trees at the end of last year and left in a pile on the lawn, into small enough bits to fit in the green waste recycling bin (there the victorian similarities end abruptly…) That was followed by some lawn mowing – which took a long time and a lot of energy, due to the grass being very long and the mower being a bit spluttery after sitting the garage all winter (you’d be a bit spluttery if you sat in our garage all winter, surrounded by boxes for music gear, much of which I don’t even own any more…)

So grass cut, wood chopped, now to tackle a job that’s been hassling us for a few days, a broken tap in the kitchen. It’s the hot tap, and it’s been getting harder and harder to switch off. I don’t want to have to call a plumber if it’s just a matter of dismantling it and replacing a washer. So I try to take it apart. I remove the obvious screw – no joy. can’t seem to get the tap part off the top. Can see a nut or two inside it, but my pliers don’t have long enough points to reach down to the nut. Oh bollocks. So out to the shops to try and find pliers. Only shop open is Asda. I hate Asda – owned by Walmart, scumbag bottom feeders that they are, but I go anyway. No pliers, so I buy eggs instead. Feeling grim stood in the queue, but get a phone call from Orphy Robinson which cheers me up no end – Orphy’s a vibraphonist, a marvellous musician who I’ve played with a few times, and always look forward to working with. He’s got all kinds of fun plans for this and that.

Get home, still can’t fix the tap, turn it off as best I can, put the lawn mower away, and collapse. I guess today was my first day’s training for next year’s Marathon. I’m not doing too well, am I?

SoundtrackKT Tunstall, ‘Eye To The Telescope’ (been listening to this loads in the last couple of days); Stevie Wonder, ‘Innervisions’; The Cure’, ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’.

Happy New Year!

Oh yes, it’s 2004. Another year over a new one just begun, as a songwriter no longer at the top of his game and desparately in need of his old writing partner once wrote.

So out with the old and in the new, hopefully. Or maybe it’ll just be ‘what goes around comes around’. Who knows.

I’m hoping for the usual crap – more time to read, more gigs, more CD sales, less big countries blowing up small countries, less reality TV, more properly researched documentaries, more decent comedies on TV, more going to the cinema, more exercise (!!), more journies on public transport, less using the car, more bass practice, less time wasted online… yeah yeah, right.

So this afternoon, I had a listen to an album I’ve not heard for a while – ‘Beyond These Shores’ by Iona. This is an album that when I first got it blew my mind, but as I’ve only got it on tape, and the tape is just about worn out, I hadn’t listened to it in ages. However, the small person has got it on CD, I remembered this afternoon. So put it on. and. wow. Unbelievable. Still as good if not better than I remember it. Great songs, amazing playing, fantastic production, moving lyrics (it’s a sort of concept album on the legend of St Brendan sailing from Ireland to America a few hundred years before Columbus…) – truly wonderful. Seriously, it’s great, get it.

It’s kind of apt at the start of a new year to be listening to an album about a journey into the unknown – not that stepping over into 2004 is like sailing the atlantic in medieval times – after all it’s just another day in ‘actual’ terms – but new year is a rite of passage, giving us a chance to pause, take stock, rethink, set some goals, change the way we do things, and also chops the past into convenient chunks for us to assess whether they were good or bad.

2003 was very different for me musically than 2002 – ’02 was the year I did the two big tours with Level 42 and The Schizoid Band, but ’03 was a year of fewer gigs but a lot of musical experimenting – loads of new improv settings, gigs with Orphy Robinson, Tess Garraway, Corey Mwamba, Filomena Campus, Josh Peach, Seb Rochford, Theo Travis, Mano Ventura, Michael Manring, Jez Carr, Harvey Jessop; I’ve also recorded loads of improv stuff this year – most importantly the new album with Theo Travis, but also material with quartets in France and Spain, duets with Matthias Grob, Luca Formentini, BJ Cole and Patrick Wood. Loads of space to develop new ideas, much of which will be launched on anyone who wants to hear it in 2004.

So, here’s to the new year – may all your gigs be well paid and your audiences attentive.

Soundtrack – The Smiths; ‘Louder Than Bombs’; Bill Frisell, ‘The Willies’; Rob Jackson, ‘Wire Wood and Magnets’; Iona, ‘Beyond These Shores’;