Gig booking frenzy…

All kinds of exciting gig booking news today – first up, on August 22nd, I’ll be back playing at Darbucka for the first time this year, in my duo with Lobelia and also with Monk aka Ric Hordinski – Ric is a stunning guitarist, a former member of Over The Rhine, has produced records for people like Phil Keaggy and David Wilcox and made a stack of amazing records under the Monk moniker.

I played a show with Ric in LA a few years ago that was a whole lot of fun, and a whole lot of great music, and I tracked some fun noises for his new instrumental record when I was in Cincinnati on this last tour in the US.

The duo with Lobelia is one of the most exciting and fun musical projects I’ve had in ages, and you can hear some of what that sounds like on my myspace page and on her myspace page too.

So that’s gig #1.

Also this evening I’ve booked Patrick Wood and Andrea Hazell to come and play with the Recycle Collective at Greenbelt – both are Recycle regulars, stunning improvisors and just all-round amazing musicians.

AND, as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve booked Andrea, and am just waiting for confirmation from Cleveland Watkiss for the Recycle gig on the 6th September at The Vortex – how exciting!

Lots of great gig news fo’ sho’. :o)

Go and put them in your diaries now, you lovely london peoples.

Festival gig in Wales in August cancelled…

Just got a (not unexpected) email from the organiser of the Rainbow Spirit Enlightenment Fayre that I was supposed to be doing with the Recycle Collective and solo in a couple of weeks time, telling me that it’s been ‘postponed to next year’, which means cancelled in normal language (you can’t postpone a festival for a year, cos festival’s generally happen every year, unless you’re just going to post-date them all ‘welcome to the 2007 RSEF, in Aug 2008!’ etc.)

I’m not that surprised, but it is a real shame, as I obviously really look forward to all recycle gigs, but the communication over this fest has been pretty poor all along… we sorted out the booking and a fee back in Feb/March, I think, which was all good, then the venue changed (venue change in the same year as the festival was happening? er…). I had to change the line-up due to prior commitments, and the organiser was fine with that (let’s face it, with the Recycle Collective, I’m working with a list of 20 or 30 of the top improvising musicians in the country, with pedigrees as long as someone with very long arms’ arm, so it’s not really going to be hard for me to match the quality of any particular line up…)

And then… well, nothing. No contract, no accommodation details, no requests for a stage plan/spec list, no merch sales details, no stage times, no map, no nothing… not a great sign (with Greenbelt, I always have a contract, even for gigs I’m not getting paid for over the weekend, I get merch things through from the people who run the shop, I get venue managers emailing me to ask for stage plans and any special requirements (knowing that I clearly always have very special requirements… :o)

So it’s off. Balls.

But it does mean I’m now available that weekend for teaching or a house concert, or both – anyone want to book something? :o)

Tony Levin – international man of myth-stories…

Went up to Hitchin to see/hear Tony Levin play and talk this evening. I’ve met Tony a number of times (the first being when I interviewed him for Bassist magazine back in the late 90s, and was introduced to the ideas behind the free improv of the King Crimson crowd by him and Trey Gunn, which directly shaped the ideas for the Recycle Collective so many years later…)

Anyway, it was lovely to see Tony and catch up a little without the din of NAMM or some aftershow party going on, and was even better to hear him talk about his career, his music and the people he’s played with. There’s this assumption that bass clinics are all about clever playing, but there are certain guys – Tony, Lee Sklar, Anthony Jackson, Chuck Rainey, and a bunch of others, who have so much experience, have seen so much – and no doubt made lots of mistakes along the way – that hearing them speak is of at least as much value as hearing them play. In Tony’s case, he’s also a fascinating composer, so it’s great that he played a couple of things, as well as demonstrating some Peter Gabriel lines, but hearing him talk about what happens on sessions, what it’s like working with certain people etc. – it’s an insight into the workings of the industry that few of the people there would get on a regular basis. All in all a fab evening, and an audience full of old friends, acquaintances and audience members, with quite a few people coming up and saying they’d seen me play with Michael the last couple of times he was over… all good stuff.

When a gig takes you by surprise…

A few months back, I did a gig at a venue called ‘The Loft’ in Crouch End – I was booked to open for a band featuring Rowland Sutherland, and the gig turned out to be a really really lovely house concert, put on by a woman called Jenni Roditi – the audience were warm and friendly, the atmosphere one of acute listening, and it was an all round positive experience.

So when Jenni emailed round a circular letter a couple of weeks back, asking for people who were interested to play at an ‘open salon’ night, I thought it sounded like fun. The theme was ‘blank canvas’ and the last gig had been a positive experience, so why not.

As it turns out, tonight’s gig was one of the best night’s music I’ve heard in ages – about 10 acts performed all in, ranging from singer/songwriters to story-tellers, instrument builders demonstrating their amazing inventions to arias by Gluck. And, of course, solo bassists. :o)

A quick run down of what was on, if I can remember it all…!

Stella Dickenson started off demonstrating and talking about her wooden Sounding Bowl with strings – looks like a fruit bowl with strings attached, is actually a remarkably resonant instrument, that apparently works incredibly well in therapeutic settings. Fascinating stuff.

Sarah Warwick: singer/songwriter (former dance-chart-topping singer) – really really beautiful song and beautiful voice.

Jarmila Xymena Gorna: wordless singing, gorgeous piano playing, some lovely pre-recorded harmonies. Great stuff.

Fran Zipang: story from ancient Iraq – really great to hear a damn good story-teller, it’s easy to forget what a fantastic performance art story-telling is.

Mohini Chatlani: Mezzo Soprano, on show tune, one aria by Gluck – particularly liked the show tune (can’t remember the name of it now!) but both really well done.

Belinda Braggins: possibly the most nervous performer I’ve seen in years, but a writer of really really great solo piano music. A couple of things where she comped chords with her right hand, and all the melody stuff was happening in the bass, so we like that!

Bheki Mseleku: South African legend of spiritual jazz piano, apparently – lots of people there had heard of him, and he was very good.

then food and chats with all sorts of delightful people.

Second set –

Malka Rosenberg: singer/songwriter with a voice a lot like Julia Fordham – really beautiful song. Apparently this was her first ever gig, which, if true, was without a doubt the best debut performance I’ve ever witnessed. really great stuff.

James D’Angelo: Blue Monk variations, deconstructed and mashed up. Very good, very funny, very clever.

Jenni Roditi: our amazing host, performing extracts from her opera The Descent of Inanna. Somehow Jenni has managed to channel the harmony of ‘Lame Lies Down…’ era Genesis and ‘Once Around The World’-era It Bites into an opera, without ever hearing either band. Really great writing.

And then me, on last – because the theme was blank canvas, I just took my headrush pedal along, and my fretless, and started out with an improv piece, based on a similar idea to ‘chance’ off of ‘And Nothing But The Bass’, but with a much shorter loop (if you want to overdub on the headrush, you’ve got a maximum of 11 seconds…) – which came out really well. I then did What A Wonderful World, and got people to sing along, and finished off with Grace And Gratitude. I was then really shocked by the demand for CDs – i’d only taken 10 or so with me, but sold all the solo ones I had in about a minute, and only came home with one copy of Conversations. Everything else went. An amazing gig, perhaps it was the inspiration of so much other amazing music, and the great atmosphere that Jenni creates that did it.

Hat’s off to Jenni for hosting such a great gig – it’s a strong reflection of her personality (I guess in a similar way to how the Recycle Collective reflects mine), and she’s built up a fantastic audience and vibe for these gigs. Long may it continue!

Polar Bear and EST at the Barbican

So Catster and her ticket connections came up trumps again last night (yay Catster!), and we headed off to see Polar Bear and EST at the Barbican. Polar Bear is Seb Rochford’s band, Seb you’ll remember came and graced the Recycle Collective with his lovely presence back in August.

So following a drinks and nibbles corporate reception beforehand (including the surprise appearance of lots of lovely people – the Gay Gordons, Julie and Mark and assorted friends), we headed in to see Polar Bear. I’d never seen them live before, and was completely blown away. I’ve always loved Seb’s drumming since we first played together years ago, and am very familiar with Mark Lockheart’s great sax playing. But the whole band – rounded out by Pete Wareham on sax, Tom Herbert on bass and Leafcutter John on noises – were a revelation. Fresh, exciting, edgy, funny, chaotic, original music, with great tunes, fantastic spikey feels, and god-know-what weird noises from John, sampling bowed cymbals, balloons, the rest of the band and anything else. A really really great gig. Seb’s between song banter was on top form, and the audience were well and truly seduced.

And then EST – the poster boys of icy scandinavian cool. Like characters from a Nokia advert, or Bond villains. Not a note out of place. The sound, lights, staging, smoke – everything, perfect. Too perfect. After the danger and excitement of Polar Bear, it all felt like it was too good to be true. It wasn’t in any way a bad gig, far from it. A couple of the tunes were so impossibly beautiful they took your breath away. It just didn’t connect in the same way. I wonder if there’d been no opening act, if I’d have been deeper into it. I wasn’t NOT into it. At all. It was great. It just felt like an orchestral performance masquerading as improv. I’m really glad I saw them, and I may well even get the new album – on CD, that kind of perfection is welcome – but for me, the night belonged to Polar Bear.

Bumped into yet more very lovely people after the gig – my coat came in most useful again, as the sublime Zoe Rahman came up and said ‘you’re steve aren’t you? We’re myspace friends’, along with her squeeze, Patrick Illingworth. CDs were swapped, laughs were had, plans were hatched, and all was good. Also saw Julian Maynard-Smith – a fabulous jazz writer, who interviewed me for Unknown Public (I still haven’t seen the final article, but the transcript that he sent me was the most interesting interview I’ve ever done) – very nice to catch up.

And then late night, I headed down to The Vortex to hear Seb and John play AGAIN, this time playing a bunch of chaotic crazy improvs with Mandy Drummond on violin and piano, and a bloke who looked like he was in Franz Ferdinand on recorders and voice. Some of it was magic, some of it was nonsense, all of it was risky and fun. A lot of it was hilarious. It wasn’t even close to being safe. Yay for noisy squeaky improv!

And tonight, if I’m well enough, I’m off to see Estelle Kokot at the Octave, and then Huw Warren with Lleuwen Steffan at the Vortex. The London Jazz Festival is one seriously busy couple of weeks!

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

Recycle Collective tonight

Go on, change your plans and come – you know you want to! It’s going to be magic. Me, Cleveland Watkiss, Huw Warren, a bunch of special guests from all across the musical map, all in the delightful surroundings of darbucka in Clerkenwell

recyclecollective.com is the place for all the details.

go on, you know you want to.

x

"can anyone join in?" – some thoughts on Improv and Jamming

I’ve had a few messages on Myspace from people asking if the Recycle Collective is an open jam that anyone can come and play at. The answer to that is an emphatic ‘NO!’, the reason being the fundamental difference between an improvised music gig and a jam. A jam is, for better or worse, primarily about the musicians. If an audience digs it, that’s fine, if it results in some OK music, that’s fine, but in general, jams tend to follow a few set formulae – jazz standards, rock/pop classics or myriad variations on ‘funk in E’ – all fine in an of themselves, but really not the kind of thing around which I’m going to book a series of shows featuring the finest improvising musicians the UK has to offer.

Have a quick look at the list of past RC gigs on the website. The players are a) top class (Mercury Prize nominees, platinum selling, session legends, Royal Opera singers… no dead weight at all…) and b)put together in very specific combinations.

See, with this kind of improv the choice of players is the composition. It’s at that point that I relinquish my control and instead trust that the players will play whatever they think is ‘good’ at that time. And as a result, the RC has featured some of the most exciting music I’ve ever been involved in. It’s not a jazz gig, it’s not a ‘free improv’ gig in the sense that ‘free improv’ works for the London Improvisors Orchestra. We’ve had some out squeaky stuff, but we’ve also had singer/songwriters, jazz, ambient, electronica, new acoustic, minimalism, maximalism, funk, fusion, gospel and the huge list of crazy influences that Cleveland weaves into his vocal improvs!!

While it is improvised, and it’s great fun, it has none of the lowest common denominator connotations of a jam. Jamming is fun, it’s cool to jam, it’s just that improvised music can be so much more, and this ends up being infinitely more rewarding for the musicians and the audience.

If I wasn’t playing at and booking the RC, I’d be its biggest fan, by miles. It’s a phenomenal indulgence to book my favourite musicians in the world, all of whom are people I respect, admire and love hanging out with, and to make such fantastic unpredictable music with them. You REALLY ought to come down and check it out if you can…
xx

le weekend

spent a large chunk of Saturday afternoon sending out MySpace event invites to the Recycle Collective first anniversary (which you’re all obviously coming to). Then had to attack the bomb site that is my office to get it into good enough shape to teach in.

After teaching, headed down to the Vortex to see Partisans – a fab electric jazz quartet from London, whose individual members I’d seen on lots of different gigs, but never in this lineup. A very fine it was too. Also great to see a packed room at the Vortex. It’s got a lot of vibe when it’s full, and there are always a whole load of musicians in checking out whatever’s going on, so it’s great for meeting up with friends. Have a look at the Vortex Website for a list of what they’ve got on during the jazz festival – lots of great music.

Sunday I decided to skip church and head up to the Music Live thingie at the NEC in Birmingham. These kinds of shows are always a great way for me to catch up with a lot of friends in the industry on one day, call in, say hello, and as happened yesterday, get booked for a load more masterclasses in colleges all over the place! Yay! I got a free pass thanks to Jono at Access To Music, but the ticket price on the door was £17!!! That’s insane for a show that’s essentially about selling stuff to the public (unlike NAMM or Frankfurt, no-one would dream of launching new product there, it’s definitely a show for the public first, and any other business that goes on is a bonus.) It’s a great place to get christmas bargains if you’ve got a family full of musicians, but at £!7 a ticket and £7 to park, the savings are all but gone in the cost of being there.

Still I got to see a couple of really nice acoustic singer/songwriters on the Access To Music busking Stage… good stuff.

Home around 7ish, and another evening spent catching up on email from when I was away, chatting to lovely friends online, and trying to console a v. distraught fairly aged feline, who REALLY doesn’t like fireworks.

Tis a heavy teaching week this week, as well as sorting out gigs for next year for California in January, and Europe in March… yay me!

Last date of my European Tour…

Was in Wales last night. Cross Keys to be precise. Somewhere near Newport. Not quite sure where though.

The gig was put on by Islwyn Guitar Club, and as such was half gig half guitar club stuffs. Started with a bit of a workshop from me, which from the feedback on bassword was much appreciated, thankfully… Then onto a bit of a play round, couple of nice guitar contributions, then Andy Long making his solo bass debut, and doing a fine job of it, followed by Alun Vaughn playing a 20 minute solo set – some great playing, no loopage or processing, just six string bass, a gorgeous version of Here’s that Rainy Day, and a solo bass version of Purple Haze that was completely different to Michael Manring’s, which made a very nice change.

I had two 45 minute sets, so did a similar set to the ones in Kleve and Milan – lots of older tunes in the first set, and lots of Behind Every Word stuff in the second, plus Deep Deep Down (Eric Roche’s tune that leads into Deeper Still), and What A Wonderful World. Also had a bash at a completely solo version of Knocks Me Off My Feet as an encore (an encore! I hate encores, but still…), which shows promise!

Drove home, back here just before 3. So knackered now, but so much to do today. Office is in an even bigger mess than usual (more mess?? Surely that’s not possible?) and much admin and gig booking has to be done for the new year…

So there endeth the European Tour – next gig is the Recycle Collective first anniversary gig on 15th November at Darbucka – you SO don’t want to miss that. Rumour has it there are people coming from Denmark to be there… beat that, Italian blog readers!!! haha!