Two gigs and a soul-space service…

lots of gig-goings-on this weekend.

Saturday was a two-gig-day, with Theo and I playing twice in the foyer of the National Theatre. It’s a nice little gig, that we’ve done before during the week, but this was the first time we’ve done it on a Saturday. They were also the last gigs of our little tour, and we were recording them for possible inclusion on the forthcoming live album…

…which made it all the more stupid that I forgot to take my foot controller along! Yes, the main midi controller that I do all the Looperlative-loveliness with, was languishing on the floor of my office at home, while my feet wafted around in the empty space where said pedals should have been, feeling decidedly underused.

As it was, the set went fine, not many people would have noticed any change at all, it was just a little more floaty than usual, and we didn’t do the heavily rhythmic tunes like Uncle Bernie.

Between the two sets, I drove home to get the foot controller, and as the Shark was in town for the weekend, and Catster was in for both gigs two, they both came along for the ride, a good chat and a catch up on everything.

Re-inspired by having buttons under my feet to push, the second set was one of the best sets of music that Theo and I have ever played. I haven’t listened to the minidisc yet – I can’t find my minidisc player – but if it’s not peaking and distorting, we’ve got ourselves another very releasable gig. Lots of new directions in the improv, some amazing playing from Theo – his melody playing had me grinning from ear to ear for most of the gig.

After a quick clear-up, I drove home, dropped off the music gear, and headed to St Luke’s for an overnight shift in the night-shelter.

Sunday was a lovely day, with my cute lil God-son, his big sister and mum and dad all coming over for lunch and then a lovely walk in Trent Park.

Sadly, I had to leave mid evening, as I was playing at a Soul Space service at St Luke’s last night – another lovely mellow ambient chilled hour of candles and peace and some marvellous ambient noises courtesy of me. :o)

This week is a week of teaching, mainly, and getting some more new things recorded for the new album…

Soundtrack – Mark Isham, ‘Tibet’.

talk yourself better

Had a lovely afternoon with Cleveland Watkiss. Cleveland came round to check out the Looperlative, but as I couldn’t find my microphone, after a demo of what it can do, we spent a couple of hours talking about the process of making music, approaches to looping, performance ideas, influences, collaborations, all kinds of marvellous conceptual stuff about the process of creating music, of soundtracking the inside of your head, telling your story, absorbing influence and utilising technology.

It was one of the most useful and enjoyable conversations I’ve had about music for a long time, and left me very inspired to both play, and develop the Recycle Collective further. Cleveland is an outstanding musician, with a great pedigree in jazz music and beyond, but is a tireless experimenter, always looking for new ways to channel his creative muse. We’re going to record some more stuff next week.

And now I’m listening to last night’s gig with Theo Travis, having dumped the wav files onto my PC, normalised them, and chopped them up into tracks. It’s sounding great – there are a few blips and glitches here and there on the audio, but nothing that can’t be either sorted out or lived with. Methinks this gig will make up a large part of the live album.

Now, off you go and find someone interesting and open-minded to talk to about whatever it is that drives you creatively – report back here on what you learn!

nice news

this morning I got an email from not-at-all-evil Dan, saying that ‘For the Love Of Open Spaces’, my duet CD with Theo Travis, is included in the new edition of the Penguin Guide To Jazz On CD.

Surely not? Aha, Amazon has a searchable book feature, so I head over there. Do a text search on me, and sure enough there’s an entry for it. Can I read it? Er no, for some reason Amazon tells me I’m not allowed to. So It’s over to The Cheat and his wikkid skillz to get a copy.

He then furnishes me with a JPG of said review, which reads thusly –

***(*) For The Love Of Open Spaces
Pillow Mountain PMR 0014 Travis; Steve Lawson (b). 7/03.

Lusciously beautiful without descending into New Age clap-trap, the music here walks an awkward line with great confidence. Both musicians make extensive use of loop technology (although, as they proudly say, no synths or midi-triggered sounds), and the result is a series of mood poems crafted with skill and a capacious melodic bent. Lawson gets a bit rocky here and there and maybe a couple of the pieces stat around a little too long, but in what is often a threadbare genre they’ve done very well.

How nice is that? ‘Luciously Beautiful’ is a fab quote for posters etc. and 3 1/2 stars is v. good for the Guide (they are, quite rightly, very precious about 4 and 5 star reviews).

And it times very nicely with the recycle collective gig that we’ve got coming up on Nov 16th – all the more reason for you to book that baby-sitter now and come along to the gig!

A very fine Big Idea

never let it be said that Britain doesn’t have a vibrant and burgeoning jazz scene.

Mark Lockheart is one of the busiest and most respected sax players in the country, and for his current tour he’s assembled a fantastic group featuring four marvellous saxophonists with a killer rhythm section. It’s pretty rare to see four sax players in a contemporary jazz setting in the UK – it’s not often that anyone can afford to take that kind of project on the road, but Mark has managed it.

Due to my having a gig on the same night, I won’t be able to make it to the London gig next thursday, so last night, Orphy and I headed out to Oxford to see ‘Mark Lockheart’s Big Idea’ play at The Spin, a weekly jazz gig at The Wheatsheaf in Oxford. I’d heard a lot about the gig from friends who’d played there, so was looking forward to checking out the venue too.

The gig was fantastic – playing mainly music from Mark’s latest album Moving Air, with Mark, Julian Siegel , Steve Buckley and Rob Townsend on saxes and bass clarinets, Martin France on drums John Parricelli on guitar and Dudley Phillips on bass.

Mark has a very distinctive writing style, that can be traced all the way back to the tunes he wrote for seminal british jazz outfit, Loose Tubes in the mid 80s. The horn arrangements are stunningly beautiful, and he made full use of the dynamic possibilities of having four horns on stage. Parricelli was on rare form, playing beautifully and blending with the sound of the horns magnificently.

Fortunately, the room was packed, and the audience were hugely appreciative. It’d be mad to suggest that Britain was in any way deficient in the jazz world – I guess the problem, as it is in most parts of the world, is a lack of places to play anything other than standards. The main jazz gigs in London are restaurant gigs, with venues like The New Vortex and Ronnie Scott’s doing their bit to promote interesting vibrant music. It’s still tough to find a gig, moreso now that the foyer gigs are the Festival Hall are on hold while the renovate the building.

So, in the spirit of last night’s gig, I’m going to offer you a beginner’s guide to the British Jazz scene – a handful of essential CDs that prove our place alongside the Americans and Scandinavians, while still all sounding uniquely British…

– The obvious place to start is with Theo Travis – his last two quartet CDs, Heart Of The Sun and Earth To Ether are both outstanding.
– Next up would be Ben Castle – his last album Blah Street is marvellous – clever, funny and intelligent in all the right ways.
– Of course Mark Lockheart who inspired this list in the first place – his latest, Moving Air is fabulous.
– And then there’s Mo Foster – any of his records are worth getting, but particularly Time To Think is gorgeous.
– Another one featuring Mark Lockheart, the Works is Patrick Wood’s amazing quartet – what Weather Report would have sounded like if they’d grown up in London. Beware Of The Dog is one of my favourite instrumental albums from any part of the world, not just the UK.

If you were to buy that lot (and I think you should), you’d have a pretty decent representation of why I’m excited about the future of British music, rather than wallowing in the despair that would ensue from burying yourself in the world of X-Factor, Pop Idol and the lame faecal mountain that is the pop charts.

Soundtrack – some tracks that I’ve been recording over the last three days with american fretless guitarist, Ned Evett – some really really cool stuff (to add to the stockpiles of other really really cool stuff that are sitting here waiting to be released!) – hopefully I’ll have an MP3 taster or two for you soon from this lot…

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’ –

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.


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

Two gigs coming up this week, and I really ought to be practicing…

Yup, gigs this week in Brighton (Tuesday, Joogleberry Theatre) and Cambridge (Thursday, CB2). Both are with John Lester and Theo Travis – triple bill gigs with me solo, me and theo duo, and john solo, with theo and I guesting on a tune or two…

So I really ought to have a play through some tunes, remind myself how all the duo stuff with theo goes. But I’ve been tidying, cooking, and faffing most of the day, and not doing any playing.

this morning was fun – turned up for church slightly late, but coincided with Paul (my godson’s dad) arriving, and we both decided to bunk off and go for a chat and a fry-up instead. A wise decision. Chats with Paul are always fun events, a most edifying alternative to the regular sunday morning God-bothering.

SoundtrackMichael Manring, ‘Thonk’; Sarah Slean, ‘Day One’; Sarah McLachlan, ‘Surfacing’; John Martyn, ‘Solid Air’.

Manic Compression

I’ve just been listening to ‘Absolution’ by – the songs are great, the playing’s great, the sounds are great… but the mastering is SOOOO harsh!! The whole album is flatlining at close to 0dB all the way through – so little light and shade, distorted vocals, squished drums… MAKE IT STOP!!

Why do bands do this? At least one track on the new album by The Killers is like this too – Glorious Indie Rock ‘n’ Roll is so over compressed I get major ear-fatigue after about two minutes. It’s a shame, cos it’s a great song.

This kind of mastering job used to be reserved for single edits of songs – it makes tracks sound great on small cheap radios (think ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ or ‘Bartender And The Thief’ by Stereophonics). But to mix a whole album like that is just painful – stop doing it!!

Mastering is such a sensitive part of the recording process – it’s what happens after the tracks are recorded and mixed – you send a Cd of the mixes to a dedicated mastering person who then compresses and EQs the tracks to make sure that the level is consistent between the tracks, and that there are no rogue peaks in the audio that means the rest of the track has to be really quiet to accomodate them. In more extreme circumstances, the whole track can be really obviously compressed to bring the average level right up. That’s what’s happened here, and it really hurts your ears listening to it on good speakers.

the mastering on was done by – a hugely experienced and skilled mastering engineer who got the job on my stuff because he’d mastered albums, and also ‘Spirit Of Eden’ by Talk Talk – one of my favourite albums, and one of my favourite sounding albums.

He did a great job of taking my pre-mastered mixes and doing the compression and EQ magic required to bring the overall level up a bit without losing the dynamics on the tracks. There’s some serious audio-voodoo involved in mastering, and Denis has clearly got the mojo. I’d recommend him highly if you’re wanting to get a record mastered.

SoundtrackMuse, ‘Absolution’; Tommy Simms, ‘Peace And Love’.

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