Sunday, June 26, 2011

A great week of music...

Just ended a great week of concert-going in London, the sort of week that makes me glad to live and work here so that I can see such amazing music. Not trying to boast or anything, but check out this schedule for the past seven days:

Saturday 18th June - Feis festival in Finsbury Park headlined by 70-year old Bob Dylan who was in terrific form, the best I've seen him for a while, full of energy and enthusiasm, with a good sound system so we could hear him clearly. Also on the bill were Shane MacGowan, Christie Moore and Afro Celt Sound System. Phew!

Sunday 19th - Mopomoso at Vortex, headlined by stunning trio of Maggie Nicols on voice, Mia Zabelka on violin and John Russell on guitar.

Tuesday 21st - Ravi Shankar at the Barbican, 91 years young and on a tour to celebrate his tenth decade. He is as vital and awe-inspiring as ever. Words can't do him justice, but sounds and images can:

Wednesday 22nd - Keith Rowe solo at London Review Bookshop. Great to welcome him back to London. Throughout this year he is playing Treatise to mark the 75th anniversary of Cornelius Cardew's birth. Tonight he used page 68 and also Christian Wolff's Edges as starting points for two intense sets.

Thursday 23rd - Volunteering at Vortex where Evan Parker, John Edwards and Tony Marsh played two superb sets, all three on top form especially John.

Friday 24th - Weekly visit to the Workshop, only thirteen players there (compared to 26 a few weeks ago!) so played duos then trios and a final round of "nominated" quartets. Very satisfying, as there was more time and space for each player to do more playing than usual.

Saturday 25th - Almost felt part of a continuum with Friday. In audience of 8 at Arch 1 in West Ham seeing the trio of Workshop members, Sum (Eddie on drums, Seymour on sax, Ross on guitar), play a fascinating jazz-inflected set that contrasted with their usual style of playing at the Workshop.

Forthcoming - Monday night is the monthly Workshop night at Cafe Oto. Next Saturday, July 2nd, in Whitstable, Evan Parker's annual Unwhitstable festival. Both mouth-watering propects.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My All About Jazz Articles

Monday, January 31, 2011

The campaign starts here: Evan Parker should be asked to curate Meltdown 2012

The past five nights have seen the mini-festival Suggested by Evan Parker running at The Vortex. Each night the club has been packed to capacity with an excited, enthusiastic atmosphere pervading the place. The music has been different on each night, but the standard has been uniformly high; the musicians have all risen to the atmosphere and sense of occasion. Evan Parker himself played on three of the five nights, in three contrasting settings - with Django Bates' trio in a tribute to the music of Charlie Parker, as a soloist in Hans Koller's ensemble launching their album Cry, want, and in an improvising duo and trio with the legendary Stan Tracey and his son Clarke Tracey. The other two nights featured exciting young talent in the shape of Alex Hawkins Ensemble and Empirical

As a result of all this, the conclusion is clear: Evan Parker is an obvious choice as a great curator for Meltdown. Next summer's Meltdown already has a curator in the estimable form of Ray Davies, so 2012 is the one for Evan Parker to curate. (As a matter of interest, Parker is older than Davies by two months.) Anyone wary of an improvising musician as curator should take a moment to remember the runaway success of Meltdown 2009, curated by Ornette Coleman. Parker played at Coleman's Meltdown and also at Scott Walker's Meltdown in 2000.

Parker has all the characteristics of a successful Meltdown curator. He is widely respected and liked by musicians and punters alike. He is eclectic in his own music, playing in a great variety of settings - in the past these have included recording with Scott Walker and Vic Reeves! - and seeking out new ones. He has a track record of encouraging and bringing on talented younger players.

Yes, he is the man for the job. OK folks, get lobbying!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Volunteering at The Vortex

Did I mention before that I am now one of the crew of volunteers that keeps The Vortex going? Thought not. Well, I am now into my eleventh month. On average I volunteer for about five or six evenings a month, from 7pm until gone 11pm - once everything is cleared away and ready for the next day. Volunteering involves all sorts of tasks and duties; these can include: shopping e.g. for lemons or loo rolls, serving behind the bar, being on the door to collect money, collecting up bottles, glasses and rubbish at the end of the evening... No pay, but volunteers get to see the gig for free (and others when they're not volunteering.) I also get to meet some like-minded music fans plus the knowledge that I'm helping keep a great venue on its feet.

The reason I bring it up now is that January 26th to 30th is a series of gigs entitled Might I suggest? suggested/curated by Evan Parker. I have volunteered for four out of the five nights. Tonight, Wednesday,  Alex Hawkins' Ensemble is on, with Dominic Lash on bass - one of his last appearances before he disappears off to New York. On Thursday, Parker himself joins Django Bates' trio to celebrate the music of Charlie Parker, as featured on the trio's album Beloved Bird. Friday is the launch gig for Hans Koller's wonderful album Cry, want, which was released on Parker's Psi label at the end of 2010. (On Saturday, young lions Empirical play; they were winners of the Mobo Best Jazz Award for 2010.) To round off a great run, Sunday evening sees Evan Parker paired with Stan Tracey for a freely improvised set. Tracey will also do likewise in a duo with his son Clarke on drums. Tasty, eh?

If the idea of volunteering appeals to you, why not follow this link and click on "Support the Vortex":

Saturday, January 22, 2011

New Year resolution: Get back to the workshop regularly!

Not having been to Eddie's Friday evening workshop since an enjoyable all-day session in September, I entered 2011 resolved to attend regularly. Not weekly, but regularly. There are too many good gigs on Fridays for me to promise myself that I'd attend every week. Friday 14th January, the Charles Gayle trio were on at Cafe Oto, and were amazing. Seymour Wright was at that gig too, I noticed, so wasn't at the workshop - which salved my conscience somewhat! On Friday 28th January, I am going to the Vortex for the album-launch gig by Hans Koller. Having already reviewed the album for All About Jazz (five stars!) I am looking forward to this gig. Koller's twelve-piece ensemble features Bill Frisell and Evan Parker, although Frisell will not be at the Vortex gig, I hear.

Sandwiched in between those two unmissable gigs, I managed to get to the workshop this week, on 21st January. It was like coming back to a group of old friends, even though I did not know many of the participant well. As ever, Eddie was welcoming and friendly to everyone. How he does it week in week out is beyond me - the man is a marvel! There were nineteen of us there, with enough regulars there for me to feel the reassuring sense of belonging - a sense that is reinforced by the act of playing with people - tonight in two duos and a quartet at the end; in the duos (with cello and then with electronics) I was rather restrained - too rerstrained, maybe - a result of coming back after a lay off. For the quartet - my sax, another sax, Eddie on percussion, Paul Abbott on electronics etc - I felt more relaxed (maybe quartets suit me better than duos?) and was more outgoing. Pity I won't be back for two weeks. Looking forward to it.

At the workshop, there was news of a two-day festival called As Alike As Trees (great name) over the first weekend of March, featuring lots of workshop regulars as well as Hubbub and AMM. Looks exciting. Follow this link for more info:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Back at the workshop...

Friday 7th May

After a break of four weeks (brought about by a series of enticing gigs on Fridays - Mats Gustafsson, Humcrush, John Tilbury...) I was back at Eddie Prevost's workshop again. And it felt good to be back. Only thirteen players tonight, rather less than the last few times I have been. Longstanding members Seymour Wright and Ross Lambert were noticeably absent; the workshop was different without them.

As usual, the evening started with a series of duos, passing around the circle. By chance, the first duo started next to me and then moved away anticlockwise, meaning that I would play in the last two duos of the cycle. As a result, I sat and listened to the other eleven duos before it was my turn to play. That meant I had almost an hour to listen and think.... Prompting me to muse on the process of improvising like this - reflecting the type of question I have long asked of improvising musicians, such as: "How do you start?" or "Do you begin with nothing in your head?" et cetera.

One of the beauties of the system of duos used at the workshop is that - except for the very first duo - those questions are not relevant. All other players join in with a player who is already in full flight and so have something to react to or against, giving them a way into the process. The system is reminiscent of the system of trios that was used at Relay events whereby a trio started of at each venue. When a new player arrived, they joined in and one of the trio dropped out, usually the member who had been playing longest. And so on. The end result was a constantly evolving trio with an ever-shifting membership. They did not have to keep restarting, getting to know each other and all the other stuff that can waste time and be unfulfilling to watch. Instead, they just kept on and let the music run its course, usually very successfully. In fact, if the workshop method started with a trio and then rotated around the circle, with one dropping off and another joining, the end result would be the same as Relay - A+B+C > B+C+D > C+D+E etc. until N+A+B to finish. Might be worth a try.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Scratch Orchestra rides again

Saturday 1st May

As part of the London Sinfonietta's three-day Experiment! season at King's Place near King's Cross, Saturday afternoon and evening saw the resurrection of an ensemble that has not been heard of for a while - The Scratch Orchestra. The original Scratch Orchestra was formed by the late Cornelius Cardew in 1969, bringing together musicians (and non-musicians) from a variety of backgrounds including classically-trained players, improvisers and those keen to experiment. One of the original Scratch Orchestra members was composer Michael Parsons, whose composition Apartment House Suite No. 1 had been performed by the London Sinfonietta on Friday evening, alongside compositions by John Lely, Cardew, David Smith, Howard Skempton, Gavin Bryars and Michael Nyman, as part of a programme entitled British Experiments, (Thursday evening had seen a similar programme entitled American Experiments, including works by Henry Cowell, Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman and John Cage.)

Saturday was planned as a full day of activity, in keeping with Experiment!'s strapline "a three-day festival of adventurous music in unexpected places". From 6am until midnight, an ongoing free performance took place of Erik Satie's Vexations, with its 840 repititions of a short motif. The publicity for the Saturday afternoon session read, "Join London Sinfonietta's Scratch Band"; at 2pm twenty-one volunteers assembled for the workshop which was to be led by Parsons and Experiment! curator Robert Worby. The results of the workshop were to form part of a free public performance early on Saturday evening, sandwiched between  performances of Steve Reich's Six Marimbas by members of London Sinfonietta. Parsons began the afternoon workshop with a brief history lesson that outlined the ethos and working methods of the original Scratch Orchestra, methods that were to be used in the workshop. Participants had been asked to bring a glass bottle full of drink (not alcohol!) and a harmonica if they possessed one; these were to be used in two of the pieces planned for the evening performance.

The opening activity of the workshop soon emphasised the ethos of combining musicians, improvisers and others into one ensemble. Sheet music of Christian Wolff's composition Burdocks was circulated and those who could  sight read music were asked to play it together. For those who didn't sight read, there was a rhythmic accompaniment that they could reproduce using any means. When the entire ensemble played the piece together, the results were impressive - the group of people there worked well together. Next up was a looser playing activity; in groups of five. One player started off making a single sound (of long or short duration) and then with a signal passed on to the player on their left who made their own sound, and so on around the ring, with no gaps allowed between the sounds. Once the groups had had time to get used to the activity,  Parsons and Worby cued different groups in at different times, creating a shifting soundscape as groups were faded in and out.

Another scored piece followed, part of Sibelius's Karelia Suite. Again the end result sounded good although, after a couple of run-throughs, Worby was concerned lest it become too slick - clearly not the intention of this exercise. The session closed with run-throughs of John White's Sipping and Blowing for which we needed our bottles. Starting with a full bottle, we had to drink a specified amount (nothing or a sip or a gulp) before blowing across the neck of the bottle a specified number of times, to generate a note.  And so on until the bottle was empty. Finally, we used our harmonicas to play John Lely's Harmonica High; a group of players started together, each playing the lowest note on their harmonica. They gradually spread out, further and further apart, playing higher and higher notes on their harmonicas.

After a break, we reassembled in Hall 2, where our evening performance would begin. Parsons and Worby led us through the running order and the changeovers, preparing us for the real thing. At 6-50pm, as the first performance of Six Marimbas ended, it was our time. The audience gradually drifted into Hall 2 as we passed our sounds around the groups of five. Then we came together to perform Burdocks and Karelia Suite (to applause!) before ending by dispersing into the foyer while playing Sipping and Blowing and Harmonica High. Then, happy and satisfied, we were gone.