EFG London Jazz Festival: Visualising Music, November 10th

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This week, the full programme of the EFG London Jazz Festival was launched and I’m incredibly excited to be invited to take part in a collaboration between EFG LJF and the Royal Academy of Arts.

Something Resembling Truth is a major retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns which will feature over 150 paintings, drawings and sculptures that spans six decades.

Visualising Music is an event that will explore the graphic score, and the relationship Johns had with composer John Cage. I’m one of two improviser/composers taking part, the other being the gloriously talented Raymond MacDonald. We’ll be joined by a group of musicians from Club Inegales. There will be live music as well as discussion.

Next week is the private opening of the exhibition and it’s the first chance I’ll have to see all of the works. Then, I’ll start work on developing some new graphic scores in response to the works as well as footage, interviews and literature about Johns and Cage.

When something is new to us, we treat it as an experience. We feel that our senses are awake and clear. We are alive.

In addition to this, I’m also part of the 25 for 25 commissioning project, generating 25 new works in celebration of 25 years of the jazz festival.

I’ll be using this site to document the progress of the project so stay tuned…

EFG London Jazz Festival 2017

Something Resembling Truth: Jasper Johns at Royal Academy of Arts

 

 

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Review: Story Tellers by Duncan Heining, All About Jazz

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Last year, I made an album for Discus called Story Tellers. It’s a 6 piece ensemble that features such exciting musicians – Martin Archer, Anton Hunter, Mick Somerset Ward, Corey Mwamba and Pete Fairclough. We worked from graphic scores written by Martin, each of us given a ‘character’ and space to play completely solo.

This week, we got a great, insightful review by Duncan Heining on All About Jazz. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars! I’ve added the review below but do head over to AAJ and check it the enormous treasure trove of jazz writing.

So thanks to Duncan for the review and if you want to buy the album, check out the Discus website.

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We used to call records like this ‘concept albums.’ The whole idea soon became a term of derision thanks to Rick Wakeman and others. Nevertheless, let’s stick with it for a moment. Martin Archer’s Story Tellers is constructed as a series of interlocking vignettes, linked both by certain recurring themes, narrative threads and the attribution of certain functional roles to each of these six musicians. In that sense, you have here what can usefully be seen and heard as a ‘concept album’ -and, incidentally, a remarkable musical achievement. 
 
Thematic development has frequently been the boneyard of many an aspiring jazz composer. Story Tellers is built from a number of themes. Some are attached to an individual musician and explored both as solo and group pieces. Others—”Story Tellers,” “Like It Is,” “Shaman Song” and “Dedication Coda”—are explored a number of variations on a theme. Taken as a whole, Story Tellers, is cyclical in form with each cycle returning to one of two possible end points. In these respects, Story Tellers scores strongly in terms of thematic development.
 
Story Tellers comprises two CDs, 31 tracks of varying lengths and a total of 150 minutes of music. It is impossible to do it adequate justice in a review, so what follows is more a series of reflections on the music as a whole. 
 
To begin, the influences (if that is not too strong a word) here comes from Archer’s affection for both Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and for the best of 70s prog and jazz rock. The names checked on the three “Dedication Coda” are Leo Smith, Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell but the music here also recalls for me the Art Ensemble of Chicago. One of the great joys on Story Tellers is the way these themes morph so easily from free, abstract structures into powerful, riff-based forms. Part of that is down to the musicians and the way they listen and communicate. Here, drummer Peter Fairclough is, as his name suggests, a rock. (Matthew Chapter 16, Verse 8) His ability to work across stylistic boundaries recalls others such Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette and John Marshall. 
 
The other aspect of the music that will strike the listener very forcefully is the use of coloration. Vibraphonist Corey Mwamba, arguably one of the most complete vibes player to emerge since Gary Burton, and guitarist Anton Hunter are especially important in this respect. Mwamba gives the music a lucid, liquid, almost mystical quality, a sense heightened by the use of additional percussion and by the amazing range of tones that Mick Somerset draws from his collection of flutes. The effects achieved by Hunter on his guitar are enhanced by both the drone and ostinato patterns he brings to bear but also by the spindly, raga-like melody lines he spins. There is a wonderful depth and richness to the sound Archer and his cohorts achieve that is more often found, if at all, in larger groups in jazz.
 
Archer himself is on tremendous form, energetic and ruthless on the band version of “Wayfarer’s Bastard,” appropriately querulous on the solo version of “The Casuist.” While I have often noted Archer’s abilities as a musical collagist (though here, he reveals also skills comparable to those of a landscape artist), the fact is that he is a fine instrumentalist and improviser across a range of woodwinds.
 
Perhaps, the revelation here is trumpeter Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan. I have heard her on other Archer recordings but, on Story Tellers, she seems to be reaching for something highly personal in her playing. Her playing on the band version of “The Barbarian” and on “Dedication Coda—Leo’s Dream” reveals that perfect combination in a brass player—excellent tone, exceptional control and articulation coupled with the ability to attack each note when required.  
 
The sheer range of music on Story Tellers is astonishing and stretches with ease from the more pastoral colours of “Story Tellers#2,” where the AACM comparison is at its sharpest, to the dark hues of “The Rain Maker—band version.” Such contrasts continue throughout. Listen to the polyrhythms that underpin “The Wounded Healer—band version” and compare this with the spacey psychedelia of “Like It Will Be” and the primal beats of “Shaman Song #3” (echoes of Rite of Spring?) This is music shaped built upon a grand vision of what jazz can be.

Here’s What I Read in August…

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August was a month of some gigs, some meetings, a week of R+R in Ireland, piccolo trumpet shedding and reading. Here’s where I tell you about the reading bits…

Another Day In The Death Of America (Gary Younge)

This one came as a gift from my mother-in-law, one of the few special members of the trusted book recommenders/gifters club. She’d read it and highly recommended it and it’s one I’ve seen now and again on bookstore shelves and in reading lists. It arrived on a day where I’d just finished a book and had a craving for some non-fiction after reading solely fiction in July, so the timing couldn’t have been better. Gary Younge is a Black British journalist who lived in the US for a number of years. The book focuses on this rather sobering fact – every day in the US, an average of seven children and teens die from gunshot wounds. Younge selects a day, November 23rd 2013 and tells the stories of ten such deaths; black, latino and white people aged between 9 and 19 who were shot and killed that day. This is an attempt to humanise; to present without judgement the lives of ten young people that are frequently referred to as statistics by politicians, activists and the media. It’s an incredibly honest and respectful book that touches on the issues that surround these deaths – issues like gun control, the incredible sway of the NRA in legislation and the relationships between police, state and the black community. A sore book but a necessary one.

The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen)

This is a tricky one. The book centres on an American family, chronicling their flaws and desires, their complex relationships with each other and others. It’s a slice of middle America in the 20th century. But I have to say, I resisted reading it for quite a long time because, with no searching or provocation, negative comments about Franzen and the book snuck into my brain and coloured my opinion before I’d even started. This is why reviews are often garbage (she says writing one. But this is a journal of books, not a review. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) I bought it on kindle because it popped up in a sale and although I own a kindle and definitely understand the benefits of such a device, my reading experience is always worse than if I hold the book in my hand. Focus and the ability to become immersed suffers on an e-reader, I think. I would say it’s the type of book I love, but I didn’t love this one in particular.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (David Foster Wallace)

Short stories are a particular creature. For me, three authors have really ripped my heart out with their short stories; Raymond Carver ,(What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) George Saunders (Tenth of December) and David Foster Wallace. To make a profound statement in a short story is something special. It’s like a glimpse into a world that leaves you wishing you knew more. Succinct and devastating. I loved every one of the pieces in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men but if you’re only going to read two, read The Soul Is Not A Smithy and Incarnations Of Burned Children.

The part of the featherfall into sleep in which whatever lines of thought you’ve been pursuing begin now to become surreal around the edges and then at some point the thoughts themselves are replaced by images and concrete pictures and scenes. You move gradually from merely thinking about something to experiencing it as really there, unfolding, a story or world you are part of. Although at the same time enough of you remains awake to be able to discern on some level that what you are experiencing does not quite make sense, that you are on some cusp of edge of true dreaming.

In Pursuit Of Silence (George Prochnik)

If we’ve hung out in the last month or so, we’ve probably talked about silence and quiet and noise because it’s a major focus in my creative practice at the moment. I’m fascinated by society’s relationship with sound and silence. This book is wonderful and I’d highly recommend it (and probably have done already) to everyone I know. Prochnik explores our relationship with sound and silence in a range of different settings; trappist monks, astronauts, the links between noise and our health, technological advances designed to address an increasingly loud world to name but a few. It shines a light on an issue that many of us take for granted but is omnipresent. Like, did you know that the number of reported cases of mental ill-health rose significantly around the area of Heathrow airport following their expansion? And did you know about Audiac, a sonic analgesic developed by a dentist that was used sound as the sole painkiller for dental work and reduced the pain of a cavity treatment down to the level of a mosquito bite according to the majority of patients? OK, I’ll stop now. Go read it.

Down And Out In Paris And London (George Orwell)

Orwell was a visionary, a truly great mind. My mind was utterly boggled after I read 1984 for the first time. And it was written in 1948?! Extraordinary foresight in his social commentary that resonates as strongly as ever. I read Down And Out…last week while we spent the week in Ireland, another from my mother-in-law’s home library and I absolutely loved it. Profound words on the human condition, shocking insights into poverty and Orwell’s beautiful prose meets Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. I’m drawn to books that deal with non-romantic relationships and this one does it so well, dealing with friendships and companionship borne out of circumstance.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)

My first Carson McCullers novel (though that’s probably the case for everyone…) which I finished this morning. It centres on a deaf-mute named John Singer and the people drawn to him as he lives in a quiet American town. Singer is like the sun in a solar system full of oddball planets, all of whom have created their own mythologies about the sun’s origin and purpose and spirit. It’s a beautiful illustration on the way people are drawn to stillness and quiet, all of the characters feeling a strong sense of calm and belonging while visiting Singer’s room in a boarding house. It reminded me of something Anne Truitt says in her journal, Daybook, about the importance in loving people for who they are rather than the idea of them that exists in you.

Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves…The opposite to this inattention is love, is the honouring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.

Now I’m onto Delusions of Gender but that can wait until September’s round-up…

 

Thinking about podcasts…

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Last week I took my first steps into the world of audio production and editing, working on a podcast for Sebastian at London Jazz News. I don’t think the flood of job offers from podcast companies, the BBC, Channel 4 etc will start just yet but I did enjoy myself and managed to get to grips with the basics.

See the brilliant London Jazz News to hear the Essiet Essiet podcast I edited, plus a whole host of other articles, features and reviews.

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting up a podcast myself for a while now and what this job proved was how far you can get with a piece of free software like Audacity. It also got me thinking about what I look for in a podcast and which are my favourites…

Reply All – My all-time favourite podcast. It’s the only one where I’ll check pretty much daily to see whether a new episode is up. It’s about the internet, broadly speaking, but the scope is massive. What ties it together is that the two presenters, PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, have strong chemistry and are great storytellers. Each episode will be focused on one topic with a couple of themed segments popping up regularly – Yes Yes No, where their boss brings to them a tweet he doesn’t understand and they decipher it and Super Tech Support where listeners essentially get in touch to propose stories for them to look into. Very well produced and I haven’t come across a bad episode yet.

Episode to check out: #81 – In The Tall Grass

Intercepted – This is the podcast version of online news publication, The Intercept_ and is focused on following the often surreal and terrifying activities of the US government since Trump became president. Presenter Jeremy Scahill, a well-respected political journalist and award-winning author, deals with one main issue per episode including an interview with someone connected to the issue. His conversation style when interviewing is strong and direct but not bull-headed and he presents facts and figures in a way that makes you come away feeling like you’ve learned something vital.

Episode to check out: Wikileaks vs. the CIA 

WTF with Marc Maron – I’m pretty sure if you’ve ever listened to podcasts, you’ll have at the very least heard of Marc Maron’s one. This podcast perfectly sums up what podcasting is about for me; conversations and honesty.  The traditional interviewer/interviewee set-up can often end up being a little stiff and reverential. It’s an artificial social situation and it feels that way. With WTF, it’s more like you’re a fly on the wall during a conversation. There are over 800 episodes and the guest list is amazing – from Edie Falco to Al Gore.

Episode to check out: 794 – Louis Theroux

I’ve searched a little for podcasts on music and books, two of my life’s great loves. But every one that I’ve found has fallen short; so many are dry or fawning. No personality.

I’m always on the look out for more to listen to, so drop me a line if you’ve any suggestions!

PS – I find my podcasts on Stitcher and Spotify.

 

See One, Do One, Teach One

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It feels great to hold in my hand a copy of the Deep Tide Quartet album, which was released worldwide on August 1st on Discus Music.

We recorded this double album over two days at Chairworks (I talked about one of my compositions which is included on the album here – Arundel) back in May so it’s been a very quick process from recording to release.

The music is a mixture of composed pieces and improvisations. The composed material includes traditionally notated music as well as some graphic scores and improvisations based on a series of photographs. We listened to the first disc in the car on Wednesday as we travelled through to Manchester and I’m very pleased with the way it’s been recorded. Laura, Walt and Martin sound extraordinary and there are some very special moments.

The art work is by Gonzalo Fuentes and is a painting called Headphone Calisthenics.

(If you’re wondering what the title refers to, See One Do One Teach One is a term used in medicine, nursing and midwifery that describes how practitioners acquire new skills…)

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

LINK DUMP

Discus Music – See One, Do One, Teach One (you can listen to some full tracks here as well as buy the album)

Laura Cole

Walt Shaw

Martin Archer

 

 

Family Band Public Service Announcement

Family Band Public Service Announcement from Kim Macari on Vimeo.

Tom and I took to the streets of central London to make this little video to spread the word of our next Family Band gig at Manchester Jazz Festival on August 2nd at Matt & Phreds and to give people a taste of what they can expect from one of our shows…

The music is the title track from our upcoming album, Board of Origin.

 

All I read in July…

 

IMG_20170723_165031_646A monthly round-up of the stuff I’ve been reading over the past month. As always, big link dump at the bottom to check out anything I mention.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a pretty expansive to-read list. The list is a mixture of things recommended to me*, things I’ve had my eye on for a while and recommendations by Goodreads. If you want to, you can be my friend on Goodreads, and see what I’ve read and what I thought. I don’t really write reviews, but I use the star ratings system. I’m a pretty lenient star giver though; giving something 3/5 stars feels just too damning to me. It’s like a literary shrug. Basically, I like almost everything I read. (Apart from Life of Pi, which was just so dull I had to bail.)

*I have a little circle of people whose book recommendations I *know* will hit the spot. It’s a tricky business recommending art to someone else and there is NOTHING WORSE than recommending something you love to someone who doesn’t get it. That’s awful for both parties.

This month’s reading:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon)

The first Chabon I’ve read, recommended to me by two great friends, Jeff and Heather Hewer. Absolutely loved it and Yiddish Policeman’s Union is on my to-read list now. It’s a gorgeous picture of two men’s lives, set against the backdrop of America during WWII and beyond.

Americana (Don DeLillo)

Don DeLillo is one of my all-time favourite authors and White Noise is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life. I picked up Americana not really knowing much about it but it’s full of DeLillo’s incisive reflections of America in the 20th century. Based on a 28 year TV exec who, surrounded by money and falseness, takes off on a roadtrip across America to find some authenticity.

Everything Is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran-Foer)

I think it was about 10 years ago that I read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I picked it up because I was drawn to the beautiful cover art and just loved it; a beautiful story of a young boy’s grieving process for his father who was killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11. It’s handled so delicately and so respectfully. He goes in search for the lock that matches a key he finds in his father’s closet. It reminds me of The Fisher King; the use of a search for a physical object as a metaphor for the journey through grief and a search for peace.

(I have to veer off on a brief tangent at the mention of the Fisher King. It’s my favourite film. There’s a scene at the end – no spoilers – as he lies in bed and his friend brings something very special to his bedside in an attempt to rouse him from a catatonic state. His friend falls asleep with his head on the hospital bed and he awakes to find him and the object. He whispers very softly, referring to his late wife, “can I miss her now?”. It’s the most moving piece of cinema I’ve ever come across and the imagery in that film has never been surpassed for me.)

Everything Is Illuminated was actually Safran-Foer’s first novel and I’ve never really read anything like it. Often told from the perspective of a Ukrainian translator, Alexi, recounting the tale of his journey with Jonathan Safran-Foer to find the woman who had saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The way he uses English language to paint a picture of a young man whose grasp of English is good but not great is so well done.

The Sweetest Dream (Doris Lessing)

I read The Golden Notebook a few years ago and it blew my head off. It felt like such a privilege to have shared the same Earth as a woman like Doris Lessing. The scope of that novel is astounding.

“We spend our lives fighting to get people very slightly more stupid than ourselves to accept truths that the great men have always known. They have known for thousands of years that to lock a sick person into solitary confinement makes him worse. They have known for thousands of years that a poor man who is frightened of his landlord and of the police is a slave. They have known it. We know it. But do the great enlightened mass of the British people know it? No. It is our task, Ella, yours and mine, to tell them. Because the great men are too great to be bothered. They are already discovering how to colonise Venus and to irrigate the moon. That is what is important for our time. You and I are the boulder-pushers. All our lives, you and I, we’ll put all our energies, all our talents into pushing a great boulder up a mountain. The boulder is the truth that the great men know by instinct, and the mountain is the stupidity of mankind.”     

The Sweetest Dream felt like coming home, being wrapped in warm blankets and smelling familiar smells. Like the Golden Notebook, it focuses on brilliant, human, flawed, complicated women and their relationships with each other and the world, this tie set in London in the 1960s onward. Lessing never uses fiction to create characters that can be put on a pedestal and has this extraordinary ability to allow you to know them as well as you’d know a close friend. It’s the type of book that leaves in an ache when you finish, as you realise that you miss these people, these fictional but completely real people.

Oblivion (David Foster Wallace)

Off all the people I’ve never met, it’s David Foster Wallace I miss the most. I’ll refrain from going into DFW too much and save it for another post – there’s too much to cover here. But right now, I’m reading a collection of his short stories entitled Oblivion. I’m not the biggest fan of short stories, though there are exceptions like the wonderful What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Oblivion is another exception. The stories are devastating in their impact, this air of rawness and humanity and starkness running through them. In particular, Incarnations of Burned Children and The Soul is Not A Smithy left me stunned.

LINK DUMP

My goodreads profile 

Oblivion (David Foster Wallace)

The Sweetest Dream and The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing)

The Fisher King

Americana and White Noise (Don DeLillo)

Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran-Foer)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon)

Jeff Hewer (jazz guitarist) and Heather Hewer (proofreader and copy editor and she also has a great blog, Champagne Minimalist)