In the meantime I continue to plow through the complex landscape of Serbian music, picking out tiny jewels which I then transcribe , notate, memorize , and internalize. I’ve been close to great brass bands and singers already and even though my language is still atrociously bad I can make me way through the potentially dangerous Kafana culture and usually come out unscathed- though this is also due to my build, haircut, and drinking capacity I fear. Again and again I discover that in this territory, it is just as hard for “them” as it is for “us” to put the true music down to tape- in fact it is nigh on impossible. A track like the one below would be a very different creature played live. The last bit, when the band simply grooves on the riff and it starts to really lock in, would in a live situation, be stretched out for a long time.
It is rough, wild, tasty, dangerous sometimes, but thrilling if you feel an affinity to their modes and rhythms which I always have, even long before I started to mix up the gene pool of Serbia with Scottish invaders. A lot of it so far is less flashy and showy than other fast forms of Balkan music but it grooves hard and assimilates anything into its language that it can- no matter what the song. Any noses raised out here would be sliced off in an instant. Now I can’t say I would go as far as to stab my best friend in the heart after he stole my wife and insulted my sister but I am certainly getting deeper into the music, coming closer to the heart of this place.
Has been quite a month. A fall from a trail meant I was out for a while from all the physical stuff but had plenty of time to reflect and prepare mentally for the coming months.
Then, out of the balkan blue in the deep south of Serbia, I met “Mr Armani” (see below). He was striding the streets with his accordion slung over his back. He entered our taxi and we went to the same Kafana. After many hours of playing songs with him I had never heard before but somehow remembered, he told me we have the same blood. It seemed that we do, at least at this precious confluence of time rivers. And so, after years of wandering it seems I am a gypsy after all. Based on the music, aint such a bad thing at all.
Touched down in Belgrade for a mere night- hardly enough time to say the word Pieskavica, let alone order one hot of the pan. Early next morn I board the 40 minute flight to Podgorica and the metal bird touches down on of of those landing strips I hold dearly: the ones on which we step off the plane directly onto the tarmac surrounded by mountains and walk all the way to the terminal. Other favorite airports like this I remember are Windhoek and my hometown of New Plymouth, bless her soul.
I’m whisked away from Montenegro to the heart of Albania by a shining spirit in a large jeep. The further south we cut into the land of eagles, the more potholes in the road and the stronger the coffee. Every time I’ve come here I’ve found something liberating in the air and swiftly sounds are forming in ink on the paper in front of me. In the suburbs of Tirana I find a playground and do some bar work- I’ve almost got my human flag going and it is exciting as hell. Any street sign is now a veritable target for me.
Cut- I’m sitting in a restaurant, one which with it’s lighting design could be effortlessly transformed into a casino or brothel within 3 minutes. Behind me a clarinet player and a keyboard player with a massive rack ready to hit the balkan stuff. The host offers long toasts through a microphone with a long slap delay lay lay lay lay…Rakia flows. And flows. A long distinguished table is, after 20 minutes of formal conversation, thrust at 240/kmh by the god of parties into overdrive. Words would hardly do justice to what happened next. For the record, I came away with several 50 euro notes stuffed into my saxophone and into my pockets. In short, we really hit hit it hard and one day later my lower lip tells me I must have been blowing for hours.
Come Saturday I’ll be playing on the TV here for the millions of Albanians here and in the diaspora everywhere else. The whole thing deserves to be posted and so I will put the link up on Saturday for the live stream.
When things fall apart – as above so below?
Already when this holiday weekend began and I was making my way to the concerts, I sensed something wasn’t quite right. Aside from the normal mass-nervousness I’ve come to accept as a sign of our times, it was as if the sky was pregnant with something ominous- like she was ready to burst open with no good. It was hot and sticky and if was more attuned to the heavens I could perhaps have guessed what would come.
Well, before the skies above Germany opened up with wind, hail, and fire I first had to play some jazz. This was a delight and the concert we played can soon be viewed and heard here. The highlight for me of the weekend was a band from Bahia that absolutely blew me away, Here they are, though I must add that the video doesn’t fully do justice to what they deliver.
Without me knowing, as the Brazilians were firing in Holland, all hell was breaking loose from the sky over Germany. And so it was to be that when I finally tried to leave Holland only buses were in use and from Duisburg itself all trains were canceled. Panic was already set in, hundreds were in the lines, the Orwelian announcements were cryptic at best, and I sensed that nothing was going to happen for a very long time.
Something in me on Friday had already seen this coming. At times like this people really seem to break down. It reminds me of just how fragile this whole western bubble is we live in. And I was soon able to experience the mayhem first hand: next to the station was a bike shop where I quickly purchased a second hand bike, strapped my suitcase to the back, hoisted Cosette over my shoulders, and set out on the 60kms to Cologne. I sure as hell didn’t plan on getting stranded here for days.
On the way I witnessed widespread chaos: huge traffic jams and blocked roads. Fallen trees blocking main roads. I was attacked my a swarm of bees and had to backtrack 20kms because of of blocked routes. It turned out to be quite an adventure. 5 hours and a moderate sunburn later I caught site of the Cologne cathedral- a moment which always makes my heart skip a beat and gives my legs an extra boost.
Something about this whole thing didn’t surprise me. Not long ago it was the floods very close in Serbia- now this. I think we have to be quick on our feet in these times we live in now. Days like this reinforce the idea for me that our oil-dependent cultures are also useless when nature reasserts itself. And despite all the damage, a part of me is happy to see her forces take the upper hand when otherwise on my travels all I see is mankind raping her for all she is worth.
I don’t dwell on these kind of thoughts for long and prefer to go back to the music. The festival in Holland was like a tiny paradise filled with beautiful souls and music. Playing with Lula Pena again was like free flying. It is only moments like these that make it bearable to be away from the homeland skies for all these long years.
One of the perhaps stranger habits I’ve picked up from many year on the road has been the personification of hotel rooms- once in while I really bond with a particular room, one which has gifted me with some particularly deep and well needed sleeps, or simply shielded me completely from the viscous world outside. When I leave these rooms, like the one I just did in Nijmegen- I usually thank them in person, wish them all the best and say something along the lines of gotta go, room, but you sure were good to me, take care.
This particular one had all the features I go for: a simple harder bed, cleaning ladies who never knock when the sign is out, strong water pressure, tea cooker, no paintings on the wall, windows that open, and right next to the train station. Add some free espresso downstairs and you have a relatively content kiwi.
I should note that the windows are suicide proofed and can only be opened just enough to poke one’s head through. Through the other window I could then extend my arm with a cup of tea, giving me the sensation of drinking outside.
If the city sports a park in it, running is on the cards. If it is dismal and oppressive and car-ridden, as some cities can be, this kiwi prefers to run up and down the hotel stair case, the more floors the better.
With regards to my diet recommendations below, I find it often asked if it is not more expensive to eat a no-carb diet. Well it isn’t. Here is a delightful list of my day’s culinary no-carb delights – tasty and with enough power to send me to the moon and back ( so it feels). I’ve elected for the kind of language deployed in New Zealand cafes to make my very simple creations seem very classy- actually they are very simple to make and the total cost of all the meals listed came to 17 euros. Total time involved in preparation: 70 minutes ( time which to me feels like a gorgeous sensory meditation)
Smoked Salmon with Fresh Organic Lemon Juice
Avocado with Virgen Extra Olive Oli and Lemon
One wickedly strong Sicilian Espresso
Large Glass of Staatl. Faechingen Mineral Water
Anatolian Meatballs cooked in Coconut Oil and Seasoned with Mallorcan Orange Salt
2 Eggs Moon side Up
Fresh Green Salad with Avocado Oil and Fresh boiled Asparagus
One Freshly squeezed Kale, Ginger, Carrot, Cucumber Juice
Thai Chicken Curry with Seasonal Vegetables
I then elected to finish things off with
25 shots of Sky Vodka a glass of vin natural to kick start the evening and get ready for the jazz…
For a while now I’ve been meaning to write a health post on some issues of importance to me, so here we go…
I’ll begin with this one as it is possibly the most important and the base of physical and mental health. It is a tricky one as there is tons of misinformation out there but I can certainly speak from my own experience.
After struggling with daytime fatigue since a teen and trying out all kinds of options including going vegetarian for several years, about a year ago I made the switch to what is commonly called Paleo Diet and the results were truly transformational. On the way I found out a lot about how my body burns energy and what I was actually doing to myself by constantly and unknowingly loading up with carbohydrates at each and every meal.
Like the other parts of this post, the method is not fiercely dogmatic and should be individually adjusted. In the meantime I have no problems having the odd pizza even but my body has made the switch to burning fat as its primary source of energy (read more about ketogenisis) and no longer sugar ( in its raw forms or as carbohydrates). Yes, I lost weight and gained muscle but the best part was the mental clarity and lack of fatigue- this was truly amazing. This after several doctors in my youth had simply given me iron tablets and told me it didn’t really matter what I eat- well I say it does. Now I can even play Charlie Parker themes without too many wrong notes, imagine that.
I stumbled across the necessary information while researching something very different: brain waves and neurofeedback. I came across Nora Gedgaudes who is an expert in this field but also passionate about nutrition and the paleo diet. I thoroughly recommend all of her writings and podcasts. She takes an evolutionary approach to nutrition and also factors in the brain a lot which I like. Because she also went through all hell before she finally attained clarity through diet, her story is a great and telling one.
Here is another down-to-earth no-nonsense nutritional expert- Antti Heikkila- a doctor with excellent advice and many decades of experience, again centering around reducing or eliminating carbs. Mainly targeted at diabetes sufferers, it can be applied for all of us.
The “mainstream” guidelines for nutrition and “food pyramid” are in my opinion rubbish. In the meantime you have to take your own health into your hands and this means informing yourself, having a good look in the mirror and not trusting a regular doctor of medicine to tell you what is good for you to eat. The links above can get you started if you are interested.
I encourage all of my sax students to work on something related to the body like Taiji, Yoga, or a martial art- or even simple plain ol’ running or swimming. The key however is finding a good teacher and with this you need a a mix of inside information, first hand experience, and gut feeling. A good strategy is to check out the students that have been doing it for a while: what kind of an impression do they make? From there the decision shouldn’t be hard.
I’ve written already here about my passion for barefoot running so there’s no need to give a longer description. In short, I was lucky to grow up in New Zealand mainly barefoot and I think that might have helped when I switched to running in barefoot sandals. The difference is a huge one- one that is best experienced rather than read about. I still think the classic “Born to Run” is a good book for inspiration.
In short, the more I can reduce things to their most simple simple natural state the better. Running barefoot ( or as close to it as possible) is how we were built to run- it is that plain and simple. I engage more of my body and my mind in the run now. There is no drifting away in my head, I can’t afford to as every step has to be absolutely conscious to stay safe. I’m happiest when I’m on a mountain trail under the sun with just a small drink bottle, my sandals, shorts , and a hat. Then I feel I could could go on for days and in the meantime I even know I can.
Now that I have worked on regaining a good natural running technique, it is truly painful to observe most runners out on the street- killing their knees with their pounding heel strikes and yet trying so hard with their 200€ running kits. Wow, it could be so simple guys! Is it a massive conspiracy of simply a sign of the times? More the latter. Though the market for sports shoes is a massive one and the last thing they need is people realising they don’t need sh€t to run properly.
The long distances on the trail and the abstract distance from my music helps me in different ways. On long runs I often come up with solutions for musical problems. I think it is good to move a long way away from something in order to tackle it anew.
Let me finish with some wise words by the great trail runner Anton Krupicka
“As runners, our feet are what keep us connected with the ground and offer important tactile, sensory feedback, which makes the structure and design of the shoe on our foot essential in shaping our experience with the surrounding terrain. By wearing a shoe that eliminates unnecessary gimmicks and gadgetry (and, most importantly, a big, cushioned heel), I am allowing my foot to operate more effectively, efficiently and naturally while freely relaying proprioceptive information back to the rest of my body. ??Minimal footwear enforces a heightened sense of the position of my body in space and its position relative to the technically challenging terrain. This sort of awareness is at the basis of any skilled movement we do as athletes, and the athleticism that running quickly over variable terrain requires is probably the essential difference between a trail/mountain runner and the traditional road/track athlete who operates primarily in a straight-ahead plane of movement.”
My interest in bodywork has been around for a while but I started to get into calisthenics after spending a lot of time at playgrounds- not because I am a pedophile but an absolutely legitimate Father doing his thing. Talking to wonderful mothers is ok for a while but at a certain point I realized the bars and surfaces could be used for training.
Again using the principle of reduction I found out that right here you have everything you need for a full work out: bars for pull ups, parallel bars for dips, and concrete on the ground for stretches and handstands and other cool stuff.
I had also been in a gym a couple of times but I always found them pretty offensive places in many respects: clientele, music, scent, general vibe, price, etc…
The strength I was interested in working on was only that which I could actually use. Building body mass for the sake of it isn’t my thing. I’m into increasing my running power, improving my swimming, and refining my bar fighting with Russians on Saturday nights. Na but seriously, core strength in my obliques from planks for example has greatly increased my central base strength and this has in turn strengthened my playing- this I can even hear on recordings believe it or not.
There is a growing interest in calisthenics. This guy has a couple of great books out and he rightly includes a good stretching routine into the program, something I highly recommend. Al’s piston squat is second to none and he is also a barefoot running man so my kind of guy.
This ancient art has sadly lost its original meaning and force in the modern day manifestations. However if you are lucky enough to find yourself a good teacher then I would take the chance. Simply apply the tips I gave above.
I consider myself lucky to have experienced Erle, my first Taiji teacher in person before he passed away not long ago. He has left behind a massive body of work and his down to earth teaching approach can still be experienced on his many dvds.
It is not an easy world to stay “healthy” in- the challenges thrown up by our modern urban environments are bigger than ever, and at the same time so are the chances. Personally I felt a certain responsibility to take my health into my own hands in regard to the family and friends around me. This way, I can help when needed- if I am basket case with depression, diabetes, and a host of other “modern” afflictions what can I offer? No mucho, amigos.
With musicians there is often a kind of self-destruction understood in the mythos of the suffering artist. I often mention this when I’m teaching tuning and well temperement- it is 2014 now and time to move on. Too many seem to be stuck in the past in the wrong way. We need to carry the wisdom of our ancestors on in intellegent ways. Many of the caretakers of the earth and carriers of wisdom may well have been obliterated by our modern empires but the battle is only lost in my book when the very last have falllen and this is not yet the case. It is finally time to step up a gear and realise more the potential we’ve been given- optimal physical health is only the begining of this. Our true power and potential lies far beyond that.
For the 9th year running I will be teaching for a week in the tiny paradise of Agios Lavrentios in late August. All the infos, dates, and applications are now online here. The title this year is “The G-sting of Pythagoras and the Agios Lavrentios Balkan Brass and New Orleans Band” and that is pretty much exactly what we will be shedding in the week.
I will also teach a masterclass in France from 7 to 11 July- “Ancient Knowledge for the Modern Saxophonist” in the beautiful village of Quincerot ( 47’36’39 N – 4’16’02 E ) which is open to wind players. The information for that week can be found be emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org and the French website is here.
Last Wednesday I gave my first performance of texts from Finnegans Wake. Once I started to dig deeper into this wonderful rabbit hole I realized quickly that this one will occupy my spade and I for some time to come. I’d been in one sense waiting for the right moment in my life to enter fully into the wickedly complex dreamworld of an author I’ve always loved. In this excerpt I improvise on one of the song texts in the book. This text is one that really comes to life when it is read aloud.
Impressions form the Serra de Tramuntana Mallorca Ultra Marathon
We set out at 8am from Valdemossa. The trail cuts high right away. The runners are all seriously equipped and most of them are ripped and obviously ready for some serious trails.
Of the roughly 70km of trail, most of it is sharp ascent or descents. It is a wickedly technical course with a lot of rocks and tricky paths. In between the hard grind we pass through gorgeous villages where the locals are out in force, sometimes offering their own oranges and water.
I should maybe clear up something about the “barefoot” running thing for those who are more from the music side. I’m running in sandals with some grip on the bottom but basically the feeling is that of running in bare feet- there’s only a couple of millimeters between my sole an the ground. For this run I took the Vibram five fingers as they offer a bit of extra traction on the bottom. It simply means you have to watch out where you step- not a bad thing in my book.
I’ve often had comments from other runners on my barefoot sandals but this time I really had a lot. Mostly they were in the range of: ” Joder Hombre! Eres Loco? Tienes Cajones! Jesus Maria, eres serios? ( Fxxk man! Are you crazy? You’ve got balls! , Jesus Maria, are you serious!?)- of which the cojones one was the most common. Once I was in the last 15kms and over the line I received a lot of back slaps and respect for crossing the mountain in them. Yes, there were parts that hurt a bit, especially the rocky descents. Still I felt good for most of the way and one day after, it is my whole body that aches, not just my feet or knees- and that is the crux or barefoot running, it engages more muscles because of the way you touch the ground.
Most of the 1000 strong field were Mallorcan and they were a fine and wild bunch. The one thing they had in common seemed to be a love for the mountains ( I saw not a single discarded drink bottle on the trail) and ripped calf muscles ( from all the mountain training). When runners fell, and fall we did, there were always others to help them up. It really felt like we were all pushing each other on in the best way. Despite the stunning scenery, one single moment of looking up and you can hurt yourself badly. This is good training for being present in the moment.
It took me 12 hours to cross the finish. The pros were over in just under 6 which is a superhuman feat. One day later and I’m blistered and beaten up but still elated. I can feel how this kind of stuff can become addictive.
Pushing the physical and mental limits, being out exposed in this glorious mountain range, forging brief running bonds when one needs the other, scaling the peaks cutting into the blue sky, the locals playing Mallorcan bagpipes to urge us on, the kind physio teams in the monasteries- all of this made the run a truly emotional experience which marked me somehow.
Last week it was the fractal spirals in the incredible cauliflower in Italy that held my fascination. This week it is spiral patterns in the sky and in the mountains that I behold in wonder. And it reminds me, on those few occasions when I ask myself what in the hell are you doing, why I am spending my days and nights brutalizing my legs and cutting through these mountains- it also has to do with spirals. Readers of this page will know well that in the last few years I have gone deeper into tunings and fibonacci forms in the overtone series- well in short, these universal laws which find expression in our perceivable sound world can, if you let them, whisk you away to very distant places making it very difficult to keep your feet on the ground. I intuited that I could easily pass the point of no return and I instinctively choose something which would keep me grounded in some way- something to balance these other forces, blindingly bright in their brilliance and luminosity.
And so here we are now, cutting through the mountains in barefoot running sandals. I would never have imagined myself doing that a few years ago. I think it all relates though and my training philosophy is also spiral-related. If you can run 1km then you can run 2. If you can run 2 then you can run 3, then 5, then 8, then 13 and so on. And now I’, running close to 89. I’m guessing the sky is the limit and I fully subscribe to the idea that over time we humans can outrun any creature on this planet. There are many moments these days when I feel I could run through day and night without a break. It is a liberating feeling but at the the same time an earthy/rootsy one- worlds apart from the information I was getting from the universal sound worlds I had begun to explore and were beckoning me away from this planet.
Next week on Thursday I dive into Finnegans Wake in a solo performance. The book is for me also fractal in its nature- take a small fragment or page and it fully mirrors the whole in structure and form. It invokes the world of dream, the places where our physical reality, the one I am trying to ground myself into, breaks down and morphs into other dimensions. It achieves this through sound and intoning.
I don’t care for those who pour ridicule on those who have experienced other worlds or the reality of dreamtime (call it any one of another hundred names, call it what you want, or riddle with it endlesslessly as Mr Joyce did). After Iboga initiation, Bwitis know that we share this plane with many others of non-physical form and that the points of intersection between the worlds are where the true work take place. We know that sound is one of the most powerful tools here. When others laugh and or poke fun at phenomena that are not measurable by modern science ( about as advanced as a piece of rock when it comes to measuring these other worlds in my view) we simply smile and continue. Apart from the odd phase of solid grounding by running through these grand old spirits in the form of mountains, there is still much work to do. I may be stretched out, aching between rock and cosmos, between physical space and dreamtime- but there is still a smile on my face because I know this is what we were destined to be- tiny organic breathing bridges between the temporal and the eternal. I can’t emphasise the breathing part enough, ’tis the key which fits the lock.
Training now on the island. Plenty of blisters to sport already. Loading up on avocados, jamon serrrano, coffee, wine, fish, chicken and paprika for the race. Found some beautiful smaller trail routes in the north I’ve been working on. These are the kind of gorgeous stone trails that cut through the mountain range. Around 1000 runners of which only 30 are Estranjeros like yours truly. I’ve just translated the last items that are required for the course- my feet and legs are aching as I write- gonna be a blast!
Palermo. Orange golden light cascades down and is reflected off the gorgeous facades and distant cliffs. A lone Goethe Institute harbors our jazz and the locals nod in approval- no need for spoken language. Walking around aimlessly I fall in love with a 300yr old tree spilling over its garden into the street and propped up with other trees acting as crouches. Her roots wind gloriously over the sand, twisting and pulsating with life. Something intangibly spellbinding in the air and it finds its way into the music- if I ever truly drop off the map, look for me here.
0600 I make it up for some running through the empty streets. One week away from the big race. I used to thick of the zone as a place from my favorite Tarkowski film- now it is something I get into after about 5kms into the run. Once I’m in it I can stay there for ages. Getting into it means sweating out some of the wine from the night before and yes, that is part of my training. As is a beer every 20kms and some meat and avocados every 25 or so. More of that later as I think I’ll make a little video diary of the race which cuts through some of the most beautiful mountains I know on northern Mallorca.
When I’m out there my mind is on the rocks below and the mountains around but the best thing is the sounds that flow into my head. I have to watch out to get them scribbled down- seems to do my aging brain good and the melodies that are sweated out during the ultra training have worked out fine thus far in the practice room. Calves are also in good knick as well which seems to strengthen my standing position. Starting to get a bit addicted to the aching legs each night, keeps my mind from wandering.
For the Leipzig-based readers out there I pay a house concert with Pina Bettina Ruecker this Wednesday, from 2000 we welcome listeners into her living room. Simply call 03413191166 and reserve your space…
Playing with Pina is always a delight and a challenge- blending with the crystal sound bowels tests me anew each time and I’m often surprised where the journey takes us. I havn’t been able to quite put my finger on the strange and otherworldly mix between these two instruments but I suspect it has something to do with bamboo, alloys, crystal, and wood. Come along and hear for yourself…
Once upon a time a red headed Kiwi with long hair, acne, squinting eyes, and a bright paisley shirt walked into a pub in the countryside in England and made the mistake of ordering a cup of tea. The Bartender politely told him to leave the pub, turn right, walk straight ahead for 2 miles, and then to kindly F¢¶? himself.
Now it could have been my dreadlocks and didjeridu, all duly dangling, that exacerbated the situation brought on by my innocent order however the point lies elsewhere. I returned later in the evening, ordered some pints, and was as least tolerated for the moment. Back in those days, I was not particularly fond of bar fights, and so I simply sat back and watched the Bosch-like villagers- a passive observer, nothing more. That was until the local dart competition was initiated. Bouyed by the warm local ale and not concerned by the absence of my contact lenses or my lack of dart skills, I joined the fray. Several pints and hurled darts later, I had won by utter fluke not only the dart competition and the 50 pound prize, but also the respect of the bartender and a valuable lesson from a highly improbably event. My winning dart had (after closer inspection for the dartboard itself and the entire pub was blurry at best without my contacts) had split my previous dart plum down the middle.
My lesson (to strike me epiphany-like many years later): When you throw a dart and hit the bulls eye, you’ve found the centre. But if you throw another dart right after and split the first dart in the middle, it’s as if you have pierced the center of the centre. This is the memory I now bear from that nondescript little pub in England and in the faerie tale world inside my head, it now relates directly to the tuning of my instrument.
Especially in musical situations where I have ample time to find the center of the tone – and here it is important for me to write that intonation and timbre are magically and inextricably intwined- more and more I am sensing that the true center of the tone is one which can be constantly pierced through the middle just as my dart once did its precursor. Like an ongoing refinement of the true center effected with minute adjustments in intonation, tone coloring, volume, and the marriage with the other sound source.
Musicologists may laugh and call me a hopeless esoteric, I in turn may smile back at them because it is for me a perfectly measurable sensation. They may cry out: subjective experience! I will smile and comment that subjectivity and objectivity start to blur when matter and consciousness are considered as one (and in my book they absolutely, empirically are). We might as well be at opposite ends of the universe with our respective views we hold onto (with the one difference that I hold onto my beliefs about as tightly as I hold on with my embouchure to my mouthpiece- just enough to get the job done). We barely share the same simple tools of human language to feebly attempt to understand the other- and yet I might as well order a pint of ale in a Kyoto temple and expect it on tap, up front, no questions asked, than have them understand me.
There is no perfectly in tune as there is no perfect bull’s eye; you can always cut deeper into the center of the tone you are merging with.
Finding appropriate practice spaces at airports is not always easy but my recommendation is to go for the handicapped toilets if available. They are usually large enough to perform the Taiji form and do a good round of stretches and push ups without attracting unwanted attention. Sometimes, if there is a children’s play area I try and track down a bar for some pull ups and drop some handstands- children sometimes smile and adults often seem a bit confused. Then I always hunt down the closest Mcdonalds for a nutritional Big Mac and the delicious taste of unbridled capitalism (not). In the flights themselves I go for left sided window seats ( when I want to sleep- about 50% of my flights), isle seats when I want to work or contemplate the state of this planet, and seats in the middle when I want to test my compassion for mankind. After a bit of practice I’m able to pull a reverse handstand in most plane lavatories and I’ve found the closed seat can be used for the yoga asana “frog”. Sometimes I like to take my neck and mouthpiece in and circular breath for a little- the buzzing feeling in my lower lip calm soothes my soul. Most of the time I prefer to listen to the overtones of the plane engines than any music. It’s rough out there on the road, you might as well make the best of it.
Training for my first Ultra Marathon has left me without much to say or write- my mind is simply in the middle, purring in neutral. It wasn’t so much the physical challenge that drew me but the mental one and the fact that it cuts through a beautiful mountain range in Spain. Running 70 km on asphalt would not only bore me, it would also hurt me a little, barefeoot sandles or not. Bringing the whole thing back to music, I wanted to say that I felt the only way I could push my saxophone playing further is by sharpening the mental side of my musical approach- long distance barefoot running has helped me here. The barefoot part turns the run into a much more total mind/body thing as you are accutely aware of each step and not simply pounding away on pavement. It’s the essence of being in the moment- as if you’re not, you’ll hurt yourself. I know now how to get my mind into the zone where I can push on through on kinds of obstacles. I also know that once the running form is right, breathing relaxed, body and mind moving in sync, I can do things I never dreamed possible. The kind of things blocking my progress on a jazz tour like the one I’m now can be easily overcome with some of these skills. Most of them are surprising simple but they need a couple of pain initations and physical challenges to attain. Once they’re there then you can employ them at will- for example on your 13th chorus over Cherokee.
With a low passenger count, departure from a virtually empty airport, old-school large leather seats, low-volume announcements and nonexistent boarding music, and 3 euro smoked trout and horse radish from the airport market, my mood was already buoyant on boarding another Air Serbia flight. One last on board phone call is made by a Grandmother, bidding farewell to “Dusa Moya” – my soul. There is something about that I love.
In the meantime, having observed what is happening around the world on a large scale, I know well that you cannot take such tiny islands of tranquility for granted and you should cherish them all while they last. I also feel increasingly lucky to have grown up in peace and to be able to make music my life.
I allow the large seat to ease back, watch some of the flickering stars and meditate on two things that make me happy- overtones from the jet engines and distant suns sharing their past with my present.
Today I will identify and characterize a generic sub-species of saxophonist- one which is (sadly) still present throughout the world and one which I have encountered in every single continent. It is helpful to identify these types and to know them well for what they are, especially for younger players, those studying the saxophone and setting out into a career of music. If one is not aware of the nature of these critters they can be irksome at least and out and out dangerous at worst. I can recall several unpleasant situations with them in my younger days. These guys can be soul-destroying when you are in a growth process-hence this post.
Tenorus Clamos ( Loud Tenor) . These creatures usually front up on Tenor ( though not only, I have spotted several examples on Alto as well) and can be recognized by their forthright demeanor, loud timbre, and lick- based playing. At least 95% percent of these species are males. In the mean time several of them hold teaching positions and most professional big bands can boast a few of them in their ranks. I’m guessing every town over say 150,000 folks will sport at least one of them, probably more. At an early stage they will often sound ” like Coltrane” or “just like Brecker”- that is for those who are listening on the surface. They have no particular determining physical features- they can come in all shapes, sizes and deformations- they are rather recognized as soon as the horn is in the mouth and this fingers start to move, and by their disposition after the playing- on and off the stage ( when I teach workshops I can spot them often by the way they sit, or rather slouch, and by their nonchalant facial expressions or permanent leering sneer). In my experience they tend to blossom ( that could well be the wrong word) in their teens and twenties and then fade into obscurity from their 30′s on- albeit still without losing their venom in certain situations. They often burst on to the scene with plenty of “technique” ( in the sense that they can move their fingers quickly and imitate well (even better then most parrots I have heard) and have plenty of “hot licks” coming out of their arse (a part of their anatomy I will come to later) which they have worked on in their ( and this I have to give them) many hours in the practice room.
These creatures will often openly mock more subtle (read: quieter) forms of music making and will go to all kinds of means to belittle them. This is where the first part of this description is important and I ask all students to take note and don’t let themselves be put off by these creatures. With a bit of knowledge concerning their make-up it is easier to see them for what they really are.
Perhaps the most telling feature about these creatures:their music-making, and actually beyond that pretty much everything they experience is about themselves and nothing else. They will usually play loudly and won’t really care for the balance in sound within the group- the main thing for them is that they are heard above all else. I’ve experienced a few telling moments on stage when the Tenorus Clamos has ben unable to respond to some changes in the music, simply because he is in the main so fully engrossed with his own universe. This belies a certain rigidity in his playing, in his mind set, in his entire being. Change some fundamentals and you literally turn his world upside down- sit back and watch all hell break loose.
20 or so years ago the Tenorus Clamos would have certainly spent some time in NYC to hone his chops before returning triumphantly to his home shores to literally blow everyone away( after all, that is what it is all about). Now, Europe is peppered with plenty of Tenorus Clamis who have studied and remained in their habitats. Tenorus Clamis in the last ten years or so have absolutely caught on to the importance of presentation and marketing and often come over in slick packaging with beautiful cd art , the kind of stuff you can happily give to your mum. If you didn’t know better you might not realize it is simply another Tenorus Clamos, that is until the first solo on the CD hits you.
I have encountered the species also in the “free” jazz scene ( yes, that one still deserves quotation marks in my book). I have found them to be slightly more aggressive in this genre but their brashness and general demeanor can at least score them some valuable points when one of the main parameters on stage is raw and sustained energy.
Through some dodgy cross-breeding or osmosis or the like I have experienced some players with a touch of Tenorus Clamos in them. Needless to say I do my best to root it out as early as possible. Sometimes shock therapy works, sometimes showing them a full blown example does the trick.
For all the excessive yang/testostorone/outward aggression, I can safely say that the Tenorus Clamos are -to use the modern parlance- pussys. And when the next post-big-band-concert bar fight or street brawl breaks out, I certainly would want these tough tenors on the other side- in fact I look forward to the day when the dust has settled I can finally put the neck of their saxophones in the one place it really belongs and I don’t mean the saxophone and nor do I mean their throats. In fact, as it seems to be politically in vouge in our delightful world- perhaps we should start to use pre-emptive strikes before their reed is even wet- simply spot the crime before it is even comitted and our dear ears have been insulted once again.
One habit of mine from childhood remains when I am lucky enough to be in a place where the setting sun can be seen and seen well- I mean when the glowing orb is swallowed up gradually by the horizon. Nothing that special about it, except for the slight buzz of excitement which has never abated due to thinking I was doing something not allowed ( In New Zealand the sun is regarded as something dangerous, especially in summer, and especially when it comes to exposing your retinas to it and I remember being told not to stare into it by any means). As the beautiful orb rides low in the sky I love(d) to stare at it without blinking. It feels like I’m filling up on some precious fibre or nutrient, drinking something with my eyes. On another level, it seems like I’m staring into another retina of a hugely expansive eye. Tiny moments like these are then tattooed into my corneas for some unknown reason and I treasure them all to this day o so dearly.
My dear drummer friend Jochen Rückert has done it again, delivering a beautiful release entitled “Gonaïve”. He got rhythm, he got melody, he got music, he got harmony. I don’t know how he comes up with all this romantic microtonal stuff- is it simply the buzz of living in the throbbing urban mecca of the East Village? The proximity to so many ethnic minorities and musical influences? The new wave of green juices overtaking carbohydrate-based deli-culture? The coffee at 9th St Espresso? The pills on each corner nearby? One day I must ask him.
Link to the release page.
As I have written before, the Stelzen Festispiele are difficult to put into words. In short, Henry Schneider has been gradually turning his local village barn into a huge resonant space in which each year instruments literally grow out of the wooden walls. Having played for years in the middle of the Gewandhaus Orchestra he wanted to recreate this feeling of being washed in glorious sound in his own turf so to speak. One of the first installations was a converted manure machine which was fitted with horns and an air compression unit. In this clip, Gareth controls the manure organ whilst I walk in from the back with me trusty pipes. I dedicate this piece to my Dad who was in the audience and heard me on pipes for the first time. Here it is….
Last December Matt Penman, John Taylor and myself played a few concerts and made a recording for release later this year. It was a joyous week and by the last gig in Munich things were coming together in a good way. Here is an impression from that concert:
In the tiny village of Quincerot (Côte d’Or départment- 47’36’39 N – 4’16’02 E) I will give my first longer masterclass in France this year from July 7 through 12. Even though the French site is not online yet, applicants can already email me. The whole thing is organized by French saxman extraordinaire Guillaume Orti. My masterclass in Greece will take place as usual in the last week of August. Following is masterclass description with some of the areas we shall be working on:
THE G-STRING OF PYTHAGORAS
Ancient Knowledge for the Modern Saxophonist
Overtone-based ear training, understanding number relationships within intervals, correlation between rhythms and intervals, tuning intervals in their natural form, alternate tuning systems, the importance of number in ancient music theory and it’s uses today, playing with equal temperament, understanding and utilizing difference tones
Microtonal work for saxophone
The quarter tone system for saxophone and it’s applications, split scales, microtonal ear training, microtonal etudes and more.
Extended Techniques for Saxophone
Multiphonics, advanced tonguing , circular breathing, large interval training , altissimo, extreme dynamics, non-tonal sounds libraries and more.
Developing a Personal Sound
Vocal techniques for sound development, visualisations, blending techniques, mental training, timbral and spectral listening.
Breath work, Taiji and Chi gong techniques for optimizing musicianship, stance and balance, achieving somatic relaxation whilst playing, mind-body relationships.
Group Saxophone Work
Study of the saxophone group compositions by Hayden, non-notated works for ensemble, alternate notations, study of the Fibonacci row in sound through the work Love in Numbers, space awareness techniques for ensemble playing, study and discussion of composition by course participants.
Techniques and tools for solo and group improvisation, memory games, instant composing with complex forms…
Partly because I like to do things for no particular reason, partly because I once remember hearing some beautiful japanese haikus with a shakuhachi in the background and it stuck, and partly because I will perform some of these texts soon, I decided to sight read some Finnegan’s Wake and play a wee bit of flute in the background. Sight-reading the text has the advantage that one is often taken by surprise- there are a plethora of words never before heard of, wondrous constructs of the mind of Joyce ready to trip up the innocent speaker. In a certain way, these texts are almost readymade for the improvising musician- they are a completely open format which can be mixed up and re-composed to make all manner of sound poems. In my mind in matters not if all the words are understood, there are other levels experienced when the written word is given life through the voice. Countless words have been written about Joyce, analysts have had a field day, and I’m sure it is exactly as he quietly wished for. And yet, all of these words fall short of a direct encounter with the text. Here are the ushering of someone who was out to push our language beyond the point of snapping – at the point of annihilation new forms can be seen and heard in the settling dust ( still long from settled). Finnegan wakes when read aloud, I say. Here you go, readers:
During a long and varied trip through the landscape of German folk music I met the Bandonion player Rudi Vogel from the heart of the Erzgebirge. After learning much about his instrument and his other love ( mushroom picking) we sat in the forest and played some of his tunes. This is one I have dear memories of. His accent was viscously difficult to catch, his songs were not.
A think soupy fog descends over the city of Belgrade. Figures with sharply cut faces emerge and disappear leaving trails of perfume and cigarette behind them, seasoning the intoxicating mix. Christmas lights, broken transistor radios, roasting meat, swear words and whispers of love- all softened by the fog. The cyrillic massages my brain in strange new ways. An utterly anonymous Kiwi slinks through their midst.
One step through an empty door frame on the main street and am undefined square is revealed. Is it a public place, a private one? Who knows? Some litter, graffiti, eternally lingering cigarette smoke. A Fallen empire. A hint of what once was. The street lamps are in a perpetual pisa-like tilt. I remember naming a photo I took here years ago The Moment I lost Control of my Life after which the wild spin never seemed to let up. The place hasn’t changed and Belgrade is still filled with these “grey areas”- physical ones and others of a more subtle nature, tucked in behind bustling public zones: in between spaces – undefined rules- nature creeping through the cracks in the concrete – children playing by their own rules – nothing polished to hide behind. Sitting down in the space a quietude descends, amplified a thousand fold by the balkan fog and the gentle rolling thunder of memory. In that space, music arises, some of it remembered, most of it forgotten.
Failure is a relative concept but I have had to work it into something positive as my life as a saxophonist as been decorated amply with it. Continuing until today, over and over, failure usually takes the form of something not having lived up to my own expectations. More often that not it is a painful process, one that carries with it bitter feelings and repercussions which persist over time. More often than not, failure surfaces on the stage- the place where no matter how much you prepare, there are two many variables which can upset the balance. When I look back at my diaries, the years are littered with these, but I have done my best to pick myself up, analyze where the tables turned, and worked so as not to have them repeat. I’ve not tried to accommodate by lowering my standards, rather I’ve simply looked at the most effective ways to prevent them happening again.
Nothing hits us harder than life itself. My advice to younger musicians is then to use these hits on and off the stage to refine your art. Get up the next day after humbling experience and practice earlier and harder. Use the mornings- things which seem impossible by night can be solved with the rising sun- stare into it and practice your paradiddles. Let those first rays pierce your retinas. Voices that were bugging you by night shall be no longer heard and the answers can arise in forms other than words.
The disappointment can be bitter as in our game the now is everything- and if we bugger it up there is no repeating it, no getting back that moment. But this also has a flip side. As improvisors we come to the table ready for anything- this is a very different game compared with arriving with a set game/piece/strategy which is the case with many other types musics. This is a kind of poise that goes far beyond the concert hall and into our lives. It is the point at which the two truly mix.
If we were able to fine tune in the moment, in the ceaseless chain of tiny nows, to compliment the other, in life as we do in sound, then this world might just get a tiny bit better.
I often have to have a little laugh at the little voice inside my head who likes to commentate on all things mundane. Luckily for my state of mind I have been going deeper into the study of brain waves and frequency recently as I am working still on a new piece for saxophone which uses difference tones to feel and understand our different states. And so I know dam well that when the little voice pipes up with some absurd along the lines of hayden if you don’t hit that high g on the soprano tonight in the grover washington song the whole of 2013 would have been in vein then I am feeling a 14-40 hz vibration with a rather shallow if not amusing communique. Well here, is a test sample from my new piece for saxophone quartet entitled alpha-theta. Still, I will be annoyed if I don’t hit that top g tonight- maybe beta waves are right sometimes- must think about that using alpha waves soon.
This position on this donkey in this town may look like a simple pose but actually it is the beginning of a journey. It would be out of place for me to describe the exact nature of the trip but I can say that involves a hell of a lot of music, other four legged beasts of burden, myself and Cosette, and the balkans. The owner of this Donkey was rewarded with a round of brandy for his friends at the bar and she served me well and didn’t mind the jazz on her back. To begin this journey in a humble way in the Albanian town of Berat just felt right. Having flown directly over the mountain landscape some days before I knew that this was it- a bit of perspective always helps.
Not long after my trip began I played with my sruti box in a wonderful church on the mountain overlooking Berat. The air, the light, the mountain silence, all took be back to Nepal. Only the Yak milk was missing and the smiling curious children. As this journey unfolds I shall of course report from the windy gravel roads.
On my last day in Albania I climbed to the mountain overlooking Berat. It was a small dream come true as I had flown over this landscape some days ago and secretly wished I could be in the tiny delta surrounded by snow capped peaks.
The town of Berat below and the river disappearing into the distant valley. Clear crisp air and a deep blue sky, profound silence combined with a wide open expanse, once in a while the sound of a horse or distant dog barking. If I had a cup of yak milk in my hand I could easily be in Nepal- it took me back there in an instant.
This is a magical place with more wonder than I could ever put into words. But I had little time to maneuver on my new flying carpet, the universe hurtled me back to Cologne and less than a day later I find myself playing the FC Köln Hymn in the football stadium for their Christmas party- thank goodness the inside of my eyes are still tattooed with gorgeous Albanian light- anything else right now pales to it.
Some concerts coming up these days and a new recording as well:
Although it’s hard to pick up from a photo, the autumn sun which shines so perfectly off the smooth cobblestones of Berat is truly blinding. Now here is a world of color I know only in the balkans. This orange-blue light which streams down so powerfully is offset by stone, wood, iron and darkened foliage. If you add a bit of cigarette smoke into the blend you are getting close. Now all we need to do is throw in some scents of freshly brewed coffee, unknown perfumes, and tiny bouquets forever foreign to our celtic/pacific noses and we are almost there.
Crossed the wild mountains separating Greece from Albania. Sky so clear I could pick out goat trails below. Burn with the desire to run them. Whisked away from Tirana airport in the clear Autumn sun to the town of Berat where poets and musicians are set to set each other on fire with the fuel of the local winemakers. My ears pick up a particular soft r sound rolling gently from the local voices. My tongue picks up the complex beauty of the local olives. Many times in a while, being a musician does have its perks.
In the no man’s land in which we players and writers and speakers and winemakers meet, no one can set down the parameters or measure the depth of our communion. Lovers of wine may have their adjectives galore and critics of music can clutch phrases from the void but the essence will remain out of reach and only to be tasted with more than the sum of our senses in a single moment when two indescribables meet and collude to usurp time. In moments like these I don’t need to understand words.
A cold wind whips through Dublin but the many swans on the small canal simply face the wind, tread water and rub necks. Close by, the sound of four alto saxophones playing overtones is amplified by an Irish stone chimney and cast heaven-wards, only to be whipped away and blown back to the source.
There are many new works we are working on which I will write more about. Alpha-Theta is a piece for quartet which uses low difference tones to sonically mirror our brain waves as we pass from waking to sleeping state and dive through those wonderful few seconds of “Theta” when the world seems to open up. In between these chords the saxophones play overtone lullabies- simple melodies using the harmonic ladder- naught but numbers dancing in the wind.
This time I’ve included some spiritual songs as well- so that once in a while our feet can still touch the earth before we’re lifted off again by the Fibonacci series. Songs like Steal Away bring us down in a wonderful way and of course, true to our form, the arrangements are for alto-only ensemble.
The houses are low, simple bricked, two storied constructions in this part of Dublin ( with beautiful colored doors) and so the sky is wide open. Out alto range is also a mere two and a bit octaves, yet the open harmonic space above and below our fingered notes is just as boundless ( once we tune in). By spending some days tuning into the overtones, the clouds begin to clear in this space and the sky opens up.
Here is another full concert in HD from which I still carry fond memories. In June of this year I played in the Sendesaal of Bremen with the Albanian singer Eda Zari. We had known each other since our studies in Cologne but this was our first longer duo concert together. The music is a mixture of traditional songs and compositions of Eda, who comes from a musical dynasty in her homeland. Enjoy!
I finally have the full concert ready of our interpretation of the music of Gurdjieff. All filmed and recorded in the insanely perfect acoustic haven of the Sendesaal Bremen during the Plushmusic Festival in June of this year. The pieces chosen from the collections of Gurdjieff are (in their performed order):
-Song of the Aisors
-When Gafar and Zeinab walk in a somnambulistic state
-Assyrian Woman Mourners
-Reading from a Sacred Book
-Hymn No. 4
-Hymn pour Jour de Noel
-Kurd Melody from Isfahan
(encore)- Kurd Shepard Dance
This is a summit of musical minds I have always held dearly- dearly because I feel they push each other on deeper into the songs in a most beautiful way. There are many great tracks on Coleman Hawkins encounters Ben Webster but the ballad It never entered my mind is one of my favorites.
On another frequency, I was a bit suspicious of these new “energy saving” light bulbs mainly because of the quality of the light they produced. It never entered my mind that the story behind them could be so revealing. At the very least this German film reveals many not so kosher aspects of European policy making but there is much more too it than that…
Redemption on this tour came in the form of two souls who represent what a jazz venue is all about in an ideal world: spirit and love for the music. How strange that this seems to be the exception to the rule.
Jörg, the tour bus driver extraordinaire, realized his life’s dream by refurnishing an old mill an building his own concert space within, only kilometers away form the enigmatic and highly charged Externstein- certainly one of Germany’s more powerful centers of energy. Everything feels good at Jörg’s place- the spirit is right and we musicians can fly high with no one close to clip our wings. Hats off to his “Red Horn District”
Second on the list- Tobius from Reutlingen, who on a regular basis, clears the showroom of his contrabass workshop to make place for chairs and a small stage. Some locals turn up for some wine and jazz, Tobius sits in the corner smiling away to the swing, good vibes abound.
What sets these guys apart from so many of the others? The equation is a simple one my friend. These guys are in it for the love and not the cash. It is as simple as that. Now although our scene is not quite as extreme as the art world I have tasted it is still a cold , hard , bitter fact- one that can give us sound carriers a hard time, fighting against desires and wishes that have nothing whatsoever to do with our purpose in music but rather with making a buck. I would love to clone Joerg and Tobius a thousand fold and send them out into the world, spreading good vibes and sounds where ever they set foot
Within the space of a few days :
Naples- Autumn in full glory
Glistening see leading to Capri
A perfect concert hall and divinely tuned Piano
Post- concert Death of the divine variety by espresso and mozzarella
400 delighted listeners
A World at peace
Paris- Grey and morbid
Rue St Denis: refuse piled high and retiree prostitutes stalking prey
Overpriced espresso cups filled to the brim and sickeningly sour
A small cellar Jazz Club scented with old carpet and spilt beer
An SM 58 rammed ingloriously down my Sax Bell
Wedges encircle me, a sound directly out of Hell
The rotten underbelly of Europe
This post is powered by some wickedly strong Naples espresso shortly before midnight. I arrived early from the Roma Termini station which is tittering delicately on the brink to being an apocalyptic theater- it’s seedy passages and neon lighting illuminate shredded channel adds, seedy coffee bars, and vast array of spicy characters. But the purpose of this post is not to state the obvious in another madly over-lit European city, it is to pay homage to a great album. Luckily and tellingly for me it was one of the first ever vinyls I have laid hands on and I will never forget listening to my first 7/8 bar- accidentally of course as the record was scratched on “Creeping up behind You” and the band was skipping. The Brecker Brother’s Debut album is in my books a timeless classic and I’m going to offer my favorite tracks from it right here, right now, baby. Sanborn is on fire and the whole band is tighter than a particularly tight thing. Now this choice may surprise some based on my tastes in saxophone sounds- well, it’s the lackluster copies I could never digest without feeling ill or aggressive- the original itself is a polished diamond deserving of praise and on this record the alto and tenor voices are just that.
Coming out of the blue yonder beyond Olympus, the challenge of creating a score for a film about Sysiphus has completely obsessed me in the last month. Before I took up this challenge, Sysiphus for me was an unlucky man who was punished for eternity to roll a boulder up a mountain. Now I see him differently. He is one of the few mortals to have actually held the gods in check and the film reveals this part of Sysiphus. He offers other mortals complete freedom but as it seems to be in the world, most of us could never live with the chains off for good- we would be crushed under the burden of true freedom. Once a man like he witnesses the bottom of the abyss, the limits of his fellow mortals, and their abiding slavery of the spirit, his fate is all but sealed. My score uses prepared piano and guitar for the most part- with Bruno Müller and Philip Zoubek laying down the textures. I will post in 2014 when the film comes out.
Although it’s been a whirlwind of a month, that would hardly qualify as an excuse for not writing. In brief I will simply part with some random thoughts.
During last month’s tour I was thrice informed by dear souls about the blogs of some other musicians. I shall not mention names, but without exception the tone and subject matter was each time something like:
Played last night to standing ovations in Schnitzelhausen, so blessed to see how deeply they dug our music. Then we stayed up till 3am in the local natural wine bar sampling some incredible unfiltered Bordeaux- Pierre from the shop was at the gig and so blown away that he wanted us to try all of his best wines! Then it was back to the hotel for an hour’s rest. After pressing out a fresh ginger juice with my new portable juicer I started my Kung fu and Vinyasa Flow Yoga routine at 400am to give me enough power for the long travel day to Wurstdorf where we have a huge gig in their new Philharmonic tonight in dolby surround ( my sax will really fill the room!). Luckily I sold so many CDs last night that my hand luggage is now below 10kgs! Just feel so blessed to be living this life…
I’d be interested to read a musician’s blog which mainly operates outside the realms of terse first person narrative- I’m sure there’s one out there somewhere. Or are we sound carriers so deeply self -centered that it is impossible for us to step outside ourselves and observe from another perspective? I’m probably just as guilty by degree.
Last week I played a larger concert in a jazz festival with two trios. One of the trios included electronics and prepared piano and I hereby respond to the few fans who bemoaned my band for being “lost in abstraction” and “putting clear melodies over electronics, doomed to fail”.
- Every single note I play I mean and every single set I put together I mean fully. I have the sound in my head yet I know well that by playing an improv set in certain jazz contexts I am risking affecting the buoyant vibe of the hall to some extent. I also know however that there are many listeners out there who feel and appreciate this risk. Carving out melodies or form out of thin air without a previously conceived harmonic base is like walking on a knife edge- you could perhaps slip and cut yourself and the listeners with something banal- or you could invoke something almost divine- or perhaps both at the same time- it is the game and the risk factor that really matters here. I strive for melody, new melody, and I get there by feeling every single note down to the core. I can also get up on stage and play stuff I know well, of course I do that often, sometimes too often for my taste- but this risk element is what defined the second set of that night. As far as being “lost in abstraction”- lost for me would mean losing control of the textures and form, this I certainly never let happen and in fact this never can happen if the poise I have involves having every note inside me before it’s released through the horn into the hall. And as far as the issue of playing melodies over electronics- this is absolutely subjective and not up to me to refute- I might as well say computers do not belong in dance music culture. The beautiful thing about the type of music I choose to play is that there are no rules. If you the listener can joyfully partake in our search, struggle, and gambles, then we can all give ourselves standing ovations deep into the night.
Why is it so dam difficult to write something meaningful about the music we play and improvise? I think it is is because:
- most writers are inevitably bound to use sweeping terms to describe unique phenomena
- we will never be able to leave the confines of subjectivity unless we move outside of the first person, a difficult feat in music journalism but I think if they began to describe their reactions in the third person they may start to understand a little more of themselves and their own conditioning. Could a dab of fiction bring us closer to the truth than it’s opposite? Sehr wohl sage ich.
- the music itself seems very much to operate on a more complex level than the ink on the paper. A two dimensional figure struggles to define 3 dimensional space I fear.
I do not simply take issue with music journalism which certainly isn’t the place to look for high calibre language deployment. Recently I observed the PhilCologne philosophy festival and marveled at the palpable limitations of the written and spoken language which everyone was struggling with to describe the various interpreations of the meaning of life. If anything can aptly describe indescribability, then it is another indescribability and nothing else. What do we then have in our measly armory? Poetry, music, dance – everything you can’t fully describe with the tools of mere language. And it seems you have to move outside of yourself with whatever means you have, even if it’s a mere pen.
Right now we are touring with the new program of Root70 with strings: Riomar. Here is the title track of the album and the liner notes written by New York journalist Ahmet Shabo.
In the fleeting moments of quietude I enjoyed in this past month of turmoil and upheaval, I mainly spent sketching new pieces. Some of them have a graphic form like this one, which I dare to post. Before I do, I should probably say don’t worry mum, I’m still alive. Well this one is a trio and each of the figures has three lines intersecting and interwinding. The downward motion is a descent of the given scale, the sideward motion is a change in amplitude or pressure- thus each figure is a frozen miniature of varying timing but of a single breath and made for three voices.
Returning from a small hiatus, I’ll be looking after a series of concerts this week together with Hans Martin from the Loft in Cologne. Here are the sets superimposed onto yours truly running through the north of Serbia:
144 minutes after touching the ground at the Nikola Tesla airport in Beo-grad – the white city- the rough plastic bottle bearing the homemade slivovic is nestled in my tight grip. Less than one minute later the first drops have passed the tonsil gate and are, with their precious essence coded within, surging towards their destination- my blood. The initial balkan punch of the distilled alchemy gives way quickly to the essence of the plum which explodes first on the palate and then slowly from within. Without moving from the spot I count the 3 minutes for my blood vessels to respond, sending telegraphs of delight back to my brain which in turns responds my evoking memories of the Balkans- from pain to ecstasy and back again- years within seconds. Outside smoke plumes twist and dance before blackened facades and cevab eateries. This one sip evokes my 19 years of memories in these lands and the crescendo of emotion doesn’t cease there, my blood and my brain continue to fire gentle shots back and forth whilst my soul casually observes. The plastic bottle is dangerously full and already speaking to me. The cyrillic letters of the street signs become engraved into my corneas as I slowly feel the millimeters between my sandals and the blackened concrete increase. Soon I am floating on the second floor and the lights shining of the meeting of the rivers are blinding. Will my sight be the first sense to fall victim to the first sip of the brew? Melodies are attacking me- will I ever harness them onto paper? Will I ever understand why I wanted to come here in the first place? Or am I but a little moth flying at top speed into the nearby bonfire?
For some strange reason I sometimes hesitate before I offer a drop of the essence- perhaps it is the feeling that beautiful things should be guarded in a world like this, lest the digital wasteland dries them up and turns them to dust. The spectacle is a greedy beast which seems to eat everything up without much discernment. Well, for a moment at least I will over come that feeling.
Here is a piece we will play in Greece this year at my workshop. It comes from Serbia and I choose it as it is a good example of an odd meter form that is stretched in a natural yet impossible-to-notate way. With all the rigid odd meters flying around in jazz it’s important to touch the essence as best we can. It’s called Puce Puska:
Last Saturday we performed the Charlie Parker with Strings scores in the difficult-to-put-into-words barn of Stelzen. The various instruments in the barn (the milk machine organ, the manure organ, the gongs and hammers) were used to replace some of the voices. The classical part of the ensemble was made up of Gewandhaus musicians from Leipzig. I mae sure I had some chicken and fell asleep in a Taxi in nearby Reuth shortly before the gig. In more ways than one I was in Kansas in my heart when I played. In short, it was a blast, and here is a teaser, ripped from two humble overhead mics in the otherwise acoustic barn. The only tricky bit for me was the first few bars of the “Just Friends” solo- kind of wanted to leave those bars empty, so ineffably beautiful and towering his line was. East of the Sun:
There is something soothing about this voice in this track- I don’t know where on earth this band happens to be but I would like to be there tonight. I can feel a couple of mosquito bites but the rest of the vibe in this lost club is sublime and makes me forget everything. I reach for my horn but my motions have slowed down so much I leave her be and simply settle for a cold drink under the lazy spinning fan and dim hanging light bulb. The lost club band is playing on a tiny stage in the corner and the smoke is whisked away quickly into the night by the sea breeze. I still don’t know where the hell I am and how I got here- better that way as right now I just need to lose myself completely.