Idiom

Idiom.
Idiom.

Idiom (bandcamp link) by Anna Webber.

The CD release of this album is two disks.

The first disk, (tracks 1-5,) is a trio album with Webber, Matt Mitchell, and John Hollenbeck, (Webber’s working group, aka “Simple Trio”). The second disk, (tracks 6-12,) is a large ensemble of 12 members, a mixed group of improvising and “new music” players.

The bulk of the pieces on both disks are made up of pieces which are part of Webber’s Idiom series, Idiom I, III, IV, V, and VI. In fact, the whole second disk, for large ensemble, is made up of Idiom VI, a six movement, (and three interlude,) Suite.

Webber’s “Idiom” series of compositions made its debut with “Idiom II” on her 2019 album Clockwise.

Idiom is a series of six pieces, each of which is based on a specific woodwind extended technique — a broad term meaning any non-traditional way of producing sound on an instrument, including the use of multiphonics, alternate fingerings, key clicks, overblown notes, and the like — that she has taken from her own improvisational language.

Idiom Bandcamp release notes.

In any case, with both discs, this is around a couple hours of music, so there’s a lot to think about. And as I pointed out in my notes about “Clockwise”, Webber is a composer and player who isn’t afraid of mixing modes of expression and influence that might be more common in modern composed music than modern “Jazz”.

For me, it’s a bit easier to think of “Idiom” as two albums, rather than a continuous piece of work.

First, for me, I find the second disk, with full rhythm section, to be a little more easily appreciated. While I wouldn’t exactly say it swings, it does, occasionally, actually almost rock, for example, on the last third of the first tune, “Idiom 6, Movement 1,”: The walking bass kicks in; sax and guitar scrawl screeching lines above; horns screech harmony chords seemingly randomly, until the whole thing collapses in on itself. Beautiful, I wish it had continued for another 10 minutes!

The first disk, on the other hand, is just more densely composed and tightly performed. You can tell this group has performed and practiced together A LOT. There is some super amazing, and playful, playing from all three musicians, (I, for one, would not want to even try to play the almost painfully complex syncopation written in these compositions,) but for me… Well, about a week ago, I wrote, “the first disk is a little harder to access.”

After another week of listening, I’m not so sure.

With time and repeated listening, the first disk has grown on me more than the second, as its playful nature expressed itself and met with my moods… now the noisier second disk now seems more formal, composerly, diagrammatic, and tense.

So, yeah, there is a lot of music and there are a lot of moods on these 12 tracks from Ms Webber and her compatriots. A lot to think about and contemplate.

I said the following about “Clockwise”, “Endlessly rewarding, and endlessly interesting, Webber’s Clockwise is some of the most ambitious writing and rewarding listening I’ve encountered for a modern jazz-ish ensemble in recent memory,” and that comment is even more applicable to “Idiom”.

Ms Webber is a modern composer and player at the height of her gifts, if you are interested in modern improvised or composed music you should be paying attention to what she is doing now and what she does next.

Musicians tracks 1-5:

Anna Webber – tenor saxophone, flute
Matt Mitchell – piano
John Hollenbeck – drums

Musicians tracks 6-12:

Anna Webber – tenor saxophone, flute, bass flute
Nathaniel Morgan – alto saxophone
Yuma Uesaka – tenor saxophone, clarinet, contra-alto clarinet
Adam O’Farrill – trumpet
David Byrd-Marrow – horn
Jacob Garchik – trombone
Erica Dicker – violin
Joanna Mattrey – viola
Mariel Roberts – cello
Liz Kosack – synthesizer
Nick Dunston – bass
Satoshi Takeishi – drums
Eric Wubbels – conductor

Idiom Album Art
Idiom Album Art

Everthing Happens to Be

Everthing Happens to Be.
Everthing Happens to Be.

Everything Happens to Be.” by Ben Goldberg.

A new album from a quintet organized by Ben Goldberg.

It would be easy to classify this as “Thumbscrew with Horns”, as the band IS Thumbscrew with two horn players. (And I always enjoy a good two horn blow out.) However, Ben is the brains of the outfit and composer of the tunes, rather than Mary, Michael, or Tomas being the instigators which gives it a very different caste. And more than Thumbscrew, this band is about melodic interplay and harmonies.

I read that the compositions are inspired by Chorale form, and, indeed, multipart harmonies and interaction between the different players melodic lines is far more prevalent than much modern Jazz.

I don’t know how through composed the structures here are, but it still feels mostly like Jazz, often very traditional Jazz, even while largely eschewing “head, solo, head” forms.

I think the somewhat Rococo sensibilities of all the players here just works well, making it feel like Jazz, even though the forms are a bit less traditional.

The album starts fairly placid and suckers you in, whistling along tunefully as you appreciate the interplay between Goldberg and Eskelin or Halvorson and Formanek. But by the time the we get to “Tomas Plays the Drums”, the album’s most raucus tune, and Goldberg pulls out the Contra Bass Clarinet, Halvorson cranks the distortion, Eskelin squonks enthusiastically, and Formanek and Fujiwara increase the tension, the album heads into very different territories.

To-Ron-To sounds like the sort of expressionist music landscape Jazz heads like Charles Mingus, (or even some light classical composers,) created to evoke modern car clogged urban environments of the 1940s and 1950s.

The album closes with a very traditional rendition of the hymn, “Abide With Me”, a fitting and peaceful Doxology for this enjoyable album and all the players contributions. I know I have been very happy to abide with this album over the last few days while I took the time to write it up.

Mary Halvorson – electric guitar
Ellery Eskelin – tenor saxophone
Michael Formanek – bass
Tomas Fujiwara – drums
Ben Goldberg – clarinets

All compositions by Ben Goldberg, except “Abide With Me,” by William Monk (by way of Thelonious Monk).

Everthing Happens to Be.
Everthing Happens to Be.

Autumn Leaves

For my second recognizable tune on my next album I wanted to do “Autumn Leaves”, a standard made initially famous when it was sung by Yves Montand.

For the song, I wanted to make it sound a bit like a Mechanical Orchestra, so instead of having one part play the melody, I split it between 4 instruments. Then had them hold the chord which is created.

The second time through, the 4 clarinets are assigned the notes, but given no indication when to come in, sounding a bit like the Mechanical Orchestra has broken down.

For the final time through, a single clarinet plays the melody with the bass clarinet accompanying.

These are the original French lyrics for “Les Feuilles Mortes” by “Realist” poet Jacques Prévert, translated by google translate. This is the version Yves Montand sang in the soundtrack to the movie, “Les Portes de la nuit”.

Oh, I wanted you to remember
Happy days where we were friends
At that time life was more beautiful
And the sun is more hot than today
Dead leaves gathered by shovel
You see, I have not forgotten
Dead leaves gathered by shovel
Memories and regrets also
And the north wind prevails,
In the cold night of oblivion
You see I have not forgotten,
The song you were singing
Dead leaves gathered by shovel
Memories and regrets too,
But my silent and faithful love
Still smiles and thanks life

I loved you so much, you were so pretty,
How do you want me to forget you?
At that time life was more beautiful
And the sun is more hot than today
You were my sweetest friend
But I do not regret
And the song you were singing,
Always, always I will hear it
This song reminds me of us,
You loved me, I loved you
And we lived, both together,
You who loved me, I who loved you
But life separates those who love each other,
Gently, without making noise
And the sea erases on the sand
The footsteps of disunited lovers

The American songwriter, Johnny Mercer wrote the English lyrics most associated with the tune “Autumn Leaves”, and performed by a wide variety of Jazz and Pop vocalists, from Jo Stafford to Frank Sinatra to The Everly Brothers. They’re a little lame, in comparison to the French lyrics.

The falling leaves drift by my window
The falling leaves of red and gold
I see your lips the summer kisses
The sunburned hands I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

16.June.2016

When I get frustrated with my ability to play the “right” notes, I take some time off to play the “left” notes, instead.

When I was putting my bass clarinet together, I noticed that the sound of the keys closing was pretty cool and kind of similar to the sound of the African instrument called the Mbira.

So I recorded the keys closing as the percussion track for this tune. Now I just need to figure out how to use Audacity to make a loop out of it.

Bluesette

So, this is the first arrangement I wrote fully on my own.

I transcribed Jean ‘Toots’ Theileman’s Bluesette and wrote the Bass Clarinet and Second Soprano Clarinet part based on the key changes.

I think it is kind of fun, it has a propulsive, merry-go-round feel that works with the melody. I only wish I knew how to play accordion better, so I could play the bass part on accordion. That would make it really cool.

Tho, playing the bass clarinet part through as many times as it took for me to get it mostly down, gave me a new respect for tuba players. I shall never make fun of the tuba!

Here’s the pdf of the arrangment: Bluesette

It’s a Mystery

William Parker:

Last Question. Do you think that they, whoever “they” are, the writers, the people who document stuff, do you think they’ll ever understand this music the way musicians understand it?

Fred Anderson:

No, because I don’t think nobody understands. (laughs) They can only go by what they hear and what they like and what they don’t like. And I think that is the way they write about it, what they think is good. But I think most musicians that I know, anybody that ever said anything, ever did anything, never was satisfied with what they were doin’. They were searchin’. And I don’t think they really knew what they were doin’. They were still searchin’. And I think it’s been a mystery, just like life. Everybody writes a book and tells you how to do it this way, do that. That’s just their opinion and I don’t think nobody knows. I think life is a mystery. The music is a mystery. I think this whole universe is a mystery. (laughs) We’re talkin’ about somethin’, man, that nobody really understands. But, you’re entitled to your opinion and if you can put it out there and somebody can get something out of it, cool. It’s an individual thing. It’s a mystery. You make these decisions and that’s it. Whatever you leave, you leave it. (laughs) You just have to believe in what you’re doing and stick to it and be consistent and try to do it right and do it the best way as you see it. If somebody can benefit, cool. I’ve benefited from a lot of things that I’ve heard, by applying some of these techniques in my mind. Now that don’t mean that I was right or wrong, but if I did anything, I learned from observance, seeing how things was done. Another thing that taught me a lot of stuff–I didn’t realize that my wife was sick. She could’ve been sick a long, long time before I even met her. But it came upon me to deal with it. So you don’t know man. You just have to deal with the problem. Whatever the problem is, you try to deal with it. Sometimes you can deal with it, sometimes you can’t But that’s it, man. That’s how I see it.


From “Conversations”, a collection of interviews William Parker conducted with various performing artists and composers, published by RogueArt.

When I was young, I really liked music that used the recording studio as an instrument.

However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to question the value of those sorts of albums which are stitched together in the studio. Those Frankenstein creations where the musicians might or might not even be in the same room (or building).

I think my perception radically changed when I saw Anthony Braxton’s Quartet (Braxton, Crispell, Dresser, Hemingway) at Yoshi’s a number of years ago. I had been collecting Braxton recordings and attempting to understand them without much success. Seeing that band, though, and feeling what was going on between the players, I understood that the music often called “Jazz” is most about the interaction of the players in the moment.

Jazz recordings, at best, are like insects captured in amber.

To be captured in amber, the insect has to die.

Similarly, the spontaneity of the moment and the energy exchange between players, things that are the essential features of a jazz performance, have to be stripped away, in the interest of fidelity and trapping a piece for eternity.

I’ve come to feel that most recordings of Jazz are really just souvenirs, simply reminders of artists I respect and gestures of support for their ongoing struggle to represent their craft against all odds.

The Duke Dreams

Duke Ellington: This Isn't Piano, This Is Dreaming from thisisdreaming.com on Vimeo.

“Where did you get your ideas from?”
“The Ideas? Oh, man, I got a million dreams. It’s all I do is dream. All the time.”
“I thought you played piano.”
“No, no, no, no, no! This is not playing piano, this is dreaming.”
…Duke plays…
“That’s dreaming.”

Horn Players

I was watching last last Jazz Night in America with the Bad Plus and Joshua Redman playing tracks from their new album.

Bad Plus Plus Joshua Redman

Watching, I was struck by how funny it is, that in modern small combo jazz, the horn player often sits there and basically does nothing for what amounts to nearly half of the concert.

The piano, drum, and bass players play the whole night, but the horn player plays during the head and his solos and then just sits out the rest of the concert.

Related, listening to early jazz, Armstrong, Oliver, Bechet, I’ve been paying attention to how the clarinet interacts with the ensemble. It seems like the clarinet is most closely allied with the banjo. While the brass, piano, and drums play mostly on the beat, the clarinet & banjo play contrapuntally and interstitially.

While the horns play the main theme or motif, the clarinet will often play against the theme, or after it, or during breaks in the music. Sort of like the clarinet player is commenting on the theme.

Similarly, in early small combo jazz, the horns don’t sit out, they act as part of the rhythm section when they are not actively soloing.

It’s funny that that custom seems to have been lost in much of modern jazz.