drew gress

Of all the projects we have done this is perhaps the most traditional in the sense that we got together and played compositions. Some of Gress’s, some of Maggi’s and some of my tunes. Nevertheless, we approached the task in the same manner as in our previous collaborations. From my own point of view playing with Drew was both the easiest thing I’ve ever done and also the most difficult. Playing with Katt Hernandez, for example, was easy because there is a relative openness in the approach. Not that anything goes, but almost everything is negotiable. Drew comes out of a long and strong jazz tradition that has its rules and its traditions and out of that tradition he has established his own aesthetic in a way that is very specific yet very open. In order to fully understand his approach, I felt I had to also understand where he was coming from.

Luckily, Drew was easy to work with and shared a lot of stories about his past and current musical collaborations. Also, through his music the process became more and more transparent. For myself one of the key clues came when he brought in a hand written tune titled Vespar. Not only was it a clear reference to a more jazz oriented aesthetic, it had a clear reference to one of the key figures in re-structuring jazz in contemporary harmony and melody, namely Kenny Wheeler. Hence, to me this tune brought a understanding to, not only how to play his compositions, but also to how to play with him.

Vespar by Drew Gress

concert recording may 21, 2015 with josefine cronholm

This is a recording of a concert we did at IAC in Malmö. The concert was very informal and we set up in a circle, facing each other with the audience behind us in a circle. Hence, we were playing to an imaginary centre to which the audience was also turned. Simply put, we as musicians, had the same visual focus as the audience. Which is a bit strange since it also meant that we had our backs turned towards the audience.

Following the concert was a talk with the audience. A bit hesitant to begin with but eventually this chat turned out to be a very valuable discussion on the means of communication possible in the context of a concert. The actual conversation is not part of the video here with respect for the participants, but I will discuss the impact the discussions had in a separate post (they are also brought up here: croneholm, day 2: listener experience

One of the main points brought up however, was the importance of the staging of the event. Not only the way we set up but also the meta communication concerning the concert. The hint at it being informal, the fact that we set up in a circle, the communicated condition that we were experimenting with the forms of communication and style, all of these items set focus on the situation rather than us as a group, or even as a jazz group. In the end this allows for a different kind of interface for the audience to approach the music that we do. And, in this context, perhaps most importantly, it allows us to stretch beyond our comfort zones and ignore otherwise quite important factors in improvisation.

croneholm, day 2: listener experience

On the second day of the workshop with Josefine Peter was unfortunately sick. Though we could still play and rehearse the music we decided time was better spent to focus on talking. One of the things we started thinking about, and discussing, was the question: “What does the listener express?”. The idea that the listener is part of the act of creation is not very new but even if we do involve the listener in our playing I think it’s safe to say that this listener participation is a passive participation in the sense that the expression is still somehow centered on the performer. This idea should be challenged.

The question concerning the listener expression is actually spot on for this project. Dismantling our own and others’ musical expectation as well as the theoretical frame that they share we can no longer stand before the listeners expecting them to silently accept what we are saying. First of all, chances are they will not understand, secondly, it doesn’t make sense. What we are doing is pointless without an active relation to the listener.

What’s interesting is that, judging by the result of the final concert, we actually managed to listen to the expression of the listener. We had communicated and they had responded in a way that led us through the program. A different audience would without doubt have resulted in a quite different concert. Standing in a circle with the audience around us contributed to the feeling that we and the audience were united.

Perhaps the best proof of this is that one member of the audience gave a complete analysis of Yeats poem The Cradle that I had set to music. Of course, she herd the text as it was sung but she didn’t know the poem from before and she claimed that her source for this reading was as musch the music. But not only did she provide an anlysis, she also related it to her own emotions concerning the same topic, and related our music to all of this. That was quite remarkable.

croneholm, day 3

In todays session we focused on playing. The first and the second day was very intense with sincere discussions concering aesttetic attitudes in music and improvisation. A few themes appears to have become central to us as a group:

  • Awareness in and through the music
  • Dismantling personal and stylistic expectations
  • Political awareness in and through the music

These themes played an important role today and it seems as if we are already able to incorporate them in our approach towards the music we played. In particular, it was interesting to see how, when we picked up a tune by Maggi, one that we as a trio, without Josefine, worked with and played last year, we handled the situation. Maggi was not keen on playing the song. It is a tune very particular to her style and precisely because of that she felt locked in by the structure she herself had created. Josefine, Peter and I, however, insisted that we should try it, that we should attempt to break down the structure so problematic to Maggi, without loosing the strong aesthetic identity of the song. In the end it wasn’t even very difficult, not to me anyways, and we were able to create a much more convincing version than what we did last year.

rule based improvisation

One of the things we had already tried as a trio is to set up rules for the improvisation. At one of our sessions in November we had set up quite simple rules, usually in combinations of three, such as:

  • Dark
  • In tempo
  • Long tones

This method is something we wanted to try with Katt too. Immediately, however, in the first day of rehearsals on January 20 we expanded the concept. (Why did we do that? What was the particular reason that we evolved these quite simple rules into more complex and interdependent setups?) The rules we worked with that turned out to be quite effective was (see also this post for a recording):

  • No one may play louder than the violin
  • The drums should always play when the piano is not playing
  • The saxophone should attempt to play the opposite of what the piano plays

Oddly, this was the first attempt to create a context for us to play in and we used it throughout the whole week. Also, due to the first rule, No one may play louder than the violin, it set a certain, quite low dynamic for us that pertained during the whole week.

A set of rules like this obviously becomes a kind of composition not unlike a piece by John Cage or some other composer from the 50s until now. What we found striking though when we listened back to our attempts to perform this “composition” is that the rules are unimportant to the understanding of the music. In other words, what is commonly held in high esteem in composed music – that the composed structure is an important complement to the understanding of the music – has no meening here. Even in jazz it has some significance that I know that I’m listening to a rhyth change rather than som freely improvised structure.

uppsala concert recording

The complete recording of the concert we played in Uppsala on January 24, 2015. Together with violinist Katt Hernandez we played a program of five pieces that we had rehearsed during the sessions in Malmö in the days prior to the show.

Program

  • The first piece was based on the instructions to continuously repeat a sound and for each repetition attempt to perfect it.
  • The second was a free improvisation
  • The third a rule based piece following these rules:
    • No one may play louder than the violin
    • The drums should always play when the piano is not playing
    • The saxophone should attempt to play the opposite of what the piano plays
  • The fourth was equal to the second
  • The final piece was like the first but this time using a sustained sound.

from the uppsala concert

We had a very nice concert at Slottsbiografen in Uppsala with a fine little crowd, including some children. A good sounding room compensated for the slightly too soft upright piano.

After a very intense week of rehearsing and discussing the specifics of improvisation, this was the last concert in this project with Katt Hernandez. This is not, however, the final concert with her. I am hoping that we as a trio will get the chance to continue to develop together with her. There is much still to do and to explore, to play, talking and think. I am looking forward to next event.