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

upcoming project with drew gress

Thanks to support from Musikverket we are able to invite the fabulous bass player Drew Gress to participate in our ongoing exploration of what jazz is, what it can be and, most importantly, what it is for us.

We are currently booking concerts in Sweden but as usual, our fokus is on the process rather than the result. On finding out what Gress’ concept is and how we can learn from him while staying true to our own aesthetics.

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.

croneholm, day 1

The first session with Josefine Cronholm was incredibly productive and inspiring. Her skill and strong expression made a great impression on Maggi, Peter and I and the discussions were honest and meaningful right from the start.

Without going into detail right now it is worth thinking about what makes a meeting such as ours meaningful. Of course, we all know each other since long so, even though we haven’t played together before in this constellation we share some common ground. Equally obvious is that we are covering similar aesthetic grounds, we appreciate similar kinds of music and similar modes of expression. (The same, however, could have been said about our sessions with Katt but that music was very different from the one we were playing today.) Finally we work well socially, we enjouyed talking and playing together.

Still, there is something else in addition to this. There are other factors that have a play in the immediate success of our encounter. As a summary of our discussions today I think they reflected this ‘other’, non-tangible quality. My personal impression is that it has to do with a sensibility towards the other, but probably even more, a sensibility towards the music and the musical other.

We really only played one tune, a new piece by me (A Cradle Song), a free improvisation on the same piece and another free improvisation.