Jazz fusion, after the initial excitement attending its arrival, organised itself into two broad sets of practices: one organised musical materials drawn from various forms of popular music, embracing new musical technologies, with the harmonic erudition of jazz, into complex, highly organised arrangements; the other really just carried on doing jazz, but did so with new sounds and a new phraseology. The latter approach is typified by Miles Davis’ late 60s albums, and continues to be about the creativity of performance, about composition as a pretext for playing, rather than musicianship as a means to realise composition. For me this approach reached its apotheosis with Herbie Hancock’s 1974 album Thrust, a far more coherent record than his more …
Various Artists – Singles and EPs
This sophomore EP from The Light That Kills is less granular, more directionally narrative than the debut A Day That We Drift And Fall. This is not to say that it consists of conventional musical phrases arranged according to a nice, accessible formal grammar; that really would be weird, given Scott Crocker’s established experimental proclivities, but there is a far less atemporal approach to the succession of events, and there is a discernible dramatic arc to most of these pieces. There is also a more extended use of recognisable sonic sources, including some protracted free-rock improvisation in ‘Woken By Bells’, ‘Letting Go The Gods’ and particularly, most successfully, ‘New Eden’.
Various Artists – Album Roundup
This is a record that gets straight down to business, a short, kinetic acoustic guitar intro prefacing a series of remarks, delivered with such visceral charisma that it almost doesn’t matter what they mean; the fact that they mean a lot imbues this music with a density that belies its simplicity and lack of frills. You Save You are a duo, performing material of a texture that might be delivered by a single musician (apart from some simple percussion, presumably operated by the singer), but it’s very clearly two people’s energy on Secondhand Suits And Cheap Sunglasses (or maybe ten people’s!). The guitar playing is raw acoustic rock ‘n’ roll, and the vocals hover between declamation and raspy punkish singing.
Various Artists – Album Roundup
Quietness has been an important trope in avant-garde music since the days of Minimalism I guess, but it has been articulated in many ways, within a diversity of musical practices. The near inactivity to which some free improvisors have gravitated, or John Cage’s invitation to listen to the contextual ambience for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, or the work of many ambient composers, all exploit the signifying power of low amplitudes. Place is also an important theme in many musics; in Cage’s famous piece, the performance space itself becomes composer, performer and material, whereas ambient music usually aims either to colour a place, or to invoke one.
Mittimus & Nix Pickler – Devices (free improvisation)
Free improvisers take a lot of different routes to a lot of different destinations, or to put it another way, improvisation can be free in a lot of different ways. When it first burst into the world it was as an avant-garde practice within jazz (although most became aware of it when it was sufficiently established to warrant an album release on Atlantic Records). At this point, what it was free from was harmony, and to a lesser extent, metre; timbre was already a subject for transformation and exploration in jazz, although early free improvisers did exploit this further, but…
Simon Little – The Knowledge Of Things To Come (solo bass/ ambient)
Simon Little’s EP Rejectamenta, ostensibly composed of material rejected for inclusion on this album, was an interesting recording in its own right, and implied certain promises about the creative direction in which Little might be moving. I’m glad to say, he’s as good as his word. Before I even start to address the compositional and artistic aspects of The Knowledge Of Things To Come, it’s very pleasing to hear an audible development in Simon Little the bass player. There is a sense of maturity about his melodic improvisation…
Monday Musings: Technique and Creativity
There are some really skilled musicians around with very little to say: there are also some players with a very rudimentary technique who are able to stretch it into work of huge creative ambition. There are many more whose artistic strategies are too dependent on their technical aptitude to permit them to range very widely, or to produce much variety throughout their career, and on the other hand, there are those whose artistic vision outstrips their technical capacity to realise it.
Steve Lawson – 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything (ambient)
The pieces on this album are indeed highly atmospheric, but don’t let this lead you to believe that ambience is all, or even principally, what the music is about. The principal quality of these tunes, their defining feature, and the central locus of Lawson’s creative effort, is melody.
Tim Oehlers – Guitarisms (acoustic/ improvisation)
This bold, confidently gestural and slightly glitchy visual design seems to represent in a very appropriate way the sounds it promotes: even the title perfectly evokes the assembly of phrases that the album contains, and with it’s echo of ‘truisms’, its creative intentions, if I read them right.
Simon Little – Mandala (ambient/ solo bass/ jazz)
One of the tracks on this album is titled ‘Ohm Is Where The Art Is’: it’s awfully tempting to run with that, and build a critical edifice around the idea of ‘ohm’ signifying a metaphorical sense of impedance or resistance, but to be honest, I’m pretty sure Simon Little’s artistic strategy is more straightforward than that. He doesn’t ask us to swallow anything that’s difficult to digest, or set out to challenge our ideas about music, but that’s not to say that his music isn’t experimental or progressive: it’s both.