Hearing free jazz and improvisation

I had the pleasure of hearing a wonderful performance by Kidd Jordan, William Parker, and Alvin Fielder last night in New Orleans at a club called King Bolden’s. The club is pretty small. It was fairly crowded and the acoustics were good. I could really hear what each musician was playing. I heard things in their music last night, that I had not heard before. I think that is due mainly to my growth as a listener.

In most contexts, I tend to listen in broad terms, hearing shapes and motion and ideas, more than specific notes or harmonies.While listening to free improvisations, my broad listening style does a good job of capturing the vibe and energy of a performance, but it can also let a perception of chaos take over. Last night I heard the interactions within the broader perceived chaos. I could hear melodic lines being passed back and forth between Kidd’s tenor and William’s bass. These lines were not the only notes Kidd or William were playing, but they were contained within all of the other notes that were happening. I could hear some part of Alvin’s set having a rhythmic conversation with some range of Kidd’s tenor. Again, each musiccian was also playing other material, but these parts were closely tied musically.

I equated it to seeing a large crowd, like at an outdoor concert or sporting event. When you look at the broad overview of the people, it could seem like chaos. Then imagine that someone starts a beachball bouncing through the crowd. You can follow the beachball as it passes around the people, eventhough there are many other things happening as well. Then, if you look closely at any given spot in the crowd, you realize that it is not chaos at all, but a seemingly endless number of small spontaneous personal interactions happening simultaneously. Now you can perceive the crowd in whatever fashion you’d like: as chaos, as single individual interactions, or as a collection of those interactions. It all depends of how you focus your sight.

Likewise with the performance last night, it all depened on how I focused my listening. I could hear chaos, singular specific musical interactions, and the collection of those interactions. Plus you can hear all of that at once if you let yourself.

Sometimes, it’s not what you play, but who you have played it with

This AAJ review of Curtis Fuller and Louis Hayes at Jazz Standard made me think about one of the ways we often discuss and write about jazz artists.

We often define players in terms of who they have played with, instead of what they have played. Curtis Fuller is more noted in the article for having played with Coltrane, than for being one of the greatest jazz trombonists of all time. Louis hayes is also described by his companions more than his music.

I don’t mean this as a knock on the writer of this particular article, because it is common practice. But I still wonder, Why do we do this? Are we so obsessed with personality or celebrity that we can only take an artist’s music seriously if he has received the endorsement of being allowed to perform with someone more famous than himself?

An economist visits New Orleans. By Tyler Cowen

This Slate article looks at New Orleans universities post-K.

An economist visits New Orleans. By Tyler Cowen

You would never guess that Xavier University in New Orleans sat under 8 feet of water. Sure, the student center is being gutted, and some of the grand Gothic Revival doors have searchers’ spray paint still visible. But for the most part it looks like any other midsize Southern American university. The students, back from their semesters away, are gathered on the quads. The faculty members are back in the classroom and the laboratory. Energy is in the air. Yet the neighborhood across the street still lies in ruins.

I teach at Xavier, and it is a surreal feeling to look out of a fourth floor window and not see any occupied homes in what used to be lively urban neighborhoods.

It has been almost 8 months.

Rediscovering music through (old) technology

Due to a variety of circumstances my turntable had been unused for a year or more, and due to a different variety of circustances I decided to set it back up in my office and get all of my vinyl out in plain view.

This has caused me to listen to things that I haven’t heard in quite some time. Stuff that I never bought on CD because I had the vinyl, but never listened to because the vinyl was hidden away.

A couple of gems that I’ve rediscovered in the process:

Money Jungle Cover

This album proves the theory that good musicians will make good music in pretty much whatever situation they end up in.

Dig Cover

Miles , still in bebop mode, with Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean. This reminds me why I like primary source material.

An economist visits New Orleans. By Tyler Cowen

Shacks and shanty-towns as the economic saviors of New Orleans…he might be half-joking, or he might be right. I have always maintained that access to affordable housing should be the primary concern in rebuilding New Orleans.

An economist visits New Orleans. By Tyler Cowen

Instead, the city should help create cheap housing by reducing legal restrictions on building quality, building safety, and required insurance. This means the Ninth Ward need not remain empty. Once the current ruined structures are razed, governmental authorities should make it possible for entrepreneurs to put up less expensive buildings. Many of these will be serviceable but not all will be pretty. We could call them structures with expected lives of less than 50 years. Or we could call them shacks.

Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project

A very cool project fron UC-Santa Barbara, documenting and modernizing the early history of recorded sound.

Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project

Cylinder recordings, the first commercially produced sound recordings, are a snapshot of musical and popular culture in the decades around the turn of the 20th century. They have long held the fascination of collectors and have presented challenges for playback and preservation by archives and collectors alike.

With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the UCSB Libraries have created a digital collection of over 6,000 cylinder recordings held by the Department of Special Collections. In an effort to bring these recordings to a wider audience, they can be freely downloaded or streamed online.

Denver Post on downloads as marketing tool

DenverPost.com – ENTERTAINMENT

For an increasing number of acts, free or illegal downloads are a promotional tool more valuable than money.

When we released “One”, we decided to do an experiment. I really wanted to get this music to a lot of people, because I am very proud of it. I started to figure out what it would cost to give away that many CDs. It was a lot. More than I would lose from just putting up free mp3s on my website, or so I thought. I still think that.

I did put up free Creative Commons licensed mp3s of the entire album. I also made physical CDs available for sale, and higher quality mp3s are available from the Pepper Enterprises mp3 Store. It is also on iTunes and eMusic, and the like.

I think it worked out all right. Lots of people downloaded it for free, and listened and commented on it, including some well known folks that I might not have been able to get to listen to an unsolicited CD they received in the mail, but they would go download a free track or two when they read about it online. I’ve sold some copies too. I don’t know that I will give away ALL of the next album, but the process definitely convinced me of the promotional value of giving away music online.

Music in the air at a flying display with a difference

This idea hits home for me. My father is a pilot. It sounds like a good time.

Guardian Unlimited Arts | Arts news | Music in the air at a flying display with a difference

“This is a concert with synchronised flying rather than a flying display with music,” said Ross Mallock, horn player, chairman of the Salisbury symphony orchestra and formerly a colonel in the Army Air Corps. “What you see in the air is very carefully matched with what you hear. Yes, there is some engine noise but a Spitfire’s V12 engine in full song goes very well with a symphony orchestra.”

Mr Mallock launched his concerts to prove that music and aviation can be mutually complementary

Downloads, CDs, both?

For a while now, my head has been trying to deal with questions of downloads vs. CDs, and various realms of making CDs cheaper and easier to produce, including alternative packaging and the like.

In a post that is only tangentially related to the subject, Dave Douglas shared the following view on his Greenleaf Music blog.

The most common question I get when I tell people we’re doing an internet-based recording outlet is: “So you’re doing downloads only? But I like to have the CD.”

We’re still making CDs. You can get them right here. Downloads are also available. But please consider ordering the CDs as they contain full liner notes, Steve Byram artwork and a beautiful Todd Weinstein photograph.

He’d rather have you buy the CD. Interesting.

There is definitely art in the music, but sometimes I forget about the art in the rest of the package.