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It’s About the Musicians - Lesson #2

It is the height of summer and today I’m taking a little rest from gleefully sacrificing myself out cycling on the roads and trails of Prince Edward Island. Whew.

In a continuation of my “how to listen to free music” series, I’d like to reflect on last weekend’s activities, which inspired me to write this piece.

Lukas Norm and Jeff

First some backstory though: I met Jeff Younger in a parking lot in Halifax. Jeff’s Vancouver band The Unsupervised played on a show at the 2011 Halifax Jazz Festival with the Crofts/Adams/Pearse Trio. It’s really how many musicians meet, at the post concert breath of fresh air/cd exchange! 

A few months later Jeff contacted me with an idea to tour the country and play and record. suddenlyLISTEN, immediately signed on. I offered a show in PEI, and we got aconcert at the Jazz Fest, this time with Jeff, Lukas Pearse and me.

Well after much effort, a little distraction and a modicum of confusion, the show in Charlottetown fizzled. But the recording idea did not! So Jeff came to town and bunked down at our little house (along with the 5 extra children and 2 extra adults…but that’s another story, non musical in nature!). We went to work. First, we recorded at Trinity United Church, a gorgeous 1840’s wooden church in old Charlottetown. The sounds were warm and the air hot! The next day we hunted down a really strange space in the Confederation Centre of the Arts (my summer employer). There the atmosphere was much cooler, it was a concrete room, almost a bunker, buried in the bowels of the building, under the seats of the big hall.

Our bunker!Setting up in Trinity United

But this isn’t about the performance space. That may be another chapter in the series….This is about the musicians.

Lesson #2: I’ve played with Lukas a lot, in many situations; he may actually be the person I’ve spent the most time improvising with, so we know each other pretty well. Besides our time in the parking lot, and an exchange of email, Jeff and I met an hour before our Jazz Fest show. It’s always great to play with Lukas. We don’t have a style or idiom we play together, but we recognize each other’s material, and compliment it, or push each other further out into new territories.

Okay now I’m finally getting to the point here: Lukas and I played a different kind of music together during the concert in Halifax and the 2 days of recording. At the risk of making a gross overstatement, it was understated, melodic, tonal in spots; and textural and noise based in spots. But it was hardly every loud, hardly ever aggressive. I was constantly surprised at how “new agey” it came to sound!

Why? Why when Lukas and I had such strong common ground? Why would play so differently?

It was the presence of Jeff. One person can change everything!

In these sessions, Jeff worked inside the ensemble, rarely playing melodic material, rarely pushing it in one direction or the other. Instead he lived in the cracks, filling things out from the center, not from the extremities. It coaxed Lukas and I to play in the upper and lower areas, more than we might have. Lukas is a very melodic player, given the opportunity! I am a great supporter, so we filled different roles than we might normally.

Free music is teaching me that there is a chemical reaction that happens when humans collaborate, we find common ground, we negotiate and discover a common language, and we end up working harmoniously. Oops I need to edit that last sweeping statement: there is a chemical reaction that happens when humans LISTENING to one anothercollaborate! (Please refer to Lesson #1, below) All hell can break loose when we’re not listening (just think of Syria….).

Indeed the more I participate in, learn about and talk about free music the more I see it as a political activity. Or at least an activity that harnesses the best human qualities…… Maybe that’s another post too.

Some musicians change little; this can be because of a strong personality, and unwillingness to change, or incomplete listening. I guarantee that you’ll always hear the greatest musicians, often those with the strongest personalities, meeting others partway, even while they are affecting the overall. They always take part in the conversation.

Some more examples: Isaiah Ceccarelli and I had played a bit together, but when we joined with Arthur Bull in Hoarse Rattle last fall, we were all surprised by the music we made. Some of it was in C major! When Tim, Lukas and I recorded with Gerry Hemingway in 2010, we were pushed like never before by Gerry’s giant sound, and boundless energy, but he also came to us too, so we were still making our music. The list goes on and on!

So what does this have to do with you, the confused listener? Well, I encourage you come to concerts, and listen to recordings of creative music with this idea in mind. How does the combination of players dictate the musical output? As you get to know local musicians, you’ll be able to identify their personalities and their musical tendencies, and notice the changes that occur when they collaborate with different artists. I think this is one of the most fascinating parts of listening to this music!

The beautiful thing about free music is that it belongs to the performers and we are being led by many different variables, as we compose in real-time. Kind of like life! Come and celebrate that humanity with us.

And watch for our recordings on Soundcarrier Music Network

Jul 24, 2012 at 13:25

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