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  • Norm Adams

New Experiences

First, remember those dates: April 7 for Eric Normand, and April 20 for Chants d'Oiseaux with Derome, Heikalo and Adams! Info is below or in any number of different online places. Now onward>>>> So this was an interesting week, where I made some fun new musical discoveries, maybe even profound new discoveries, actually. So it all started with Ken Aldcroft coming to town last week. Ken is a guitarist from Toronto who has been at the centre of the creative music scene, and a principal in the Association of Improvising Musicians of Toronto for many years. Ken came to Halifax on tour in the fall of 2008 and at the time he really inspired me with his dedication to our art form. He was out here at the time, playing concerts, and leading workshops wherever he could. With no support from anybody except the tiny fees he was pulling in. Now commercial musicians starve a lot living off the door, but improvisers, well you can’t even begin to think about a living on what we can pull in with out outside support! (thank you to the Canada Council and Nova Scotia Department of Tourism Culture and Heritage). But Ken said “the music must be played” and not just his music, but the music of all of us! Those words stuck with me for sure. Ken came back - a few shows, a few workshops and maybe a bit more money? Possibly. We welcomed him, for his artistry and as much for his dedication to music. But all of this is an aside to my discoveries! Ken was just instrumental in both of them…… So the first was a concert, Jeff Torbert invited me to play on an Upstream concert with him and Ken. I was happy to take part, because I love Ken and I love Jeff. Jeff Torbert is somebody who I get to play with very rarely. He runs in a slightly more jazzy or indie jazzy (is there such a thing?) vein, so our paths cross only periodically. But when they do, I always have a blast. Playing free with people from different idioms always draws out different sounds and different tonalities that I can’t regularly find in my day to day playing. Jeff pushes me to find tonality, and melody. It’s like pop improv somehow, in the best possible way! So yay Jeff. Ken emailed us three charts from his new CD with the Convergence Ensemble “Our Hospitality”. I figured we’d play the head, and do solos and come back to the head as the jazz guys usually do. Not to be. We rehearsed the different written sections, and then Ken instructed us to put them in the music someplace! He gave us some simple cues so we could make some entrances together, and the rest was up to our judgment! (I’m not sure if this is common. I surprise myself how little I know about this music even though I’ve been playing it for so long….) We could be free and rely on our listening and musicality, as I love to do so much, but we had anchors that created a new focus to the improvisations and a structure that doesn’t often exist in free improvisation. It was a bit of a revelation for me, and offers a new possibility for my music making! Thanks to Ken and Jeff. Then the suddenlyLISTEN workshop rolled around the next Monday, and Ken returned from the road to lead. He pulled out a score of “Cobra” and asked me what I thought. Now Cobra is a composition, a musical game piece of John Zorn, the great American composer and saxophonist. The piece is kind of Zorn’s greatest hit, it’s led by him throughout the world every year. I heard “Cobra” in Banff years ago and remembered the hilarity, apparent anarchy and multiple musical styles. To be clear, it is not “Cobra” unless Mr. Zorn is leading, and so it should be. So to be fair and reflect the fact that we used only a portion of Mr. Zorn’s directions our versin was closer to “Garter Snake” I think! Well, playing our version was a hoot. The players are forced to be on their toes at all times, making suggestions with hand signals and following orders from the prompter, playing musically the whole time. The prompter communicates with the musicians through flash cards and his/her own set of hand signals. It is a real brain twister, remembering the rather complex codes. We definitely blew a few workshop participants minds! My head certainly ached a bit at the end! I don’t think the results we came up with were great music. But I know that with practice and more familiarity it would be a really fun listening experience, with radical shifts in directions, changes of texture, wild gesticulations and even bandanas I hear! Most of all it was an honour and an important personal experience to give the piece a shot. The workshop is a wonderful venue for new experiences - each week is different. And playing this game was a kind of fitting climax to the changes Tim Crofts and I have been making at the Workshop, trying to add just a little structure to our freedoms to keep us all more on our toes and a little less comfy. So, I throw out big thanks to Ken Aldcroft who inspires us with his playing, his music, his leadership and his dedication to this thoroughly unprofitable art form! Thank-you Ken, come back soon.


Mar 31, 2010 at 17:09

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