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David Ayers

Free jazz and improv arrangements and methods for larger ensembles

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Is there appetite for discussion about this? I'm thinking less of the classics (Free Jazz; Ascension) and more about everything after that.

These larger ensembles are only sometimes wholly free, otherwise adopt elements of composition, non-standard scoring, various forms of direction, conduction, etc.

 

Busy day here so only time to set down a marker and ask for thoughts and experiences in this area...

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17 hours ago, David Ayers said:

 

These larger ensembles are only sometimes wholly free, otherwise adopt elements of composition, non-standard scoring, various forms of direction, conduction, etc.

 

Busy day here so only time to set down a marker and ask for thoughts and experiences in this area...

I've done this type of thing more than once, and all I can say with any certainty is that a "vision" will only take you so far in one direction, just as "musicianship" will only get you so far in another.

The best experience I had with it was a collective of really stable core personnel that played every Monday night for almost two years. We had charts of widely varying specificity and notation, but we were all improvisors at root (with a few being real "classical" players of the "new music" bent), so...common vision evolved, as did mutual trust that only deepened over time. I think that's the main thing in any music, really trust. In trust, there is confidence, and in confidence, there is freedom.

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One thing I am thinking about is the approach to the individual voice. From the moment in the 60s that some people set the goal of getting away (a bit) from the soloist-and-accompaniment model, that goal is always part of the mix in larger ensembles as well. Yet hard to realise or work through consistently. The Brötzmann Tenntet started out with scores but gave them up (as McPhee told me, it's "much better"). When you hear them play though, brilliant as they are at scoreless improv, all sorts of traditional shapins emerge - not least around the Big Noise Boy himself who only ever plays lead, really, while others just fit in. Or take Evan Parker's Electroacoustic Ensemble. In that set-up, the acoustic instruments are electronically processed live and those results in turn processed (with up to four people on stage doing the processing). That clearly can lead away from the solo-accompaniment model, so for example many passages in The Moment's Energy are very collective and anonymous, but at the same time the group is basically led by the acoustic instrumental virtuosos and some passages have a lead voice which does not disappear in the mix and which the other voices, quite spontaneously but following established protocols, punctuate and accompany. 

 

Still thinking about it. 

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Solo-accompaniment model...I was in an "EAI" group for a while, a trio, where I let another band member handle the electronic manipulations of my own playing, playing acoustic tenor miked into his toy store. The result was that whenever I began thinking like a soloist, I'd get get something from myself thrown back at me, either a loop, or a distorted sample, or something backwards, whatever. So much for "tenor rhythm with rhythm accompaniment!"

Funny thing was, my more traditional "jazz friends" thought that was the creepiest thing they'd ever heard of. Why would you let somebody else control your voice? I was like, hey, I'm still controlling my voice. What I'm not controlling is what I'm responding to. It forced me to never ask a question that I already had the answer to, or to claim absolute autonomous leadership of a direction and expect absolute loyalty in response.

Those are things that you want out of any improvisation environment, really, ideally, but the degree that it happened with that was really ...interesting. Interesting and challenging. Anything that gets you to focus less on "soloing" and more on "playing", you do it. Nothing against the model of great soloing/soloists, but that's not necessarily the best route for all people at all times. And even a truly great soloist, I think, admits that they're listening to something besides just themselves when they do what they do.

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Back in '67, when Braxton had his first solo concert,
he originally was going to play for an hour off the top
of his head, but realized after 10 minutes that he had
started repeating himself and was kind of running out
of ideas. I think it was then that he decided that maybe
it was a good idea to begin having some guiding principles
when it comes to composition paired with improvisation.
I think that this is why we have these various overall
structural systems of his that act like brackets around
improv elements - things like "Echo Echo..." and the
"Ghost Trance" events that work like springboards for
group workings. What makes them inherently "Braxton"
are how much of each interactive element exists and
their methods of interweaving as well as the choice of
performers that are really able to intermingle all of these
elements (and just know what's expected in the larger sense).

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:improvise" is a verb, "element" is a noun. They almost form a complete sentence by themselves!

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Jason Roebke

http://www.pointofdeparture.org/PoD56/PoD56JumpinIn.html

Each piece was written on a single page. There was no conductor. Certain things were discussed in advance. For that first gig, and a second (at the Hungry Brain) shortly after, it was an 11-piece group – with guitarist Matthew Schneider and saxophonists Dave Rempis and Mars Williams.

Roebke spoke at length about the project’s challenges – especially of stitching the written and the improvised together. “Everybody could improvise and everybody could play the written music, but they could not put those next to each other. So there would be a lot of bass solos – and sort of looking around and staring at me, like, ‘When are you going to count in the next section?’ ‘I don’t know!’ Literally, don’t look at me five seconds after you just finished playing: the song’s got to be longer than a minute! We really played some of the most embarrassing music of my entire life.

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"the choice of performers that are really able to intermingle all of these elements" seems like a large part of this gambit to me also. 

Bill Dixon related to me a story of workshopping a piece with the Jazz Composers' Orchestra (I think this is also in Dixonia), where all these top JCO players were unable to get through the material correctly but Bill's right-hand saxophonist, Stephen Horenstein, who was then an unknown in NYC creative music circles, was able to navigate the charts and play his solos with the integrity and purity that the music required. 

Bill also related to me that he felt his early work relied too much on written notes and very didactic situations, and it wasn't until he wrote less and let the musicians do what they did, that he felt his pieces did exactly what he wanted. That said, hearing Metamorphoses 1962-1966 and the pieces for the Orchestra of the University of the Streets (the latter were partly graphically scored), there's a very healthy and flexible conversation going on within arched structures.

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