This year’s London jazz festival will occupy our hearts and minds between Friday the 14th and Sunday the 23rd of November. As usual, I have my personal favourites, which I’m going to list and talk about here.
John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension
First, Thursday the 2oth of November. This, unsurprisingly, is my #1 priority of the festival: John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension. Ranjit Barot, Gary Husband and Etienne Mbappe will once again join McLaughlin on what will be an evening of ‘Now, here, this’ and much more edge of the seat fusion.
Bill Frisell – Guitar in the space age
It is a luxury to be able to see acts of this calibre live, performing their latest and most memorable compositions. Another good example of that is Bill Frisell, who will be coming back to the London Barbican on Sunday the 16th of November. This time, the telecaster magician will be presenting his new new program – ‘Guitar in the space age’.
Marcus Miller, Dave Holland and Lars Danielsson
On Friday the 21st, Marcus Miller will be returning to London, to the Royal festival hall to be more precise. On the same day, not too far at the Queen Elizabeth hall, Dave Holland and Kenny Baron are getting together for a collaboration both interesting and unique. In what seems like the busiest musical Friday of the year, Lars Danielsson will also be playing at the London Cadogan hall with Leszek Mozdzer.
With many more dates to be added to the schedule between now and November, this year’s festival will be another great gathering of top jazz talent across London venues.
December has made a nasty habit of taking some of the best musicians away from us – Paul Motian 2 years ago and now, regrettably, Jim Hall. Having seen him live in London only a year ago, the sad news came as another reminder that even the best aren’t immortal.
His music will remain an endless source of inspiration for years and years to come – RIP master!
If I was to analyse what is it that makes my favourite players stand out, the first thing that would come to mind is style – they all have something that defines their playing, something unique and interesting. Also, there aren’t many people who have a style that is associated with them exclusively, which makes the concept of personal character even more intriguing. So how can we define it?
To address something as complex and subjective, I would have to mention a few of my most liked guitar players, since I am writing with reference to guitar playing mostly: John Abercrombie, Mike Stern, Tim Miller, John McLaughlin, Al di Meola, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Kurt Rosenwinkel…the list can go on. Despite all of them being associated with the idiom of jazz, their ways of playing and improvising are entire individual musical worlds.
In improvised music, the good players eventually come to a state of mind where personality becomes part of the process, and since personalities are unique, this is a significant part of defining style. A combination of influences, personal preferences – both in and outside music, temperament and vision account for what we identify as originality. And then, the context in which improvisation takes shape is the factor that defines the great bands: Shakti, Return to forever, Trio Beyond are all good examples of group improvisation at its best, musical experiences that in turn shape playing and composition.
After this rather lengthy introduction, it’s time to get back to the quote that prompted this post, a Kurt Rosenwinkel interview or masterclass where he talked about creativity and originality. Picasso famously compared it to drawing a perfect circle – because nobody can do it, the individual imperfections will be what is ultimately defined as style. In a previous post, I talk about Mike Stern’s idea on the same subject, where what a guitarist can’t play is at the origin of uniqueness in music, something very much identical to Picasso’s thoughts on the matter.
In the light of these, the quest for originality ultimately leads us to an unexpected conclusion: play the music as well as you can possibly play, and the honest imperfections that will inevitably emerge in the process will be the identifiers behind others’ perception of the way of performing that is unique to you.
Similarly to improvisation being spontaneous composition, creating a musical identity implies significant and continuous hard work. I came to see the proficiency of great improvisers as the tip of the iceberg, where it – the visible part, about 10% , is supported by the other 90% – years and years of hard work and experience.