Archive for category Improvised music
At 70, John McLaughlin is playing and recording some of the best music of his career, and he’s got a career that is now part of jazz history. Having invented modern guitar playing almost single-handedly, the master is playing music that in the 21st century is both brave and rewarding for the dedicated listeners of progressive, improvised music.
Just several days before the band’s London appearance at the Barbican, part of the 2012 European tour, I received in the post the latest creation of the guitarist and the Fourth Dimension – ‘Now Here This’. McLaughlin’s records have come to resemble something similar to a second birthday to me in recent times – ‘Industrial Zen’, ‘Floating Point’, ‘To the One’…plus the ever useful ‘This is the way I do it’ instructional DVDs, to which I keep returning for inspiration – John’s dedication to the guitar and music have become one of the most important pillars in my musical universe.
The most obvious way in which the new record impresses me is through the apparent ease with which the musicians – Etienne Mbappe, Gary Husband and Ranjit Barrot, together with McLaughlin – interact with each other to come across as a well syncronised improvisation machine. This apparent ease has many years of experience, talent and musical vision behind it, but the end product is nothing short of true medicine for the soul – the music on the album is both inspiring and abundent in contageous positivity.
On the album, ‘Echoes of then’ brings a nostalgic vibe that extends way back to the 60s and 70s, including the Mahavishnu years, whereas ‘Guitar love’ is an open declaration of sympathy to the instrument that has been McLaughlin most trusted companion in a life and career that saw the guitarist create is a fashion that can only be summarised as artistry of the highest calibre. Among other compositions, the opening ‘Transfusion’ and fluid ‘Call and answer’ each bring their own personality to the improvised music party that is ‘Now Here This’.
From the enigmatic title to the last note on the album, this is yet another original, inspiring and generous record from John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension, whose power I will experience in a few hours at the Barbican in London.
In the last 6 months or so, I have had the feeling that my instrument, the guitar, is getting in the way of playing…I know it sounds strange and unclear, but it forced me to practice away from the instrument, which gave me a completely different perspective on playing and improvising.
I generally find comparing music, and more specifically improvised music, to a language very helpful as a learning strategy. Grammar (theory, structure) and vocabulary (licks, patterns) come together to form the language of improvisation beautifully, but it takes time become proficient and fluent and the first step is to conquer the chosen instrument. Having chosen the guitar, which I absolutely love playing, I find myself either playing too much or playing too many notes, and one way to become more relevant as an improviser is to contextualise the music that comes out through the instrument of choice.
Apart from improvising over chord sequences, free improvisation also appeals to me as a way of artistic expression. Although free improvisation has a variety of definitions – John Abercrombie for instance says it is only when you know a composition really well that free improvisation and playing generally becomes possible – Ornet Coleman’s free explorations in jazz and beyond seem to approach improvisation ‘from scratch’ – playing your heart out is the first thing that comes to mind. Personally, I think there’s time and place for both approaches, and as long as the improviser has a powerful message behind the music it usually works and involves the audience convincingly.
The musicians who are continuoiusly inspiring me – McLaughlin, Stern, Jarrett, Scofield and many, many more- they all have one thing in common – the pure passion, and that passion has been a driving force for everything I do for some time now. So that’s all there is – passion. Scales, chords, arpeggios, licks etc – they are all just tools -at the heart of it all is the supreme passion for music – nothing else matters.
In the age of the internet, soon to be followed by the age of whatever, universal meanings like passion, transcendental thoughts and the like are standard. Music, however, is as endless as ever. Jazz, classical…anything with a powerful message behing it. First the tools, then the whole picture…or even the other way round if it works for you – whatever works!
And that’s all. All that matters, anyway.