Friday, November 12, 2004

Improvisation

Example

Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle) 1913 by Wassily Kandinsky

The Nick Drake thread below started from Brad Mehldau's improvisations on his new Live in Tokyo CD.

I keep coming across improvisation on The Overgrown Path, and am starting to understand its importance. One of the most progressive record labels around is the French company Alpha (at the risk of sounding boring why are so many good things like this French? - does anyone know an innovative baroque recording company from the US? But that's probably an unfair comment because this thread started with Brad Mehldau,who was born in Jacksonville, Florida). I bought Nobody's Jig by the wonderfully named Les Witches in Heffer's splendidl CD shop in Cambridge at the weekend. Then I moved on to All' Improviso with L'Arpeggiata and Christina Pluhar also on their Les Chants de la Terre label.

Now no prizes for guessing what All' Improviso is about. In the very good sleeve notes for this recording Christina Pluhar makes some fascinating, and important observations about improvisation...

All musicians find themselves faced with the same questions. Should we elaborate or preserve, interpret or create? How far can or must we go in terms of innovation? Where are the limits? And when - and above all how - can or must we overstep those limits?

Improvising, while trying to bridge the gap between two styles of music, naturally raises a number of questions. Have we the right to do this? What exactly are we allowed to do? What is the name of the resulting style?
But the most interesting questions are these: What do we have in common? What is the basic pith of improvisation? What can we learn from one another?

For a musician, whatever his background, improvisation is the most direct form of communication with the listener. In every age and culture, improvisation came before all other forms of music. It exposes our true, inner voice, which has been affected by our musical training. Today we are free to choose, and our chosen pathis an expression of our innermost being. The music we use to express our emotions is the mirror of our soul.

Example

Christina asks the important question - Where are the limits? There seems to be a continuum from disciplined improvisation such as All' Improviso, through creative improvosation such as Brad Mehldau's which still remains linked to the original to the free form of Keith Jarrett's ECM improvisations on Book of Ways and Spheres (Holding my copy of the former recording as I type reminds me I bought it in the Ahlens City department store in Stockholm where Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lind was tragically murdered).

Book of Ways is an extraordinary double CD of improvisations on the rarely recorded Clavichord, while Spheres is an equally uncompromising set of improvisations recorded on the Trinity Organ in the Benedictine Abbey (another thread, see Pliable's Travels ) at Ottobeuren (see picture below), and uses a range of effects including pulling out certain stops part way.

These two Keith Jarrett explorations of the art of improvisation have divided his critics far more than any of his other recordings. Did they exceed the limits? Did they fail to meet the test identified by Siobhan Davies, choreographer in a recent article?


It isn't enough for new work to be intellectually open: it must be intellectually rigorous too.-


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