Monday 26 October 2009

Calling Signals 09 UK Tour

Frode Gjerstad alto saxophone and clarinets
Jon Corbett trumpet and valve trombone
Nick Stephens acoustic bass
Paal Nilssen-Love percussion

Tues. 8th. December BIRMINGHAM - Frizzle at The Lamp Tavern, Barford St. B5 7RB

Wed. 9th. December CARDIFF - Dempsey's, 15 Castle St. CF10 1BS

Thur.10th. December NEWCASTLE - Bridge Hotel, Castle Garth NE1 1RQ

Fri. 11th. December CHELTENHAM - Xposed Club at Pittville Studios The University of Gloucester, Albert Rd. GL52 3JG

Sun. 13th December LONDON- The Vortex, 11 Gillett Sq. N16 8JH

Tue.15th. December COLCHESTER - Colchester Arts Centre, Church St. CO1 1NF

Wed.16th. December BRIGHTON - Open House, Springfield Rd.BN1 6BZ

Thursday 27 August 2009

New Release : CALLING SIGNALS 08 from Cafe Oto

This is the fifth incarnation of Calling Signals. Previous members have been Paul Rutherford, Terje Isungset, Louis Moholo, Hasse Poulsen, TonyMarsh and Eivin One Pedersen. Besides the
1996 recording on Loose Torque, there are two recordings available from FMR.
The guest musician in the 2008 version of the group is a man whose shirts often match his looping, colourful style. Gentleman geezer, 'The Bald Soprano' the inimitable Lol Coxhill. I've played in many different situations with Lol, from John Steven's big bands to a New Orleans style trio with Roger Turner, from Mike Cooper's Hawaiian group to his own Before My Time and it's always been a pleasure listening to him negotiate his own unique path through any music that he's involved with - and I've seen the old TV clip of him playing tenor sax on 'Walkin The Dog' with Rufus Thomas.
While Calling Signals were in Birmingham, we found time to rummage around for a couple of hours in my old haunt, The Diskery, a shop that still specialises in Vinyl. I struck lucky with a recording of Jazz Reunion with Pee Wee Russell and Coleman Hawkins. Lol was quite envious, until he remembered that he probably had it lurking somewhere in his collection. I have always thought that there is something of Pee Wee in Lol's playing, the suprises, the wit and the nod to tradition, but he remains the one and only...

Frode Gjerstad, clarinets and alto
Lol Coxhill, soprano
Nick Stephens, acoustic bass
Paal Nilssen-Love, percussion

Communication One 11:28
Communication Two 43:02
Recorded 15th December 2008 live at Cafe Oto London
Available now

Sunday 22 February 2009

Name That Tune

Having just finished mixing a live recording I made at the Red Rose, it's time to play the name game. As it happens this one should not be too difficult, there are only two pieces, but I have two more CDs ready for release, so that's eight track titles in all plus three CD titles.

The point is that most of the music I play and record is totally improvised, so a title is an afterthought, an irrelevance? On a CD, the standard information you are given is track number and duration. To add a title is - well, unnecessary. I will not be going on stage and saying “Hey chaps, lets play "The Last Over Before Tea" from our CD "Today's Play” so why bother? It seems a practice that could be full of pitfalls, misleading by suggesting pictures or stories that were not there in the minds of the players, or being too serious, wacky or pretentious. But, titles can also be thought provoking, political and humorous.

For the secular instrumental music composers of the Baroque period naming a piece was pretty straightforward. The form, the instrumentation, the tempo or dance rhythm and the key - easy, sorted. The classical period followed the same pattern, but titles began to appear: Mozart's ‘Jupiter’, Haydn's ‘The Clock’, Beethoven's ‘Moonlight’ etc., but most of these were nicknames and not given (or necessarily approved of) by the composer. Beethoven crosses into the romantic period, which is littered with titles. He was one of the early users of programme music (preconceived ideas that formed the music and was intended to invoke extra musical ideas and images) with his 6th ‘The Pastoral Symphony’. Others, painting musical pictures, were Liszt, Berlioz, Schubert, Delius. These ideas continued with the late romantics into the 20th Century with Tone Poems, music which encouraged literary, pictorial and dramatic associations, Richard Straus, Debussy and Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, Ives, Stravinsky etc. by now they're all doing it even Schoenberg with his ‘Verklarte Nacht’

So what of the avant-garde? Well, John Cage, after some interesting early titles, ‘The Unavailable Memory Of’, ‘Paragraphs Of Thin Air’, ‘What Are We Doing, Where Are We Going?’ (I think I'll nick that one!) named all the pieces in his last four years, with numbers, ‘Twenty-Nine’, ‘Five3’ as in his earlier most infamous ‘4'33"’. Stockhausen came up with an unusual title for an unusual piece ‘The Helikopter-Streichquartett’. The piece requires the four musicians of the string quartet to leave the auditorium, followed by four cameras and climb into four waiting helicopters. The film and the sound (including the rotor blades from each helicopter) is relayed back to the audience via four screens and four banks of speakers - far out! Verese gave us ‘Hyperprism’, ‘Ionisation’ and ‘Tuning Up’ but not surprisingly, as music became more abstract and separated from Romanticism and Impressionism, composers reverted to numbers and instrumentation for their titles.

Let's jump to popular music, which by virtue of the fact that it was popular had titles. (Beethoven's publisher didn't add ‘Mondscheinsonate’ to his Piano Sonata No. 14 for arts sake, he thought it would help it sell.) Most popular instrumental music (dance bands) was based on songs and so had a built in title. But if Glenn Miller had called it Swing no.19 instead of ‘String Of Pearls’ or Slow Foxtrot no.103 rather than ‘Tuxedo Junction’ they may not have had the same appeal to someone flipping through the sheet music or record bin.

At this point, I had written about the instrumentals of the rock n roll era, but I had to edit somewhere and as this era was so important to me becoming a musician I have saved these thoughts for another post.

Frank Zappa had a nice line in titles, ‘The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue’ from the album ‘Weasels Ripped My Flesh’ is typically non-reverential Zappa. ‘Lumpy Gravy’ (with the track ‘Very Distraughtening’) reminds me I have a Horace Silver record called ‘Wavy Gravy’ - who would have thought that gravy would be served up more than once in a tune title? And of course, there's ‘Peaches En Regalia’.
I'm sure Pink Floyd, Yes and all those bands from the “Turn on, tune in, drop out” generation (it happened later in England) had some instrumentals with wacky titles, but while I did my share "tripping" those records weren't on my turntable and it's time to move onto jazz now.

Some friends first. John Stevens liked to use everyday expressions ‘Mazin Ennit’ ‘Whoops A Daisy’, I remember the charming and well-spoken Charles Fox struggling to pronounce mazin ennit when we played it on his BBC Radio 3 show ‘Jazz In Britain’. He was taping his announcements and it seemed he could only abuse the Queen’s English on one word out of two – “Amazin ennit…..mazin isn't?”
Paul Rutherford's solo trombone album ‘The Gentle Harm Of The Bourgeoisie’ showed an obvious indication of his politics. From his ‘Solo In Berlin’ CD, ‘A Song My Granny Taught Me’ and ‘Not A Very Wonderful Ballad’ are nice throwaway titles for improvised music. A live recording from the 1976 Moers Jazz Festival Germany, provides us with some more typical Ruthers humour, the album, ‘Old Moers Almanac’ has a final track called ‘Arlbedesame’.
So, talking about politics. After bebop, which was mostly based on show tunes, came some hard boppers with a strong and necessary political focus. Many black American jazz musicians made their protest through their music and the titles: Max Roach ‘We Insist! - Freedom Now Suite’, Archie Shepp ‘Atica Blues’, John Coltrane ‘Alabama’, Sonny Rollins ‘Freedom Suite’ and of course, my first bass hero and angry man, Charles Mingus ‘Haitian Fight Song’ and ‘Fables Of Faubus’

To digress for a minute, most jazz players, who've been around for a while, have punning titles for the ole standards. Charles Suhor has started a list of some of these. E.g. ‘Fry Me a Liver’ ‘I've Thrown a Custard to Her Face’, ‘I Don't Stand a Chance with Ghost Like You’. There's also a web site called, ‘The Best Of The Worst Country-western Song Titles’. I particularly like: ‘Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth Because I'm kissin' You Goodbye’ ‘Mama Get The Hammer (There's A Fly On Papa's Head)’ and ‘I'd Rather Have A Bottle In Front Of Me Than A Frontal Lobotomy’.
I remember Lonnie Donnegan introducing a song with ‘Now we'd like to play a song called ‘Don't Go Down The Mine Dad, There's Plenty Of Slack In Your Pants’ (that had my dad in tears) or another time ‘Don't Put Your Cat In The Washing Machine Mum You Might Get A Sock In The Puss’. Ah! you don't get introductions like that these days - come back Ronnie Scott. I'd like to add a new one I saw recently. Seasick Steve's ‘I Started Out With Nuthin And I Still Got Most Of It Left’.

So, after all that, how do I go about choosing titles for improvisations I've recorded for Loose Torque? I have several methods and they often involve having a drink and a smoke. At the back of my mixing and editing diary I keep some pages of expressions, phrases, quotes etc., which I can use if I don't already have a theme in mind. When I went to Norway to record a duo with Frode Gjerstad he took me out for a drive and a walk each day, through the mountains or down to the fjord. Then we'd go back and improvise. The music, for me at least, was very affected by these trips and the use of shipping areas and weather conditions as used in the BBC Shipping Forecasts was an obvious choice. ‘High, Southern Norway’, ‘North Utsire, South Utsire’, ‘Rising More Slowly’ I found out later that Frode's wife was born in Utsire.
After I recorded the trio with John Corbett and Tony Marsh, I was thinking, “today’s play was good.” Bingo! CD title ‘Today's Play’. I had been collecting cricketing terms and they seemed to fit the pieces perfectly, ‘Line And Length’, ‘Reverse Swing’ etc. My decision to use cricket-related titles was confirmed when I was given the news that Elton Dean had died. He was a big cricket nut and I dedicated the record to him.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Frode Gjerstad’s Circulasione Totale Orchestra

Spring 2009 Gigs

Oslo, Nasjonal Jazzscene, April 29th
St. Johann, Austria, April 30th
Vienna, Austria, Porgy and Bess May 1st
Ulrichsberg F
estival Austria, May 2nd
Taktlos, Zurich, Switzerland May 3rd
more details to follow or mail us for details

Circulasione Totale Orchestra members:

  • Louis Moholo-Moholo, drums , South-Africa
  • Morten J. Olsen electronics, drums , Norway
  • Anders Hana electric guitar, Norway
  • Frode Gjerstad sax, clarinets , Norway
  • Nick Stephens acoustic bass, UK
  • Paal Nilssen-Love drums, Norway
  • Ingebrigt H. Flaten acoustic bass, Norway
  • Børre Mølstad tuba, Norway
  • Sabir Mateen, sax and clarinets, USA
  • Kevin Norton vibraphone , USA
  • Bobby Bradford, cornet , USA
  • Lasse Marhaug electronics, Norway
  • John Hegre, soundman, Norway