It’s been a long time since I’ve posted any solo work – the last time was in mid-June. I feel very different than that trombonist who recorded those tracks three months ago. I no longer have the time to be constantly obsessing about technique and virtuosity. I mourn the loss of that time, but the very lack of time that has made it seemingly impossible to work on trombone mechanics has also taught me something about the power of ideas over the allure of chops. Anyways, I think “Missing You” – which is dedicated to my sweetie, Kathy Olson – and “Decay” are two of the best solo pieces I’ve ever tried. I hope you enjoy the music.
Here are two choice tracks which were recorded on August 21st at La Luna Cafe in Cambridge, MA. I might put up a few more tracks in the next several days, as I have time. Download the track by clicking on the name, or listen to it via the streaming flash player.
I’m particularly excited about the track Low Contrast. I wrote it for this group, and my idea was: what if Morton Feldman wrote a tune for the Mulligan/Brookmeyer band? I’m quite pleased with the results, and it’s a thing I’m definitely going to pursue in future projects.
So I have this gig coming up with my killin’ bari-sax-playing sweetie, Kathy Olson, which was partially inspired by the legendary Gerry Mulligan/Bob Brookmeyer quartet. And it got me thinking about the history of great trombone-saxophone pairings throughout jazz.
Let me first say that playing with a saxophone player poses unique aesthetic questions to the trombone player, and it’s something that I’ve had to think a lot about in the past few years. Think about it this way: imagine you are the trombonist Dickey Wells, in Count Basie’s big band in the 1930’s. Herschal Evans and Lester Young are dueling every night, re-inventing the jazz vocabulary on the band stand right before your eyes. When it’s time for the trombone solo after choruses of brilliant saxophonics what can you play that won’t be instantly forgettable? What can you play that will convince an audience that you have something valuable to add to the conversation? It’s a musical mindbender that persists to this day – when I’m on a jazz gig, and there is a tenor saxist who shreds right before my solo, I think to myself as I step up to the mic: “whelp, here’s old Dickey Wells standing up to take his little solo”. Dickey Wells’ victory is that he managed to find his own vocabulary amid all the saxophone posturing, and he was able to play solos that weren’t instantly forgettable.
So there’s the rub. How can saxophonists and trombonists ever get along? Well, fortunately there are a couple of examples in the history that lead the way. The ones that pop out immediately to my mind (one for each voice in the saxophone family):
Curtis Fuller & Benny Golson
Bob Brookmeyer & Gerry Mulligan
Roswell Rudd & Steve Lacy
George Lewis & Anthony Braxton*
Each pair dealt with the issues in their own ways: Curtis Fuller played it cool against Benny Golson’s heat. Brookmeyer and Mulligan shared vocabulary and a similar sensibility about timbre, and they embraced counterpoint. Lacy’s clever terseness matched well with Rudd’s humorous generosity. And Braxton and Lewis were such monsters that they could make anything work.
Anyways, that is what’s been on my mind recently. It’s a pleasure to work with Kathy on it, and you should check out the gig we are playing at La Luna Cafe in Cambridge, MA on August 21st at 10 PM. I will, as always, put recordings on this site as soon as they’re available.
*And there are also a few pairs in newer music. Like:
Wolter Weirbos & Frank Gratkowski
Nils Wogram & Hayden Chisholm
Can you come up with any other examples? I’m having trouble thinking of current long-standing pairs in more conventional genres, but I’m sure that they’re around.
Live at La Luna Cafe in Cambridge, MA – June 20th 2009
Tea for Two
Deed I Do
On the D.L.
Kathy Olson – bari sax
Randy Pingrey – trombone
Keigo Hirakawa – piano
Brad Barrett – bass
All of these songs are transcribed and arranged (and, for On the D.L., composed) by Randy Pingrey, except for Smoochin’, which was composed and arranged by Kathy Olson. Special thanks goes to Kathy for recording and editing these tracks, and for giving me permission to put them up here. And also to La Luna for supporting live jazz!
So it’s been a long while since I’ve really had anything to write here – I’ve been busy moving in to and setting up my new place in Cambridge, and I’ve been quite busy making ends meet and making good on all of my obligations. There hasn’t been much time for the type of quasi-indulgent-self-reflection that blog writing takes, but today I have a lazy afternoon all to myself.
Music in July has been a very positive thing – I’ve been playing all over town, and I have a lot of great projects coming in the future. I’ve continued to play with the Roma Band, which is always an interesting cultural experience (and excellent ear and endurance training), and I’ve continued to play on and off again with the Beantown Swing Orchestra. Special thanks goes to all the folks that came to the Joe Moffett duo gig on July 12th, and to Ben Stepner for recording it for all to hear over the web. Hopefully the trio work we did with James will get a much-needed update in the next few weeks.
August promises to be a really productive month: I have several interesting gigs coming up: tonight I’m playing with Gleason’s Twins in J.P., and next week – on Thursday (August 6th) – I’m playing at the Regattabar with the Nick Grondin group. Both groups should be an interesting, entertaining experience. Next week, I’m playing Schubert’s 8th symphony in western MA as a ringer in a youth symphony. I’ve had to work on honing my alto clef chops, and it’s reminding me how much I enjoyed practicing classical trombone techniques.
I’m also planning a new project with Kathy Olson, a killer bari sax player (and my sweetie), in which we’ll play music inspired by the classic Gerry Mulligan and Bob Brookmeyer quartet. We play at La Luna Cafe on August 21st, and another gig is on the horizon. I’ll post music from that project as soon as it gets recorded.
This site will change some in August, as well. As you’ve probably already noticed, I’ve started to use Twitter as a way to bridge in-between major blog posts – I like it because it’s easy and fun and a very low commitment on my time. Also expect a major rehaul of the “media” page – in a few weeks it will be much easier to use, and divided more clearly into specific projects. I want to get some of my more straight-ahead jazz work on the page as well as some classical trombone examples. I’ve also been working on a few posts which will see the light of day in the next week or so. I’ve been recording solo trombone improvisations, and a post with my thoughts on the project will appear soon (with recorded examples), as well as a post about the great Lawrence Brown which I’ve been struggling to complete since late June.
And lastly: thanks to all the people who have checked stuff out on the site – my old post on Mississippi John Hurt seems to be the most popular, which is cool with me, and I really appreciate everyone who has listened to the music and come to the gigs.
A word or two about the compositions: the three tunes we played at the event were written specifically for that concert. My goal was to strip back some of the layers of composition, in order to try to reveal the thing – or anything – that lies underneath. From Godard’s movie My Life to Live: “A bird is an animal with an inside and an outside. Remove the outside, there’s the inside. Remove the inside and you see the soul.” If you similarly remove the outside and inside of composition, what is the remainder? This is my melancholy science.
Thriving Off a Riff is based on a Webern string quartet, but only in the loosest of terms. Some of the pitch material is kept, and I try to maintain a similar sense of pacing and form. The goal for me was to show, in some small way, the inadequacy of pitch as an expressive device. That at a certain point, pitch fails to express some of the expressions that are most basic and essential for us to express. I chose to base the piece after Webern because of his connection to and mastery of pitch, and to show that (if only to myself) there is more to his craft than the clever reordering of pitch rows. This aspect – pitch – was the first compositional layer I chose to peel back.
A Shrug of the Shoulders is an attempt to give aesthetic weight to failure and incompetence, much in the same spirit as Samuel Beckett, whose words started this blog two months ago. I’m interested in investigating the point at which virtuosity breaks down and becomes irrelevant to the musical goals. The compositional challenge has an interesting proposal: how do you write music which remains interesting (or at least sympathetic) yet embraces failure? Do you go for charming impotence, humorous ignorance, or (preferably) do you go for something deeper? This aspect – virtuosity – was the second compositional layer I chose to peel back.
An Excuse for Laziness examines the metaphorical end-of-the-line for composition. The compositional aspect, instead of relying on pitch or form or other written aspects, is based on orchestration – each player is limited to playing with certain cliche sounds from early jazz performance practice – and on the prerecorded tapes which James and Joe manipulate on old, barely functional tape players which they didn’t necessarily know how to operate. My goal, in the loftiest and most pretentious way of putting it, was to try to capture an aural sense of oldness, to show that at the eleventh hour it is improssible to remain timelessly hip and that sooner or later everyone looks at least a little old-fashioned. Was it a success? Well, it’s a topic I’ll certainly have to come back to. This aspect – composition, itself – was the third and last compositional layer I chose to peel back.
After all this: what remains? I’m not yet sure. Check out the tracks, and tell me what you think.
And, as if that wasn’t enough for me to blabber on about, here is my arrangement of Raffi’s Baby Beluga, which was performed by the Comprovised All-Stars:
I’m extremely grateful for all the wonderful performers that you hear on these tracks, and deserving of particular thanks is Travis Alford and Dan VanHassel for arranging the concert and inviting me to bring my weirdo stuff as well as Joe and James, who play so wonderfully (and musically!) on the trio tracks.
There is this tradition of solo trombone improvising. In Derek Bailey’s book on improvisation:
The most interesting soloists to my ears often turn out to be trombonists. Paul Rutherford and George Lewis, in their different ways, both seem to make improvisation the basis of their solo playing and also take advantage of the “singleness” of the solo situation; happy for the music to sound like one person, playing alone. pg.109
Well, that sounds like an interesting thing to explore! Today, on a whim, I recorded some solo improvisations.
I’m working on developing a solo language. I have to say, it’s challenging for me to improvise all by myself for any extended period of time – I think the longest track is two or three minutes, and most of them are closer to half that. There are stories about Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell really focusing on individual details of music in order to extend their improvisations, and I can totally understand why. My personal favorite is the fourth track, because it has that focus which is lacking in the other three.
I’ve also never quite wrapped my head around what Derek Bailey means by “singleness”, at least in the sense that, desipite working on solo playing for about a year, I have yet to be able to enjoy the emptiness.
Anyways, I’ll continue to work on it. One person, playing alone. Thanks for listening!