Friday, March 02, 2007

Improvisations, Jazz, Plug 'n' Play

Was watching an old favourite, Plug 'n' Play, and was thrilled to find, right at the very beginning, another old favourite: Bill Evans' liner notes for Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue. In it, he says:

"There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.

The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see well find something captured that escapes explanation.

This conviction that direct deed is the most meaningful reflections, I believe, has prompted the evolution of the extremely severe and unique disciplines of the jazz or improvising musician. "

It's an interesting thought, one that is compelling in its directness.

But I wonder how an opposite perspective - that, for instance, expressed in Pamuk's My Name Is Red , that all art is already an act of memory; that constant practice produces the remembered form, an almost Platonic ideal - would work with jazz improvisations. Perhaps they're not very different; Evans talks about the artist who is 'forced to be spontaneous'.
Don't you love the sound of 'direct deed is the most meaningful reflection'? The rest of the liner notes here.


sakshi said...

Hey...just sent you an email. Pls check.


equivocaliser said...

Ya, I don't think they're very different. There has to be a context for improvisation-- that is, it has to be informed by a certain skill, training, fluency; which is to say, rememembered forms. Ornette Coleman was something of an exception to this perhaps, since he literally seems to have jumped to the middle of nowhere out of nowhere. But Coltrane, and Miles too, were really inching towards complete freedom very slowly, working first with what discipline and training they already had, and being rock solid with it. The flip side of this is the supposedly free improvisations you see in a lot of second-rate free jazz today, where improvisation that is supposedly free just grooves up in a set of patterns and crescendoes that are (by now) cliches that one can already predict from dozens of times before. It's hard to reach for freedom so innocently today the way they were able to do in the sixties.

A good antidote to Evans might be Charles Mingus' far thinking grammy winning liner notes to his own album, about and around spontaneous composition:

(Which is not to say I don't like Evans' liner notes for KOB, they were so sharp and timely. And thanks for bringing to the fore what I think is such an under-rated literary genre-- liner notes. My own favourite is again Mingus' notes for his Black Saint and Sinner Lady-- not the part by his psychologist, which I think is dumb and comical, but the section written by CM himself, where he improvises on about where to play the beat in jazz linking it to leaky taps, bad landlords, critics...

I'll type them up for you sometime if you haven't seen them.


Space Bar said...

Equivocaliser: Oddly enough, I was going to do a post about Mingus first! About, specifically, A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry but copped out with a shorter post.

Liner Notes. Yes. One post coning up about another much neglected area of writing: film directors' 'creative' writing. That is, writing that is not theoretical or the result of interviews.

If the CM you're refering to is on the site, I'll look it up. Thaks for the link!