Here in the mountain town of Manitou Springs, the Hyde to Colorado Springs' Jekyll. Manitou Springs is like a Colorado version of a smaller Sedona. Nice gig the the other night in Taos, and nice one last night at a place called Smokebrush Foundation for the Arts in Co Springs. Talk about a lonely torch - an arts foundation in a town run by the religious right and the military. Yikes! On our way down to Santa Fe for gig three, should be cool. Such a stunning drive between Colorado and New Mexico. Staring out the window actually feels like a productive thing to do. The music felt great last night. Mark Weaver's tunes are a joy to play and take just a couple readings to really get off the page. Last night was the first time these new tunes felt internalized. The music had that playing-itself out-of-body quality that simply cannot happen every gig, no matter how much preparation goes into it. It's those moments that are most special to me as a musician.
Amoz Oz' Touch the Water, Touch the Wind has been enjoyable. Fantastical in that early70s kind of way. Heidegger and kibbutizim and magical realism and levitation and poetics all rolled up into less than 200 pages. A NY times review from 1974 (when the English translation came out) says "the result, though beguiling is an exquisite sketch for a grand novel." I tend to agree. there is something ephemeral to the novella, as though he wrote it in a hurry. Ends up feeling like a companion to Singer's "The Magician of Lublin" rather than "Shadows on the Hudson," a small, lovely book rather than a massive architecture.
On the subject of touching the 70s, I may as well get in on the excellent discussions initiated by Dave Douglas, Ethan Iverson, Taylor Ho Bynum, Nate Chinen and others on creative music masterworks since 1970. I'll jump ahead to 1989 because its whats on my mind: Barry Guy and the London Jazz Composers Orchestra recording on Intakt "Harmos." One long 43-min Guy composition full of fantastic large ensemble writing, outstanding improvisations (Radu Malfatti has ostensibly played the same amount of notes since this recording that he played in his blistering solo here?), and real cohesive start-to-finish music-making. Had the pleasure of working with Barry last summer in Halifax. We were the two composers-in-residence at the Sonic Courage Festival organized by Paul Cram. We played his Witch Gong Game II, and it was a treat to get an insight into how he orchestrates his music on the fly. Would like to talk to Barry the next time I see him about how its been for him as a British free improviser who also has a large body of work as a composer. The Brit free improvisers sometimes seem wary to combine improvisation and composition. There also don't seem to be too many ensembles where there is a clear leader, where an ensemble plays the compositions that the leader brings. Interesting how Barry has made a long career of leading this all-star ensemble (albeit not just with Brits) and putting written material in front of all of these world-class improvisers.
Simon H. Fell is another Brit free improviser who is a fantastic composer. His recording "Thirteen Rectangles" (Bruce's Fingers, 2001) is another decade or so along from "Harmos." An excellent document of a killer band (Gail Brand and Alex Ward - what a trombone-clarinet pair!) who went into the studio and recorded this monster in one take! I've enjoyed very much playing with Simon in improvised contexts, and knew of his reputation as an accomplished composer for improvisers. This is the first of Simon's composed/improvised recordings that I've checked out deeply, and I can't recommend it highly enough. The thematic material is exhilirating (check out some of the clarinet/piano writing!), the band as mentioned is airtight and the overall effect is one of seamlessness, for my money priority #1 when composing for improvisers.
Interesting side-note: both Barry and Simon are ex-pat Brits. Barry lives in Switzerland, Simon in France. Hmmm.....