Evan Woodle - March 7th, 2010
Although a piece of music - be it free or not - has the remarkable potential to comprise countless different elements and dimensions, I identify the two most critical components as being the beginning and the ending. Unfortunately, the importance of these elements is directly proportional (at least!) to the challenge inherent in achieving them.
In the context of freely improvised music, a piece lacking a solid beginning will be more prone to stutter along awkwardly for long periods of time before any musical territories are reached mutually. Although it may be still possible for a group to “score a few [musical] points” after a bad start (that’s right, music = sports), the negative feelings and vibes that were present at the outset tend to manifest themselves in various forms throughout the piece. Furthermore, if you were to compare the “touchdowns” (whoa, can you handle that analogy?) of a piece that started on the wrong foot to the “touchdowns” of a piece that started on the […right foot?], you would probably find that the latter arrived at those moments more often and in a much more organic and logical fashion than the former.
For this week’s session, I highly encourage the use of melody as a tool for guiding the free improvisations. Try to respect your piece’s melody, first by contributing what you feel is absolutely necessary to its development (which may not involve you playing all or any of the time), and second by never forgetting what the melody was! So, at any moment during the piece, you should be able to return to the opening melody, or at least the character of it (like, if it were a test or something). If there is a case where you feel that the group never achieved a mutual opening statement, do not worry! All is not lost! Try to find something to latch on to, something to keep your mind focused not on your own sound (as this leads easily to the group sounding incoherent as a whole) but on the collective group’s sound. If you can begin to “hook up” with just one other person in the group, it will greatly help to tie the group’s sound together and create a great piece of music.
I should include that one logical way to end a free improvisation being highly influenced by melody would be to restate the melody. This would certainly demonstrate that you have not forgotten the melody and would serve as a nice “cue” to bring the piece to a close (that is, if not everybody else has forgotten the melody!). Now, obviously there are an infinite number of ways for a piece to end logically, but restating the melody is just one effective method.
I will also be debuting some new music that will attempt to embody some of the concepts outlined above. Playing with me will be two fellow UW musicians, Ivan Arteaga (on alto and baritone saxophones) and Mark Hunter (on bass).
As far as music to check out, listen to anything by Ornette Coleman; I consider him to be one of the greatest masters of melody. Here’s a couple tracks that I like in particular:
“Endangered Species” (Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman), off of Song X, by Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman.
“Street Woman” (Ornette Coleman), off of Give, by The Bad Plus.
**“Melody” does not necessarily mean “consonant eight bar phrase played by a pitched instrument”. A “melody” can be anything, as long as it is played (or sung, or whatever) with sincerity and intention.