Live Streaming Revisited (Again!)

ollieI joined a Zoom discussion group hosted by Ollie Weindling of The Vortex Jazz Club earlier this week, mostly to listen to what other promoters are doing in this period of lockdown and what plans are emerging for the time when venues and clubs can open up again.  What is immediately apparent is that we in UK are some way behind other countries in Europe where venues are beginning to open, albeit under strict regulations to ensure the maintenance of physical distancing through restriction of the venue capacity. Here it is unlikely that venues will re-open until next year and even that may be delayed for some months into 2021.

When lockdown was first imposed, many live streamed events appeared almost immediately and musicians and promoters enthusiastically set up performances via Facebook, Twitch or YouTube; most of these involved solo performances, some involved duos from musicians sharing a household.  Most of these have been a welcome opportunity to hear music played and for musicians to maintain some kind of income through donations, or in some cases a Paywall payment system.  Again most have been excellent, but some have suffered through poor technical quality.  Also, the proliferation of these streamed solo events has led to confusion for listeners who are not necessarily able to react to a sudden announcement that so and so is streaming live now.  It is apparent that the most successful streams have a curated programme advertised in advance.  Most of these streams have invited donations and found that these were initially quite generous, but have dropped off over time.  A few have successfully adopted a Paywall payment system.

All of the above I see as Live Streaming Stage 1.  This stage has thrown up a number of issues around live streaming.

  • Most streams have asked for donations and after an initial surge, these have tended to drop off. Do we therefore need to move to a Paywall system to ensure that musicians get paid?
  • Most streams have involved just one musician and there is a clear danger in the limits of this approach
  • The professional standard of the sound and the visual display is sometimes poor and there is the danger that viewers will lose patience.

Thus in Britain, where the possibility of opening venues seems far away, many musicians and venues are moving on from Stage 1 to Stage 2 where the limitations and weaknesses of the early streaming attempts are addressed and more professional standards are sought.

In Stage 2 we need to ensure that the streams have high production values in terms of the sound quality and the visual display.  We need to maximise impact through running one day or weekend festivals with a curated programme.  We need to encourage musicians to talk about their music and invite questions.  One of the aspects I enjoy most about these live streams is the ability to comment and ask questions and most of the ones I have watched have generated a good number of comments.  Admittedly, most of these comments have been of the ‘I’m here’ or ‘Great Gig’ nature, but I hope we can move on to more interaction about the actual music.  All this I see as key to Live Streaming Stage 2.  The main advantage of this stage is that it retains a direct interaction between the musician(s) in the music room and the listener which I find more involving than the streaming of a live concert in a club.   We need to see whether it is possible to run streams with a Paywall system where the audience has to pay in order to access the stream.

I see various very interesting types of event emerging that can be developed in Stage 2.  One is Liam Noble’s 4pm Saturday afternoon solo piano stream in which he takes a particular theme each week, e.g. the music of Led Zeppelin, or a composition from every decade from 1920 to 2010, and presents his interpretation of that music.  I also enjoyed very much Chris Mapp’s experiment with two members of his stillefelt group, trumpeter Percy Pursglove and guitarist Tom Ford, being asked to record in isolation a short piece of improvised music as if they were playing with the other members of the trio without hearing what the others are doing.  Chris then improvised on electric bass a reaction to the two recorded pieces; he recorded this, and then the whole piece with the recordings of the three musicians was streamed online.  It was fascinating to observe how well this worked and how well the individual improvisations done in isolation fitted with each other.  Chris suggests that this is down to the fact that the members of the stillefelt trio work together regularly and have a good rapport.

Into The Shed run by guitarist Ronny Graupe has run up to 40+ events in empty Berlin clubs putting together most of the time two musicians to play a 40 min totally improvised set. At the moment they are testing audience reaction by running two events a week, one with a Paywall and an entrance fee for an event that can only be accessed while it is live; in other words, it is not available afterwards.  The other event is available free with the request for donations and remains online.

Also interesting is the plan for the next Around The Houses (ATH) live stream with musicians from Birmingham and the West Midlands.  Four artists have been commissioned to produce a piece or a number of pieces for either themselves solo, or for a duo or trio with a final version to be created from the separate recordings.  This will be broadcast in mid July.

This ATH session is being funded by sponsorship and the musicians will be paid a reasonable fee.  A number of people have questioned the whole live streaming approach on the grounds that it may downgrade the importance of the live gig and reinforce the belief that music should be available for free.  I believe that these Stage 2 experiments have value in that they provide some income for musicians and a number of interesting ideas that we hope will engage the interest of listeners.

In Europe where venues seem able to open with limited audiences, they have moved directly from Stage 1 to what I see as Live Streaming Stage 3.  Here the primacy of the live gig with an audience present is re-asserted, but the concert may be streamed to a second room or, more widely, to cater for larger audiences.   In the Zoom discussion this week it became apparent that there is considerable potential in live streaming of concerts that are taking place in a live situation with an audience.  Such live streams can build audiences in other locations, both nationally and internationally, and create a second income stream for both the musicians and the venue through a Paywall payment system.

The Nasjonal Jazzscene is Oslo, Moods in Zurich and Porgy and Bess in Vienna already have a programme of occasional live streams of this nature.  The Vortex is planning to do something similar and there are ideas of exchanging concerts, such as the idea of one set in one city, the second in another city, both streamed to the other city.   The streaming could involve interviews with musicians and a Q&A with audience members.   The National Theatre in Britain has established an excellent model for this with pre-show and interval interviews with directors or actors.  I should emphasise that all such streamings are, as I understand it, occasional and are for certain special events such as an album launch, a premiere of a commission or the visit of a major national or international artist

In conclusion, I believe that the live streaming of concerts is here to stay, but it will always remain secondary to live concerts with an audience.  In UK we are not yet at the stage that many other European venues have reached, and still need to set up individual live streams.  It is clear to me that there are certain advantages in this, and that the experimental work in what I have termed Stage 2 can offer interesting online additional activity that is not possible in the live concert situation.  I believe such activity may be very important in the ‘new normal’.

I am grateful to Ollie Weindling, Chris Mapp, Alex Woods, Sam Slater and Ronny Graupe for conversations that have informed my thoughts.  I am also aware that there have been many other live streams that I have not accessed.

For Liam Noble see www.twitch.tv/liamnoble68; Chris Mapp and stillefelt see https://youtu.be/5lDgQwbCaww; Ronny Graupe and Into The Shed, see https://www.ronnygraupe.com/into-the-shed/index.html, Around The Houses, see https://www.aroundthehouses.net/.

New Albums From Groups Featuring The Trumpet: Vicente/Brice/Sanders and Dinosaur

amigo brice sandersVicente/Brice/Sanders: Unnavigable Tributaries

The improvising trio with Portuguese trumpeter Luis Vicente and two UK players, Olie Brice on double bass and Mark Sanders on drums recorded an album with the title of Unnavigable Tributaries in Lisbon after a short tour of Portugal, a tour that Olie Brice describes in his notes on Bandcamp as ‘a week of fantastic gigs, sunshine, great food and beautiful wine’.  The music on the album is clearly the result of that good time and the great empathy between the three players, and features the wonderful interaction between three equals that is characteristic of free jazz today.  It is exciting swinging music that brings together strong melody and great rhythms; as improvised music it is an excellent example of no changes, no time, but a very strong pulse.

Luis Vicente is part of the vibrant Portuguese jazz and improv scenes.  At the Europe Jazz Network meeting in Lisbon in 2018 the Portuguese organisers stated that, as the scene furthest to the West in Europe, they sometimes feel isolated, but I would suggest that this has meant that many Portuguese players have developed strongly individual voices.  This is certainly the case with Luis Vicente; he has a beautiful burnished tone on the trumpet and is able to develop long flowing lines in his solos.  He is also very interactive in this trio and listens to what Brice and Sanders are doing and reacts to it.  He can also create interesting textures on the trumpet.  All this becomes immediately apparent on Track 1, Côa, where Vicente moves between long and short lines in reaction to the wonderful swirling rhythms created by Sanders and Brice.  Track 2, Tua, is a little different in that Sanders and Brice start with choppy rhythms and Vicente reacts with short punchy phrases and an occasional rasping sound before moving into a more fluent phase and a final gentler solo.  On Track 3, Sabor, Vicente uses the wah wah mute and on the final tracks, Corgo, Tavora and Paiva Vicente moves between different textures on the trumpet exploring different sonic possibilities and more regular trumpet lines.  Throughout Brice and Sanders contribute by creating the strong rhythms and lines described above, always seeking to interact with the trumpet.

The album is issued in Multikulti Project/Spontaneous Music Tribune series.  Just 300 copes have been pressed, but it is available on Bandcamp.

Dinosaur: To The Earth 

dinosaurTo The Earth, issued on the Edition Label, is Dinosaur’s third album, and, in my opinion, is its best yet.  The band has been together for ten years having formed originally as the Laura Jurd Quartet before changing the name to Dinosaur.  The group has undoubtedly benefited hugely from having been together and playing regularly for so long, and from the fact that they all seem to get on well together.  The group features Laura Jurd on trumpet, flugelhorn and on this album tenor horn as well, Elliot Galvin on piano and keys, Conor Chaplin on bass and Corrie Dick on drums.   The music on this album is more acoustic than on the previous album, Wonder Trail, but, as Liam Noble notes in his excellent sleeve notes, there is nonetheless still a kind of underlying electronic feel to it all.

The title track starts with an attractive unison line from trumpet and keys, then goes into a fine trumpet solo that gradually builds up in intensity over its length.  It slips in an interesting growl at one point, and then the track moves into a bass solo and back into the theme before a short trumpet coda.  The compositions throughout are excellent with five of the seven penned by Laura Jurd, one, For One, by the whole group, and one Absinthe by Billy Strayhorn, originally written for the Ellington Orchestra’s Afro-Bossa album.  The quality of the writing is again apparent on the second track, Slow Lotis, which begins with a keys and bass line.  Elliot solos on keys with an occasional growling interruption from the trumpet.  Track 3, Mosking, is apparently a nod to the Norwegian group Moskus from which the group acknowledges an influence.  Here I think I’m right in saying that Laura plays tenor horn; it has an interesting sound with a lot of that interesting growling sound heard on Tracks 1 and 2.   Again on Track 4, Held By Water, I believe Laura plays tenor horn on the opening statement of the tune, but I think she switches to flugelhorn for her solo.  Corrie Dick’s drums are particularly effective here; Liam Noble suggests that they have something of ‘machine drum dryness’ as well ‘acoustic warmth’ (sleeve notes); they certainly give a very special edge to the music.  On Strayhorn tune, Absinthe, the initial ensemble passage captures something of the Ellington sound, but the solos go elsewhere, but I like to think that the Duke would have liked the interaction between trumpet and piano on this track.  Track 6, Banning Street Blues, has a nicely attractive fun up-tempo tune and strong solos from piano and bass.  The final short track, For One, has more of a bluesy sound and a fine solo from trumpet in that style.

Each member of the quartet has his or her individual voice which comes out in the solos and the interaction between the members of the group; this is one of the main strengths of the group.  Some see the quartet as quintessentially English, but I would regard it as very much a European group that has developed its individual voice from influences from, as well as British music, American jazz, notably Miles Davis, but also from Norwegian jazz, that is Moskus, as mentioned above.  All this plus the fact that they have stayed together for so many years gives them their strong character.

A final point:  both albums have about 40 minutes of music.  As I have stated before, I welcome this slightly shorter length as I like to listen to an album straight through without pause.  This is so much easier to do with an album of this shorter length.

Don Weller 1940 – 2020

don weller

I should like to pay tribute to Don Weller who died last week.  He gave me many hours of great listening back the 1980s and 1990s.

Coincidentally, I picked out the other week an LP by the Don Weller Spring Quartet Commit No Nuisance, an excellent album made in 1979 with a quartet co-led by Don and drummer Bryan Spring with Martin Blackwell on piano and Roy Babbington on bass.  It’s a fine album which shows Don at his best, playing uncomplicated straightahead jazz with a strong tone on up tempo numbers and an ability to play a beautiful gentle ballad.   Don had a strong melodic sense, but also the ability to construct long flowing solos of great energy and a feeling for the blues.

I remember Don playing various times in Birmingham, once with the extrovert American trumpeter Hannibal Marvin Peterson, also with a quintet that featured a double tenor sax front line with Don and Bobby Wellins.  The contrast in styles between these two great players made for a very interesting and enjoyable concert.   There was a great gig at the Moseley Dance Centre in a co-promotion between Birmingham Jazz and World Unlimited that featured Don with the American Hammond Organ player Jimmy McGriff.  This was funky jazz at its absolute best and Don was magnificent that night, playing powerful groove based solos that fitted so well with McGriff’s playing.

There were also appearances with larger groups, the Stan Tracey Octet that supported the Gil Evans Orchestra at the Town Hall in 1978 and with the Gil Evans British Orchestra at the Old Rep in 1983.

Don more or less retired from playing for health reasons in recent years, and the last time I heard him came as a complete surprise.  He appeared at a Friday evening session in the Café Bar at Symphony Hall (what we used to call Rush Hour Blues) in a group led by Mick Hutton.  The photograph above was taken by Garry Corbett at the session.  I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Don was not at his most powerful best that evening, but I will always remember the beautiful ballad he played.

You can hear a track from the Commit No Nuisance album here.

Two Excellent Examples of Free Jazz and Improvised Music Today

It struck me recently that much of my recent writing has been concerned with artists I have worked with, but who are no longer with us.  This might imply a belief on my part that the past in jazz is more interesting than the present.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I find that there is a huge amount of variety in today’s scene, at least the scene as it was immediately before the current lockdown situation.

I find that much of the most interesting music is coming out of the difficult to define area between free jazz and improvised music.  I do not intend to try to pin down the definition here, but rather to review two key recordings that have come my way during this period.  I see these recordings as indicative of some of the features of the scene that excite me.

Crossings by Veryan Weston with Hannah Marshall and Mark Sanders   HI4HEAD Records HFHCD027

veryan westonThis record features Veryan Weston on the key station, which is a keyboard which apparently acts as a trigger system and requires an outside sound system.  Veryan originally used the key station on a Henry Cow reunion gig where he was creating a number of retro sounds and on this recording it comes across as a very flexible instrument that can create a wide range of sounds.  I heard hints of a harpsichord, a guitar, a Hammond Organ and African percussion on different tracks on the album.

There are 9 tracks on the album with lengths varying from 4’06” to 10’15”.  The music has emerged from a number of performances in the last year or so (one of which was at a Fizzle session in Birmingham) in which a number of ideas were used to set up improvisation.  Veryan has developed some of these improvisations into themes and links which are the basis of the music on the album.  It is thus quite structured, but uses the language of improvisation.  It also very rhythmic and makes very effective use of the skills of Mark Sanders on drums and Hannah Marshall on cello and vocal on the final track Extinction.  Both Mark and Hannah, plus Veryan himself, have very clearly defined roles, but their abilities as improvisers also play a major role in interpreting the compositions.  The music also has lots of variety, for example, from the nightmarish atmosphere of Kafka’s Escape, the hint of the methods of the great drummer Ed Blackwell on Slow Blackwell, the African feel of Kalimba Setting, the nod to the rhythms of tap dancers on Tap Dancers, and the vocal on the final track Extinction.

The result of all this is a fascinating project that brings together aspects of composition and freedom that seems to be a key part of what is emerging in what we still refer to as ‘improvised music’.

Whit Dickey Trio: Expanding Light   Tao Forms 02

whit dickeyThis trio recording led by drummer Whit Dickey and featuring saxophonist Rob Brown and bass player Brandon Lopez, is very definitely in the free jazz tradition that goes back to Ornette Coleman and late Coltrane, and which is kept alive today by players in New York who associate with bass player William Parker and the annual Vision Festival.   Both Whit Dickey and Rob Brown have worked regularly with William Parker and are leading exponents of the style of free jazz that is fresh and innovative, but which in many ways remains firmly in the tradition of American jazz.  Brandon Lopez is a new name to me, but he has a powerful voice that reminds me a little of the playing of Henry Grimes.

There is less one can say about individual tracks on the album, except to say that they are all excellent examples of the intensity, high energy and spirituality that the best free jazz can create.  There are six tracks with lengths varying from 5’14” to 13’28”.

Some Memories of Trumpeter Lew Soloff

lew soloffListening to the Gil Evans Orchestra of the 1970s (see my previous piece about Gill Evans’ 1978 Royal Festival Hall concert here). I was reminded of the way that the music moved seamlessly between very loose interactions between soloists and the much tighter ensemble passages.  In that late period I loved the way that the whole ensemble would come in immediately on a signal from Gil and absolutely nail the line.

Key to this was the brilliant lead trumpet work of Lew Soloff who was in all these late Gil Evans bands and after Gil’s death continued to work in the Monday night residency for the Orchestra at the Sweet Basil Club in New York.  Lew had also been from 1968 to 1973 the lead trumpet for Blood, Sweat and Tears and he was always the lead trumpet of choice for many other big bands such as the Mingus Big Band.

Lew was, perhaps unusually for a player who specialised in lead trumpet work, also a fine soloist in small groups and in a special projects such as his tributes to Miles Davis’ work with Gil Evans on both Sketches of Spain and Porgy and Bess.

Listen to a sample of Lew’s small group work here.  It’s with the wonderfully brassy Ray Anderson Pocket Brass Band with Ray Anderson on trombone, Matt Perrine on sousaphone and Bobby Previte on drums.  Here Lew plays both regular and piccolo trumpet and plays a great solo on the piccolo.

I had the privilege of working with Lew on a tour of Bobby Previte’s 23 Constellations of Joan Miro .  This was a tour in 2004 organised by the Contemporary Music Network which featured Previte’s short pieces inspired by Miro’s paintings; I was tour manager .  This unique music was largely composed and Lew’s role on both piccolo and regular trumpet was key.     You can hear one piece here.  Try the second one, The Escape Ladder which has some of Lew’s playing.

Lew was a great person to go on the road with, very reliable and always on time, as I recall.  He had a fund of stories from his travels and was fun to talk to.  I particularly remember that he always said that his hobby was eating out in gourmet restaurants and during the rehearsal period immediately before the actual tour, we managed to go to what he described as one of his favourites restaurants in the world, the Rasa Sayang South Indian Restaurant then in the Euston area (I have the feeling it has moved since then).  He had been talking about it throughout the rehearsal days and was ecstatic when we actually got there.

He also talked quite often about his days with Blood, Sweat and Tears.  It seems that Lew took over from one of the original trumpet players and the latter often used to ring him up and give him a hard time.

A final memory is that, as a player who was constantly travelling, he was always anxious about airports, checking in, flight delays etc.  As the tour with Bobby Previte neared the end, Lew kept asking, rather obsessively, whether we could get him to the airport for his return flight in good time.  We did, in fact, arrive at the airport about three hours before his flight, but still my last sight of him was of him running quite fast into the check-in area.

I often thought of bringing Lew back to play with a small group of his choice, but sadly in 2015 he died, seemingly of a heart attack.