Monday, February 15, 2010

In the mornings out there

Sorry for the very long cyber-absence. I was hoping to blog from The Banff Centre but connectivity and scheduling made that nearly impossible.

The TD Jazz & Creative Music residency is very, very different from the Jazz & Creative Music Workshop run by Dave Douglas. With only a dozen or so residents (and a few other jazz musicians in winter residency at the Banff Centre, such as Joel Miller, Christine Jensen, Ellen Rowe and David Occhipinti), it's a much more self-directed session. The faculty are more open and available to one-on-one lessons, and there really is a chance to play with everyone. I appreciated the fact that, due to occurring during the Winter music residency, there were non-jazz musicians on campus as well - sitar master Kartik Sheshadri was on faculty for a week giving insightful lectures into Hindustani music; many phenomenally talented classical musicians were around, including the Elandra String Quartet from Melbourne; and PEI friend John Connolly was out finishing work on a "folk opera" based on the life of Terry Fox.

In the first week, the faculty consisted of saxophonist/pianist/percussionist/composer Peter Apfelbaum (with whom I had a good hang talking about Braxton, Threadgill, Andrew Hill and melodicas) and percussionist/composer Dafnis Prieto, along with Kartik and his student Pial Hossain on tabla. Dafnis and Kartik were greatly inspired by each other and it was a pleasure to be a fly on the wall for their exchanges. Peter corralled all the residents into a Banff edition of his Hieroglyphics ensemble - three drummers (Morgan Childs & Jon McCaslin on kits, Mark Nelson on percussion), three bassists (Chris Jennings on left-handed upright, Sean Cronin on right-handed upright and Alex Lefaivre on electric), three keyboardists (Gab Vinuela-Pelletier on piano, Amanda Tosoff on Rhodes, and yours truly on melodica), Kevin Hanlon on guitar, and a horn section of Patrick Boyle (trumpet), Curtis Macdonald (alto), Evan Arntzen (tenor/soprano/clarinet), Greg Sinibaldi (tenor) and Peter himself. A surprisingly well-programmed set of music emerged for that large ensemble - my arrangement of Ornette's "School Work" done for Gary Schwartz's LettingO; Peter's tunes "Night of the Sparklerenes" and "Hanging Gardens"; and Jon McCaslin's arrangement of Don Cherry's "Mopti."

Dafnis is definitely more into talking about the expressive side of music. I got more out of listening to him play, and by playing with him, than in more formal lecture or master class settings. He has a cryptic, almost Wayne Shorter-like mysticism about him when he talks about music. Some great quotes came out of that week:
"Metronomes are like aspirin. You take one if you need it." -- Dafnis
[after Morgan Childs played a very Philly Joe/Max Roach intro] "Man, that makes me want a martini and some smack." -- Peter
"[Threadgill] was the music I heard in my dreams, then woke up and forgot." -- Dafnis

The second week brought Uri Caine and Phil Dwyer, both incredibly multifaceted musicians and composers. Both have written music for strings, and so one morning workshop was dedicated to running through "Bella" and "Heraclito" with the Elandra String Quartet, a Q&A about string techniques, and Uri and Phil playing some of their music (written for the Arditti Quartet and the Gryphon Trio, respectively). I had the opportunity to have a great lesson - more of a hang, really - with Uri, and we talked about all the classical fundamentals I felt like I had ignored, time management between composing, playing and electronics, and the realities of life as a musician. I had no idea of the depth of Phil's compositional skill and his piece written for the Gryphon Trio was a great revelation to me.

I cannot sufficiently express how important the Banff Centre is for me. My first workshop there in 2005 changed my life creatively, and the lessons I learned at that time have stayed with me since. Much of the music on Cycles is indebted to that first workshop at the Banff Centre, and to have the opportunity to present some of that music in Banff, with the participation of bassist Chris Jennings and the Elandra Quartet, was an incredibly emotionally fulfilling experience. There's an immense amount of focus and energy that comes from having a private practice hut in the middle of the woods, under the majestic mountains, with no obligations but to practice, play, create and share. I spent a fair amount of time shedding Bach and Samuel Barber and got a good start on some other original music, and I hope to be able to capture some of that drive and continue that work back home.

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