Sunday, January 20, 2013

Free Jazz Standards AND Christian Wolff’s “Burdocks”

The first topic is on playing standards “freely.”  I have a possibility of some open gigs in Fort Collins this summer, and want to try to experiment with the trying various techniques to free up tunes.  So far I have the option of picking various trio to quintet sized bands, with some combination of two drummers, or two bass players, trumpets, saxophones, keyboard, guitar, trombone, and flute.  The idea I have for it is that there are no charts for starters, and then to try varied parameters:


-Play free, whatever standards happen happen

-Play free into a specific tune (called in advance)

-Play a tune and it gets free towards the end

-Play a tune, free changes

-Play a tune without time/rubato, but keep the changes

-Everyone plays different tunes at once

-Pick a composer, play a free mashup of their tunes

-Play a tune, opposite tempo/feel (ballad fast, bebop tune slow, latin tune swung)

-Play a tune, make all the chords the same quality

-Play a tune in time by horn/guitar, rhythm section free behind it

-Play a tune, any/multiple keys

-Play a tune in different meters

-Play a tune, rhythm section keeps form/time and the soloist plays free over it

-Everyone plays tune melody in “unison” (freely, rubato), repeating it, for a drum feature

-Play a tune in a halting manner, everyone keeps form, follows who is playing the head (like monder/bleckmann’s I remember you)

-Play a tune, everyone plays a different tempo, try to keep “form”

I would like to make sure all the musicians look over these, and add some of their own ideas to the list, and we try them out tune after tune, while always going back to the main idea of starting free, and letting tunes happen. 

This free jazz standards idea by the way is mostly influenced by Ellery Eskelin’s Trio New York album. 

Now on Christian Wolff’s “Burdocks.”  I have stayed up a few nights ago and analyzed the piece, and took notes on how to perform the work.  Eventually I will try and check out the recordings that exist of it, and if there are any notes on the specific arrangement.  I have a chance to play it this summer, as part of the Aquila Concert Series in Greeley, Colorado.  So far I devised a plan to have a minimum of 15 players total, split up into various groups.  The piece itself is comprised of ten sections that can be arranged in any way, with various overlapping, sequences, and pauses between parts.  In section IV, it calls for a minimum of 15 players, and so I would like to try and put on a performance of “Burdocks,” using all the material given.  So of an orchestra of 15+ performers, it seems to make sense to have a serious quintet within that, that could rehearse twice as much as the rest of the performers.  The entire 15+ orchestra could perform sections III-VI, VIII, and X, while this quintet could perform with the entire group on those pieces, and play sections I, II, VII, and IX, almost as if the entire piece is a concerto for quintet and large ensemble.  Within this, if there are additional players that want to be part of the performance, but couldn’t make rehearsal, they could perform Section III throughout the whole piece, which is instructions to play 511 different sounds, each different in some way.  This to me is a very Scratch Music element, mixed in with the open modular form of the entirety.

Burdocks itself uses various notational schemes for each section.  Section I is almost an entire mini-piece within itself, being a 5 part section, within a 10 sectioned piece.  Performing this section only would have more than enough material for a full performance.  Section II is coming out of Wolff’s cued notation, and is an easy to read graphic notation, for 3-5 players.  Section III was mentioned above, and can be played by any number of musicians.  Section IV involves 15+ players, all  listening across and playing sounds individually with every other person’s sounds in the orchestra.  Section V reminds me a lot of Edges, with various notations, and the ability to jump around the page fairly freely, with specific timed pauses in between sounds (or none).  One part of the page cannot be played until a specific sixteenth note figure is played.   This also has a lot of material in it, and could be performed as the a solo section.  Section VI is a specific melody and accompaniment arrangement, that can be fairly free.  Section VII is similar to Section II in the notational style, but more dense and complex, and would take a bit of rehearsing!  Section VIII is a page of 100 varied melodic, rhythmic, graphic notations that are all to be played only once by anyone.  Section IX is chain of trading off 1-2 sounds within a quintet.  Section X is a short poetic figure that’s open to interpretation. 

I like the idea of performing it straight through, with the way I described split between a quintet playing some by themselves, and then joining the ensemble for the rest of it, while a few players play 511 different sounds through the entire piece.  But other than Section III constantly being performed throughout, Sections I-X will be performed in order, omitting Section III.  Depending on the venue of the concert, there may have to be a way to split it up into part one and two, or perform this idea, and then have a few other arrangements worked out in advance, and try different combinations of overlapping movements.  The piece seems like it could get a lot of mileage out of it, with a group of dedicated players, performing it frequently with different arrangements each time, finding unique ways to meld the music together.   

As of right now the main recordings I know of Burdocks are:

The sextet version from 1972 on the Wergo label by Christian Wolff, Frederic Rzewski, Gordon Mumma, David Tudor, John Nash, and David Behrman

The Tzadik release from 2000 features Joan Jeanrenaud on cello, Gordon Mumma on French horn and trumpet, Fred Frith on guitar, Miya Masaoka on koto and electronics, Christian Wolff on melodica and piano, William Winant on percussion, and Bob Ostertag on sampler. 

There is also a 1999 version from the Sonic Youth’s “Goodbye 20th Century” featuring Christian Wolff, Christian Marclay, Jim O’Rourke, Kim Gordon, Lee Renaldo, Steve Shelley, Takehisa Kosugi, Thurston Moore, William Winant.