Right now, Europe has it

Having just been in the US and then Sweden, and addressing plenty of young musicians in both, thoughts cannot help but turn to the relative merits of life in each for the young musician, were I again to be one.

In the vast US, all remains commercial. The imperative to produce an immediate return on each dollar spent continues to be the main driver for club-owner or promoter, who, panicked and nervous, thus provide for the audience what the audience had yesterday. My old friends and co-workers in King Crimson, and it’s various off-shoots in Stick Men, Adrian Belew’s several trios, and Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto’s groups, must play over-familiar repertoire in US clubs, but slide off to avail themselves of more socialist Northern Europe’s generous art funding if they wish to produce arguably more innovative fare with Amsterdam’s Metropole Orchestra, Sweden’s I.B.Expo, or at Norway’s Punkt festival with Jan Bang and Erik Honore.

Meanwhile in smaller European countries, the musicians seem to grow daily in confidence, and their work in imagination. Dan Berglund’s Tonbruket, Nik Bartsch’s Ronin, Barcelona’s Ojos de Brujo and the growing cluster of progressive instrumental musicians no longer look longingly to the west and hunger for an American tour as we did forty years ago. The jazz v. rock issue has been by-passed. Who’s allowed to play what is irrelevant. A new cross-genre progressivism is in the air.

This new progressivism has little to to do with the progressive rock that I grew up with, except in the key motivation – the hunger, the thirst – to find something vaguely different. Attention to timbre and sonic detail (Tonbruket), the sparseness and minimalist funk of Nik Bartsch’s Ronin, the red-blooded rhythmic drive of heavily amplified flamenco guitars over rhythm who’s antecedents are closer to Mumbai than Chicago (Ojos de Brujo) have origins in a local or regional sub-soil. They also may have a sprinkling of state funding to allow the music time to grow and develop strong roots, so to that extent the playing field is not level and the odds are stacked in favour of the European and against his North American colleagues. Society gets the music it pays for.

Would I rather struggle in Europe with Tonbrucket, Ronin, or Ojos than tread water in the US with the ‘heritage acts’ of my youth? No question. For now, Europe has it.

Thanks for all the warm notes and emails from The US and Sweden – too numerous to mention all – but it’s been a good autumn and you people made it so.

Jeremy Finkelstein – Date: 30.11.2011 – …just finished the autobiography and decided to check out the website. What else to say…I guess…Thanks for the music!

Pleasure’s all mine, Jeremy.

Paul – Date: 29.11.2011 – Just noticed that you’d already answered a similar question about Earthworks’ live gigs. I’m still curious about any additional studio stuff that might be floating around, though!

Paul, unlike King Crimson and DGM who appear to have a policy to make just about everything recorded available in the public domain, I have no such desire to do the same with Earthworks and any material I may control. It has something to do with allowing the artist to bin the off-cuts, to acknowledge that to get where you’re going there may be several – many – fruitless detours, and that it is the artist’s prerogative to so designate them. Much of early Earthworks’ live recordings were horrendously mis-balanced mostly because of the hybrid semi-acoustic semi-electronic percussion array that confused the heck out of most people, including me. Trust me, you don’t want or need to hear that. Crap is crap.

Jeff A. Morris – Date: 21.11.2011 – says… “thanks for stopping in Kansas City, MO. Glad to meet somebody who I modeled my thoughts & playing after. …What do you do when you want to create or play something different but your brain is stuck?”

Jeff, try re-arranging the instruments in your kit. Or try swapping the hands around, so if you are normally RH lead, play LH lead for a while. Play the part assigned to the BD with your LH, the snare with your RH, and feet in unison…

Cameron Devlin – Date: 19.11.2011 – thinks… “that Jazz FM interview is horrific. At least nice to see that it’s reverted to its original name – it was “Smooth FM” for far too long”…

Yes, I agree, sorry about that Cameron! I couldn’t believe he was asking me such rubbish! I disagree about the name, though. There is so little of anything that I can recognise as jazz on there, I think ‘Smooth FM’ is appropriate. The station is all but unlistenable.

Jason Rubin – Date: 13.11.2011 – …was wondering about your renditions of Max Roach’s “The Drum Also Waltzes” and Joe Morello’s “Some Other Time.” Did you transcribe them yourself, or learn them by ear? Also, how did you adapt their works to your own distinctive style?

Jason – neither are note-perfect renditions, but they are in the spirit of the originals. Inevitably I applied my style – not something I necessarily wanted to avoid applying – subconsciously – without conscious thought. Morello had a more rudimental style and a flow that joins one phrase to the next with fewer pauses than Max, who had lots of space.

“My first solo piece was called ‘Drum Conversation’, and people would ask me, ‘Where are the chords? Where’s the melody?’ And I would say, ‘It’s about design. It isn’t about melody and harmony. It’s about periods and question marks. Think of it as constructing a building with sound. It’s architecture”.

(Roach cited in Mattingly 2007)

Jerry – Date: 06.11.2011 – Bill, during the ABWH tour, the band performed an encore of Sweet Dreams in a “Calypso” or “Caribbean” style. You had some sort of percussive thing between your legs. What was that instrument and how did that arrangement come about? thanks. (It was fascinating that Madison Square Garden fell to silence during that song.)

Jerry, that would have been the same log drum that I’ve used a lot – too much! – on the Sheltering Sky and Discipline with KC and other tracks. Not sure we were trying for a calypso – just something with a different feel. Sounds like the audience hated it…!

Michael O’Connor – Date: 03.11.2011 – … was reading a blip on some of the song titles and where they originated. Didn’t see an explanation for one of my favorite songs “Forever Until Sunday”. Is there any story for where this song got its name? It is a really beautiful song.

Thanks, Michael. It was a painfully long time (forever) until Sunday, the end of the tour, when in my case I was meeting my lady again, but it’s about yearning to be with the one you love. Time stands still, or goes slower, when you’re waiting like that.

Shir Deutch – Date: 02.11.2011 – ….would love to hear my thoughts and impression, if I ‘get the time’ to listen to his band Solstice Coil.

Shir, I appreciate your request, but I don’t do that any more I’m afraid. I’m sure your band is terrific, and I wish you all the best in the world for its greatest possible success, and it’s not that I’m not interested, it’s just that I do other things now. For many years I passed my worthless opinion dutifully on the musically hopeless, the musically more hopeful, and the musically exciting in equal measure. To listen to the music a few times, consider it, and type a thoughtful response of anything more than mere platitudes is a minimum four (unpaid) hours round-trip. I don’t ‘get’ time, but I could ‘make’ time… This I did without a word of complaint for years. I don’t anymore!

Good luck to all, Bill.

2017-11-22T12:04:54+00:00 December 1st, 2011|