Alan Wakeman – Back to the Wilderness

Posted by on Jun 12, 2012

Alan Wakeman – Back to the Wilderness

What a delight! Among my post-holiday junk mail and brown envelopes was a copy of Interplay saxophonist Alan Wakeman’s CD re-issue of his 1978 recording ‘Wilderness of Glass’. Triton, his power trio with Paul Bridge on double bass and Nigel Morris on drums, was a formidable free-wheeling unit that combined energy and excitement with a clarity of purpose and musical direction not always found in the free jazz movement. Having seen the band in the 1970s I was curious about how it would sound today. Would my youthful recollections be re-affirmed, or would my taste in jazz have changed, altering my ability to listen to it again after all this time? I need not have worried! From the dramatic opening sounds the album moves swiftly through a huge range of dynamics and gestures that are both succinct and articulate.  Motifs and moods have time to develop without being over-indulged, and impressive instrumental technique remains secondary to musical objectives. A sense of focus pervades the album resting on the rapport and responsiveness of the three players. In fact I am probably better able to appreciate it now than I was back in the day, and to enjoy it all the more for all that. After all it can take time to learn how to listen! Sadly Paul Bridge is no longer with us. He was a familiar and much-admired figure on the scene, so it is particularly good to hear him again here. I remember playing with Nigel Morris in Oxford many years ago – it was like being next to a hurricane! – and along with all his ferocity there was a musical warmth and curiosity that made it fun as well as challenging. So, good to hear him again as well. But listening to this album again now is not about nostalgia.  It is about re-connecting with something exciting and strong, that had its origins many years ago but still retains its conviction, its potency and capacity to delight. Check it...

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Surprises in Swindon for Interplay

Posted by on May 3, 2012

Baker Street in Swindon is hosting some fine names in British Jazz these days and it was a treat to find ourselves being well looked-after by the house team as well as the jazz night organisers.  After a longish drive and set up it was also good to see all the tables filled well before the start. I was therefore disconcerted – putting it mildly – when my double bass pick-up proceeded to ‘die’ half-way through the second number! Hasty action with the screw-driver produced no results of note (or notes) and so I faced the reality of doing the rest of the gig on electric bass.  I had been warned that some of the audience at least preferred jazz standards to the mixture of originals and global rhythms we were about to play. I wondered whether abandoning the upright bass for bass guitar would be a step too far for them. Happily it seemed to go the other way. We got into our stride after the interruption and the crowd came with us!  We had selected  a global programme in honour of International Jazz Day and managed to ‘visit’ Cuba, Jamaica, India and South Africa as well as playing North American and British Jazz. A very good floor singer called Harry joined us for My Funny Valentine and adapted his delivery to our Lovers’ Rock treatment to acclaim. Even our ‘hairier’ 0riginals got a cheer.  With a couple of encores we were done. I was really pleased because I always prefer to give an audience the benefit of the doubt where new music is concerned. Let them hear it and respond, rather than presuming they won’t or don’t like it. As it turned out people in Swindon did like it, and we look forward to being back there as soon as schedules...

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Interplay Celebrates International Jazz Day

Posted by on Apr 24, 2012

Herbie Hancock is now a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations.  I didn’t realise this until I learned just recently that he has managed to persuade UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) to inaugurate International Jazz Day to celebrate jazz as a world-wide medium of creativity and freedom “because so many countries have been affected in crucial ways over the years by the presence of jazz.”  April 30th is the day, coming at the end of Jazz Appreciation Month in the US. If this sounds a bit ‘worthy’ it reminds us rightly about a really serious facet of our music. In both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia Jazz was proscribed – criminalised and forbidden. In many other countries it has been a musical form that helped oppressed groups and individuals to maintain their spirit of independence and hope, including in the US itself.  And while currently right wing views seem to be enjoying a resurgence, not least in parts of northern Europe, many of those countries formerly showed a warm welcome to black musicians who found little respect or opportunity in their country of birth. So while there is a chance that International Jazz Day may go the way of Mick Jagger’s once-vaunted National Music Day (remember that?) I for one welcome it.  I am also flattered that Baker Street Jazz in Swindon have dedicated Interplay’s gig there on May 1st to International Jazz Day.  We’ll be pulling out some of our global grooves in honour of the occasion – please join us if you...

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Interplay back in the land of the gigging!

Posted by on Mar 8, 2012

It’s almost four months since Interplay last played to a real live audience! Sign of the times I guess, with gigs becoming noticeably scarcer all around. So it is with real pleasure as well as a certain amount of relief that we announce our first appearance of 2012, next Wednesday March 14th in Leamington Spa for Leam Jazz. Besides affording us the pleasure of playing for its own sake I take a special pride in this particular gig as indirectly I can claim some responsibility for Leam Jazz getting started.  The moving spirits, Stewart Duthie and John Hodgetts, originally met as members of my Jazz Workshop in 2008. Since then they have arranged vacation sessions for workshop participants, organised public jam sessions and, ably assisted by audio wiz Rob Sargent, presented some exciting and enjoyable jazz gigs over the last two years.  Interplay was actually the first band Leam Jazz put on, back in May 2010, and it’s a true credit to them and their supporters that they are still at it two years later. So come along to Leamington Rugby Club, Kenilworth Road Leamington CV32 6RG on Wednesday 14th March.  Tickets are only £6 and there is excellent beer to be found at club prices. bLA BLA...

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‘The Music Lesson’ – Victor Wooten

Posted by on Dec 31, 2011

I’m indebted to Interplay drummer Dave Balen for sharing this with me, and I want to pass it on. Many people agree that Victor Wooten is one of the greatest bass guitarists ever – that title seems to undervalue both the instrument and its contribution to music in general and in his hands particularly – nevertheless it’s his preferred term. In this book Victor sets out to describe a transformation in his musical approach and understanding that has made him the creative artist  he is today.  He offers his discoveries with disarming modesty and self-deprecating humour recounted in a readable and economic style that makes for genuine entertainment.  Nevertheless without it becoming pretentious the message  is substantial and all-embracing as the narrator (Victor) encounters the synergies between Music (capital ‘M’) and Life (capital ‘L’). There is a quasi-mystical aspect to the book that some may find hard to accept.  The teacher and his associates appear to live a mysterious and non-material life that nonetheless renders them exactly at the right place and time to interact with Victor in extraordinary ways.  Those of us who remember Carlos Castaneda’s account of his experiences with Don Juan, the Yaqui Shaman in the Mexican desert, will appreciate Tony Levin’s reference on the book cover. However that was in the 1960’s, and Wooten’s narrative is far more inclusive and benign, and free of dependence on mind-altering substances.  I don’t need to resolve whether his narrative is true or a device – either way it’s a leap of imagination.  What I take from the book is what it says about music (and Music), musicianship and creativity.  The routines and rules we lay down for ourselves and adopt from others are capable of becoming the bars of a musical cage.  The criticism we give ourselves and the goals we set can be the same. Victor Wooten started playing at two years old by his own account, and as he grew up he became more distant from his instinctual musicality.  At the start of the book he describes himself as a struggling bassist, not getting enough work, worried about paying his rent, and anxious about his standing in the musical marketplace.  I suspect many of us can relate to this. Victor’s journey as retold here is one of re-connecting himself with the innate knowledge of Music that engaged him and drew him on as a child –...

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Interplay on the road

Posted by on May 20, 2011

After months of preparation Interplay is taking to the road next week for a few dates far from home.   We are bound for Sheffield and Manchester next week and then Bath the week after.  Full details are of course available here.  If  you live anywhere nearby then come on down.  And if you’ve got friends or family within reach, please pass the word...

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A Grand Re-Union

Posted by on Mar 27, 2011

A Grand Re-Union

‘I went down to the demonstration…’ (March for the Alternative, London, 26th March) but instead of abuse I was delighted to find myself in the company of Tony Haynes and members of the very wonderful  Grand Union Orchestra.   Imagine busking in the street with such luminaries as Claude Deppa, Chris Biscoe, Byron Wallen and Louise Elliott and you will appreciate my excitement! If you haven’t had the pleasure, Grand Union is a magnificent assemblage of jazz and world musicians – literally from all over the globe.  Under the creative leadership of Tony Haynes the Orchestra performs concerts and music theatre of astonishing cross-cultural richness and ingenuity.  Over 30 years Tony has investigated and engaged with many cultural traditions, producing original works on themes as diverse as the enslavement of African people in the New World, to the history of the Silk Road.  The Orchestra has also delivered ambitious and memorable participative community and education projects that draw directly on the musical practice of the Orchestra and its musicians. Tony and I first met circa 1984 when as Director of an Arts Centre in Oxford I was keen to encourage music  improvisation among schools in the area.  I remember going to see the Orchestra performing in a Sports Hall and being blown away by the diversity, audacity and vitality of the music.  I was not alone, as the hundreds of students responded alike. Over the next few years we worked together extensively in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire schools, youth organisations and with local musicians including jazz and rock, Bhangra and orchestral players.  The finale ‘If Music Could’ involved 200 young people and adults and subsequently went on to be developed in two other Grand Union residencies. I have learned a massive amount from Tony and the other musicians about how new music can be inclusive so as to reflect and respect different cultural and musical traditions.  They also enact the sheer power of music to engage people in participation who may not have had the opportunity to undergo the  formalities of conventional training. And that brings us back to the march and the reasons for being there.  Masses of arts educational activity is going to disappear in the coming months and years as a result of current government policies, including outreach projects by organisations like Grand Union.  In the scale of all the hardships that people will experience this may not...

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