Saturday, January 27, 2007

Music and art

There has always been a significant between the visual arts and music.Examples abound. French composer Claude Debussy hung out with the impressionist artists and was influenced to become a master of instrumental color and texture. It is this attention to tone color -- his layering of sound upon sound so that they blend to form a greater, evocative whole -- that linked Debussy in the public mind to the Impressionist painters.

In New York in the 1940's the Abstract Expressionist movement produced work that exemplified the careful balance between accident and control that characterizes both art and the improvisational jazz of bop. Jackson Pollock was an avowed jazz fan, often attending live performance's at New York's Five Spot club. Critic Ellen Landau notes the influence of jazz on Pollock's painting:

"As early as prescient critic compared the "flare, spatter and fury" of Pollock's paintings to modern music...Pollock loved jazz..."rocking and rolling" for days on end to Dizzy Gillespie, Bird, Dixieland, and bebop. What undoubtedly attracted him to this type of sound was not just its rhythm and tempo, but its naked presentation of honest and deeply felt emotion..."

Minimalism in art has been enthusiastically taken up by composers. Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass first explored these concepts in the classical field. The great Australian band The Necks have a synthesis of improvisation and minimalism.

The well know Australian artist Joe Furlonger says that the act of applying paint to canvas is similar to improvisation in jazz. By this he meant that, after drawings and drafts, one is left with the gesture, the act of creation which is by definition improvisatory. It is unsurprising to find a collection of artists at a gig. (Some have appallingly anachronistic tastes in music but the same could be said of musicians for art.)

Which all brings me to Florence Forrest's 1000 Cranes. Florence's cranes look like Kabuki characters. As she writes in her blog the crane is a symbol of longevity and grace. There is a beauty and a serenity in these objects that belies a rigor in thought and theory that is the hallmark of the best in music and art. The cranes need a musical landscape to exist upon: beautiful and serene; quiet and profound .

Monday, January 8, 2007

The influence of Roy Elridge

Occasionally I find myself surprised by the emergence of a memory of a long forgotten musical influence. Coming across the name of Roy Elridge, the fiery trumpet player, triggered this within me recently. I was reding Ian Rankin's latest Rebus novel, The Naming of the Dead. One of the victims is called Ben Webster and the associations flowed.

In the pantheon of American jazz trumpet players Roy stood as a bridge between Louis Armstrong and Dizzy. ie, he played swing. Perhaps it was because, like Lester Bowie, one of his seminal influences was carnival music that Roy played with a great sense of drama.

This is best illustrated in the 50's record Ben Webster and Associates. Apparently Ben ran into Roy on the way to the recording studio and invited him to the session. It's really a jam session that was so popular in those times... a couple of blues and standards. Now that's normally a formula to turn me right off but the playing is superb. Roy's solo starts with the 1st 12 bars of a blues repeating a triplet riff G# A B over and over. By the change in the second chorus he is screaming like a Baptist preacher (even though he was a Lutheran). ecstatic, exuberant, the glory that is a trumpet. He seems like he's pushing his instrument to the max. Jubilation is the object. Roy is just not doing the changes but has this preacher -in- the -pulpit quality that so suits the trumpet.

As a little aside, I'm including this little article I found that illustrates the racism endured by Afro Americans playing in white bands.