Stavanger Part 2 – Per Zanussi

Not long now until the culmination of our time here, the gig on the opening night of Mai Jazz festival, playing Per Zanussi’s music.  We started playing the charts on Thursday, and they’re really good! For those of you unfamiliar with Per (as I was), have a listen to his ‘Zanussi 13′ record on his site.

The charts are a mixture of things he’s done with his ensembles Zanussi 13 and Zanussi 5, and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, alongside some new unheard stuff.  The common thread between them is the freedom for the musicians.  Salford-based pianist Christian Fields (who is out here with the project too) has written his thoughts on the music too, so head over to his blog to read a more theory-focussed analysis.

For me, the exciting thing is Per’s ability to organise a band of this size into a coherent whole and still maintain a large degree of freedom for individuals and their voices.  Much like Graham Collier’s work, there are big open sections as well as some more directed bits.  The devices he uses to do this vary from writing out rhythms with approximate pitches, or pitches with no rhythms, or grouping the musicians into smaller sections to improvise textures within the larger whole and so on.  And, like Collier, this leads to an excitement lacking in some larger ensemble writing; everyone is engaged all the time, and so the feel and interactions are that of a small-group.

There’s also some really good inter-locking riffs, either for a soloist to play on top of (no harmonic information given, just blow…) or just because they sound really cool.  In this way, his writing speaks to me in particular as this is the kind of thing I hope to achieve in HAQ, the ability to blend written material with freer stuff seamlessly, because I like doing it all!

The other thing that struck me was how clear his vision is, and that improvisation is not a second thought.  Although possibly meant in a different context, this Bob Brookmeyer quote always confuses me, and seems to speak to composing the wrong way round “My first rule became: The first solo only happens when absolutely nothing else can happen.  You don’t write in a solo until you’ve completely exhausted what you have to say.” (reference).  Writing like Zanussi’s and Collier’s recognises the value of improvisers and that, as Collier said “jazz happens live in real time, once” – for me the written music is there to inspire a performance from the musicians performing it.  And playing Per’s music is definitely inspiring.

At one point he was telling us to be definite in our gestures, to really mean what we played and the phrase he used was quite revealing “I’m not going to tell you what to play, but maybe how.”  Someone who revels in the happy accidents that free-improvisation presents, and harnesses this for his compositional vision.  Really looking forward to the gig now…

Aside: I’m running a Free Improvisation Skills workshop in Manchester on May 20th, check out the details here if you want to get involved, it won’t cost you anything.

P.S. Here’s a photo of some cool street art in Stavanger, created during the annual NuArt festival.

P.P.S. I’m really digging the Tune-Yards album ‘Whokill’ at the moment, after 6Music and my girlfriend’s brother conspired to force it into my life.

Stavanger – Part 1

I’m about half way through a fortnight-long visit to Stavanger in Norway. I’m here as part of an Erasmus-funded exchange project called Arena. The basic aim is to bring students from Salford, Amsterdam and Stavanger together to forge links between the countries.  The secondary aim is to play music written by bass player/bandleader Per Zanussi.

So far we’ve been getting to know each other through improvising, deconstructing Beatles tunes and playing some graphic scores (I was in a trio playing this Leafcutter John piece, which threw up some interesting questions).  And, of course, some hanging out drinking.  Two notable occasions being on Monday, when the £11 per pint of beer added insult to injury of a terrible football game, and Tuesday when we were lucky enough to see Frode Gjerstad Trio performing both a workshop masterclass, and then an incredible set at Galleri Sult.  A very inspiring example of what can happen when improvising with the same musicians for a long time.

Speaking of inspiring, this place is amazing! We’re based at Tou Scene, a disused brewery that has been transformed over the last 10/15 years to a thriving arts space, with huge windows meaning you can stare across the sea to the mountains. I’m not ashamed to admit I came over all ECM for a bit, not least because the space we were in is fairly reverberant.  And, more so than just Tou Scene, the walk from where we’re staying in Old Stavanger shows a wide range of architecture, all of which could sit happily on the front of any postcard.

Some photos of Tou Scene:

And, of course, the other musicians & tutors. Christophe De Bezenac (him from Trio VD) had us record an improvisation and then listen back, stopping the track each time anyone remembered anything at all about what they were thinking at that point.  A very interesting exercise, worth trying if you get the chance!

Here’s some photos of where we are, I’ll post more in a few days, but right now I’ve got to get practising the charts that Per gave us today…

The artist flat where we’re staying:

Wolfram Trio playing in Cafe Humbug, a tiny record shop/cafe/venue:

And here’s tutor Nicholas Katuszonek on the sail boat we sailed: