Friday, January 20, 2006

Blog Maintenance

Sharp-eyed observers of this blog will notice that I've been experimenting with different background colors. This is in an effort to come up with a somewhat warmer and easier-to-read look. Comments are appreciated. I personally like the white-on-blue content, but I'm not quite sure about the silver titles against the blue. The pictures seem to look good on this background as well. Stay tuned. I also fixed the link to Kyle Gann's Postclassic Radio station, so that it works now, in case you tried it before and got frustrated.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Happy Birthday, Morton Feldman

A busy day awaits, but I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge this baffling and wonderful composer who has provoked more astonishment, confusion and delight in my being that any other composer I can think of. A loud, boisterous (an adjective that doesn't even begin to describe some stories I've been told) man who wrote the quietest, most delicate pieces of music we've yet heard. And some of the longest ones. Relatively obscure while he was alive, now we're all trying to grapple with his legacy. I never met him, but my friend Thomas L. Hamilton did. Hearing Feldman's "The Viola in My Life" in Buffalo in 1996 is an experience that I'll be grateful for as long as I live. I hope wherever he is now, the musicians are playing as softly as he wants them to. (Above image from Feldman archive at University at Buffalo)

Update: the crew at the KC Symphony that I work with had a banner Morton Feldman B-Day, listening to "Clarinet and String Quartet," "The Viola in my Life," "Coptic Light," "Why Patterns?" and a few others.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Derek Bailey, R.I.P.

British guitarist Derek Bailey passed away yesterday at 75. One of the foremost exponents of the style of free improvisation that emerged in the 1960s and '70s, Bailey was a remarkably industrious musician, churning out dozens of albums and performing at a harrowing pace that only seemd to increase in his old age. He had incredible technique, summoning sounds from the guitar that had never been heard before and forged a highly personal style utterly devoid of sentiment. He could play spontaneously in real time material that other avant-garde composers would have had to labor for weeks to produce. And he developed a circle of dozens of musician collaborators that encompassed such musicians as Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, John Stevens, Steve Lacy, John Zorn, and Pat Metheny.

The NY Times obituary included the following description: "Mr. Bailey explained his art unpretentiously, often simply as a matter of personal choice, but his style of playing guitar was a kind of reaction against all systems in music. By the 1970's it had become a system unto itself - a virtuosic, physical one, of clicks and chimes and harmonics and aggressive bursts of volume, arrhythmic and nonlinear but still coherent and powerful." (Read it in its entirety here: )

His music posed as many questions as it answered, and remains a provacative legacy for many of us. For me personally, it sparked a questioning of the notion of notation that I struggle with to this day. In addition to his many albums, he also wrote a fascinating book on improvisation. It's nearly impossible to recommend anything, but for the interested, check out his 'Ballads' disc on Tzadik (where he refracts jazz standards into his own fragmentary language), his duo work with Evan Parker, or the amazing three-disc set that he made with Pat Metheny and two percussionists, 'The Sign of Four.' I admire his solo recordings on Incus as well.