Music Between Friends

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Ed Jones has been a dominant sound on the London jazz scene for over 25 years. His redoubtable tenor sound and masterful improvisations have marked him out as one of Europe’s finest jazz musicians. About to embark on another tour in Japan, Ed gives an insight into the birth of his Free Jazz influences and the process for recording his latest album ‘Derelict’ with Steve Plews.

Ed Jones’ deep love of music has always been evident in the array of projects that he has thrown himself into with a passion and vigour that can only serve to inspire. He always draws on his vast experience to create music with a delightfully refreshing yet rooted sound. The 2007 Killer Shrimp album ‘Sincerely Whatever’ saw Jones along with trumpeter Damon Brown bring together influences ranging from hip hop to Bebop. That year, the band won the All Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best UK Jazz Ensemble and the album was nominated for best Jazz CD. Ed’s latest album, a duo, recorded with pianist Steve Plews sees him exploring a very different area of music recalling his ardour for Free Jazz.

During his time as a musician Ed has developed a profound notion of the importance of friendship in music. Spending a lot of time in Denmark he came across the word “Hygge”. Hygge is a Danish word that encapsulates a philosophy more than any action, it is creating a comforting warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with friends around you. An ideal that is ever present in his music making as well as his little known passion for Free Jazz that stems from his school days in Letchworth.

“I used to bunk off school and go to David’s…frequently”, Jones recalls a small record shop in his school town of Letchworth where he first discovered the music of Elton Dean and being an inquisitive listener this quickly led him to discover Evan Parker and John Stevens, both of whom he was later to perform with. Listening to their album ‘Longest Night’ Jones remembers the closeness of the duo as friends and how that was so apparent in the music. He recalls fondly “finding something that was missing in what I [Jones] had heard so far”. A while later he was to find himself at his first gig in London, watching Elton Dean perform, again he was enraptured by the responsiveness of the musicians. He says “although it isn’t obvious, those guys have been as much of an influence on me as both Coltrane and Sonny Rollins”, reasoning that “suddenly I had discovered that British guys were making music that sounded free but they were really listening to each other and the music was made by friends together and that’s the important thing”.

Friendship is the foundation on which ‘Derelict’ is based. “Making music with Steve [Plews] has always been easy. We don’t even talk about it we just play”, Jones emphasises the ease with which the duo can create based on their friendship of almost thirty years. They both attended Middlesex University in the 1980’s and have remained friends ever since. Performing together, they have a very obvious understanding of each other both musically and personally which really shines through on the album. The album was recorded over 2 days in a high school where Steve Plews teaches. They had no preconception about what the album should be, only that they wanted to explore the sound of the prepared piano and that the time frame should be relatively short. Jones felt that having this parameter forced them to think differently and made them “deal with the information going between them in a very concise way.” For the duo, their shared process was not to worry about chords or time in the traditional sense but to really let go and respond to each other, to have a truly musical conversation. Jones has a very distinct credo about not judging the music that you are producing; he finds that too much conscious thought process really inhibits the creation of honest music. “You have to be prepared to let go and go where whatever you’re producing naturally takes you without getting in the way.”

The result of this is a series of 16 quite short tracks, the longest of which is just over four and a half minutes. A time frame not often scene in Free Jazz, however the effect is intoxicating. Each track is a short glimpse that leaves you both satisfied and desperate to hear just a little more.

The title ‘Derelict’ is inspired by the cover photo, a disused factory, which Steve Plews captured while, recording in Ireland. The photograph resonated strongly with Jones. He reminisces that his first wife had done something very similar. She had documented the demise of an abandoned factory on an island in Denmark. “It’s like the same shot my first wife would take, the aesthetic was the same and it made a very personal arc, for me, back to my first wife’s work as a photographer” he recalls looking somewhat nostalgic. He says that he hasn’t ever mentioned this to anyone but this is why the cover photo has a deep significance for him. Thinking about what the photograph said to them they arrived at the word derelict. Very relevant to the recording process as they had found things around the studio like an old broken glockenspiel and worn out baritone sax which they had used during the recording. The drum kit didn’t work properly and they were just “making music from junk” so the theme of derelict was already present. However Jones feels that Derelict is not a negative title as the music is actually very beautiful and represents that moment when “something is decaying, there’s a moment where it obviously has been something splendid and is about to be reborn”. The optimism and beauty in the idea of rebirth are certainly present in the music created by such good friends.

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Songs of Mirth and Melancholy Review

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Branford Marsalis &
Joey Calderazzo
Songs of Mirth and Melancholy
Marsalis Music     ★★★★
Marsalis (ss,ts) Calderazzo (p). Rec 2010

The latest exploration by Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo is an emotional, introspective stroll through the ever closing space between their creative minds. Playing together since 1998 when Calderazzo took over from the great Kenny Kirkland in Marsalis’s quartet, the relationship between these two giants has grown ever deeper, producing some truly unique music.

The intimacy of the setting created by the Hayti Heritage Centre is apparent in the overall atmosphere of the album. The pair approach duo playing in a very interesting manner with Calderazzo ruling out “playing bass lines and ostinatos” and Marsalis’ strong intentions to “write songs that utilise the fact that it’s just us” [Marsalis &Calderazzo].

Marsalis is equally at home in both the Classical and Jazz world and this really bolsters the effect of the album, the lyricism and intensity of melodies such as ‘Precious’ really draw you in, Calderazzo’s lush chordal accompaniment cued by the melody gives this tune a rich, flowing feel.

The music is often quite free with the emphasis on the interaction rather than any more focussed beat. This lends itself incredibly well to Joey Calderazzo’s tune ‘Hope’, Marsalis’s soprano soars through the melody piercing beautifully through the warm encompassing piano accompaniment.

There is a distinct melancholic sense given by Marsalis’ first tune on the album, ‘A Bard Lachrymose’, a somewhat classical sounding conversation between the pair, brooding and gently wandering into ‘La Valse Kendall’. Continuing the darker ambience Marsalis pays homage stylistically to Wayne Shorter with a surprisingly accurate rendition of ‘Face on the Barroom Floor’. The soprano’s beautifully fragile tone carries the listener delicately through Brahms’ ‘Die Trauernde’.

In contrast to the delicacy of their playing here the opening track ‘One Way’ allows Calderazzo to stretch out with a rambunctious stride piano line which is answered by Marsalis’ tough, visceral tenor. The closing tune ‘Bri’s Dance’ offers a great deal of mirth with its bouncy melodies and florid solo lines. The album is encompassed by two incredibly joyful tunes with a profoundly passionate exploration in between.

This is clearly a deeply inspired and emotionally charged collaboration. A delicate, beautiful music produced by two friends whom together demonstrate responsiveness and fragility that transcends the boundary of genres and allows this duo to create exceedingly honest, powerful music.

A Love Supreme

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Recorded in one session on the evening of December 9th 1964 ‘A Love Supreme’ is undoubtedly one of the most influential and moving albums ever to grace the canon of popular music. The deep mysticism and soaring spirituality have enraptured listeners and musicians the world over. Its influence has spread far beyond the usual remits of a Jazz album, after its release in February of 1965 the album sold 500,000 copies by 1970, compared to Coltrane’s usual Impulse album sales of 30,000.

 

The suite recorded at the Van Gelder Studio by pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones is presented in four parts, indicative of Coltrane’s spiritual awakening. Although Coltrane had always had something of a spiritual influence in his life it seems that with ‘A Love Supreme’ he was resolutely pronouncing the culmination of his experience. He saw his music as a product of his spiritual beliefs, a way of expressing them. In an interview from Newsweek in 1966 Coltrane states “My goal is to live the truly religious life and express it in my music.” “My music is the spiritual expression of what I am, my faith, my knowledge, my being.” It took him many years to establish the voice with which he elected to proclaim his message. His wife Alice, in an interview with Ashley Kahn for his book ‘A Love Supreme the creation of John Coltrane’s classic album’, recalls “It was like Moses coming down from the mountain, it was so beautiful”, she says that after returning from a tour he spent 5 days locked away in a room realising the sounds he had developed in his head. In the same interview she recalls Coltrane saying “this is the first time that I have received all of the music for what I want to record in a suite. This is the first time I have everything, everything ready.”

John Coltrane harboured a very distinct ideology regarding the expression of his music; he wanted the recording to be as honest as possible and to allow “the playing to lead the music”. He is reputed to have given very little direction to his quartet expecting them to create without limitation. To aid this he wrote a very sparse manuscript, only outlining the ideas that he had. The original manuscript was put on display in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. It almost seems that he wished the spiritual revelation to be reflected in the performance process; by giving the quartet so much freedom their collective musical discovery could lead to the true sound.

 

As its record sales suggest ‘A Love Supreme’ has captivated the minds and souls of a vast array of people, its influence on the development of music has been extremely significant. In a downbeat interview Michael Brecker remembered playing along to the record as a boy. He found that the “album was powerful from every aspect”. Branford Marsalis paid tribute to Coltrane by recording the suite on his album ‘Footsteps of our Fathers’. Not only has this album influenced jazz musicians but also many musicians in other genres have found it to be an immense source of inspiration. Will Downing released a cover of the suite that reached the charts in the U.K; also Bono quoted the title in U2’s track ‘Angel of Harlem’.

The spiritual profundity of the album has garnered interest not only in musicians but also in religious teaching, a church in San Francisco now builds its services around his music and reveres Coltrane as a saint.

 

There is something delightful in the intense attention that ‘A Love Supreme’ requires of you as a listener. It is not an album that you can just throw on and understand however from the very first listen it enthrals. It’s beguiling first movement opens with Elvin Jones’ gong and Coltrane’s piercing tone which gives way to McCoy Tyner’s rumbling piano and Garrison’s fabled bass riff. The emotion in Coltrane’s performance is tangible from the off. His intensity, his exploration and development of small motifs, lead one to consider the intent behind his sound. In ‘Acknowledgement’, is his motivic expansion indicative of the formulation of his spiritual ideas? The expansion of simpler melodic motifs is certainly representative of his playing as a whole but here it just feels that much more significant. One can scarcely discuss the first track without commenting on the enormous gravity of Coltrane’s chant, “A Love Supreme” is equally divine and terrifying. ‘Resolution’ takes on something of a more determined feel. His opening note after the bass intro and his driving melody again reflect the consciousness of the title. Continuing the thematic awakening ‘Pursuance’ expands further the intensity of Elvin’s opening solo, so distinct and forceful. The final movement ‘Psalm’ is a voiceless recitation of a poem that Coltrane wrote to God. His intimacy with the rolling soundscape created by the quartet cannot fail to move you. His spiritual beauty and state of reflection realised in such a heavenly melody.

It is little wonder that ‘A Love Supreme’ has become a timeless classic reaching so far over the past 50 years. A culmination of John Coltrane’s life, its effect is almost indescribable; the only true way to reflect on it is just to listen!