Had a great weekend at the Scots fiddle festival 2011! Fantastic musicians, concerts, talks and workshops. I went to both concerts on Friday and Saturday night. On Friday I saw the band Tyde. They played a lot of their own material which I really liked. Duncan Chislholm (fiddle) and Tony Byrne (acoustic) played an amazing set. Duncan Chisholm is a fantastic fiddler (plays in Wolfstone and in Julie Fowlis' Band). He also has a great solo career and must be one of the best slow air players in the world. The tone he achieves is truly incredible and his bowing is so expressive. He plays with a wide vibrato and he learned from the great Donald Riddell (piper and fiddler). Tony Byrne accompanied on guitar and was as good! They had great musical empathy with each other. Phil Cunningham watched on from the side as Duncan Chisholm played one of his tunes.
Rona and Marit
One of the highlights of Friday for me was Rona Wilkie and Marit Fält. They played in the Festival club after the main programme and were fantastic. They played an interesting mix of Scandanavian and UK trad music. Rona is a fiddler and is officially a finalist at BBC Scotland Young trad musician 2012. She will be performing with Marit as an accompianist on February 3 at City Halls, Glasgow. Here is a link to their Myspace page.
Saturday's concert was also really enjoyable with Breacbach . Meg Henderson (fiddler from the Lochaber area) has joined them recently. Great piping, singing and step dancing too.
Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas were the main act. I saw them both about five years ago - just after they started playing together. I enjoyed this performance far more. Natalie Haas has really settled into the style and plays her cello with ringing strings, and great rhythms. The tune of the Festival seemed to be The Farley Bridge written by Duncan Chisholm with at least three bands playing it - great tune.
I took the opportunity to attend some of the workshops on offer. Its a good way to learn both some technique and tunes. On Saturday I went to Duncan's Chisholm's workshop on slow air playing. He had five "secrets". Cross over bowing, pressure on the bow, sliding, vibrato, third position and grace notes. He was great teacher and we played the beautiful tune "Lullaby to Gael".
I also went to Catriona MacDonald's workshop and learned more about Shetland bowing. Difficult very old tune. Vamm (Catriona MacDonald's new band) are playing it.
Alasdair Fraser's workshop was also interesting with work on rythymns.
I also went to Anna Wendy Stevenson's class on harmony and Meg Henderson's on Sunday. Finally I also went to a talk on hardanger tunings (there are about 40)!.
I only saw some of what was on over the weekend. There was lots more which I would have loved to see but couldn't be in two places at once!. It was great weekend - two days of playing, listening and learning. Didn't get to bed until after 2 am. Roll on next year!
Join the Fiddle Festival as a member if you are interested. Here's a link.
Listening to Kind of Blue this week. This album is said to be the foundation of modern jazz. It has a lot to live up to!
Jazz is a genre which emerged from the blues around the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. But jazz developed from and went beyond the blues. Miles Davis recorded Kind of Blue in 1959 - which is about half way between the origin of jazz and present day. It marked a new way of working for musicians. Before this, musicians worked with a set melody and backing etc. Miles Davis pioneered modal jazz. Worth mentioning though that the theory behind this way of working was developed by a friend of Miles - George Russell.
Russell spent the better part of the '50s devising a new theory of jazz improvisation based not on chord changes but on scales or "modes." He explained this to Miles one night over the piano and Miles saw the potential. But he needed to find a pianist that could understand it well enough who could play and signpost the chords for his other musicians - like a musical compass. The answer was Bill Evans, a classicly trained pianist but with an amazing feel for what Miles wanted to do. The track "So What" from this album is still held up today as a fantastic example of this new way of working in jazz which is still the foundation of jazz today.
"So what" is a long track - over 9 minutes but it has a 32 bar structure at its core. It begins with an intro which is about 16 bars gradually builds, followed by several sections where each musician takes a solo of 32 bars, then an outro. Who were the musicians? Miles Davis on trumpet, Paul Chambers on bass, Cannonball Adderly and John Coltrane on saxophones, Jimmy Cobb , Drummer, and Bill Evans on piano - all first class musicians!.
Its said that Miles Davis and Bill Evans were amazingly in tune with each other as musicians to the point that Miles Davis used to ring Bill up and ask him to play down the phone. So Bill was the inspiration behind a lot of the harmonies and was influential in Miles' music. More on that later.
So What is elegant in its simplicity. It centres around two chords C and D minor7. The rythymn is swung 4/4. The transcription asks that it be played "Slowly and Freely in an attempt to capture the spirit of the recording. But the piece was almost entirely improvised at the time - with no detailed sheet music available to the players.
The intro begins with minimal instrumentation - just piano and bass, initially with a question and answer. Chambers begins the introduction with 3 simple notes - an upbeat of two quavers and a minim - A, C and an unexpected G sharp (Am7) . The structure of the intro involves 8 bars on the same chord, then 4 bars with a variation, then back to the original chord for four bars. Bill Evans on piano picks up on the last bass note and then answers with two chords. This pattern runs through to the third bar with various variations and resolves on a C chord.
Then both players break into playing in perfect unison (must have been planned) with a longer riff of semiquavers, and minims. Next the bass holds D semibreves and is accompanied by the piano over the top followed by bass riff ending in Eb and a 2/4/ bar. Then the distinctive bass riff and driving rythymn begins around bar 12, with swung semiquavers and answered by piano with two chords, this repeats x3 and then the bass ends the phrase with a simplified rythmn on E,D and A.
Second time round, the saxophones (Coltrane and Adderly) and the trumpet (Miles Davis) join Bill Evans answering with the two chords. The underlying chord is Dm7 . The sequence is repeated in Eb7m then back down in Dm7. On the last riff of the sequences there is no answer (planned or signalled?).
When the melody starts, a walking bass drives the tempo all the way through. The drums also feature a persistent ride cymbal all the way through. Each of solos is 32 bars - 8 bars on the first chord then 4 on the second, then 12 on the first then 4 and 4. Each of the solos has this structure underlying it. Apparently this was totally unplanned. Miles Davis would just wander around pointing at people when it was his turn to play. However the calibre of the musicians and their responsiveness to each must have brought some order to this almost subconsciously.
You can hear how they respond to each others playing in the music. The first solos features trumpet, with Miles Davis launching it in Em7 for eight bars, into Fm7 for four then back to Em7 and so on. The piano plays fairly sparingly underneath and responds with a syncopated rhythm and fills.
Next is Coltrane on tenor Saxophone. His solo begins by responding to the smooth feel of Miles Davis with similar dotted quavers and ties. He then stamps his own mark , becoming much more elaborate with the use of semi and demi semi quavers and many triplets. In fact he seems to play as many notes as possible! And does so brilliantly. The chord changes are the same as before.
Adderly is next to play on alto sax and his solo seems to begin in Bm7, then to Cm7 and so on. He emphasises the Cm7 by landing and holding the top B. His style seem in between the two previous players, very elaborate and fast in some phrases especially at the beginning and on ascending phrases in response to Coltrane. But bringing it back to swung semi quavers in other sections. He uses a trill too.
Bill Evans on the piano begins in Dm7. The other instrument take over the backing chords. Then he switches in Ebm7. He uses a few triplets (across minims) and also swung rythmn. Evans solo finishes with the bass picking up a riff which includes a triplet - perhaps responding to the feel of Bill Evans' solo. The outro echoes the intro with the same bass riff, question and answer structure, with the instruments dropping out in reverse order until down to bass and piano.
Kind of Blue was not just remarkable for "So What". It had a number of landmark tracks. Flamenco Sketches is another track based on improvisation with Coltrane in particular enjoying the challenge. Evans apparently wrote out five scales and said to the musicians to play in the notes of these scales. It would be up to each soloist how they interpreted this. The track is much slower.
"All blues" and " Freddy Freeloader" are also great tracks with great solos thoughout. "Freddie Freeloader" was the album's only conventional blues. For this track alone, Miles let his usual pianist, Wynton Kelly, a straight blues-and-bebop keyboardist, sit in for Evans. Whereas "All Blues" is said to be the most fully developed piece of "modal" jazz" on Kind of Blue.
Its amazing that Kind of Blue was so perfect and is tribute to the musicians. In a way, that is what is testing about improvisation. You can't go back and do it again. And how successful it is depends on the calibre of the musicians and their understanding of what they are trying to do.
Miles Davis was a brilliant recruiter and picked the right team for this never to be repeated recording. Unfortunately the band broke up soon afterwards with the musicians going their own ways. But the method pioneered on this album - modal jazz - went from strength to strength.
Bennets Bar has a nice slow session every Wednesday. Its run by Nigel Gatherer, a well known whistle and mandolin player as well as a great tutor for the Scots Music Group.
I don't normally play my fiddle here now - its a bit slow. However I took my guitar along for a change and had a really nice evening. There was a good crowd playing with a clarsach and bouzouki among the instruments. Later on, I pulled out the fiddle and played a few sets - including Battle of Waterloo/Nusa which we have been playing lately in the folk band.
I have been listening to Spotify a lot. I have been a member for ages but it is coming into its own and it's a good source for all genres of music I find that my starred music is getting more and more eclectic! Recent additions to the ever growing list include Sufjan Stevens, Bela Fleck, Soul Coughing, Fatboy Slim, The Streets, Le Vent du Nord (a French Canadian trad band coming to Celtic connections) and Thomas Newman.
Also listening to Kind of Blue - which I'll be blogging on soon!
I also joined Grooveshark recently. They are both a good source of online music and both have a free option. I have been searching them for inspiration for composing and possible tunes to work into new sets. I predict that soon we will all be "renting' music through such online sites more than buying it to own. I suppose it will take iTunes to make the leap - we shall see.
While on the subject of composing Wednesday includes a slot for composition. I have composed a tune called Scotland's Finest for a Day in B minor. Its now on Sibelius.
My way of working seems the reverse to many of my classical colleagues. I guess it comes from being a trad musician. I compose straight onto the fiddle and then work out the manuscript and wrestle with Sibelius until it sounds as close as possible to how I played it. This is well nigh impossible given that the voices Sibelius has are not particularly geared for folk music! But it is a useful exercise to get it down accurately and to add other instruments. I had some nice feedback on it from Tommy. He suggested changing the instrument voice to an oud - the folkiest that Sibelius has? Hmmn.
Next challenge will be to put in some harmony, percussion, and rythmn lines. I will probably take it into Logic.
Tough but enjoyable week. Tough because I completely lost my voice with a cold. Friday 28th saw us practicing Handel again - cool. Had to pull out of the singing workshop on Monday. Still able to play the fiddle though!. Monday began with more folk and sorting out the arrangement for our performance. I recorded our penultimate rehearsal and I am attaching a couple of files below. These are not the finished set but they are fun to listen to.
Tuesday was choir - couldn't sing but I sat in on the rehearsal. Sounds lovely. Then more Handel. Then down to Portobello for my fiddle lesson. Finally home for many paracetamol and practice.
Practice has been busy with six tunes for the folk set, Handel Concerto Grosso in D minor, as well as scales in 3rd position and several more tunes for my fiddle lessons. I am still using the shruti box which is helpful to play scales against. The tunes I am concentrating on at the moment are Neil Gow's "Drunk at Night, Dry in the morning" three gaelic waltzes for technique, and three english tunes.
Wednesday started with an improvement in my voice but the start of a dreadful cough.
We had a rehearsal for the folk performance and did a sound check. The performance in the evening went pretty well. The rock bands were first with a blues theme running through the performances. Our folk set was as fast as we have ever played it but it was great fun. We played six tunes in two sets. I really enjoyed everyone's performance - well done!
Thursday was the day of our classical concert as St Nicholas Church. We had final rehearsals for the choir and the strings group in the afternoon. Drank lots of cough medicine and was feeling slightly strange by the actual performance. But it must have worked as I made it through both the choir and strings group OK. I loved playing Handel. I have been surprised at how much I've enjoyed playing classical music. Another of the highlights of the evening for me was listening to the concert band. Such a big sound and great music. Holst.
Went into SCE on Friday for the music literacy pop in session.
I have been thinking about buying a new acoustic guitar for a while. What to buy? An electro acoustic, or acoustic only, dreadnought or smaller. In the end I bought a nice Tanglewood dreadnought. Still on the shopping theme, I also bought some tickets to see Vasen and friends in Celtic Connections and We Will Rock you at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Two weeks to Fiddle festival (see my previous post). Go along if you can.
Si has been working hard on the hardanger fiddle he has been making for me. See my previous posts to read more about hardangers. The front has been glued on with hide glue. Its painstaking work but this is a turning point as the instrument starts to come together. Exciting. Some pics are below.