So, we'd all been hanging out at this friend's house on the pond. Fall, with all of the beauty loaded into that word. The long, slow arc of summer into autumn was progressing. Canoe paddles sliced through he water's surface as we made our way over to the other side of the pond to the old, abandoned farm house in the woods. Sad, in a way. It was empty but we filled it with life — the apple fight that broke out (dang, those uncultivated apples were hard as rocks) was intense and hilarious. Glad I wasn't the guy who took one in the face!
The sun was setting so it was back to the canoes, the water, the shore, the bonfire. The rest of our lives.
I'm not exactly sure was caused this old memory to pop out here. While listening to Way Out East, the new release by Wayne Horvitz's Gravitas Quartet, I'd begun to think of Claude Bolling's Suite for Flute & Jazz Piano Trio. Not that this music sounds like Bolling's. No. The initial parallel was that Bolling did a great job of illuminating the similarities between classical music and jazz. This led to the idea of unexpected lines of reasoning. A person might not think that those two genres had any areas of commonality.
Then… on to composed vs. improvised music. Both are "thought out," though differently. The majority of jazz uses the song's structure as framework for the improviser. Classical compositions do vary by performance, but don't contain much in the way of improvisation, at least not in the modern era. Reading these ideas, you might think that the two broad genres have nothing in common. Bolling's Suite proved otherwise. The idea that a section of classical music might be bent toward jazz was definitely an ear-opening experience.
Horvitz's Gravitas Quartet, while being mostly about improvisation, does seem to have more composed underpinnings. If you listen to the opening lines of the "LB," you'll hear a trumpet, cello, and bassoon (Ron Miles, Peggy Lee, Sara Schoenbeck) moving through some gradually descending melodies. This all seems (and may in fact be) written out, but then things change when Horvitz' piano enters the picture. The lines shear off in several directions with the performers responding to each other's melodic fragments and rhythms in many different ways. Things get pretty chaotic for a while until the piano improvises on the opening theme, which is then restated as the song closes.
"Between Here And Heaven" takes a different direction. Beginning with the most vague of electronic chords, the band slowly layers on ideas, almost willing a theme to take shape. Way Out East is absolutely packed with these kind of situations. The Gravitas Quartet's players seem perfectly suited to the task of extending Horvitz' ideas. It's sheer musical chemistry (If you don't believe me just check out Gravitas in microcosm, "Our Brief Duet:" Horvitz on piano, Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon — sheer bliss).
It's too bad that some folks are put off by improvised music because of its "difficulty" (and I'll admit that some stuff way out on the edge can indeed be a challenge). In some ways, that sentiment misses the point…misses the playfulness that's inherent in this music. The swooping cello tones on "One Morten" provide a perfect example. We don't have to know what Peggy Lee is doing, or even what she intends. The fact is that these noises running circles around the piano are just plain fun. That idea refutes some of Bolling's detractors who complained that the music wasn't classical enough, wasn't jazz enough.
Hey, it being interesting and fun wasn't good enough?
The pond. The trip across, the house, the apple fight. These are all memories now. Still, that one evening is not unrelated to the rest of my life. Music can function the same way. Connecting lines draw together items within a song, an album, and even across genres.
It's a big world out there. Listen.