Sunday, December 29, 2013

In Response To My Critics

I knew the gamble I would be taking by including some "free improvisation" on my new album. I anticipated that these tracks might not be as favorably received, but I wanted the CD to accurately represent the band's repertoire and it's original "raison d’être."  Initially this band ONLY played "far out", experimental pieces, which makes it somewhat ironic (albeit expected) that critics are saying pieces like Where Thinking Leaves Off "seem out of place among more engaging tunes."  Another reviewer offhandedly insulted me by saying Where Thinking Leaves Off was "appropriately titled" --- as if to infer that no thought went into the composition or performance.

Where Thinking Leaves Off was written after reading Søren Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling", and depicts the story of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, told in the biblical book of Genesis (chapters 17:1 - 18:15, 21:1 - 7, 22:1 -18).   The title comes from a Kierkegaard quote, "faith begins where thinking leaves off."  Emotionally potent content saturates every scene, spanning Isaac's miraculous birth to geriatric parents, to Abraham nearly sacrificing his son on an alter. The contrasts, tensions and emotions make for a fertile improvisational playground.

Be assured, the hours of preparation that go into my graphic scores overshadow the effort it takes to write a brief album synopsis without reading the press release, liner notes, band description and other written materials prepared to coincide with the album's release.  This arrogant, misinformed trend in album criticism is disappointing and serious cause for concern.

That said, I had hoped each piece could stand on its own artistically, without an explanation. Maybe I was wrong.  Maybe I was expecting too much of my listeners; but then again, it's not as if I was inventing and introducing the free jazz idiom.  It's been around for 50 years, but appears to be just as polarizing now as at it's inception.

In no way does the negative response of a few critics make me think my explorations into graphic composition are artistically weak, unsound or invalid.  In fact, I'm rather proud of this work.

An audio player and the score for "Where Thinking Leaves Off" appear below.  See if you can follow along with the score.  (Saxophone replaces all the indicated trumpet parts.)

Dave Douglas, the trumpet playing composer, introduced me to the concept of graphic scores and aleatoric composition back in 2001 while I was a participant at the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music. I've done some further study since then, investigating the work of Earle Brown and R. Murray Schafer, among others, who utilized unconventional notation practices.

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