Tag Archives: Pat Metheny

Jacob Collier

I recently came a cross this amazing talent in a newsletter email highlighting an upcoming Quincy Jones’ concert with Mr Collier accompanied by raving endorsements by Jones and other top jazz performers of our time such as Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. The introduction of this rising star mentioned that he’s a successful YouTuber so naturally I looked him up. And here’s what I came across first.

That really blew my mind! It’s easy to hear why he’s received such praise. Not only does young Mr Collier has some very interesting and fresh sounding harmonic, melodic and rhythmic ideas but he’s also found his own way of expressing them – his performance style, if you will. And listen to the way he builds up this old classic first with rather traditional, although extended, harmonies and (more) conventional rhythms and saving his more unique ideas later on in the performance. I.e. he doesn’t go straight for the “acrobatics”, but first bows to the tradition before springing from it to his own adventurous exploration of the song.

In this age of fast flying YouTube stars and child prodigies Mr Collier shows not only musical maturity – at the age of 19 – but he’s put considerable effort and thought into his presentation. His videos are very well produced with fine audio and video quality and skilful editing. He even creates slightly different personages for the many “Jacobs” singing the multiple parts. They each have a unique attire and different hairstyle (although, frankly, he’s not much of a stylist 😉 ). What I especially like is that he moves his head in rhythm with the particular voice he’s singing making it easier for the listener to recognise which of the Jacobs is singing which part.

Technology and/in performance

After my university studies I was sketching a plan for a PhD research on music and technology, especially in the ways various technologies are used in live music performance. Collier seems to be interested in this topic as well and searching for technological means to express his musical ideas.

I recommend listening to this one with heaphones or well positioned speakers to experience the live mixing.

What I find especially intriguing in this video that Collier actually demonstrates us what DJs do when they mix records and samples and manipulate them live. Only Collier produces all the “samples” himself, live. In an interview he has indeed mentioned that honing his performance solo practices is one of is major goals. For this end he’s already got a project with MIT lined up. I’m very curious to hear and see the fruits of that endeavour!

In the above interview Collier makes an interesting comment about his predilection to acoustic piano against various keyboards and synthesisers. That’s an approach of a musician as a craftsman in the traditional sense. Playing acoustic instruments gives one a whole different sense of “doing” and control of the sounds one produces. Getting the desired sound(s) out of an acoustic instrument also requires sufficient technical command on it. On a keyboard, synthesiser, or some other “post-mechanical” instrument, the sound is much more – if not entirely – predetermined and the player merely triggers it with a press of a key or hitting the electric drum. Of course technique is still required to make music with such instruments but more towards executing than producing the music.

Collier’s choices of instruments are eclectic and apparently arise from his upbringing in a family of musicians and abundant and varied musical activities from an early age (see the interview linked to above). He has a particular preference to melodica, an instrument originally designed for educational use. In Collier’s hands this simple instrument doesn’t seem to lack anything but is able to rise for the musical occasion at hand. Outside his music room he also makes use of its portability and e.g. joins the horn section of Snarky Puppy and walks to the soloist’s mic to take his solo in the manner of horn players.

Talent in the Internet age

As mentioned above, Jacob Collier really stands out among the YouTube child prodigies playing e.g. classical piano, guitar or conducting an orchestra at a young age. While this comparison might be a bit far fetched as Mr Collier is not a child any more, there’s a similarity with the immense concentration of talent around a person (Anakin Skywalker anyone? 😉 ).

Significance of the medium in which we get these talents presented to us is also not to be neglected. While the YouTube stardom of most of the above mentioned young talents doesn’t reach the “Internet Phenomenon” stage, with Mr Collier it not only does reach it but delving into his world through the available clips makes quickly apparent that he already has a vision of his career that won’t allow his star to descend any time soon. At least that’s what I sincerely wish for him and am eager to witness in the years and, with all likelihood, decades to come.

Actually Collier’s undertakings remind me of Prince in many ways. Prince has also always (or at least mostly) played all the instruments except horns on his records. But in fact also on the business side. In the 90s Prince infamously quarrelled with his record label at the time Warner Brothers about the ownership of his master records and began sporting a “Slave” text written on his face and changed his name to an “unpronounceable symbol” – all acts with multiple meanings as well as causing headaches to his record label trying to promote the brand formerly known as Prince.

Prince is attributed to have been one of the first artists to realise the power of internet in music business, which Collier seems to have mastered quite well. In addition to his YouTube channel, which having over 44 000 subscribers (at the time of writing this) probably brings him more than pocket money in Google Adds compensations, Collier has also launched crowd sourcing project on Patreon. I’d say he’s at least got his tuition fees at the Royal Academy of Music covered and he’s still left with some to maintain his sizeable instrument collection 🙂

Another thing about talent I’d like to bring up is the “nature-nurture” aspect of it. Statements about talented people like “It’s in his/her genes” are common enough implying that the talent is inherited. Coming from a musical family, this seems to fit the bill in Collier’s case. It is, however, a fact of biology that learned traits are not simply passed on. We can’t change our genes by learning new stuff and expect our offspring to get that “in the mother’s milk”. Species evolution takes place on the gene level due to (significant) changes in the living environment causing some genes to mutate. And this doesn’t happen in a generation or two of e.g. musicality in the family.

For more about human musicality check this short and concise presentation by Professor Henkjan Honing.

While “everyone is musical” to an extent as Professor Honing has shown [English translation of his book Iedereen is muzikaal], this musicality is of a different kind than what we witness in Collier. His musical family does have everything to do with it but not in a way of “passing on” the family trait in their genes. Rather, musical families support each other should there be interest in pursuing musical activities. Such interest is apparent in Collier and the support of his family has enabled him to reach a level of musical maturity in a young age (Check out also the bass player Victor Wooten‘s an multi-instrumentalist Usman Riaz‘s similar stories). What we hear in Collier’s undertakings is not merely talent but passion and drive to put the countless hours into practising and working on his music required to reach this level. And he just seems to be getting started so I’m really looking forward to follow his musical adventures to come 😀

And to wrap up here’s one more gem from Jacob Collier.

Charlie Haden – Part 2

When I first began writing this piece about Charlie Haden I could only think of the above-discussed duo album with Pat Metheny that I really know of Charlie Haden. But while browsing YouTube for his music I was reminded of three other albums on my shelf he plays on. These are from somewhat different eras and bring out different sides of Haden’s bass playing and career and worth a few more word, in my opinion. Again I leave the more extensive biographical commentary to others and discuss here my experience with Haden’s work as sideman on these albums.

The first one is a trio recording Somewhere before with the pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Paul Motian, recorded live in 1968 at the Shelly’s Manne-hole in Hollywood. The second is 80/81 (1980) with Pat Metheny and third Michael Brecker from Michael Brecker. None of these albums have had so profound effect on me and my playing as the first discussed duo album with Metheny, but there are certainly remarkable albums on their own account. I also find it interesting to see the connections between musicians and how their careers evolve and cross each other. A long career such as Haden’s provides a great opportunity to retrospectively “witness” a slice of jazz history being made.

Somewhere before (Keith Jarrett Trio)

As mentioned, different sides of Haden’s playing can be heard on these albums. The trio album with Jarrett and Motian is a very free flowing one. Jarrett and Haden make a good match musically as they both like to keep things open to work freely on their melodic ideas without too many structural boundaries set by the composition. Haden always wanted to break out of the confines of bass playing and play melodies and counter melodies rather than just keep time and mark the harmonies. With Jarrett he’s able to do that and you can hear how they’re both “just ears”, playing off of each other.

The record itself is producer George Avakian’s selection of performances recorded during the groups stay at the Manne-hole. Here’s a performance of the same group a few years later which, I think, illustrates my point pretty well. In this one Haden also, rather atypically, play very high on the bass – but for a very clear musical reason.

80/81 (Pat Metheny)

According to Haden in the liner notes to Beyond the Missouri Sky, he first met Pat Metheny in 1973 when Metheny, age of 18 at the time, came up to introduce himself after Haden’s concert with Ornette Coleman (with whom they were collaborating a decade later on the Song X album). It was, however, during the extensive touring with the 80/81 project that they became friends. In addition to them, this group consisted of the saxophonists Dewey Redman, with Haden had played in an Ornette Colean project in the  above-mentioned Jarrett group in the early 1970s, Michael Brecker, with whom Metheny had played at least in the Joni Mitchell group of the late end of 1970s, and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

80/81 is also a rather free oriented album. The opening track Two Folk Songs is a 20 minute long elaboration of two folk song like melodies, one from Metheny and the other by Haden, tribute to both artists’ Mid-Western routes. Ornette Coleman is also tributed in the form of his blues Turnaround. This features a hard-swinging Haden demonstrating the power of walking bass line, not only in providing the rhythmic and harmonic foundation, but also as creatively and interactively participating in the musical conversation between the musicians.

When I was still learning the basics of jazz bass playing I was picking up a lot of stuff from bassists I heard. The “walking” motion in a walking bass line is a result of regular, on the beat, rhythm and continuous scalar melodic movement. While Haden indeed swings like no other, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear him repeating some notes in his lines occasionally. But then again, this is not a conventional bebop context and Haden’s lines contribute rhythmically as well as melodically to what’s happening in the music; he’s taking part in the conversation, in a language, one might say, that is not strictly bebop.

Michael Brecker (Michael Brecker)

Michael Brecker’s album Michael Brecker is in a way continuation of the collaboration we saw/heard on 80/81; but now Brecker as the leader. Apart from Kenny Kirkland on piano and the absence of Dewey Redman, this is the same group. By this time Brecker was already a very established jazz musician with e.g. a discography dating back two decades. He was perhaps best known of his fusion jazz groups Brecker Brothers and Steps Ahead.

Considering the rather prominent fusion sound on this album the choice of Haden as a bass player might seem a peculiar one. Together with the music production technology/philosophy of the 1980s, it’s often hard to hear the “rainforest” in Haden’s sound (see Part 1). On the other hand, it’s one more example of Haden’s versatility as a bass player and musician. Nothing Personal is a good example of this. It’s a minor blues featuring a bit fusion-like bass figure on the first part of the form and walking bass on the second part and under the solos. Haden’s walking bass lines are in the highly chromatic style he played on 80/81 as well; adding a sort of Coleman-style free jazz element to the fusion. The repeating notes in his lines can be heard here as well.

In Cost of Living we get Haden really in his element again with his familiar “wooden” sound as well as a beautiful solo. With Metheny on acoustic guitar on this track there’s something of flashback (or flashforward, really) to the duo album I discussed in the previous post.

Coda

This concludes my ruminations on Charlie Haden. Much could also be said of his philosophy of life and music, but I’ll leave that for others at this point. As you see here my musical acquaintance with Haden hasn’t been the most extensive one, but I’ve been able draw quite a few lessons from his music. I think we should all consider ourselves lucky to have had such a remarkable person and musician amongst us leaving his legacy for us to enjoy, study and learn from. So hats off and hands down to Mr. Haden!

Charlie Haden – Part 1

"Charlie Haden" by Geert Vandepoele from Gent, Belgium - Charlie Haden. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Charlie Haden” by Geert Vandepoele from Gent, Belgium – Charlie Haden. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The passing of this great bass player on July 11th brought up some thoughts about studying and making music, I’d like to share with you. I’ll leave the writing of more extensive and well deserved obituaries and tributes to Charlie Haden for those who are better acquainted with his life and career. As my modest tribute to this pioneer of bass I’ll reflect here on my “musical encounter” with him and what it meant for me.

Institutional study of jazz mostly begins with learning the basics of bebop; swinging on one’s instrument, alone as well as in an ensemble, bebop harmonies and building melodic lines on them according to the voice leading principles, repertoire, etc. Why bebop has been chosen as the centre of the jazz universe in the educational institutions has to be discussed another time. However, we have much to be grateful for to Charlie Haden for showing us “the shape of jazz to come”; showing all the wonderful things the music could and can be – whether one would call it jazz or something else.

To me this world began open when my bass teacher of the time Ari-Pekka Anttila gave me a tip to check out the then fresh duo album of Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny Beyond the Missouri Sky (1997). 15 years later that album continues to touch me and has now become part of the “soundtrack of my life” bringing back many memories. I’m also happy to have had the chance to see the maestro playing live once on his tour with Pat Metheny in 2003.

I’d suggest you to go ahead and listen to the following track at this point. Below I’ll say a few words about this track, how I hear it and what it has meant to me, but I’d recommend you to listen to it first so you’re not “primed” by my views of it. You’re then able to compare your own experience of it with mine and see/hear for yourself whether you agree with me or find my description useful in any way.

Our Spanish Love Song

Charlie Haden is the bass player who stays down low, who plays only the notes that are necessary. He is quiet, in a sense, even as he has a resonant sound, a singing, distinctive tone that speaks of the wood of the instrument, the flesh of his fingers on the strings, the intelligence of man who is thinking his way though the songs he plays and the humanity of a man who can hear the lyrics in his heart with every measure. Will Layman (PopMatters.com)

When I play, it’s very important to me to bring out the wood – like the tree – of the bass. I like to sound like a rainforest. Charlie Haden

Musically the lesson I was trying to learn from Haden was to say what I had to say with less notes. I find the duo performances with Haden and Metheny very effective in driving that point home. Pat Metheny is a master of playing long, elaborate, melodic lines. Forming a continuous flow these lines draw a firework-like picture rich in colours and details in dynamics, timing and harmony for the keen ear to pick up. Charlie Haden, on the hand, plays a few carefully chosen notes executed with equal mastery, cherishing every note, every stroke of his musical brush, embracing the very touch of the canvas, the creation of a musical space for the audience who is invited to share it with him. This is the musical being-in-the-world in a Heideggerian sense I’ve talked about before.

Our Spanish Love Song, from the above-mentioned album you’ve just heard is a great example of what I’m trying to say here; as well as a tune I spent a lot of time studying in attempt to emulate Haden’s approach. The bass solo in the studio version is nothing short of haunting in its beauty and simplicity. The ascending melodic line breaths through the harmonies of the song, marking the changes and building up the tension towards the last part of the form where he resolves it with some arpeggios on the finishing cadence of the form.

In short, Haden has taught me much about the sound of the instrument and the effective use of it in self expression in a way that is economic rather than flashy, and emotional rather than “academic”.  My first teacher at the Conservatory of Amsterdam Arnold Dooyewerd also helped me a great deal in this search,  more specifically advising me to try and bring forth the “Spanish” in this song.

The closest I got in my own playing to realising the lessons from Haden, in my opinion,  can be heard on Rauhaton Rinta from the Finnish-Dutch group Aina.

Rauhaton Rinta from Aina – Leino (2005).  Composition by Izak Boom, lyrics by Eino Leino

When I first began writing this post I could only think of the above-mentioned duo album with Pat Metheny that I really know of Charlie Haden. But while browsing YouTube for his music I was reminded of three other albums on my shelf he plays on.  See Part 2 for my thoughts about/around those albums.