Sadly, this editorial has to open with news of another death – no, not Michael Jackson’s, that of bassist Hugh Hopper. I guess the interview I conducted with him for Issue 2 may have been the last he gave, so maybe that will serve for tribute. There’s also a review of the re-issue of his album ‘Hopper Tunity Box’ in this edition of ‘eartrip’; on that album and on many others can be found the evidence of a spirit of adventure that continued right up to the end; along with fellow Soft Machine musicians like Elton Dean, he demonstrated the ability to mix experimentation with a genuine popular appeal, without compromise.
In any case, Issue 4 is now here, and as well as all the usual reviews and articles it’s accompanied by a second MP3 compilation – response was positive for the first, which went out with the previous issue, so I’ve put together another, again combining work by disparate performers in varying fields which can’t easily be bracketed under any one heading, but which share a spirit of adventure and exploration that – I think – outweighs the chance that the risks taken won’t pay off. Hopefully the eartrip compilation can become a regular thing: if anyone reading this has recordings they’d like to see on the next one, please email or post them to the addresses at the bottom of the editorial. It’d be great if I could continue to get a diverse selection of material, to showcase artists both better and less-known.
Other news, other thoughts: the re-appearance of the Freedom of the City festival this year, at a new venue after the stalwart back-room of the Red Rose pub decided to close the improv side of affairs, is surely cause for celebration, and the combination of veteran British improvisers such as Steve Beresford and Evan Parker with younger guests from abroad such as cellist Okkyung Lee makes it just as great a space for experimentation as ever.
Interviewee for this issue, John Russell, continues to make his Mopomoso nights a fine space for numerous combinations – a place to hear both established artists – Russell, Evan Parker, John Butcher, Phil Minton – and exciting new players such as multi-reedist Shabaka Hutchings. Russell’s link with film-maker Helen Petts, who uploads high-quality videos of most Mopomoso performances onto youtube (Petts’ channel can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/user/helentonic), enables dissemination among aficionados who aren’t able to make it to London on a regular basis, as well – perhaps – as reaching a wider audience. What’s so exciting about this sort of development is that it at once serves a historical function – that of archiving musically important work which would otherwise be lost – and documents continuing development and activity, activity which doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon.
Given this, and given that the section in which I select highlights from the numerous jazz and improv videos available on youtube has now become a regular feature of the magazine, it’s hard not to escape the conclusion that the possibilities of internet video sites – and youtube in particular – really are a good thing, much as I hate to sound like a spokesman for big business and the shiny corporate face of new technologies. I think the issue is one of working with the tools available – it’s what free improvisation and jazz have always done; the only way to avoid continual slaps-in-the-face from those not impressed by the importance of such music is to get out there and make it known.
Take Philadelphia-based percussionist Toshi Makihara’s ‘Solo 365 Project’ (http://www.youtube.com/user/Solo365Project), in which he records a 10-minute solo every day – usually with minimal instrumentation, maybe one element of his drum kit (often a snare) and a few sticks or brushes – and uploads it to the channel set up for the purpose. The object here is not produce 365 gleaming jewels, 365 bona-fide great works of art, but to showcase process, work and dedication, to enable viewers to truly participate in the process of making a music that engages with faculties both emotional and mental, on so many levels. Gimmicky as it might risk being, the fact unfortunately remains that it’s this very gimmick that will probably attract most interest, and perhaps draw some converts out of those who were initially merely curious.
In any case, new converts or no new converts, it’s a fascinating project and yet another example of the creative use of technology beyond arts council application write-ups for grand-sounding but ultimately hollow gallery projects, and beyond the flirtation with the easier elements of electronic music used to spice up otherwise utterly banal pop-jazz . When dealing with a music that demands utter engagement and which uniquely rewards it, it’s important that such music doesn’t become cloistered away into an irrelevance, even as it’s important that it doesn’t became tainted or watered-down. The latter point is not an assault on necessary pragmatism – where would this music be without ventures such as Incus records and the tireless man-hours put into tasks such as publicity, promotion, and the like? – nor is it an avocation of a po-faced hermiticism. The challenge is to balance real and active engagement with the modern world with a much-needed criticism of its more unsavoury aspects, to enhance and enrich the creative process and product in a mutual exchange of new ideas. As always, it’s a struggle, but, as always, it’s a worthwhile struggle.
The contact address is still firstname.lastname@example.org. Get in touch with comments, positive or negative, offers to write for the magazine (yes, I’m still pleading for writers – tell your friends! have a go yourself!), and anything else you can think of. The address to send review copies to is:
17 Avenue Road
Alternatively, I’m happy to listen to digital versions, if you’re worried about postage costs. I’m not so bothered about the format – the music is the important thing.