AJ Dehany writes:
I originally bought the fundraiser track QW3 just to lob a few quid at the Vortex, the Dalston jazz club and charitable foundation that seems to miraculously survive despite giving more to its local and musical communities than it receives. I didn’t think about where QW3 had come from, but a little knowledge has enriched my enjoyment of it immeasurably. It is a previously unreleased piece donated from the sessions for the double album Uncharted Territories released in 2018. Over two days the quartet of Dave Holland, Evan Parker, Craig Taborn and Ches Smith recorded six hours of material, selecting 23 tracks for the album. The predominantly spontaneously created tracks have titles encoding the instrumentation, day and take number, so QW3 means Quartet, Wednesday, Take 3.
As a stand-alone piece it is a teasingly measured and patiently-unfolding work of impressive listening such as you’d expect from these players. Even if it wasn’t selected for that album, it’s very much of a piece with it. It is much easier to vibe into when you’ve heard the other selections. QW3 sits in between two tendencies of that album between the transcendent and the vibrantly human. On the one hand there are a small number of compositions of lambent beauty and liminal sophistication that transcend the circumstances of their creation. The bell-like opening tones of the opener Thought On Earth really stop you in your tracks. What’s composed, what’s improvised isn’t clear, and doesn’t matter.
Other episodes of involved and breathless improvisation throw you into the room to listen up to the players’ conversations, with the players trusting and testing each other with a thrilling freedom and facility. These retain a strong sense of physical presence and moment in time. Sometimes, not so much on this album with these players, but sometimes, this informs a sense of free music being a ‘process’ rather than an artefact, something you need experience in the flesh and cannot completely appreciate at home via recordings. Streaming is the new recording. With no opportunity to go out, the lockdown might give us an extended chance to think again about the complex relationship jazz has between music in the moment and music outside of time.
In this quartet formation there’s an undercurrent of mysterious depth to Ches Smith’s tonal colourations on the percussion as they interact with Craig Taborn’s luminous piano playing. This is both the resonating base and bell-structure for the decades-long musical understanding between Evan Parker’s saxophone and Dave Holland’s bass; both have a lyrical, melodic sense to their free playing that makes their duo interactions cherished. Parker and Holland performed a celebrated fundraising gig at the Vortex in March 2018. This pot of money created by this has been funding the series of Shape of Jazz To Come gigs which have been a good showcase for left-field directions that often aren’t supported by the mainstream jazz circuit.
The track QW3 was released in late February and is one of a number of fundraiser tracks donated by artists to support the Vortex, with others by Evan Parker, Han-earl Park, Catherine Sikora Mingus, Thurston Moore & John Russell and the duo of Dave Holland and Evan Parker. There are more coming soon including one from bassist Huw V. Williams. Loop Collective have also made their entire catalogue available for £3 per item to raise funds for the Vortex, an extraordinary act of musicians skipping payment to support the musical infrastructure.
With all live music venues currently closed, the Vortex is exploring options for fundraising and are approaching streaming with a typically refreshing approach to programming. They got in quickly with a broadcast from Sands Film Studios by a classic configuration of Elina Duni, Rob Luft, and Fred Thomas. On Sunday the Résonances live-stream expanded on a collaboration between dancers, painters, poets and musicians. I’ve seen them at the Vortex where they can respond eyeball-to-eyeball with word, sound, movement and gesture (ie. brushstroke). Performing via six different grainy streams presents a challenge to flexibility. Synchronisation is the big problem though some platforms like JAMMR and JackTrip claim to have solved the problem of ‘lag’.
Résonances was a tough watch but there was a fresh and open-minded creativity on display in responding to the technical limitations. Necessitated by circumstance and facilitated by technology, it feels like taking first steps in a fresh new direction in how we make and enjoy music and performance. We’re getting a glimpse of the shape of the human within the shadow of the technology.
AJ Dehany is based in London, locked down in Teesside, and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
Résonances stream: https://www.facebook.com/resonancesperformances/videos/613702066146457/