Reflections – Autumn in Bath, Tampere, London and ‘sounding like where you come from’

The relative sparsity of posts on this blog since October reflects busy-ness and regular contributions elsewhere. An off the cuff remark at one gig, ‘you sound like where you come from’, did get me thinking.

In the last couple of months, regular immersion in the scene locally was complemented by a trip to Finland for Tampere’s International Jazz Happening with a summary review for All About Jazz and a review of Denys Baptiste‘s set for London Jazz News. Baptiste’s set and that of Tryvge Seim, playing his Helsinki Songs set, were 2018 live highlights.

Hard on the heels of the trip to Tampere was the London Jazz Festival, carpeting the capital with hundreds of gigs and events over 10 days. For London Jazz News I wrote about Nikki Iles’ Jazz Orchestra, Ethan Iverson‘s Kings Place residency, The Hugh Masekela celebration at the Festival Hall and Andy Sheppard with Espen Eriksen’s Trio at Pizza Express.

The Ethan Iverson gig gave me the phrase ‘You sound like where you come from’. The gig was billed as The British Composers and gave him the chance to play a hatful of tunes by British jazz musicians, from roughly the sixties onwards. Considering making a choice myself from that range just made my head spin. Iverson’s selection made for a diverting and entertaining evening and, n the course of a ‘for-the- audience’ chat with writer Richard Williams, he made the declaration by which he meant, I think, there is something distinctive about the way musicians, in this case British musicians, play and compose jazz, reflective of where they come from (meaning the place).

It’s hard to disagree with the broad assertion, but probably even harder to actually pin down the substance of that distinctiveness. It’s the sort of thing it’s sometimes easier to hear and identify..’that’s what I mean’ …. than to isolate and define. Trying too hard, looking too closely, makes the idea evaporate or appear to have less weight.

For Iverson, one of the threads in that ‘Brit sound’ is rock music and a propensity for experimenting. There are plenty of examples of that dating back to the 70s (think Soft Machine) and the last decade has seen variants multiplying (half the band he recruited for the evening formed the original Acoustic Ladyland and Laura Jurd is no stranger to a back-beat). I might have reached first for folk and pastoral flavours as another thread, less present in Iverson’s choices but still hovering there. It is of course easy to find all those ingredients in music from elsewhere, and still the fattest ‘thread’ is something that connects the music to jazz, music of unquestionably American origin. Look too closely and the idea evaporates, but I’m still left with the feeling, ‘yes, there is something in it, there is a British, and European distinctiveness’.

There is also another obvious sense of ‘where you come from’ and it’s a more personal journey of identification, music and creation. What has a musician listened to? With whom (and where?) have they identified, what have they consciously and less consciously drawn on. Its not of course un-related to the first sense, but it mixes everything up.

It’s proved an interesting little phrase to have followed me, ‘you sound like where you come from’, as I’ve thought about listening to a punk-ish rocky trio (Mopo) in a heaving bar in Finland; basking in the quintessence of meditative European jazz on stage in Tampere (Tryvge Seim with a sublime Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Estonian band) or in Pizza Express in Soho (Andy Sheppard/ Espen Eriksen); thrilled to impassioned, Coltrane inspired jazz with a dusting of the Caribbean here and there (from Brit Denys Baptiste) ; danced, or tapped my foot, to the beat of another continent as Adam Glasser visited Bristol’s BeBop Club with a bagful of South African tunes or Hugh Masekela’s last band ripped it up at the Festival Hall.

A reasonable response to all that might be a shrug and a ‘so what, just play me the music’. It gives me a lift and a thrill however, for the immediacy of music to connect us with a place, or someone’s more personal journey. And of course, sometimes I just want to listen. Or dance.

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