An odd exercise…

Fortunes_006The following is my review of my own album, Fortunes and Hat-tricks, Vol. 1.  I’m aware that it’s a little odd to write a formal review of your own album, but my hope is that it will entice a few people to give a listen who had not yet done so.  So, without further ado…

If you’ve ever been on a crowded subway car you know that things usually goes one of two ways.  The first and most likely scenario is that most everyone seems to take the crowd as a personal affront, and they aggressively assert themselves.  They tend to obnoxiously claim as much space for themselves as possible, totally disregarding everyone around them, ignoring the fact that they are all going through the exact same thing.  This approach makes the experience more difficult for everyone.  Truly no one wins.  The second way things can go is that most of the people on this crowded train car realize they are not the only ones experiencing this, and they work together leaving as much free space for others as possible, treating those around them with respect and humanity.  They take off bulky back packs and put them on their laps or between their legs.  They hold the pole so others can too, instead of leaning on it, leaving room for no one else.

Metaphorically apply the first approach to handling the subway situation to a jazz ensemble freely improvising.  Most times free improv = every-man-for-himself type of mayhem.  Each musician is so concerned he won’t have space of his own that he never leaves any space for anyone else.  Even if what each individual player is doing has musical merit, if no one is listening to anyone else or willing to leave space, the result is unmusical, the result is cacophony.  For the audience the result is, almost without exception, an aggressive and exhausting aural attack.  The audience is excluded from the performance, and honestly, so are all of the players.

Now  imagine the second approach to the crowded subway conundrum applied to free improv, and that’s what you get with Fortunes and Hat-tricks, Vol. 1.  On this album, Davis, Duncan and Tiemann cooperate in the truest sense of the word.  Here you have three musicians who are acutely aware of the space they occupy…constantly listening to each other, looking at each other, respecting each other.  In the end what you are left with is an improvised work that, though completely unplanned, has all the most important elements of composition – direction, focus, melody, development, dynamics, contour, space.  Utilizing this rather selfless approach to improvisation, everyone is serving the music and the spirit of the moment and the ensemble…and the reason for doing this in the first place.

It is near impossible to believe the first track, Good Sense Is the Master of Human Life, is the one and only take of a completely unplanned song.  So strong is the conviction of each player, so quick is each player’s ability to recognize his role and refine his approach, that the listener is positive there is at least a lead sheet or a sketched theme.  Surely there were rehearsals.  Surely there was discussion of vibe or cues at least.  Not so –  nothing of the sort in fact.  Track 2, the pensive and well-crafted The One You Admire Would Welcome a Gift, like all the other pieces on this album, had never even had its title uttered before the tape began to roll.  Even a rambunctious explosion of a song like It Is a Silly Fish That Is Caught Twice With the Same Bait, as busy as it is, has a kind of clarity that only comes from a uniquely deep level of musical coexistence.  The three improvisers work as one composer – defining and refining roles, themes and abstractions, while simultaneously leading and submitting, creating canvas and paint and piece all in a moment.  Other highlights include the dreamy and at times eery Someone Dreams of Being With You and the abstract yet playful Hat-trick #9.

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