Saturday, June 25, 2011

Larry Appelbaum: Before and After with Billy Cobham

Larry Appelbaum, writer, blogger, and jazz specialist for the US Library of Congress, among other things, listens to records with Billy Cobham- covering Paul Motian, Lewis Nash, Ndugu, Philly Joe, and more. Here they are discussing one of my favorites of everything to do with it (artist, track, tune, record, drummer, etc), Las Vegas Tango from The Individualism of Gil Evans:

Before: Gil. Nobody writes like that, the chords and the phrasing. [as drums enter] That’s Elvin. What’s really funny about this is that Elvin has a way of playing in 3 while the rest of the band is feeling 2. Gil told me he likes to write and play on the edge of chaos but without falling in. He had this freedom and his using Elvin provides a looseness that could not happen with any other player. So Gil would match the music with the musician. I haven’t mentioned the bass player because the bass player is not listening to what’s going on. The bass player’s in his own world. I can feel that he’s reading what’s on the paper, and it’s correct. Now we have an oboe or English horn player in the mix, which means that everything’s being played very softly. That could be Kenny Burrell. This sounds like early to mid-1960s. You can tell by the quality of the recording that a lot of concessions were made, the technology wasn’t there. And if they did two or three takes of that, it was a lot. These guys know exactly what’s going on, they know how Gil likes to phrase. It’s beautiful.
When you were playing with Gil, what kind of direction would he give the players?
 None [chuckles]. What he did was put the music in front of you and then we’d start. Gil didn’t even look at me till after the gig was over. I still have the book, if you want to call it that. It was an inter-office envelope with a few pages of material. On Hotel Me Blues there was a scale and the rest of the chart was blank. That was the drum part. [laughs] Somebody counted off this really slow tempo and the whole idea of this blues was that the whole band had vibrato on every note. This was the funniest stuff I had ever heard. I was almost on the floor laughing, trying to play this. It was like the ultimate challenge to try and fit a square peg into a round hole with this tune and you had to go with it.
After: Gil had a personality you could identify with through his writing; slow, methodical, yet lyrical. He loved to dabble in the world of slowness. He was like a musical sloth; slow moving, deliberate. He could be considered in the category of a Borodin, but for jazz. I can envision lying on my back on the ground and looking up at clouds moving slowly.

YouTube of the track and bonus quote after the break:

Bonus quote:
The dynamics of music are very important. One is to know when to play loud and when to play soft. The other is to know how to dynamically present through the perception of your ideas and your thoughts via music. If you can’t do that, you lose and you’ll be continually frustrated. You’re looking to achieve a goal that you’re not worthy of because you don’t have all the parts required to make it happen. You need to know when to play and when not to play, and how to mold and present those ideas when the time is right.
So how do you learn that?
By keeping your big mouth shut and watching and listening to other people and what they do. And learn from the bad and the good. You go around and you listen, you take the chip off your shoulder and you put yourself in the position of an extremely sensitive mental environment; Yeah, I’m not that good, I need to learn, I need to ask questions.

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