Sunday, May 2, 2010

Shylock: Form or Deform?

Last week we held the first rehearsal for the new group Shylock, a Dixie-meets-free jazz ensemble. It’s a quintet featuring Noah Kaplan on sax; Avi and Benjy Fox-Rosen on guitar and bass, respectively; Matthew Rousseau on drums; and myself on trumpet. It went well, and certainly established, for me, the new light-motif of my musical life – the dichotomy of keeping to a musical form and the urge to twist that form, or leave it altogether. In theory, working one’s way out of a set form is great idea, but it is actually quite difficult to do effectively. How do you play off a form without falling directly into a formlessness that disregards the beauty of the piece in its original incarnation? Specifically, how do we honor Louis Armstrong’s music and perform our modern take on it without giving in to sonic masturbation?

I believe one way around this essential problem is thinking of form as an expandable and retractable medium. In this way, one is observing the power of the chord progression and yet is willfully mutating the chordal rhythm. This method certainly owes to Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary work in Harmolodics. In this case, the set form becomes “harmolodic” in that it melds to the ever-unfolding phrases and collective melodies created by the ensemble. It might also be likened to poet Charles Olson’s “projective verse,” where the form corresponds to the content of the improvisation.

This is certainly not the first time someone has approached set form with the intention of upending it in a meaningful way. But this would be “one of those times,” and I think it’s going to work.

Now for the pitch: Shylock will be playing at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn this Friday, May 7, at 9:00. A trio fronted by Noah Kaplan, will go on at 8:00. Come by, listen, and let me know what you think.

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