1. Roughhousing Performance in Johnson City, TN, Sept. 2016, on a tour of the Southeast and Midwest.
Evan Lipson, Double Bass, Zach Darrup, guitar and objects, Jack Wright, alto and soprano saxes.
2-8. Jack Wright playing alone, July 2016 and Jan. 2017.Basement DAT tapes.
Spring Garden Music release SGM 26
This CD will be included with the book The Free Musics, when ordered directly from Spring Garden Music
Track 1: Evan Lipson lives in Chattanooga and Jack and Zach are in PA, so Roughhousing has played together almost exclusively while performing on tour. This track was the second performance of our Fall 2016 tour but the first one with a decent recording. Listening back to it I hear an overall precision and subtlety, with each player's movement in strict relationship to the other two. If music is expected to make sense, that is where to look for it. A duo can easily be interpreted as a conversation, which is less likely to be heard in a trio. What we are following can only be called "the music," which is so much in control of our movements that we cannot predict where it will go next, how long a perceived continuity will last, and when it will break off abruptly. Our precision is based on a clarity of feeling, of sensing the playing as an other we submit to. Will, effectiveness, something that "works," does not enter the picture.
Track 2-8: By calling this "playing alone" I don't mean a solo, which is a musical form intended for an other, even when the other is the player as listener. The solo is meant to make a good impression, which however subtly turns us into machines designed to please the other with what we think the other wants. Musicians normally have ideas of what they want to hear coming from them, which is shaped over their lifetime of playing, and is their musical identity. They-we-don't want any surprises, which are treated as wrong notes. Over the years I found, as many improvisers have, that merely turning on the microphone will remove something vital from my playing. Despite all efforts to dismiss this awareness of the live mic, I know that someone might hear this--first of all myself, and I want to be pleased by what I do. My judgment of what is good cannot escape my hope that it will meet the approval of others. Playing alone is the corrective.
In July 2016 I stumbled on the answer to the dilemma and discovered a kind of innocence and surprise I had not known since perhaps my first moment of improvising back in 1979. I was so focused on my book (in 2016) that I was disconnected from playing; merely to keep up my chops was a chore.. I decided to ignore that and just play--how could I write about playing without playing? I normally get up early to read, think, and write. My book has been written without any urge to be a writer, it has flowed from the erotic urgency to think and write. In that state of mind I went to the basement,I turned on the mic and simply played whatever, without even warming up. I wasn't even playing for myself.
This is what I later called "playing alone." It is the closest I've come to free playing, where there is nothing and no one to follow, no idea of what is right to do, not even enjoyment. Only after a month did I listen back, and I found myelf excited by it. It was then that I imagined offering it to others, selecting it rather arbitrarily. There is even one piece that I felt embarrased to include, track 7. I did so because I realized that the entire project presumed my acceptance of everything, that to insert my aesthetic judgment now would be to fantasize what the other would like, and I had no right to preempt that listener's judgment--including my own. In fact that piece soon stopped offending me.
Supporting this behind my back, as it were, was the inclination in free playing to use anything one might have considered a mistake, negating and disqualifying it. Instead it is all positive material to be played as if they intended it. The ground for selecting for release, by which the musician discards the worse for the better, is a moment outside the playing itself. Musicians put on the hat of someone facing the other and hoping to defend what they have done. When, in free playing, musicians bypass that judge,they are not acting as a postmodern relativist, since in the playing prior to that moment, they have already pulled everything into the musicality they are creating. It's as if, in the traditional image of sculptors discarding their chips into the trash, they find a way to incorporate each chip into the sculpture. The project is not to convert the real into a preexistent ideal but to play around with the full materiality and contingency of the sounds one makes.
Thus during the playing I often fall into a pattern that seems familiar or I fail to get the sound I expect from a certain fingering, and this becomes my material. To the question "what should I play" I would aim to answer "anything at all." The discipline is to find ways to twist and bend to my pleasure anything that appears on the sound horizon in that moment of playing, and not to carve out my pleasure later. Listening to it later I am not substituting myself for the fantasized listener I would hope to convince; I would be like the listener who has renounced judgment and can fully enter the flow of the playing. The judging I leave to others--their business, not mine.
In the fall I scheduled some performances to see how this would work. With the experience of playing alone behind me I felt more present than in my earlier solo performances, although on listening back they were not as surprising to me as my summer playing. I was at least better able to imagine the excitement or at least anticipation of the listeners, that they wanted to be surprised, like myself. It helps immensely that I've been able to avoid becoming a well-known musician, so listeners aren't thinking they're in the presence of someone larger than life, whom they've been told they should revere. Maybe they think I have prepared a music for them, like any regular art entertainer, but they are still free not to be impressed by what I do. That puts us on the same plane. For in free playing we are all on the edge of our seats--players are as unprepared for what they might do as the audience is unprepared for what they might hear.