Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Evan Woodle - September 5th


This week, I, along with Cameron Sharif on keyboard, will present a new piece of mine entitled “Old Heap”. It was inspired by some recent clerical work I helped my parents with for their business: sorting through boxes and boxes of old medical records and organizing the contents into separate piles of X-Rays, paper clips, recyclables and reusables. The task was quite monotonous, but nonetheless I was able to extract some value from it; the repetitive, almost mindless physical motions involved allowed for a sort of meditative mental state in which I was able to focus my mind on things besides the items passing through my hands. With my piece, I am trying to capture these two things: a repeating rhythm used in the harmony part is present during all composed material, while a slower, more contemplative (I didn’t want to use that word, but… whatever) melody plays on top. An extended improvised section is also included.

In a free improv setting, it is crucial to (at least) try and understand 100% of the information being given by all of the individual players, including yourself. So, a piece of music can easily become less powerful if an individual involved is not able to effectively take in and respond to (which, of course, doesn’t necessarily involve playing anything at all) all the “information” (sounds) being “given” (played). Typically, it is easy to “lose sight” of the music at hand when dense textures arise, rapid rhythms are played or loud volumes are reached.

I recently spent a month in Paris for a study abroad program hosted by the UW Jazz department. Every weekend (except the last), our class ventured over to a nearby jazz festival to listen to two shows a day and write reflective reports for turn-in. Unfortunately, most of the stuff we heard seemed to somewhat embody the opposite of the ideals I mentioned above. Many of the groups used free improvisation as part of their music, but almost always, upon reaching a free section, the band would launch into a high-energy blur of chops, “weird” sounds and extended techniques that were presented in ways that made little-to-no contextual sense. (For example, the drummers at this festival were nearly certain to have a box full of toys and other noise-making devices at their side that they would cycle through quite distastefully.) To me, these moments yielded no collective musical achievement. I did, however, attend one incredible concert at a church in Paris that featured Dan Warburton on violin: he managed to perform a VERY long solo improvisation that was so meticulously constructed, even the space itself (large, deeply resonant room that couldn’t quite keep the sounds of the city outside, and squeaky floors) was influential in the piece’s outcome.

For the session, I will have some ideas of ways an improvisation can avoid some of these pitfalls, specifically utilizing repetition and space as a means of achieving a more coherent piece. I hope that these tools will help to “slow down” the creative process to ensure a more thoroughly educated “conversation” to take place. I also highly encourage everyone to come to the session with some ideas of their own.

Relevant musical examples:

Zs, “Balk” - No improvisation here, but great combination of repetition and unpredictable composed material. A lot can be derived for an improvisational model.

Billy Hart Quartet, “Giant Steps” (Mark Turner’s solo) - The thing to note here is the way that pianist Ethan Iverson comps behind the sax solo. He manages to clearly and beautifully support the soloist while also avoiding conflict with the drummer’s more aggressive comping.

Bill McHenry, “There Won’t Be Another You” - He solos for about 13 minutes, but his expert use of space keeps the entire piece interesting.