Racer Sessions

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

Greg Campbell - November 6th, 2011


We’ll be doing two pieces, each inspired by ideas from different composers.  

The first piece has two inspirations.  The first is Henry Threadgill, who has offered the compositional world many ideas over the last forty years or so, and I’m borrowing only one – the ideas of pairs within a larger ensemble, creating tiny “sections.”  (Others have used the idea, too, of course, notably Christian Wolff, in his aptly named piece “Pairs.”) Threadgill’s famous Sextett included (in a brave move, as even drummers like me will acknowledge) two drummers, and the cello and bass often played in unison, octaves, or harmony.

audio 1: The Henry Threadgill Sextett, “What Was That?” from the album “When Was That?” (1982, About Time)

In a later band, Very Very Circus, he took the idea further, using two (and sometimes even three) tubas, two electric guitars, and even pairing his own alto saxophone (maybe like one of those famous Emily Dickinson “slant rhymes,” which intentionally don’t quite rhyme, but almost) with a French horn.  Check out the bass line created by the two interlocking tuba parts here:

audio 2: “Little Pocket Size Demons” from the album “Too Much Sugar for a Dime”

The second inspiration for the piece is Igor Stravinsky – another composer who generated any number of thought-provoking compositional strategies.  In this case, I’m interested in his explorations of duration (just long and short) in his “Symphonies of Wind Instruments.”  As you can hear, these ideas about duration are sandwiched in between other, more dense passages.  

audio 3: Stravinsky, “Symponies of Wind Instruments”


The second piece has some wider influences that include very rhythmic styles of music, from Balinesian gamelan to African drumming, and even to minimalist composers like Steve Reich.  There are some sections of metric modulation here, too, maybe invoking (though not too intentionally) Elliott Carter.  Overall, though, the texture here might be closer to the dense canons created by Larry Polansky, with the feeling of polyrhythm and collage and semi-structured improvisation all at once.

audio 4: Larry Polansky, “Four-Voice Canon #17, Guitar Canon”

I should note that my original idea for tonight was to introduce the Racer community to the fabulous octogenarian clarinetist Bill Smith, who can easily be described as one of the godfathers (along with trombonist Stuart Dempster) of creative improvisatory music in Seattle.  This is a guy who studied with Darius Milhaud, played with Dave Brubeck, won the Prix de Rome and Prix de Paris, not to mention two Guggenheim grants, and, with Dempster, co-led the Contemporary Group at the UW (where I first met him) for 30 years.  He’s still busy as a performer and composer, having premiered a “jazzopera” in New York just last year.  But sadly, Bill recently suffered a small heart attack and wasn’t able to join us tonight. If you’re interested in creative music – composition, improvisation, whatever – you should look him up, and try to see him when he makes one of his rare appearances in town.