Friday, October 05, 2007
My review of Dörner's "sind" at Bags brought up the hoary question of whether solo improv recordings are on inherently shaky ground. The arguments generally fall into two categories: 1) that the lack of one or more collaborators tends to channel the music down a path toward hermeticism, self-involvement or, less charitably and quaintly Victorian-inspired, some kind of masturbatory exercise and 2) "music" gets sacrificed on the altar of technique, the recording turning into a "look what I can do" kind of affair.
I don't think either is necessarily the case (though of course both may indeed occur) and that the escape route is simply having something of deep musical value to express and staying as true as possible to its expression, regardless of the number of musicians its execution entails. To say that there's no such thing as an improvisation that could best be expressed in solo form seems silly. On the other hand, it may be true that as music edges into more abstract forms, pulling off a solo improv performance successfully may become a more and more tenuous undertaking. That's where having a solid idea in the first place comes in. I have no doubt that, all too often, someone thinks they should do a solo recording whether or not they happen to have an idea that lends itself to the format. That's when you tend to get the "catalog of techniques" approach, a very boring thing to hear no matter how imaginatively extended those techniques are. Although it's not so neat as that, I guess; I can imagine a given newly discovered technique opening the door to a hitherto unknown range of ideas.
But the general idea, something I hear often, that playing by yourself amounts to playing with yourself (again, as though that's an evil thing anyway, like it's 1860 in Puritan New England) seems misguided. I got to thinking about this again last evening, playing for the first time Rhodri Davies' new release on Confront (the title of which I'm blanking on at the moment). It's solo harp with e-bow and exists just fine on its own. There's no in-your-face technical prowess to be heard, no excessive arcaneness, just a delicate, ethereal series of overlapping hums.
To vastly different effect, the great Ferran Fages disc on Etude is all about emotional devastation, concerning private enough events that creating it in tandem with others would seem to be at least very uncomfortable if not unthinkable. I also have on hand solo saxophone discs from Lucio Capece (bb, a question of re_entry)and Martin Kuchen (Homo Sacer, Sillon) that, on first blush, strike me as successful gambits (maybe half and half with the Capece).
Anyway, rambling on a bit, just slightly rankled that solo improv efforts sometimes get dismissed out of hand, often unfairly, without giving the actual music an unbiased enough listen.