AMN Reviews: John Corbett – A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation (2016; The University of Chicago Press)

9780226353807A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation
By John Corbett
The University of Chicago Press
ISBN: 9780226353807

Many adventurous listeners have encountered Free Improvisation and some are fascinated by it while others are put off or even bewildered. Along comes “A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation” by Jon Corbett, a light-hearted but seriously insightful approach to understanding and listening to one of the most important but least understood contemporary musical movements. This is an outstanding book that I would highly recommend to anyone whom is interested in free improvisation. This is the kind of book you will be lending to your friends and re-reading again and again and again.

“A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation” is a unique book about listening. It is not a book about musicians or musical styles or musical histories. You do not need to be a musician to enjoy this book. Mr. Corbett takes his readers through a series of strategies designed to help both the new comer and the old hand to better understand and enjoy their experience of listening to free improvisation.

One of the most important ideas in this book is that as a society we have been musically weaned on steady diet of songs and that as a result, songs are not a mystery to any of us. Mr. Corbett is very clear that while this is not a bad thing, this steady diet of songs has filled us with certain expectations, which we bring every time we listen to music. This leaves us with a kind of cultural baggage that may block listener enjoyment when they encounter the unfamiliar. Mr. Corbett proposes that with a little guidance these obstacles may be able to be removed. This guidance is presented as a series of strategies for listening, which are to be used as a framework to construct your own observations as you venture into the sound world of free improvisation.

Mr. Corbett begins by removing any mystery that may surround the world of free improvisation and deflates many of the overly intellectual or cultish attitudes that may be associated with this music. He defines free improvising as simply music made by improvising. He then presents the idea that learning to listen to improvised music can be like learning to bird watch. This analog really works as he introduces a set of strategies for using your ears and observing what you hear as you go out into the field to listen to improvised music.

A primary obstacle especially for new listeners of free improvisation is the lack of a steady pulse and that the form and its duration is often very different from songs or more conventional classical structures. The book’s strategies provide excellent guidance and insight that specifically addresses things like rhythm, pulse, form and duration. Once the initial hurdles have been overcome Mr. Corbett presents strategies around listening for the interaction dynamics between the musicians.

This set of listening strategies is really core to building your appreciation of improvised music as they reveal essential concepts of current practices in free improvisation. These core concepts center around questions like – how are the players relating to one another? What kinds of exchanges are going on? Are they listening to the others or off playing on their own? How does a player’s actions correspond to what the other players are doing? These questions are all expertly dealt with in a clear, concise and easy to understand manner.

Mr. Corbett then dives into more advanced techniques such as understanding and observing structure – form, dynamics and transitions as well as the role of the free improvisers personal musical vocabulary. The books final section is presented as a discussion of discrete observations on topics ranging from live concerts versus recordings, hybrids of improvisation and composition, and the impact of your own state of mind on listening. It also includes lists of recommended recordings, additional readings and a checklist of major living free improvisers.

A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation is essential for anyone interested in free improvisation. It is a quick but thoroughly enjoyable read that is entertaining and insightful. The books strategies for listening will not only help you to better understand and appreciate free improvisation but will enhance your active listening to all forms of music. Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara

The Free Jazz Collective Reviews


Source: The Free Jazz Collective.

Mats Gustafsson – This Is From the Mouth & Det Flygande Barnet
Fire! Orchestra – Ritual (Rune Grammofon, 2016) *****
Fire! – She Sleeps, She Sleeps (Rune Grammofon, 2016) *****
Julien Desprez / Benjamin Duboc / Julien Loutelier – Tournesol (Dark Tree, 2016) ****½
Trevor Taylor, Paul Dunmall, Phillip Gibbs – Circuit: Electro Acoustic Ensemble (FMR, 2015) ***
Eric Revis Trio – Crowded Solitudes (Clean Feed, 2016) ****
Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up – Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi, 2016) ****½
Dganit Elyakim – Failing Better (2016) ****½
Thanos Chrysakis / Chris Cundy – Music for Chamber Organ & Contra Bass Clarinet (2015) ***
Thanos Chrysakis / Chris Cundy / James O’ Sullivan – Asphodels Abide (2014) ***½
Thanos Chrysakis / Ernesto Rodrigues / Guilherme Rodrigues / Miguel Mira / Abdul Moimême – Exaíphnes (Creative Sources, 2015) ****½
Thanos Chrysakis – Above the Hidden Track an Endless Blaze (2015) ****

Wadada Leo Smith & John Lindberg to Stream Live

Source: Hammer Museum.

Wadada Leo Smith & John Lindberg in Concert
THURSDAY JUN 23, 2016 7:30PM

The scores of Made in L.A. 2016 artist Wadada Leo Smith are composed in the musical language of Ankrasmation, figuring as both aesthetic objects and musical roadmaps that encourage their performers to think deeply about improvisation as a resistance to classical notation. Bassist John Lindberg, a frequent collaborator who has been described as an unheralded master of modern jazz, joins Smith for a performance of Smith’s spontaneous existential compositions, along with projections by video artist Jesse Gilbert.

Upcoming Events at the ISSUE Project Room

Source: ISSUE Project Room.

Fri 24 Jun, 2016, 8pm, 22 Boerum Place, Brooklyn
L. GRAY and T. THAYER Present: AN EVACUATION MUSIC

Keith Connolly is a New York-based artist born in Brooklyn. Under the alias L. GRAY, Connolly has performed solo and with a range of collaborators including Tom Thayer, Chie Mukai and others. In 1992, he dropped out of SUNY Buffalo, abandoning studies in English literature to form No-Neck Blues Band with Jason Meagher and Pat Murano. For over 20 years NNCK explored simultaneity through improvised performance and encrypted documentation, performed extensively throughout the US, Canada and Europe, and published more than 50 LPs, CDs and singles. He has appeared in theatrical productions by the Wooster Group, and is a member of the New York City Players. As an organizer, he runs the label HALATERN, etc., and co-created the Numina Lente performance festival with Jay Sanders in 2011. He is a contributing music editor for BOMB magazine.

Tom Thayer employs a ‘naïve’ look to provide access to a variety of experiences often marginalized by art: adolescent obsessions, visionary mythologies, and private fantasies that delve deep into the unsettled recesses of gesture and mimetic storytelling… As an educator, Thayer is interested in theories of collaborative pedagogy, including the musical experimentation developed in England around Cornelius Cardew and his Scratch Orchestra, a compositional project conducted entirely by untrained, amateur participants. In Thayer’s own collaborative workshops, theatrical scenarios—including shadow puppetry and sound collage—are intended to ignite what he calls the “creative power of collective action.” His longstanding interest in psychedelia, seen from this perspective, takes on new significance: the psychedelic, before it was consigned to a period style, aimed for a new form of sociability based on unmediated sensory communication. Through his work, Thayer revives its potential.

LEE RANALDO AND LEAH SINGER: SIGHT UNSEEN
Thurs, June 30th 8pm (Performance)
Fri, July 1st & Sat, July 2nd 12 – 6pm (Installation Hours)

Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer perform Sight Unseen on June 30th, with installation hours on July 1st and 2nd. The duo have worked together since 1991 with film and music in a live setting, engaging in performances that explore how sound and image interact, with elements of chance embraced.