Towards The Vertical

(originally written Sept. 2008)

I've been quite energized by preparing for the challenge of the upcoming solo fretless gig.

Last solo gig was about six years ago, and there has been a lot of absorption and intake of languages, experiences, musics, and instruments over that period.

The main impetus of course has been the re-immersion into Indian music.

Indian music is essentially linear -- which is beautiful and is what its instruments are geared to -- but a solo fretless guitar can be more, much more, than just an electric sarod (which might be cool as well, but that's another story).

Jefferson and I are still hammering out the subtleties of applying the fretless in the Duo setting, but as I've been developing the solo material for the fretless the past couple of weeks, it occurs to me that I'm still treating the fretless in an essentially linear, " electric sarod" fashion with the Duo. Ha ha, that may change significantly when we get together next as I go through this process.

In an earlier post I discussed some aspects of my previous solo work, applying very post modern improvisation concepts into an early flamenco medium:

Very, very disparate traditions, yet the lynchpins I heard connecting them were musical occurrences such as a certain dissonance in the harmonic voicings; the fluidity of tempo; the immense degree of subtle improvisational interplay between guitarist and singer. I was hearing a lot of connective tissue between the two, not parallel bundles but interesting, flexible hinges, joints, angles, sinews, tendons. I started working with that and then took that idea a bit further, trying to liberate the material from a metric confinement while still keeping rhythm and drive very much a part of it. That distinction between meter and time and rhythm -- all distinct elements in my book -- had been done a lot within the free jazz idiom itself, but hadn't really been applied in a flamenco context.

Conceptually, I'm trying to develop a similar methodology to working with Indian musical material; there's a lot of connective tissue I'm hearing here too.

While that post wasn't written that long ago, what's now apparent has been the impasse of treating the fretless in such a linear fashion.

But exploring the chordal and harmonic possibilities that a guitar can bring (and I mean both terms in the broad yet strict sense of any pitches sounding simultaneously, rather than implying any traditional sense of Western functional I-IV-V harmony or "standard" chord types) reveals the much larger challenge of applying some simultaneous pitch textures, filling the landscape with some vertical structures across the Indian music linear horizon.

Flamenco was easier in the sense that there was already prescribed harmonic procedures -- I just voiced them differently for added density and tension. Applying verticality to Indian music, so far I'm treating chords and tone clusters as more weighted, dense versions of any given melodic pitch, rather than any implied harmonic foundation or direction.

More to come.

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