Saturday, May 14, 2011

Commissions, Frames, and Duos

When we improvise, we'll often take turns making commissions,  for example, "Let's play funky, with lots of stops and starts," or, "Play the soundtrack for a vampire movie."  Usually a commission will consist of a simple frame, or set of rules governing the improvisation.  A frame is a device for limiting the variables, for pushing an improvisation in a particular direction, at least to begin with.  One frame we like is "Going around three:" one musician starts an idea, and once it is established, he is joined by the two nearest players.  After they've developed the idea to some satisfactory degree, the first player drops out and a new player joins in.  The timbre, melodic and harmonic content, the time feel - everything - shifts slightly (or dramatically) with each change in personnel, but because each trio contains two players from the previous trio, a thread of coherence runs through the entire piece.  It is amazing how one simple frame such as this can result in a spontaneous composition that really feels and sounds composed.

The video was shot May 6th at Portland's TaborSpace.  Dave commissioned a duo with Page.  That was the only frame.  Dave starts off with jungle drums, and Page dives into a simple melodic line.  After a pause, he states a second theme, running his bass through an effects pedal to contrast it with the first theme.  In a third movement Dave drops out and Page plays senza misura, outside of time.  Finally, Page returns to the theme he started with, resulting in a nice, round, satisfying piece.  Throughout, Dave is listening to every note, supporting it, reflecting it, anticipating what comes next.