Each episode of "Alloy" features a short spoken segment where I share my thoughts about the week's musical theme or focus. Here is the script from this week's spoken segment:
Today’s show is titled, “Pro Music: Music for Music’s Sake.” We just heard “JJ Leaves LA” by Daniel Lanois. A beautifully atmospheric piece played on pedal steel guitar, an instrument often associated with county music, though used here in a way that is not really country and perhaps more ambient. Ambient country? Does that even exist? This question perfectly illustrates the theme and challenge at the center of this week’s show.
Is today show featuring jazz, fusion, ambient, classical, classical-jazz, progressive, experimental, avant-garde, prog-rock? The answer is yes, no, sometimes, and maybe.
In pondering this question this week, I was reminded of a concert I attended at a club in New York City a number of years ago, featuring one of the premier jazz musicians on the scene then and still today. It was after watching and listening to a couple of intense incredible sets that he, his band, and a couple of additional musician colleagues blew through. I found myself mesmerized, enraptured by it all. I was blown away, literally and figuratively…yet also curious. How did they create this moment? This moment that, to me, was musically transcendent. Was there a formula? There was no visible sheet music on the stage. So I guessed it was largely improvised…or, was this the work of pure musical chemistry? All the right pieces joining together at just the right moment?
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has said, “Music happens between the notes.” I suppose that night I was experiencing what happened between the notes. Was it pure jazz improvisation totally dialed in, in that moment...or, in fact, something well-rehearsed and worked through...or both?
As luck and good positioning would have it, I happened to catch the bandleader after the show. With my musical curiosity on high, I asked him, rather hurriedly and awkwardly, “How much of what we just heard was improvised?” Not missing a beat, he replied quickly and clearly, “Some of it, all of it, none of it, does it matter?” In a second he was gone and I was left with the vapor trails of his answer. A musical koan, if you will. For better or for worse, I took his answer to mean, does it *really* matter? Does analyzing and understanding the ghost in the musical machine get us any closer to knowing or feeling the music in those moments. Sometimes, but, perhaps, not always. “Music happens between the notes”…So says Yo-Yo Ma. Is it enough to simply enjoy it first and, if need be, label or figure it out later? Again, perhaps, sometimes, always, never. In truth, I don’t know. But I still ask myself these questions frequently and, in particular, this week given the boundary and genre pushing music we will be listening to. This week’s show is, hopefully, less about labels, definitions and firm musical boundaries, and more about witnessing the blurring of musical boundaries in an effort to be, simply, pro music, *for* music for music’s sake—in all its challenging forms, boundaries, and styles.
In the background we have been hearing “Gave Proof” from Alloy’s featured album of the month, Matt Ulery’s In the Ivory. Up next, another track from this genre blurring album, the beautiful “Write on the Wall”…let’s take a listen.