Recently, I spent time collating a list of my favourite albums. I did so not just because I find compiling lists soothing but because I was intrigued to see if from such a list I could extract any tangible musical threads that could be used to inform my compositional process. I’m forever on the look out for ways of making the excruciating act of writing music less excruciating and its product more honest (more on this in a later post).
I took this idea to Sam Gill and Novak Manojlovic, two people who’s listening and musical aesthetic I know well. I was intrigued to see how congruent their list was with their music (short answer: variably). It was during this discussion, Sam conceived the idea of conducting a blindfold listening test. I used to relish reading the blindfold listening tests in Downbeat and Jazztimes magazines and so was naturally keen to partake.
A big part of the reason I relished those blindfold tests seem to offer this unique insight into the minds of jazz’s most revered artist: not just who they listen to but how they listen. I remember reading Ambrose Akinmusire’s Blindfold Test a couple of years ago where he correctly identified all but one trumpeter from a difficult list- not only that but he identified a number of bands just from the pianist’s voicing. I found it really inspiring; his breadth and depth of listening seemed to only affirm his artistry.
Bringing it back home, there are few people that know my listening better than Sam; this is in part because he has been incredibly influential on my listening. He and I share a particular interest in the more contemporary/exploratory subset of the global jazz scene, to which he has hipped me to many players in that scene. A number of articles in this blog begin by saying how I first heard of x jazz musician through Sam.
I reckon I also have a pretty good grasp on what Sam has listened to and so curating a list of songs ended up being an interesting but also surprisingly difficult experience. I wasn’t certain whether I wanted to pick songs I know he’s heard or test his skills in identifying players in records he’s unfamiliar with. We actually briefly spoke about the experience of curating a list for each other which has been transcribed below as a little prologue to the main show.
Sam and I decided to mix up the format from Downbeat slightly. Like the magazine we played a bunch of tracks featuring each other’s instruments (in this case saxophone for those who don’t know Sam) but we also added some wildcard tracks which didn’t necessarily feature our respective instruments.
We each played more than 10 tracks but due to the length of this post we cut it down to the 10 most conversational and insightful conversations,which I decided to keep in an interview style format instead of reducing them to monologues. Also due to the length of each test, I’ve decided to split our two tests into seperate posts. You can check out the listening test Sam gave me here (part II). I’ll also offer up some reflective remarks during part II on what I felt I learnt about my listening through this process.
This was a big ball of fun to do. Hopefully we can make this a bit of a series and get some other legends listening and talking.
NC: I thought it would be interesting to talk about building, ah, a list of song for someone you know well and how it would be different to how they do it for, say, Downbeat [magazine], because we know what each other listen to well. The question I was musing on was, do I wanna beat you? As in, do I really wanna challenge you and take you into weird corners-
SG: I was thinking that too.
N: Hmm, or do I want you to get them and be able to talk about them. And the other thing is do I want to be able to know them really well and feel like I can talk about them too because I found myself being like fuck, you know so much of what I know that it’s easy to go find shit that neither of us know.
S: Well…Did you do the format of seven people on the instrument and two wildcards?
N: I actually have a list larger than that and was thinking I’d pick and choose as I’d go but I got six or more reed players and four non-players. And you?
S: In terms of the trumpet players, I chose five that I know you’ve checked out a lot and there’s two that I know you know but I don’t know how much you’ve checked them out and I think with all of them I tried to find records I don’t think you’d know, or you might know but you might not, but they’re not totally bizarre either.
N: That’s cool. That sounds like a good happy medium because you’re confident I might be able to recognise the artist but to take it to the next level…
S: The two that I don’t know if you’ve checked out as much are sort of “types”
N: I don’t know what that means but hmm ok…
S: Well, in the sense that, if you know them you know them but they’d be other people that could sound similar.
N: Ah cool.
S: The two wildcards, one you’ll probably get, through a few different reasons but the other one I don’t know, it’s a wildcard haha.
N: That’s good. Yeah, I think for me it was building a collection of songs where you won’t get too despondent [due to ease of recognition] but hopefully I’m also going to push you. But also, something that I was saying earlier, I don’t want to make it a chronology of jazz saxophone…I think that’s a format we get used to because of downbeat, or “seven jazzy saxophone players in the scene at the moment”.
S: Mine isn’t very like that either.
S: …I guess this also could be a test of well, we might have checked out the songs we chose and we just don’t know it…
N: Which is cool, but I’m kind of a bit doubtful…
1. The Bad Plus Joshua Redman – ‘Beauty Has It Hard’ from ‘The Bad Plus Joshua Redman’ (2015, Nonesuch Records)
Joshua Redman, tenor saxophone; Ethan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, double bass; Dave King, drums. https://www.discogs.com/The-Bad-Plus-Joshua-Redman-The-Bad-Plus-Joshua-Redman/release/7041476
S: This sounds like…the harmony sounds like Christian Wallumrød [Norwegian pianist on ECM and Hubro] but I know it’s not him…rhythmically this isn’t his thing. *hear’s sax’s lower register finally* Oh it’s a tenor player, ok. [a while longer] Does this track have solos?
N: Maybe, maybe not…
S: As in should I let it keep going?
N: Let it keep going as there’s a whole ‘nother section that will potentially illuminate…
S:This sounds like NYC jazz from the last 20 years.
N: You’re in the right ballpark.
S: I’m actually most wigged out that I can’t tell who the drummer is.
N: You will know the drummer…
S: At one point I thought it was Dan Weiss but it doesn’t sound like his kit.
N: Who would play this sort of shit?
S: It could be Chris Potter record on ECM with Marcus Gilmore.
N: It’s kind of in that vein but it’s more “band-y”.
S: Yeah and it didn’t have his tone.
N: Not but the player is in that ilk.
S: The altissimo didn’t sound like, what his name….
S: Is it James Farm?
N: Is that Matt Penman’s band?
S: With Redman.
N: It’s not James Farm but it is Redman.
S: Ok, cool.
N: A hint: It’s Redman with…
S: Oh is it Redman with the Bad Plus?
N: It was a hard one. I gave you this one actually because I was listening to someone on Spotify And the algorithm took me here and ended being blindfold tested myself and couldn’t figure it out.
S: Well I know it was either Chris Potter, Redman or… grrr, the guy that plays with Kurt all the time…?
N: [After throwing out a number of modern jazz tenor names] …Oh, Mark Turner?
S: Yeah but the altissimo on this wasn’t good enough to be Mark Turner or Chris Potter.
N: Really? You don’t reckon?
S: Nah, like there was a high note he held at one point that was a little funky.
N: There you go, there you go…
2. Spontaneous Music Ensemble – Part II from ‘Karoybin’ (1993, Chronoscope Records)
Evan Parker, saxophones; David Holland, drums; Kenny Wheeler, trumpets/Flugel; Derek Bailey, electric guitar; John Stevens, drums (track 2)
[after 30 seconds]
S: Oh this is Evan Parker. This is Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Is it Karoybin?
N: Do you know what part it is? You’ve nailed it, you’ve absolutely nailed it.
S: Either four or five?
N: Part two [Correction: it was actually five lol] You got that fast. How did you know?
S: I really like this record.
N: There you go, I thought you might like this record. I don’t think we’ve ever talked about it but it’s a pretty stellar cast
S: And seems like the whole thing, at least what Evan Parker is playing is one phrase, that descending thing *sings it*.
N: That’s cool.
S: This record is sick.
N: Yeah, I’ve only checked it out once or twice. I wanted to put a Evan Parker in but didn’t know…
S: It’s really hard to find stuff that isn’t instantly oh *sings pretending to be Evan Parker*.
N: Yeah, wall of sound.
S: This is some of my favourite Kenny too and I reckon the first 3 seconds of part I are one the sickest sounds I’ve ever heard
*both listen to start of part I*
S: The whole record seems to be just be that like fractured-
N: Expanded. Yeah…
S: It’s kind of Microfiche-y.
N: It is a bit Microfiche-y, I reckon.
3. Mark Simmonds Freeboppers – Virtue from ‘Fire’ (1993, Birdland Records)
Mark Simmonds, tenor saxophone; Steve Elphick, bass; Simon Barker, drums; Scott Tinkler, trumpet.
S: Ah, that tone is so familiar.
N: You know it?
S: I don’t know it.
S: This is someone who was around in the 60’s but this is after the 60’s…I think?
This is really Ornette-y and so makes me think it could be Dewey Redman. I don’t think it is though.
N: This is a curveball, though.
S: Oh man, that is such a familiar sounding altissimo, who is that! [later] Is that a trumpet who is playing…[later again] Oh, is this Australian? It was Mark right. Is this ‘Fire’? Or a live track? Or is it? Maybe it is Fire…
N: Yah. It’s called Virtue. I wanted to put Simon and Scott in there somewhere but yeah as if…
S: Hmm, yeah early Scott and Simon… I’ve never really thought about the Dewey thing before but they do have a similar tone
N: I wanted to put Mark in because I guess he’s a figurehead in that rhythmic world [that Sam is involved with]. Have you checked out much Mark?
S: Not really. I’ve listened to that whole album but there are definitely tracks I’ve listened to more and some I’ve only heard once. That one being one of those. I guess he’s one of those guys that maybe in the same way that I haven’t heard much Greg Sheehan- his ideas are super important but I have actually checked out that much of their music.
N: Sure. How many albums does he have?
S: I think it’s just that one. There’s one Phil Treloar record he is one on too that is really cool.
4. Ingrid Laubrock/Kris Davis/Tyshawn Sorey – Slow Burn from ‘Paradoxical Frog’ (2010, Cleanfeed Records)
Ingrid Laubrock, tenor saxophone; Kris Davis, piano; Tyshawn Sorey, drums. https://ingrid-laubrock.bandcamp.com/album/paradoxical-frog
[After 3 seconds]
S: Is that Kris Davis?
N: *nods* You got this one man!
S: Not necessarily, there’s a few people it could be. I think this is off a Paradoxical Frog record, though? It’s off the first one. Let’s listen anyway.
N: Yep. I got to be honest, I didn’t pick a track I just put down Paradoxical Track but that’s good you got Kris just on that prepared piano. That’s fucking sick.
[Sax still hasn’t come in after a minute]
S: What track is this?
NC: Slow Burn, track 3. *Skips forward to Saxophone entry*Geez aren’t track three meant to be the bangers? Have you really checked out Ingrid [Laubrock]?
N: I remember you telling me about Ingrid at the Con, and I was like who? But now it seems so obvious- that scene with Kris Davis and Tom Rainey, I hadn’t really checked it out and you were like check it out and hey now Kris is one of my favourites.
S: I remember listening to this record for the first time in my car, the first time I heard it, and something messed up with my stereo system where the next track on the album started but the timer didn’t change so it went up to 20 something minutes because I swear there wasn’t a 20 min track on the album.
N: So you really got to know this record in one sitting, it’s like a gig!
S: Yeah and I was like yeah this is a weird shaped song. Sounds like two songs ‘cos it was…
5. Sandy Evans – With the Sun Behind Me from ‘When The Sky Cries Rainbows’ (2011 ABC(?))
Sandy Evans, saxophones; Toby Hall, drums; Phil Slater, trumpet; Hamish Stuart, drums on track 4 and 6; Alister Spence, piano; James Greening, trombone. https://www.discogs.com/Sandy-Evans-When-The-Sky-Cries-Rainbows/release/9476547
S: I definitely know this record but can’t remember what it is…ok so it’s an alto, I think…or it’s not?
N: Hmm, could be a slick stick.
S: *Starts singing along*
S: Oh! That’s so funny, I was going to choose something off this album too. This is Sandy’s “Rainbows” album. This is the last track. Man, Sandy’s solo on this is killer.
N: Yep. This whole album is incredible, it’s one of my all time favourites. This would definitely be in my top 20 albums [referencing top 10 album concept discussed in intro]
S: That’s so funny, I was going to chose one off this too but couldn’t find it online.
N: Yeah it wasn’t easy to find. My CD, the bottom of it, that metallic reading part, actually peeled off. I wanna say because I played it so much and I definitely smashed it but…
S: Was it in your car so much it melted?
N: Yeah maybe it was in the car during a summer day and got super heated. But I had ripped it and I had to go onto my old hard drive to find it.
S: Were you at the release for this? I think they did it at the Sound Lounge and they had a cocktail thing upstairs afterwards
N: What year?
N: I was also thinking of putting in a Clarion Fracture Zone one. I wanted to put in something from that scene.
S: I remember this track ending really epicly. She goes really high.
N: Oh yeah, she smashes some altissimo note. Should we skip there? It’s funny, the song before is so joyous, you know, what’s the message in this last song?
S: I reckon it’s got that spiritual jazz seriousness of like, we’ve been joyous but also this is pretty serious album.
N: Yeah, sure. It’s called ‘With The Sun Behind Me’ – there’s some sort of contemplative thing going on there. Yeah the one before is like… [plays second last song which is very joyous and celebratory]
S: Oh yeah that’s right, it’s almost like The Catholics. Is it Hamish Stuart on this record or is it Toby Hall?
N: I think it’s both.
S: Yeah I think one or two of the tracks is Hamish.
6. Flora Carbo – This Is A Dream of Ours from ‘Voices’ (2020, Self-released)
Flora Carbo, alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, percussion; Theo Carbo, guitar, synthesisers, percussion; Jenny Barnes, voice; Isaac Gunnoo, bass; Maddison Carter, drums; Adam Halliwell, guitar https://floracarbo.bandcamp.com/releases
[5 seconds in]
S: My gut wants to say ‘Art Ensemble of Chicago’ but that’s way too early to call.
N: It’s an early call, it’s a good call, but an early call. Is it the right call?
S: I don’t think it’s the right call. [Hear’s sax] Yeah it’s not the right call…I think?
S: That’s an alto.
S: This is Australian, right?
S: Is it Scott [McConnachie]? [after a while] At times I thought it was Jack [Stoneham] but I don’t think it is.
N: It’s not Jack but…
S: Oh is it [Elliot] Dalgleish?
S: It’s not David Ades?
N: Nop. It’s newer school *hears split tone*
S: Who plays like tha- OH, is it Flora?
N: Yep, it’s Flora. It’s her new record. Have you checked it out?
S: Yeah, “Voice”? This is the 10 minute track right?
N: Ah, nah this is the second track.
S: Oh yeah, she’s studying with Scott [McConnachie] and there were certain things that sounded vaguely Scott-ish at the start.
N: It’s a pretty mad album I’ve started checking out this week.
S: Yeah, I really like it. It’s interesting, because I talked to her about her honours, about this album and vocalising- or not vocalising but getting vocal-esuqe things from the horn. I think we talked about it half way through last year. It’s cool to hear it in practice. There’s a really distinctive thing she is doing with splitting notes and stuff.
7. Ralph Alessi/Biagio Coppa/Matt Mitchell/Drew Gress/Shane Endesley – Notalia from ‘Anaotomosi‘ (2006, Abeat Records)
Biagio Coppa, saxophones; Matt Mitchell, piano; Ralph Alessi, trumpet; Drew Gress, bass; Shane Endesley, drums (yes, drums).
S: Steve [Coleman]? No. It sounds like a sopranino.
N: It’s a hard one, that’s my hint.
S: It’s either a soprano or a sopranino.
N: I don’t actually really know…
…After a while…
S: So this is a quintet right? Two horns, piano, bass, drums? This has already eliminated a lot of people.
N: This is a slack one.
N: Because I don’t actually know the saxophone player.
S: Oh, do you know that I know them?
N: I don’t know but I know you know the rest of the band and the rest of the band is why I put this one. It’s a trick.
S: Well don’t give me any clues.
N: I wasn’t sure if you’d checked this out album and I wanted to see if you had. There’s someone in this band you know very well.
S: I assume that means Matt Mitchell’s in it? [Note: Sam has studied with the playing of Matt Mitchell extensively]
N: Haha, yeah. Fuck, I didn’t realise that would be such an obvious clue.
S: Is it Rainey?
N: Actually, who’s on drums?? Don’t know who’s on drums. Let me check.
S: Is it Dave Douglas’ band?
N: No but that would of been a good one.
S: Are they American?
N: No but the rest of the band is American.
S: Ok, cool. Is it Ralph Alessi?
N: Yes. Cool. How did you know?
S: His playing in the head.
N: *Nick very impressed*
S: I can’t tell who the drummer is. Is it Thomas Morgan on bass?
N: No. Different generation. Who’s Max’s other boy?
S: It’s Drew Gress?
S: Ok, I definitely don’t know this record. Do you know the drummer ?
N: *Reading discogs info* Bah, this is really weird…I’m wigging out. Can I tell you what it says?
N: So it’s this album called “Ana..sotomosi”…and on discogs its Matt Mitchell’s first album co-credited with this guy called Biagio Coppa, an Italian guy.
S: I have no idea who that is.
N: The rest of the band is Ralph Alessi, Drew Gress and Shane Endesley with an asterisk saying he’s on drums?
S: What? Wow. Although I have heard he can play drums.
N: Really? Well there you go. Looks like he’s on kit for this one.
S: That’s a funny pick. I like it.
N: I wasn’t sure how deep Matt Mitchell you had gone.
S: Nah, I haven’t gone that deep on sideman stuff.
N: This is before Fiction.
S: Before Snakeoil too right?
N: Probably. Why I also picked it is because I just read the Matt Mitchell article in the Arcana book [Arcana VIII] that you’ve leant to me…that was a great article how we made those etudes and worked on developing a language inadvertently and how that lead to ‘Fiction’ (Pi Records, 2013) with Ches Smith and I thought well, what did he sound like before ‘Fiction’ and how hecticly was he still into the rhythm stuff before, anyway…
S: Well as a brief aside- he’s got these albums from way earlier that are totally bizarre *plays an excerpt with trumpet that sounds like a voice and then another excerpt with sparse, pointalistic sounds*
N: What year is that?
N: He would have probably been a grommet then.
S: Yeah, and this band has so many albums. They have two iterations, one like this where they’re acoustic and another where they are all playing electronics…it’s very strange and cool, but yeah you chose one from the middle!
8. John Butcher and Paal Nilssen-Love – Point Lobos from ‘Concentric’ (2001, Cleanfeed)
John Butcher, saxophone; Paal Nilssen-Love, drums. https://johnbutcher1.bandcamp.com/album/concentric
[after about 5 seconds ]
S: That’s John Butcher.
N: Haha. How do you know?
S: The combination of the articulation and the multiphonic. That’s his vibe.
N: That’s sick. So this is interesting because I don’t actually know John Butcher that well and we haven’t really spoken about him much. I have this one CD of his Cleanfeed accidentally sent me and I also saw on your bandcamp fan page you’d bought a lot of John Butcher…
S: Yeah, I have listened to this album once but like…
N: Yeah and that’s mad you could pick it.
S: Yeah, I really like his playing. I remember when I first checked him and Evan Parker out was like [in jazz grommet voice] “Man, they sound the same” but they’re actually so different.
N: I guess it makes sense, the more you delve into it the further you can distinguish the idiosyncrasies
9. Barney McCall – Swirl Caulron Swirl from ‘Swirl Caulron Swirl‘ (2013, Extra Celestial Arts)
Barney McCall, piano and chucky (electronics)
S: Is this solo piano?
S: Is this improvised or composed?
N: Dunno. I imagine it’s probably sketched.
S: [Rhetorically] Who would play this? And hmm is that electronics? I guess they’re not that many people that would do that and the harmony is not too out there so it’s not Corey Smythe.
S: Is it Barney?
N: Good. That was good.
S: Just because he does that electronic stuff but I don’t know what this is.
N: So this is solo album ‘Swirl Cauldron Swirl’.
S: Ah, never heard of it. Is it recent?
N: I don’t think so. It’s the one- or one of the one with the hand painted covers. It’s white with those blue silhouettes. I wanted to pick this one as Novak gave me this CD to check out and it’s been in my car for a while and every time I go through the six stacker to find a CD and I hear that first track, every fucking time, I go what the fuck is it? And it takes me the full two minutes of this track to realise it’s the Barney album. But it’s a great album [begins playing next track]
S: Oh that’s even more distinctly Barney.
N: Hmm, I’d say that sounds like Adrian [Lim-Klumpes] here.
S: Really? It sounds like the start of Venus As A Boy [off Mother of Dreams and Secrets] or that version he did of it.
10: Anthony Pateras and Rohan Drape – Harleian from ‘Ellesemere’ (2018, Immediata)
Anthony Pateras, electronics; Rohan Drape, electronics
S: I definitely know this record. [after a bit longer] Oh. This is Pateras and Rohan Drape, the second track.
N: Very good!
S: I love this record.
N: Yeah, I think you hipped me to it now I think of it.
S: Have you got the physical? Man, the linear notes are so interesting. It’s a bit different to the other ones on that label [Patera’s Immediata]. Pateras just emails Rohan these very short questions but Rohan just says the most abstract stuff.
N: Fuck yeah. It’s worth getting those physical Immediata.
N: I saw someone yesterday and they said that Immediata is done because it was in fact a project, or something to that effect, which I thought was crazy as I always just thought it was an outlet for him to release his music
S: Well, so many of them are old recordings. I mean a lot of them are new like this one but the one with Chris Abrahams is from 2000 or something.
N: Sure. Yeah, it’s like you set up this label, you do the graphic design-
S: Such good design.
N: Yeah, it’s beautiful…and then it’s just a finite project, though. It’s not like this my label I release all my music on, oh just another project.
S: I think he had funding for it so he probably had to make it a limited thing.
N: He had funding for the label? Wow.
S: I think so, I could be wrong.
N: Very good, I should have picked harder ones.
S: Well, if I didn’t know that it would of been impossible.