Welcome to part II of the informal listening test between Sam Gill and myself. If you haven’t checked out part I where Sam attempts to identify 10 tracks I chose for him you should check it out here.
To introduce part I, I wrote a brief synopsis on how the idea to do a listening test was conceived, some thoughts on the fascinating task of curating a list of examinable songs for someone who’s listening you know very well, in addition to details on how we formatted the test.
Here in part II I wanted to pen some reflections on my listening experience during the test and (re-)realisations about my listening habits more broadly.
Listening is something I’ve written about at length on this blog, most thoroughly in my essay ‘Zen in the Art of Listening via Tyshawn Sorey’ where I unpacked comments Tyshawn made on listening without ego and bias (‘To listen to something without “listening”’) and attempted to reflexively unpack my own listening.
Partaking in this recent test revealed that my listening is (still) very fraught with bias, so much so I found listening to music I couldn’t identify as slightly disorienting. My best bet as to why that was the case might be because my mental heuristic mechanism- the one we rely on to make swift and sweeping categorisations of things for ease of digestion- was unable do it’s job and in turn my very perception was altered, leaving me to listen in a way I seldom do.
In less esoteric terms, for each song and artist we know, we have stored ideas about them that informs how we listen eg. I listen to x person y times and they make me feel z = why I like/dislike them. When those ideas are removed it can radically shift the way we aurally perceive.
Consider it from another angle: there were musicians on that list I have listened to countless times yet when heard in a context outside of what I know of them, I had trouble identifying them. I noticed identifying features I took for granted weren’t as prominent when I wasn’t aware who it was.
It’s not all bleak though. Listening in this altered state of perception was a beautiful experience. Everything sound so fresh! I found myself perceiving music with a wonder and astuteness I rarely have. Every timbre was stunning and each musical choice was exciting. Moreover, songs I might have otherwise judged one way or another I listened to with genuine intrigue.
And as the test progressed this shift in aural perception didn’t just occur when listening to music I couldn’t identify but seeped into the way I listened to music I knew, as well. In fact, during a song I identify immediately you’ll see I commented to Sam how I could appreciate it more in that moment due to listening ‘without the trumpet and compositional bias I might have listened to this song with previously’.
This isn’t the first or only time I’ve experienced this phenomenon. Sometimes a friend will play a tune and due to not being able identify it I’ll notice myself relishing it more than I would if I knew who or what it was. But in this examinable format with the added element of friendly competition, it was a particularly pertinent and powerful way of achieving this unbiased listening state. For that reason along I recommend roping in a friend and conducting your own test to see if you can reveal the same inherent prejudice in your listening.
Just before we get to the juicy stuff, I wanted to pen one final, unrelated comment mostly as a note to self… Reading back on the transcript I’ve reflected that although I consider myself well listened and aware of artists in a variety of styles and scenes I should dig deeper into people’s discography (especially those I like) and familiarise myself with their output more broadly.
That is all. Enjoy part II.
1. Nate Wooley & Matthew Shipp – Nova Jazz from ‘What If’ (2019, Rogueart)
Nate Wooley, trumpet; Matthew Ship, Piano.
(different tune but the only excerpt I could find)
N: It sounds like- and I don’t necessarily think it’s this person but it has a similar articulation and tone to [Melbourne trumpeter] Paul Williamson.
S: Interesting. It’s not Paul Williamson but that’s a good guess as he has that duo album with all the piano players.
N: Is it just duo? *Sam nods* Hmm interesting…
S: And, a hint, I wouldn’t necessarily associate these two people that much, like I don’t know if they’d necessary gig as this duo and we’ve talked about these people quite a lot. The trumpeter especially.
N: Are they from the States? [after a while longer] It’s not Vijay and Wadada is it?
S: Nop. I’ll play another track. [immediately trumpet with high energy, extended sounds]
N: Woah. That’s crazy. I dunno. I’m a bit stumped.
S: If I played you this person in a different context it might sound drastically different to this. Not that this is unusual for them and I know you’ve checked out some of those other contexts heaps.
N: Is this Nate? Really? Wow.
S: Yeah. It’s Nate with Mathew Shipp.
N: Yeah it’s funny because I’ve checked out Nate playing more conventional trumpet [as opposed to fully extended or amplified such as in Steven Story Mountain V] on his quintet records, the Wynton one and the one before, but he sounds different to me here. It could be a recording thing? Articulation and sound. Is this on Cleanfeed?
S: It’s on this french label Rogueart, it’s from last year.
N: Hmm and yeah I wouldn’t of thought of them to make an album together necessarily.
S: Well, I think they’ve done a few records together with Ivo Perelman the sax player. His trios and a quartet with Matt Maneri.
N: Cool. I’ll check it out. It sound’s mad. That second track especially.
2. Dave Holland Quintet – The Razor’s Edge from ‘The Razor’s Edge’. (ECM, 1987)
Kenny Wheeler, trumpet; Steve Coleman, saxophone; Robin Eubanks, trombone; David Holland, bass; Marvin Smith, drums.
[after 20 seconds]
N: Has the ‘verb and sound of 80’s ECM. Is it Kenny?
S: Yep. Nice. It’s not Kenny’s record though.
N: I don’t think I know this track.
N: Is this a Jan [Garbarek] record?
S: It’s the bass players album.
N: Oh, it’s Holland.
S: Is Kenny super distinctive to you?
N: Yeah heaps, because he gets around the horn so easily [Kenny proceeds to plays a double A as if to prove it] like that and has interesting and flowing phrasing too but, ah, for my personal liking it’s not a heaps locked in sound that I prefer. It’s quite elastic and has this strong vibrato.
S: This is some of my favourite trombone, incidentally. The next 10 seconds. [plays fast triplet line] Who can do that?
N: I dunno, I feel Shannon Barnett can do that.
N: Haha. Oh well it’s actually Shannon Barnett!
S: It’s Robin Eubanks.
N: Really? I didn’t know he ran in that circle.
S: This is some of my favourite Steve Coleman too.
3. Andrew Hill – Lift Every Voice from ‘Lift Every Voice’ (Blue Note Records)
Woody Shaw, trumpet; Andrew Hill, piano; Richard Davis, bass; Carlos Garnett, tenor sax; Antenett Goodman Ray, voices. https://www.discogs.com/Andrew-Hill-Lift-Every-Voice/release/2681036
N: Hmm is that Donald Byrd?
S: It’s not that record but you’re in the right world.
N: Wait, is that Freddie?
N: [after a while longer] Someone who has checked out heaps of Freddie.
S: You’re in the right era.
N: Is it a Blue Note record?
N: Is it really early for this guy?
S: He sidemanned on a bunch of Blue Note stuff.
N: It’s not Woody is?
N: That’s so funny, man. I was going to say Woody as soon as you said ‘not Freddie but close’. First thing is I forgot Woody sidemanned on these Blue Note albums, the second thing is- that’s why I asked if it was early, because it’s not that Woody with that classic re-harm approach. As a jazz grom I spent a lot of time listening those Woody Shaw’s Complete [Columbia] recordings which I think is from, ah, the late 70’s and his concept is obviously more cemented. That’s really interesting. I didn’t want to throw out too many names. What’s the album?
S: It’s an Andrew Hill album called ‘Lift Every Voice’.
N: Ah. Man, it sounds so Freddy it’s crazy in sound and phrasing. I also haven’t checked out heaps of Andrew Hill besides ‘Points of Departure’ to be honest.
S: Also, have you checked out the most recent Tribe Called Quest record because they sample this track. The first part.
4. Gest8 – The Emperor’s Old Clothes from ‘Kaleidoscope’ (Tall Poppies, 2007)
(Phil Slater, trumpet; Sandy Evans, sax, Simon Barker, drums; Carl Dewhurst, guitar; Greg White, computer; Satsuki Odamura, koto; Paul Cutlan, reeds.
S: This one I’m not gonna play from the start but jump straight into the solo.
[after 40 seconds and hearing the classic Phil alternate fingering run]
N: It’s Phil *surprised*
N: I don’t know this solo, why don’t I know this solo?
S: Keep listening dude, it’s a killer solo.
N: Ah and it’s Simon. I don’t know if I know the record though.
[listens to end of solo]
N: Is it an AAO [Australian Art Orchestra] record?
S: I’ll play you the beginning, that might give you a better idea? At least half the band has played with AAO.
S: I’ll play you some more. It’s Gest8. That’s Sandy.
N: Ah, I thought that might be Sandy.
S: Yeah. Do you know that band?
N: I do and I feel like the I may have checked them out a while back.
S: That’s the one [Phil] I was least convinced I’ll find something new.
N: Yeah well, probably is the hardest to find something new for.
S: But you got it anyway. It’s a good solo. Early Phil-
N: What year?
N: That’s a classic Phil period. Same time as ‘The Thousands’.
5. Ingrid Laubrock – Squirrels from ‘Serpentines’ (Intakt, 2016)
Peter Evans, piccolo trumpet; Miya Masadka, Koto; Dan Peck, tuba; Sam Pluta, computer; Tyshawn Sorey, drums; Craig Taborn, piano.
[after 20 seconds]
N: Oh, it’s Peter. It’s like, who the fuck can get around the horn like that, only Peter can.
S: Haha yeah. I was going to say this one’s pretty obvious. Do you know the rest?
N: Hmm no. Don’t tell me though [after a minute] So it’s tuba, drums, reed, trumpet? Is this Ingrid Laubrock?
N: So that’s Dan Peck and Tom Rainey?
S: Yep and nup. This is probably the only record she’s done without Tom Rainey [laughs].
N: I got Ingrid from the instrumentation mostly. I forgot she did a record with Peter.
S: It’s Serpentine with Tyshawn, Sam Pluta, Craig Taborn…
N: Ah! Actually I saw this when I was collecting songs for your test and I wasn’t that far away from putting it on actually.
S: Oh you would of been furrked.
N: Haha! Have you checked it out heaps?
S: Yeah and I looked over the scores with Ingrid in our lessons.
6. FATS – Stinkler from ‘FATS’ (2000)
Scott Tinkler, trumpet; alto saxophone, David Ades; Greg Sheehan, drums; Thirrry G. R. Fosmale, bass;
[after 5 seconds]
NC: Roy [Hargrove]?
S: HA! Nah.
N: This sounds like it could be from a RH Factor set. Is it a live album?
S: Nup. I chose this one because the head is definitely misleading.
N: What the fuck is this?….Such a weird reverb and that bass makes it sound live and I can’t help but think of RH Factor. I definitely know the trumpet player?
S: Definitely. I’ll give you a clue: this is an outlier stylistically.
N: It’s not Wynton is it? It has that note connection and facility. Fuck this is really throwing me.
S: I’ll play you another track *puts on a different track*
N: Is this Scott? Are you serious? What is this??
S: This is FATS with Greg Sheehan and David Ades. I should of played this track instead.
N: I probably still wouldn’t of got it straight away. No way, that’s Scott! He sounds great.
S: Yeah he sounds so good. Early 2000’s Scott. I think this is when they were all in Byron.
N: Who’s on bass?
S: Thierry Fosmale, who is like the dark horse of numbers in Australia. He’s got some serious stuff going on.
N: Honestly, there was no way in that first track I would of picked it was Scott in this moment, the sound of the record and band was pulling myself somewhere else.
S: Here’s the first one. [Goes back to first track] I reckon once you know you can hear it in the rhythm of the first track.
N: Yeah you can. In the articulation as well.
7. Matthias Eick – Midwest from ‘Midwest’ (ECM, 2015)
Mathias Eick, trumpet; Jon Balke, piano; Gjermund Larsen, violin; Helge Norbakken, percussion; Mats Eilersten, double bass.
[after 5 seconds]
N: This is Mathias Eick.
S: Ha! Yeah. Geez you got it even before you checked out the trumpet.
N: Yeah, I’ve checked this record out.
S: To me, this is a type. It could be several people.
N: I think this tune is also particularly associated with this band.
S: I really like this tune.
N: Yeah, I like it too. I think JZ [Jonathan Zwartz] really likes it too because he mentions Mattias Eick as inspiration for some of his music.
S: Ah right. I like the drumming as well.
N: This is actually quite a beautiful track, listening to it without the trumpet and compositional bias I might have listened to this song with previously. What’s the track called again?
N: Oh that’s right, Midwest off Midwest [album]. I like him but, again, doesn’t have that locked in sound I gravitate towards.
8. Captain Kirkwood – Part 3: Ariadne and Theseus from ‘Theseus and Minator’ (2012)
Ellen Kirkwood, trumpet and composer; Paul Cutlan, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, Eb clarinet; Glenn Doig, piano; Tom Botting, bass; Alon Ilsar drums; Ketan Joshi, narrator (tracks 1-5)
N: Is it Australian?
[listen to head and start of solo]
S: Nooo. Do you want any clues?
N: Maybe. It’s not Warwick is it? Sounds similar with that clear tone and in the upper register.
S: Younger generation than that.
[Voiceover comes in]
S: I don’t know if you know this project but you know the trumpet player is leading it.
N: Is it Ellen? I haven’t checked this out.
S: It’s Captain Kirkwood. They did a minator themed album with Paul Cultan, Glen Doig, Tom Botting and Alon and a narrator.
N: It sounded like Paul. A great choice by you.
S: I thought this second track might give you an indication of someone who puts themselves out there equally as a composer of conceptual things.
9. Nik Bartsch’s Ronin – Modul 45 – live from ‘Live (ECM, 2012)
Nik Barstch, piano, rhodes; Kaspar Rast, drums; Björn Meyer, bass; Andi Pupato, percussion.
[Let’s a very long time go past]
S: You definitely know this band.
[more time passes]
N: It’s not Nik Barstch?
S: It is Nik Barstch.
N: Yeah it actually has Nik Barstch written all over it. That’s cool that you picked that because I haven’t listened to Nik Barstch for years and I feel like I could of picked that for you- that’s an early band we both listened to. Which album is this?
S: This is the live album.
N: Ah yeah. I checked this album out heaps in second year and took a fragment from my second year concert prac, if you remember?
S: Oh, yeah was it [module] 36 right? [plays the start of 36 from ‘Stoa’ (ECM, 2006)
N: Yes! That piano part and where and when the bass comes in is so beautiful. I based the whole thing kinda off that moment… I also like how he numbers his tunes instead of naming them. Now I think of it was probably inspiration for me to start numbering my tunes ‘Everything is Everything’ 1, 2 etc.
10. Pat Metheny – Two Folk Songs from ’80/81′ (ECM, 1991)
Pat Metheny, guitars; Charlie Haden, bass; Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone; Jack DeJohnette, drums.
S: Ah this makes me happy.
N: [reacting to smooth sax] Oh baby!
N: Dave Sandborn? This is an album you’ve checked out heaps? As a grom?
S: Nah but good guess. And yeah! 17 and beyond.
N: Wow. The sax player goes and plays the smoothest shit then rips it with this alternate fingering madness. Haha, I wonder why you picked this.
S: A clue: the leader of this is not the sax player.
N: Is it 90’s?
S: It was released 1980. And a wildcard, this is on ECM.
N: Man, I don’t know who it is.
S: It’s relatively early in this person’s career.
N: Is it Bill [Frissell]?
N: Is it Pat? Cool! Who’s the reed player? That was a mad track.
S: Micheal Brecker. This album man…
N: Michael Brecker kills it on that. But why does he play so saccharin in the melody?
S: Man, I reckon he’s great. Apparently on this track – Pat or Manfred just told him to play the most out stuff he could [To Brecker] and it definitely sounds like he’s doing that.
N: You got me on this one Sam.
S: I wasn’t sure if you knew this record. We’ve listened to Pat together. I reckon this is potentially my favourite Pat album, and Dewey Redman is on this too! Dejohnette and Charlie Haden – it’s such a heavy band.
N: Yeah Pat’s ‘The Way Up’ is one of my favourite albums of all time but it’s a lot later and Pat’s sound is very different here. I feel his harmonic aesthetic got more cemented and strong too.