Q: One set or two?
A: No preference.
This brief Q&A between Keefe Jackson and Daniel Fandino, just a moment before they started their set last Monday evening, could serve as an analogy to the openness and immediacy of the creative improvised music community. As situations and questions arise, preferences and solutions become apparent; then choices are made in the moment. If this sounds musically vague or evasive, it’s only because these words are separate from the actual event. At Myopic Books, Jackson and Fandino made very concrete choices to the specific musical questions and circumstances they were dealing with that evening.
Many creative musicians are concerned with extending (and personalizing) the capabilities of their particular instruments beyond the traditional uses. This often comes in the form of electronic manipulation of the sounds they produce, or by simply coming at the instrument in a radically, physically different way. This practice is sometimes referred to as “extended techniques.” Both Jackson and Fandino made extensive use of extended techniques at Myopic; raking a mouthpiece cap over the keywork of the bass clarinet, using an inner thigh or sneaker as a mute for the horn, bouncing the guitar facedown on your leg, placing objects through the strings of the guitar to produce new tones a la John Cage-like prepared piano, etc etc etc… For the inexperienced or the purist, these types of manipulations can seem absurd or showy. But for the more open-minded, or those who have spent decades becoming overly familiar with and accustomed to traditional approaches, any attempt to find a new way can feel refreshing and worthwhile. Jackson and Fandino’s set was nothing if not refreshing and worthwhile.
The forty-minute set at Myopic Books, consisting of five separate pieces, was entirely improvised and consisted of a relatively even mix of the extended techniques previously mentioned and more traditional sounds from the instruments (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, electric guitar). However, all traditional rhythms and forms were near uniformly eschewed. Forms were dictated by the close communication between the two players and consistently flowed back and forth between louder dense/dissonant interplay, and more delicate, harmonically consonant events. Fandino’s chordal approach reveals a deep understanding of modern harmony and the mechanics of the guitar. His occasional, and intentional, use of the lower register of the guitar to create cloudy and obscured harmonic effects was particularly intriguing. And Jackson’s melodic responses to these unusual and harmonically idiosyncratic choices swiftly illuminated them, expanding their conception. Like a droplet of water hitting a crinkled up straw wrapper.
Throughout the improvised set, many moments in the music seemed composed. For me, this is always the most exciting thing to witness in a purely improvised setting. These moments might not always be the most musically intricate or original, but when players are listening and reacting deeply enough that they can, in a sense, see the future together, setting a map in medias res to arrive together on time, I can’t help but feel energized. Often, these moments feel not part of any planning, or maybe an unconscious planning. The players out of the blue have a similar trajectory; then on a dime simply… arrive. Always a good feeling - simply arriving.
Throughout the set, it felt as though Jackson and Fandino kept getting closer and closer to a mutual intention. Both players have obviously been influenced and inspired by avant-garde players of the past few decades, as well as having internalized more traditional capabilities. Fandino brought to mind a cross between Derek Bailey and Ben Monder. Imagine Monder adhering to no convention, or Bailey adhering to some. Fandino’s classical right hand fingering technique being briefly employed, in a musical situation in which it is not usually found, also brought to mind some of Monder’s playing.
Some of Jackson’s earlier recordings (Just Like This, Ready Everyday…) reveal a different side to the one presented at Myopic Books; one which is more compositionally oriented. Those recordings show an interest, and keen ability, in playing within somewhat more traditional forms, rhythms and harmonies; albeit still far removed from anything considered mainstream to the wider music world. Jackson is obviously something of a stylistic polymath and was concentrating more on his strictly experimental playing at Myopic.
It’s always a pleasure knowing there are players out there who are willing and able to go the extra mile. Jackson and Fandino, and the other players involved in Myopic Books’ Improvised/Experimental Music Series, are a goldmine.