Within the last month, I've been lucky enough to watch two incredible live band performances.
On paper, both these groups have a pretty standard and traditional sounding line up (keys, bass, drums), but their music is far from what most people would call traditional. The sounds and styles of the two bands are worlds apart, however, one thing they have is common is the ability to improvise and create unique pieces during their sets.
First up was The Necks at Cafe Oto in Hackney. The Necks are true masters of improvisation. As far as I know, that's exclusively what they do. There are no plans, no set pieces, no agreed direction: nothing. Each piece they create is truly unique and begins when one of the members starts making sound. That sound may not necessarily be a melody or an identifiable rhythm, but what happens from that point is certainly a sonic journey. The evening consisted of two 45 minute sets which felt very different to each other. The one similarity was a steady yet almost imperceptible increase in intensity. There was no apparent communication between any of the band members other than through the music they were making; it was as if they were operating telepathically. Toward the end of each piece, the vast amounts of space that existed earlier on were filled with sound which had become quite mesmerising. I had no idea that they'd been playing for as long as 45 minutes and when it stopped, the room fell silent for what seemed like an age before the applause began once the audience had recovered from the hypnotic effect of the performance. The Necks' drummer, Tony Buck, uses an array of objects in addition to his kit as part of his performance; a bowl full of bells, mini cymbals, cogs from bicycle gears, strange looking sticks, straps to name but a few items! It seems that anything can be used as a musical instrument in the hands, or under the feet, of a creative player.
Having just about recovered from The Necks experience, I then went to see NERVE, led by legendary drummer Jojo Mayer. NERVE make electronic music but it is all played and manipulated live by the people in the band, which includes the man out front on the sound desk. The sounds used are faithful to various electronic genres; drum and bass, house, dubstep etc, and clearly a lot of work has gone into the reproduction of those sounds using the instruments being played live on stage. With NERVE, there are obviously some parts in the pieces that have been pre -written and are probably played the same way each time the piece is performed, as Jojo Mayer was directing the other band members at points, however, the vast majority of what was being played appeared to be improvised and took shape as it went along. The pieces were extended and allowed plenty of room for each band member to showcase their musicality. It would be easy to go on and on about how incredible and technical the drumming was but actually, the most impressive thing was just how much of the drumming was about the groove, the feel and creating space for the music to take shape and find it's own way. That said, there were obviously some pretty mind blowing passages where Jojo Mayer demonstrated some of his legendary technical skill and techniques. I decided not to focus on trying to watch what he was doing but to just listen closely instead and I think I enjoyed the performance more as a result. Again, just like Tony Buck, Jojo Mayer had a collection of extra items, acoustic and electronic, which he used to affect the natural sound of the drum kit and help create new sounds to fit with the various styles.
The ability to improvise is an important skill to develop as a musician and playing music with others is probably the most fun, enjoyable and rewarding way to use all those other skills you've been developing and working on in your practice. Why not get yourself along to the Planet Drum improvisation workshop were you'll get to do just that!
Also, please keep your eyes open for opportunities to socialise with Planet Drum students, teachers and friends. Whenever possible, we'll be arranging group nights out to see high profile drummers and other artists perform at local venues. Earlier this year, we went to see a seriously intense Femi Kuti concert and in November we'll be getting blown away by Louis Cole one night and Moses Boyd the next!