This week’s playlist comes courtesy of the Brooklyn-via-Ohio composer Big Bend, aka Nathan Phillips. To celebrate his new album Radish — out today — Phillips shared some of his favorite improvised songs. Check it out!
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Associate Editor
The majority of Radish came from an interest in specific players and how they get to their own individual patterns. Some of the choices of improvisers are so particular that it seems like they couldn’t have come from anyone else. I wanted to work with musicians like that, but in a context of narrowing what they already do — if they are a panorama of sound, my goal was to capture a small range of it. In some cases, the limiting force was to ask a few people to perform together, à la free improv, each person responding to the others’ impulses; in other cases, a guided gesture or series of chords was the narrowing lens.
Although I’m not sure any of the songs here are examples of improvisation through and through, all of the songs do at least have the kind of borderless-ness and flexibility I like about spontaneous music making. If it’s true that all music is improvised at some point in its life cycle, I would place these songs at the earlier side of the process.
— Nathan Phillips
Van Morrison — “When Heart Is Open”
From Van’s Common One, this song has what I like most in electric guitar, impressionistic and unsteady. Along with it, drones of acoustic sound, horns and flutes that start and stop, making way for a lot of quiet moments and surprisingly loud ones, interspersed with emphatic singing; a giant landscape.
Susan Alcorn — “Hello Goodbye Hello”
I asked Susan if she would add anything in regards to how this came about: “Hello Goodbye is a tribute to Bruce Langhorne, which was recorded while he was still alive, but very sick. Hello, is just that — saying hello to someone I’d never met, and goodbye, wishing him a safe journey to the beyond.”
Lonnie Holley — “Looking For All (All Rendered Truth)”
Walking past Lonnie’s performance at a festival in 2013, I was blown away by how direct and up to chance his music was. With off-the-cuff lyrics and melodies, it seemed like he extracted everything in front of him and amplified it on stage.
Group Doueh — “Wazan Fagu Doueh”
I don’t know anything about Group Doueh other than this song that I heard on the radio last year. An upbeat sketch that stays in the higher registers; a minute and a half of gold.
Elysia Crampton — “Oscollo”
My friend Michael recommends a lot of good electronic music, and the human feeling in this one stood out. Later, I discovered it’s due in part to her through-playing some of the instruments, start to finish. She just used a laptop and midi keyboard in a live performance I saw once, and even then, embodied the music perfectly.
Sandy Denny — “It’ll Take a Long Time”
Only a recent Fairport Convention convert, by way of Sandy, this song off her second solo album struck me with its freedom for guitar and voice to float above the song’s verse/chorus structure.
Alice Coltrane — “Om Supreme”
“When I called you to California, you knew I would meet you in California.” A song of devotion, and my favorite of Alice’s music.
The Necks — “Open”
Looking online for a photo to put on my desktop, I found one of a trio that remained as the background for a year before I figured out who it was…The Necks. Then after hearing this one hour piece, I loved everything about it, from the pentatonic piano patterns to the light use of double bass and percussion.
You can catch Big Bend on tour this spring through the summer:
5/11 — Elign, IL @ N. Spring
5/12 — Bloomington, IN w/ Vollmar @ Blockhouse
5/13 — Omaha, NE w/ Steady Wells @ Anor Londo
5/14 — Lawrence, KS @ Primary Color
5/15 — Kansas City, MO @ miniBar
5/16 — Norman, OK @ Opolis
5/17 — Nashville, TN w/ Diatom Deli, Michael Hix @ Proper Sake
5/19 — Chattanooga, TN @ Palace Theater
5/20 — Durham, NC w/ Nathan Bowles @ The Pinhook
5/21 — Charlottesville, VA w/ Jordan Perry, a&h @ The Bridge PAI
5/22 — Washington D.C w/ Antonia, a&h @ Rhizome
5/23 — Providence, RI w/ Flyying Colors and Alexander Dupuis @ AS220
5/24 — Cambridge, MA w/ a&h @ Lilypad
5/29 — Baltimore, MD w/ Wood Fir, a&h @ The Crown
5/31 — Brooklyn, NY w/ Kath Bloom and a&h @ Big Irv’s Gallery
6/19 — Edinburgh, Scotland w/ Faith Eliott @ Leith Depot
6/30 — Fukuoka, Japan w/ Lee (Asano + Ryuhei) @ Kokura Megahertz
7/27 — Saga, Japan @ Studio Kura
8/21 — Sydney, Australia @ Eramboo
(Photo Credit: Vivian Weidman)