Brimming with inventive and soulful compositions - including 6 by Pete, Kairos Ensemble's latest release, Rejoicing Blues, is out on Mulberry Tree Music...
Pete James and Simon Rawlings have joined forces to produce a new musical adaptation of Bunyan's Pilgrim’s Progress.
The Soul Story album launch at the Pizza Express was great! Thanks again to all who came to the gig. Here's a nice action pic from Chris Windsor of me twiddling the knobs on the Nord. It's proving to be significant addition to the live set up and opens up lots of sonic possibilities. It's also hooked up to Tom's laptop so we can trigger loops and sequences in real time...all helps to keep the creative juices flowing!
The Pizza Express and 606 gigs were a great success - both in terms of attendance and musically. I feel the trio is discovering new depths every time we play. This film footage from the 606 gig includes the third part of a suite called Soul Story which we've been rehearsing up and gigging along with other new material....
Plans are coming together to record again in September, this time at Curtis Schwartz's studio in Ardingly. I'm really excited about this - the quality of sound coming out of this studio is impressive (Gwilym Simcock's Blues Vignette is a good example) and I can't wait to document the new tunes. Melody, groove, harmony and the relationship between form and freedom still remain characteristic of this new material. The experience of recent gigs has made us more adventurous and I look forward to bringing some of this confidence into the studio. I had a plan at one point to invite a few guest musicians to feature on the next release but my thinking at the moment is to keep it simple and give time to focus on developing the sound of the trio.
I mentioned finishing off a new suite of music based on the Passion of Christ written for Kairos Ensemble in my last blog and this was gigged a couple of times over Easter, featuring guest singer Eska Mtungwazi. We were really chuffed that a couple of tracks from the Passion Suite got Radio 3 airplay on Jazz Line Up. The album is now available through Amazon / iTunes etc. Click here for a link.
I've been continuing to reflect on the pros and cons of musical independence.... It's great to write, record and distribute your own music. There are many positives in retaining one's copyrights and I've also been encouraged that it's possible to get national airplay and reviews. What is more challenging is the area of marketing (which would probably be helped by the right record label relationship). I think some kind of representation would also be helpful when approaching particular venues or festivals, so the possibility of working with an agent is something I might explore further....
The next big gig is on Thursday June 3rd at the Forge Arts Venue in Camden. It would be great to see you there! We'll be playing some music from Visions and Vistas and also showcasing new material. Click here for further details.
Some folks expressed an interest in further listening recommendations. On the piano front, I've been enjoying the Marcin Wasilewski Trio, Nik Bartsch's Ronin and Gwilym Simcock's Blues Vignette (mentioned above) are all worth checking out.
I've been pushing the trio CD and am really glad with the positive critical response. Reviews from Jazz UK, Vortex CD Reviews, Sid Smith's Postcards blog and Jazzwise magazine in September have all been a great encouragement. Getting a good Jazzwise review felt in some ways like another milestone and an official welcome, this time from the jazz press establishment, so I'm really pleased with that. Julian Joseph also played a track on his Radio 3 Jazz Line Up show ahead of the Vortex gig in August and all this served to bolster my confidence for what turned out to be a very special gig. A lot of our supporters came and there was some great music from Will Butterworth and Dylan Howe too, playing arrangements of Stravinsky! Chris Parker reviewed the evening very favourably (see link).
Over the last few months I've also been working hard on the final stages of an interesting project by Kairos Ensemble. It's a jazz suite I composed based on the Passion of Christ and we'll be touring it next Easter. The album has now been completed and everything was sent to the factory last week...hooray! I'm wearing the producer's hat for this project and, despite the finishing process adding a few years on me, I'm really pleased at the way it has shaped up. I'm confident it will prove worthy of all the effort. It will also be put out on the Mulberry Tree Music label - official release date next Feb but copies may be available through the Kairos site before then.
With the trio, I've been blitzing venues for a tour early next year - end of Feb/early March. As I write, the 606 has inked in 2nd March and I'll keep this site posted about others around that time as they're confirmed...
I've been enjoying checking out some new music and my favourite recommendations would include the Jef Neve Trio, Nobody Is Illegal. I just love this album! Full of verve and melodies and unexpected turns...By musical contrast, I also caught the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble in Oxford. I thought his use of space, pacing and sometimes whispering dynamics was also completely engaging and inspirational.
So what's been happening? Well, on the musical front, there have been significant developments over the last few months...
When the album was finished before Christmas the immediate challenge was to shift a few copies and ‘launch' this in some way that might kick-start some publicity. However, there is a slight chicken and egg dilemma regarding gig opportunities and getting press - good press seems to generate good press but how do you get off the starting block? If I could secure a serious venue for the launch, then perhaps some reviewers etc. might take it more seriously.... Anyway, I sent a CD to the 606 Club amongst others and club owner Steve Rubie got back a few weeks later asking, "When do you want to bring the trio down?" This was what I needed - I couldn't believe it! We're off ...With the thought of playing there in mind, I decided to do a reckie of the venue and went down to watch a hero of mine, John Taylor playing solo piano. Whilst there, I noticed another jazz legend sitting in the corner - Julian Joseph who was very much on my contact hit list of people I wanted to get a copy of my album to.... Steve Rubie kindly introduced me and remarkably (as I hadn't crossed his path since Academy days) Julian remembered me. He was happy to receive a CD and so I sent one to him - even daring to ask in a covering letter if he might offer a couple of quotable lines that could be used in the write up for the 606 gig if he liked the recording. A few weeks later, some very encouraging comments were returned... So I now had a gig in the diary and an official ‘jazz establishment' endorsement. Now we were motoring...! Julian's endorsement provided the basis of my e-mail ‘press release' as a way of introducing myself to freelance reviewers, magazines and radio etc.
So I invited everyone and his dog to the gig at the 606. Amongst those that attended was broadcaster Helen Mayhew who had received a CD when I put out my first batch of media enquiries via e-mail. Out of perhaps 100 e-mails sent out (I found contacts mainly through the Jazz Services database) maybe a dozen requested a CD. Of those, a couple led to concrete and positive reviews (Chris Parker and Peter Vacher) One blogger wasn't so favourable but then I guess one has to take the rough with the smooth! Helen Mayhew suggested sending Mike Chadwick at JazzFM a copy of the CD. He was into it and played a track on his Cutting Edge show a couple of weeks later....
Following the success of the launch and feeling a surge of confidence, I put out some more media feelers.... This time, Linley Hamilton from BBC radio Ulster replied saying he'd like to play some tracks and even do a telephone interview on his show.... Wow, I thought - result! But I was a bit nervous about the prospect of doing an interview, as I didn't feel I had quite the jazz pedigree of many of his former guests. However, I was confident about the music and his enthusiasm and encouragement about the project was a real boost. That interview was broadcast last Sunday and I was pleased with how it came across.
So there we have it...the ‘independent musician' saga continues. I feel there is a gathering of momentum and the plan now is to secure gigs. (Dates are being discussed and other feelers are being put out too...) If I can get a half decent gig sheet, then I'll push more seriously with some print / review and airplay angles again. I went this week to an MU seminar on preparing good press releases and an Association of Independent Music induction meeting - both very timely. In fact, the importance of ‘timing' struck me a fresh in terms of any promotional strategy. I'd like to run a few thoughts past the folks down at the AIM offices....
In response to the question - ‘heard anything good lately?', it's got me thinking about trying to compile a list. So here are 10 albums (in no particular order) that I love and have found myself returning to again and again:
Joni Mitchell: Travelogue. This 2002 album features orchestrated repertoire from across her career. The breathtaking arrangements introduced me to the music of Vince Mendoza - and that thread led me to the next recommendation...
Vince Mendoza: Epiphany. I love music that transcends traditional ‘genre' distinctions. Here Vince most convincingly weaves orchestral colours with jazz improvisers. It has a killer cast including John Taylor (Piano), Peter Erskin (drums) and Kenny Wheeler (trumpet).
Keith Jarrett: Facing You. I've been a fan of Keith Jarrett's since being introduced to ‘Changeless', which at the time extended my conception of the possibilities of jazz improvisation. There are many albums of his I could recommend but Facing You was his first on the ECM label and I think it's still one of his best.
Steely Dan: Two Against Nature. Steely Dan albums were in the house when I was growing up so there's something of their particular jazz-rock fusion in the blood. This album has all their great elements of impeccable production, interesting arrangements and sardonic lyrics. Chris Potter plays some great sax on this album ....
Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau: Metheny Mehldau I love their playing individually and I think this collaboration brings out some of the best in both of their musical personalities: a more lyrical side of Brad and a more immediate side of Pat. I saw them play live together - awesome!
James MacMillan: The Confession of Isobel Gowdie. Sometimes you hear sounds that expand your musical universe. This expansion seems to involve a kind of death of familiarities and preconceptions, which is both uncomfortable and exhilarating at the same time!
Abdullah Ibrahim: Mindif. I had a time at Music College where I suffered a kind of ‘musical saturation overload' and longed to hear something that was rootsy and unencumbered by western pontificating. I love this album's evocative grooves and colours - it seems to transport you to the heart of Africa.
Bothy Band: After Hours. This well represents an affinity I feel with Irish folk music. I love the lyricism, storytelling, the simplicity - and the instrumental colours like the bodhrán, celtic Harp and uilleann pipes - (the Scottish bagpipes however, still elude my sensibilities but that's veering onto another topic...)
Ella Fitzgerald: Gold (compilation) I've got to include some classic jazz vocals in this list and in my opinion, you can't get much better than Ella. Even on Mac the Knife, when she forgets the words, she still sounds fantastic and her musical authority and warmth of character shine through.
Bach: Cello Suites / 48 Preludes and Fugues. I hope it's not too cliché to include some Bach, but it seems to me that to immerse oneself in his music has something like the effect of cool draughts of water to a thirsty soul.
Now, having put just 10 down, I'm already having second thoughts! I haven't even mentioned......... Bill Evans: Sunday at the Village Vangaurd, Oscar Peterson: Night Train, Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life, Ron Kenoly: Lift Him Up!, Rickie Lee Jones: Rickie Lee Jones, John Tavener: The Protecting Veil, Radio Head: In Rainbows ... Oh and something by Miles Davis, John Taylor, John Coltrane, Chick Corea, Mcoy Tyner, Mahalia Jackson ...but then maybe these are for a more comprehensive ‘Top 100' style list! Now that's got me thinking again...
Here goes... I've been thinking what I should put in this blog and rather than general ranting (although I can't guarantee there won't be some of that), I thought it might be of interest to document (in real time) the process I'm going through trying to establish myself as an independent recording artist. With any luck, this blog entry won't be my last!
Getting an album together under my own name and launching this website represent a real milestone in this process - so maybe this is a good point to summarise what lead me to this point and where I'm hoping to go from here....I've been involved in a few recording projects over the years with other people - probably most notably, jazz violinist Christian Garrick and for the group Kairos Ensemble. Over this time, it seemed to me that being signed to a small independent record label may not actually offer much more than one could do (with a little elbow grease), oneself.
Certainly one may be more motivated to put in the time needed to push a project forward, oneself. Of course distribution is the key, but with less physical CD sales being made and more done on line, it seems to me that, especially within a niche market like jazz, it's probably worth attempting to set up one's own shop and make every effort to connect directly with an audience....it also strikes me that a major label - especially in the current climate, will not be very interested in putting money into something that has not already proven it's able to make a reasonable return....
So all this has lead me to forge ahead independently. Knowing friends who have had negative experiences of being signed to labels also encourages me that there are definite plusses to creative autonomy! I'm thinking positively at this stage..!
Apart from the physical aspects of making a CD - rehearsing, recording, editing, mixing, mastering, overseeing photography, artwork and pressing, getting a CD out there has involved quite a few other hurdles involved in essentially setting up my own record label: Mulberry Tree Music. Related to this have been MCPS-PRS membership, PPL performer and record company membership, registering tracks through CATCO, applying for a Limited online exploitation license, setting up an AP2 exclusion to avoid paying royalties to myself, Bar-coding through membership of GS1...To navigate though some of these areas, I've found joining both the Association of Independent Music and Music Managers Forum - (also the Musicians Union) invaluable. They've run seminars recently on ....independent music publishing, marketing and live performance promotion.I'm kind of feeling my way...so open to any pointers or advice, if you have any!
I know that the big work of promotion and distribution has yet to begin in earnest and we'll see where that takes me.... having a product is one thing, but getting it to market is quite another...at this stage I'm thinking along the lines of gigs, reviews, radio play to hopefully generate some interest.
There seems to be a slight chicken and egg factor in the sense that without interest already, generating interest can feel like an uphill struggle but I'll tell you how I get on as I push various doors.What am I hoping for? If I can get to a situation where I can finance a recording and gig it, knowing that it's financially viable (i.e. it's at least not permanently losing money!), then I'd be very pleased. World domination? -well, that's not really my concern (although I am ambitious for my music to connect to as wide an audience as possible). It seems that through web sales I potentially have a world market. But generating traffic to the site and that translating into actual sales is the challenge. The good news is that now it's up and running, I don't have large overheads and owning the products mean that the profit percentage per sale is relatively high..
Avenues have crossed my mind like trying to license my music to other online outlets but I haven't explored these properly yet.If I'm honest, I do have occasional anxieties that many of the 1000 physical copies of the album I'm printing up might remain stashed under a bed somewhere and never see the light of day. Having said that, I'm determined to make a go of it and although this is unchartered territory for me, I‘m confident in the music I have to offer and I don't want to look back in years to come time and think I never gave it a proper shot...Would I consider signing musical ownership rights over at some point? - Certainly! but I'd want to look carefully at what is really being offered to ensure that I'd gain more than I'd lose.I'll be blogging again in a month or so and keep you posted with any developments! In the mean time, please to feel free to drop me a line - I'll endeavour to respond. Cheers. Pete