“Third Stream” and beyond: my current research interests

I currently have two major research streams in music that I hope will converge for my M.A. thesis project: 1) “third stream” music, which is essentially a blend of classical music and jazz 2) improvisation and indeterminacy in concert music, specially that of medium to large ensembles

My own final project will be an extensive ‘Jazz Concerto’ for alto saxophone and a to-be-determined chamber ensemble.  Additionally, I’ll write a paper contextualizing my composition, featuring research into the two above mentioned concepts.

At least that’s where things sit right now.  My ideas may shift or re-focus during my course.

Coming into the program, I had planned to focus on #2 but have recently become interested (actually, re-interested) in music that might be called “third stream” – a term coined in the late ’50s by Gunther Schuller, an American composer and conductor.

While looking into Schuller’s music, I’ve discovered the music of William Russo.  I’ve become especially enamored with a couple of his works, including Music for Alto Saxophone and Strings and An Image of Man.

I think the first of these in particular will give anyone a good idea of the type of music that I’m talking about and actually the type of music, broadly speaking, that I intend to write.  I very much like that Music for Alto Saxophone and Strings combines a ‘classical’ set-up of strings with what amounts to a jazz rhythm section of guitar, bass and drums.

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Metalwood at The Rex

I thought it was only a figment of my imagination.  It really does exist, however: a pub that has jazz every night of the month (except occasionally when there’s blues) and that’s The Rex in downtown Toronto.  It was the site of our first live music outing as new Toronto residents.

On our way here from Vancouver, one of our key bits of road music was Metalwood’s album Chronic. We just so happened to have it in our disc binder – a bunch that we grabbed at random the last time we visited my parents, where most of my collection is. It is super groovy, exciting music and excellent for the highway, particularly when the light is getting low and you need a boost of energy.

I was telling Marion that it’s too bad the band hadn’t put out an album in quite some time. I thought this might be because band members are quite scattered.   Saxophonist Mike Murley is a long-time local Toronto icon – and I know him originally from his regular tours all the way east to St. John’s. Trumpeter/keyboardist Brad Turner is now on faculty at Capilano University in North Vancouver. We saw him twice while we were in Van – once at the Tangent café on Commercial Drive and another time in a concert at Capilano. I think both the bassist Chris Tarry and drummer Ian Froman are based in New York.

It’s a real treat to be able to hear them locally and also fitting since we sort of book-ended our move with their music, by disc on the road (it was the first thing we popped in the stereo) and seeing them in our first live music outing in Toronto.

The musicianship here – all around – is second to none. We take in the first set before hitting the road. The compositions are exciting and unpredictable and super funky, in a post-funk era, jazz-fusion embued way. The music was less groovy to me than the stuff on Chronic but never lacking in excitement. And I think it could’ve been a bit tighter, although the massive musicianship tends to mask any tentativeness in transitions, for instance. There was just a certain something – hard to put a finger on – that suggested to me that the tunes were fresh to the band and haven’t quite settled yet. That being said, sometimes the music turns on a dime and everyone is spot on 99% of the time. We bought the album on the way out at intermission. We spoke briefly to Brad as we left. He’s a very unassuming, soft-spoken character. But with good humour. We told him we saw him in Vancouver and he told us he was following us.

Metalwood’s new album is called Twenty.

New adventures in Toronto

I’m happy to re-boot this blog after a summer hiatus and a lengthy transition to the bustling metropolis that is Toronto.

Marion and I arrived on September 1 to move into our apartment on the York University campus where I’ve started my M.A. in composition.

To make a long story short, once I learned for sure I’d be coming to York, I basically phased out all my musical endeavours in Vancouver by the time our vacation to Newfoundland rolled around at the end of June.  Then it was enjoying the last few weeks in Vancouver and preparing for the move which began with our cross-Canada road trip starting on August 1.  We eventually made it to Prince Edward Island during the last week of August and then back to Toronto.

Still in the process of settling in, I’m eager to report on the Toronto music scene and on things happening around York University, including my own projects.

First up: Metalwood at the Rex on September 14th.