Jazz Envisioned 2014
Jazz Envisioned: A Collaborative Musical/Art Evening Featuring the Jazz Interpreted Paintings and Drawings of Britt Conley and the original jazz compositions of John Kocur, Kevin Pace, Gene D’Andrea and Cristopher Galvan at our opening on November 8th from 6-9pm at the Workhouse Arts Center, building 6, in Lorton, VA.
Within this post are descriptions of the paintings, my intent and audio files with the composers explanations of their creative intent musical connections to the paintings as well as the songs themselves recorded that night. Please do click on the links to hear what they have brilliantly written!
The evening featured the paintings of visual musical structuralist/soundscape artist Britt Conley in collaboration with Washington area jazz composers: saxophonist John Kocur, of the John Kocur Quintet (recent artist-in-residence for the Bohemian Caverns and Strathmore artist in resident recipient); bassist Kevin Pace, founding member of the D.C. Jazz Collective and the Kevin Pace Trio; guitarist Chris Galvan, D.C. area modern impressionist improviser/composer and modal post-bop guitarist, and keyboardist/composer Gene D’Andrea, a regular on local stages and around the country including such venues as the Kennedy Center, Smithsonian Institute and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
It took a great deal of time to consider which direction I wanted to go. Below, these four visually sound-scaped paintings are visual interpretations reflecting the writing style and/or musical feel of our four composers, who in turn, have written original compositions for their paintings. What was so wonderful about this project was getting to listen to so many of their works. I asked each to send me everything they could of what they had written and recorded so that I could personify their writing style. After I was done, I sent them images or the original works for them to write a new original work to. I did not want to hear the pieces before the opening night. We all gathered to hear about the project. I spoke about how and why I envisioned the paintings from their writing style and they spoke about their experience writing to the art.
Circles and Chords
By Britt Conley
Music by pianist Gene D’Andrea
Oil on Canvas
I really enjoyed creating this piece. After listening to Gene’s variety of work, I settled on an ambient jazz theme with a strip of metallized complexity. It was going to be very sci-fi meets jazz, however our conversations changed the direction of the work. Gene was wonderfully thorough about his questions on how one approaches writing music for a visual work.
As I began to answer, I realized that the experience for him and the viewer were paramount. It became less about the structure of his music for structure’s sake and more about the visual experience and the relation of that to his actual musical world. That world is what I love most about Gene’s writing, it’s all about the journey and the thinged-aspects you get to meet along the way. He loves a very open space and allows that space to vastly exist and breath. He then fills his space with neat sounds and punctuated metallic twerks and twirls which often march about with great complex fluidity. While thinking about his process, It became apparent, his journey needed a semblance of a map. This movie style mapped-visual idea, changed the entire direction of the piece, toward creating a work that not only implied journey, but offered his musical journey. There is implied travel to worldly locations below, topped with sound particles en route like a rushing river. It’s complex and yet rests in a definitive open ethereal space. There are large, chordal moments that dissipate out and note-like signs and symbols placed just so.
What I found wonderfully neat was that Gene took the initial black and white sketch for the work and placed a staff atop it. I couldn’t wait to hear what his piece sounded like! Please click on the blue link below for his explanation and his musical response:
Mundivagant means traveling the world. I wanted the viewer to travel within his musical world. This is a painting of that journey.
Jazz Envisioned/Into the Blue
By Britt Conley
Music by saxophonist John Kocur
Oil on Canvas
Saxophonist John Kocur, has a very complex and wonderful writing style and I wanted to give him a lot to chew for this project.
What developed from my discussions with him, was a real appreciation for the individual instrumentation of jazz. The concept played an integral part of the works within the project. Since first being introduced to the genre, I’ve loved Jazz, however I hadn’t realized just how removed my understanding had been to its actual structure until John’s series of conversations about how the sax works. He described in great detail what it’s like to physically play one and what the role the instrument is used for. I’d held numerous basic understandings and assumptions, but John was able to effuse on all the magical behind the scenes aspects that only a musician can know. After listening to him, his music and seeing his quartet live, I began to get a feel for his writing. One of the interesting aspects of his aural communication with the world is done through articulation. Literally, one has to press their tongue upon the reed just so, in order to articulate the grammar of stops, starts and nuanced sputterings that are used with creating the saxophone sentence. These are the vowel vocabulary for shaping the sounds and their dynamics, and rise and fall. The fingerings help choose the notes, but the articulations determine the propulsion, guttural rumblings or smooth nuance that creates the elegance of line or rhythmic cohesion within a passage. I attempted to capture the nuanced breath by adding a white web across the vocabulary of saxophone line. The structural shapes themselves, complete with all the little dots and lines, swivels, bursts and topple overs are the physical saxophone articulations. This saxophone line represents the passages and dynamics leading into the clustering of ensemble itself. Here the saxophone bursts skyward with sound, reflecting all the brilliant cacophony of the entire ensemble into one moment, before the musical frenzy provocatively stops. Then, out of the sudden silence, the saxophone begins again, rising up from the end of the horn with a singular song which ribbons upward and to the right before trailing off with its endless song.
I picked blue for the background before I’d even worked out what I’d paint. To me saxophone is sonorous and resonates into the atmosphere. I wanted to toggle variations between blues and white in order to create it’s own rhythmic ambiance.
The final composition has a complicated layout. The blue stripes provide depth and a rhythmic underlayer. The center has vertical chordal shapes that resonate toward a dissipated duration. The satellites to these chords are small melodic piano notes. They respond as their own punctuation to the rhythmic layout. Below runs the bass line or lower banded chords. They buttress the piece skyward. Above everything lye four white clusters that triangulate forward. They are the jazz “Swwwwip, …… Swwwwwip, ….. Swwwwwip, …..Swwwwwip” of the classic jazz high hat cymbal closing.
Now, that said, I’ve put so much visual information within the work so that John would be able to pick and choose what he wanted, including what each visual item represents. He was free to interpret as he wished. He could have written the entire piece on the contrast between orange and blue or taken each item in for consideration in a particular layout order. It was up to him to be inspired as he wished. My intentions were not meant to be the intentions of the composers, but only visual inspiration for them and from them.
Resounding Run/The Grind
By Britt Conley
Music by bassist Kevin Pace
Oil on Canvas
With each work, there was an attempt to move outside my usual visual vocabulary and aesthetic feel in order to capture the essence of each artist’s musical persona. The first of this series is a work for bassist Kevin Pace. Kevin’s playing style is raw, in progress and earthy. After listening to his work, seeing him perform and interviewing him about his experience with his bass, it became clear that he chose his instrument for the physical joy generated from the physical interaction of the instrument. That to me encompasses an important thread in his writing style.
The dyptich begins with a saxophone coming out of quiet geometrics. Below this, the base begins to resonate from the depth of the stage with distinct separation. The physical human attack upon these thick, upright bass strings from stillness, must generate quite a reverberation upon the player. I wanted to capture the rawness of a bass player’s experience and sound, complete with all its snaps, diffusions and complexities that eventually resonate away. The second piece of the two, addresses the sheer distances that must be physically traversed during all these string snappings, which inevitably are more physically chaotic. As one note is still winding down, the next must already be pulled and snapped, pushing the beat just before the rest of the performers are striking their melodic notes and chords. The overall geometrics of the pieces represent the jazz club stage, its intimacy and lesser lit nooks and crannies which exude that ultimate coddled spatial ambiance.
There was no disclosure to Kevin as to what my visual intentions were. I wanted him to come to the work with the same endless options that were available to me during my, similar, interpretive process. I found it wonderfully interesting that he titled his original composition for this painting, The Grind. Unbeknownst to him, I titled his painting Resounding Run, which to me, captures the epic physical grind providing the sheer beautiful warmth resonating the ensemble.
By Britt Conley
Music by guitarist Chris Galvan
Oil on Canvas
This painting is raw and unfinished for a reason. These are under-structures that need to be nuanced for their sound experience, however not all the information is in for me to finish. Jazz guitarist Chris Galvan specifically didn’t want to see his painting until the reception so that he could respond to it live. I love this idea. It’s very much how his painting begun. I’ve simply been responding to his sound in space. This painting is still in progress, however. I’ve laid down the structures for his experiential soundscape, however I’m waiting to hear his response so that I in turn can integrate that new aural experience back into the painting. I’ll be adding this after hearing him opening night. So, feel free to come back in the coming weeks to watch it’s progression. I’ll be blogging about it at brittconley.com
About the creation of the piece:
One of the really neat things about jazz is the breathable space. When I think of Chris Galvan’s work, that appreciation and perfect coddling of breathable space is self-evident. As a jazz guitarist, he is influenced by some of my very favorite fusion guitarists such as notables, Alan Holdsworth and John Scofield. Having spent much of my life as a drummer, I too have a love for a breathable space. For his work, I listened and drew lines as stringed moments free-floating between them and yet coming from and with the color spaces behind: a chromatic layering. These are the understructures, waiting for the true color layers to be added. These strings, however, are meant to be seen in just the right light for the reflective nuanced areas and note values to appear.
To me, this shimmer represents what it’s like to take one’s finger to a smoothed metallic sound. It emerges with a smoothed effortless zing. That metallic zing is represented by the silver metallic paint. Shine a light on it and just the right reflectance and it will pop forward like light in a mirror. The chromatic palate is not meant to be pleasing, but to provide a poignant discord between the relationships between background and foreground. It’s meant to taste a certain way and put emphasis on the more beautiful silver slivers of sound. I will be taking this back in the studio, each Sunday, to paint in the next round of sounds, now that I’ve heard Chris’s response, I can respond with the finished work.
The evening ended with a rendition of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. I had drawn a response to it and the guys were kind enough to play the piece for everyone to coincide with the drawing.
I want to thank each and every one of them again! To look into their brains through their music and then to hear their minds work in real time and in new ways because of the project, was exhilarating. From the moments of the first notes I spent the entire concert trying not to well up at the beauty of their work. I’ll be gearing up for the next Jazz Envisioned in the coming few years.