Sunday, December 31, 2006

Not Just Any Old 80th Birthday Party

Stan Tracey is one of the greatest jazz musicians Britain has ever produced, through the sixties he was bandleader of the house band at Ronnie Scott’s and played with some of the best American jazz stars of the period, Stan Getz, Yusef Lateef and Roland Kirk to name a few. Sonny Rollins particularly enjoyed playing with Stan and recognised a truly great pianist, Stan was influenced by the playing of Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk, even now his particular style audibly contains those influences.
Stan is self taught and no doubt his particular distinct way of playing carries the unusual stylings he has taught himself. He modestly states that this unconventional playing is more due to his inability to play in a conventional style, luckily for us the autodidact methods give us the amazing patterns and sounds that Stan can create on the piano.
In the Bulls Head in Barnes on Saturday night Stan Tracey played his annual birthday gig in the place that has become one of his regular London venues, this birthday was special as it marked his 80th year, with his son Clark on drums, Andy Cleyndert on bass, Bobby Wellins on tenor saxophone and Guy Barker on trumpet the band and audience celebrated with a great selection of jazz. I have seen Stan play regularly over the past few years and this gig was the most varied I have heard him play, whether it was a celebratory mood or perhaps a little nervous tension in response to the large and appreciative audience crammed into the small venue was difficult to determine. Stan is a shy and modest man and always appears to be focussed on the piano rather than the audience, his posture at the piano is unique but that hunched and slightly cramped looking posture creates the varied and unique notes, within several passages of music the playing can move between gentle Ellington styled fluidity, Monk like stabbed and abrupt abstractions, pared down lengthily spaced notes flow into an almost classical fluid movement to straightforward bebop patterns then almost pained thumping notes. Stan Tracey can take a jazz standard and change a straight tune into a collage of humour, pain, angst, aggression, modesty and arrogance in musical form, often these emotion fuelled notes underpin the unique styles of the band members and lead them into their solos with huge space for great improvisations. Many jazz artists can be seen as repeating clichés within their solos, the musicians on stage on this night are truly gifted and these clichés were not evident as they created arresting and imaginative improvisations, in particular the band gelled with the interplay between the members being particularly enjoyable. Guy Barker’s powerful trumpet stylings complemented by Bobby Wellins subtle melodic saxophone, Andy Cleyndert and Clark Tracey weaving humourous and playful spacings between bass and drums and all returning to Stan Tracey’s varied but never overpowering or showy style on piano. Of all the musicians Andy Cleyndert stood out tonight, his playing after the interval was brilliant and he was revelling in the freedom of his solos, he was smiling and enjoying the night and this shone through in his playing, he was obviously testing new things out tonight and he is reaching standards of playing on the bass which are setting himself apart as a truly imaginative musician. Wellins was a pleasure to watch, his playing was clean and his shared passages of music with Stan Tracey showed two men who after years of playing together can predict each others playing to complement whilst driving the music forward without losing the unpredictable edge that any great jazz tune needs, Wellins is also obviously a huge fan of the music and the interest and pleasure he took in watching his fellow band members showed great respect for their playing and his enjoyment at being able to share the stage with them. Clark Tracey was as always versatile but modest and Guy Barker showed an enjoyably strong powerful sound through the night only to impress even further by showing great subtlety with a moody but gentle ballad towards the end of the evening.
From Monk inspired music, to one of Tracey’s own compositions from his ‘Under Milk Wood’ album and a version of Monk's ‘Well You Needn’t’ to an unexpected almost straight funk tune towards the end of the gig this was an enjoyable night of music, the playing was great and was equalled by the atmosphere in this small venue at the back of this classic London pub.

Stan Tracey is a true musical hero and an inspiration, happy 80th birthday Stan.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Giving Duchamp The Finger

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


moths, pheremone traps & steel hooks on paper and board
74 x 54cm

Thursday, December 14, 2006

You had to be there..

How do you define what is of historical value?, Is it something that endures in the memory? Is it something that throws up a new and exciting way of viewing the world or society? Or is it just that which takes on a wider recognition and significance than perhaps might have been assumed at its outset?. The art world is always gauging the relative success or failure of artists, artwork and artistic genres, it seems bizarre to me that there is a website dedicated to creating an ongoing international league table of artists, but indeed there is and perhaps someone somewhere actually takes it seriously, god knows who though because no-one needs to compile a chart to tell me that Bill Viola is Real Madrid and I am Rushden & Diamonds (not even in fact!).
Every week in London three new galleries open and two close blah blah blah….we’ve heard all this before and as the handful of regular readers of this blog know I have ranted away about gallery commercialism and playing safe versus imagination and non commercialism many times, and all this scattergun musing takes me stumbling into Riflemaker becomes Indica.

Indica registers in a subtle way in the recesses of my brain as an influential art space worthy of respect but my knowledge of the space is small, being born seven years after its closure it is more part of my parents generational history than my own, I look fondly on the imagination, drive and revolutionary spirit of that generation but am always slightly turned off of engaging with the social history of the sixties because of the way that previous generation uses their time against their children, I have heard too many middle class parents of friends of mine regaling us about their weekend hippy existence, all ‘reefers’, anti Vietnam protests and university sit-ins whilst slagging of my generation for not protesting, being politically apathetic, anti-intellectual and lazy, in comparison they “changed the world”, apparently. So the Indica reincarnation in the Riflemaker Gallery was always going to carry a heavy weight of assumptions, preconceptions and a very subtle shade of ‘take it or leave it’ style sulking hostility. Okay Daddio show me what you got!.
Artists of the first Indica incarnation show original pieces alongside Riflemaker’s young artists responses, on the ground floor amongst others is Mark Boyle/The Boyle Family’s gutter, kerb and pavement recreation, the Boyle family are highly recognised in present times but in the mid-sixties they were embarking on their signature styles of production, I imagine for something to conceptually contrive imagery which was so instantly unshowy and real was a departure. Of that time presumably nobody outside of Northern Italy expected to see such a thing in a gallery and despite the intervening years it still works for me, I can step back three decades and imagine the surprise and curiosity that this may have been viewed with, unfortunately despite these observations I still feel somewhat detached from the work. Alongside this are some other works of the time and responses by current artists, Nina Jan Beir & Marie Jan Lund’s “Dance Like I do” shows them dancing side by side on adjacent television screens, I peer down at the floor and the screens and nothing much happens, just two girls dancing in their houses in a vaguely bored manner, as I bypass Mark Dagley’s blue, yellow and red dot painting and Aishleen Lester’s resin and polyester, stitched sculptures I leave the room in a vaguely bored manner reminiscent of the two Jan’s.
On the top floor Taki’s blinking lights are dwarfed by Conrad Shawcross’ four armed, slightly off centre, wheeling light throwing machine, it is the usual Shawcross stuff, clanking, whirring, buzzing and aggressively chucking its arms at me it grabs my attention but doesn’t really hold it, my attention slips from its grasp to the two wall mounted mechanical photographic flipbooks flipping the small sheets over and over, I lean against the wall and watch the two figures blurrily make part of their never ending looped journey along some unknown streets. The figures are locked in a looping moment in time, a part of their journey that has no departure and has no end and one in which the looped points of time that they inhabit are virtually unrecognisable.
Descending to the basement in the final gallery space are The Baschet Brothers homemade speakers made from sheets of shaped and folded stainless steel and aluminium alongside is Liliaine Lijn‘s framed polymer lenses dotted around sheets of perspex, the frame is lined with bulbs which blink on and off at different times casting variable shadows of the lenses and through the perspex sheets on to the wall behind. Both works are obscure and it is difficult to determine their full intention beyond the obvious, in fact pretty much all the works feel like this to me. And whilst returning upstairs to the main ground floor space and listening to the accompanying soundtrack of music of the time it occurs to me that I do not need to determine what any of the art ‘means’, it just ‘is’.
Indica’s stated intention was to just experiment, to play, test, protest or whatever else feels necessary, all in the spirit of experimentation.
Indica’s experimental programme between 1965-1967 did change art and is part of art history and in a small way London’s 20th century history, luckily Riflemaker in 2006 have shown us a little of that lost spirit of our previous generation.

Maybe my band of generation X art world can learn a lesson from history, when this particular history lesson finishes at Riflemaker sometime in January we can take up the struggle and do some experimenting ourselves, I doubt we’ll change the world but we might just make a little history of our own.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Arte Povera Sketch

Sketch (August 2006)
Alcohol and Ink on Photographic Print