Sunday, January 25, 2015

Susan Alcorn Fearless Slides by Molly Sheridan


Composer, improviser, and pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn came up playing country and western music, first in Chicago where she fell in love with the instrument’s unique timbres and then in and around Houston. But her ear eventually led her down a decidedly more singular experimental path, a journey which required the adaptation of both her instrument (changing tuning and adding strings) and her physical approach to it.


For audiences and even fellow musicians used to more straight-ahead performances, the reaction to her exploratory work with the instrument could get unsettling.

“It was like, what the hell’s she doing…and why?” Alcorn recalls, somewhat bemused. When a video of one of her performances in Paris was released on YouTube, an online pedal steel forum questioned her skill and her respect for her instrument. “They thought not only did I not know how to play, but that I was destroying the instrument. I actually got threatening emails, believe it or not! They said I was the empress with no clothes.”



Still, in a reflection characteristic of Alcorn’s thoughtfulness in front of her instrument, she goes on to suggest “and maybe they were right, because that’s how you have to be. You’ve got to be naked in your mind to be able to play and express yourself—you have to be naked and fearless and that’s not easy, especially the older you get.”

Though she can still skillfully slide her way through country tunes, these days Alcorn is based in Baltimore and primarily devoted to her own innovative work, chasing new sounds through extended techniques, instrument preparation, and free improvisation both solo and with fellow artists old and new. But her music remains engaged with melody and beautiful chords. “Maybe that’s the country and western in me,” she says. “I like a song!”



Though Alcorn’s titles often suggest a certain epic scope—And I Await the Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar and Olivier Messiaen’s Morning Conjugal Death Waltz, for example—her website doesn’t offer many details about her individual pieces and her CD booklet notes have been presented in the form of brief poems. Whether offering her music on intimate recordings or live from the stage, she doesn’t seem all that anxious to explain it in words to her listeners. “I kind of hope that [audiences] find their own meaning in it—inspiration, comfort, discomfort, whatever. And sometimes I feel like the more that I say about something, I almost feel like that takes the power away from it. The more you describe something, it weighs it down a bit.”


Though Alcorn herself prefers to play by ear and usually feels most effective as a performer that way, she does notate work for other players when needed. And when composers write for her, such as Jeff Snyder’s recent work Substratum performed by Alcorn and the Mivos String Quartet, she has even adapted their notation to a version that she can read with more facility.



“My approach has been to try and allow…the instrument itself to tell its story, not to be the boss or the master of the instrument, but to be a collaborator with it and hopefully the three of us—the instrument, myself, and these little harmonic universes—can do something, accomplish something, say something, express something that will affect people in a nice way.”

“And you either hear it or you don’t,” Alcorn says, acknowledging that her sonic explorations don’t resonate with everyone, though she doesn’t buy the idea that you need some special training to understand her work. “It’s not a math problem; it’s feeling something.”



This article was originally published by NewMusicBox.org, a multimedia publication produced by New Music USA which offers hundreds of in-depth artist interviews, news, and industry analysis. It has been posted here with permission.
Thanks to Molly Sheridan for his kind permission to reblog this article


ABOUT MOLLY SHERIDAN

Molly Sheridan is a writer, editor, and producer specializing in classical and experimental music, with a focus on multimedia content designed for the web. A winner of ASCAP’s Deems Taylor Award for music journalism, she is the executive editor of NewMusicBox and Counterstream Radio, both programs of New Music USA.

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Brandon Ross 13 Questions

Photo Butch Belair

Brandon Ross is a guitarist / composer / singer / songwriter, who has worked/recorded with Cassandra Wilson, Henry Threadgill, Jewel, Tony Williams, Arto Lindsay, The Lounge Lizards, Leroy Jenkins, Butch Morris, Bill Frisell, Me'Shell  N'degeocello, Moreno Veloso, Arrested Development, Craig Harris, Archie Shepp, Fred Hopkins, Joan Osborne, Muhal  Richard Abrams, Deidre Murray, Mino Cinelu, Don Byron, Bobby Previte, Timothy Hill, Myra Melford, Ron Miles, Oliver  Lake, Sekou Sundiata, Bill Laswell, Zeena Parkins, Michelle Branch, Wadada Leo Smith, and many others, crafting a  personal approach to (jazz) guitar, and improvisation, that has taken him all over the world.


Photo Junya Suzuki

He co-leads the avant power trio, Harriet Tubman, with bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer JT Lewis. "Tubman" is dedicated to musical revelation/investigation in a pan-African vernacular of Now. In Harriet Tubman, Ross explores electronics, and pan-tonality to sculpt a multidimensional, interactive, sonic language in a "classic" R&B/Rock configuration of guitar, bass, and drums. Harriet Tubman has released 3 cds, I Am A Man (1998) on Knitting Factory Records, and Prototype (live) (2000) on John Zorn's Avant Records label and Ascension (2011) in Sunnyside Records.

Photo  Butch Belair

"... Melvin Gibbs also appeared with Harriet Tubman, AN OUTSTANDING POWER TRIO featuring drummer J.T. Lewis and the remarkably creative but unsung guitar hero Brandon Ross, who combines the linear facility and originality of Joyous La ke-era Pat Martino with the sheer decibels and cathartic abandon of Sharrock and the liquid whammy-bar articulations of Allan Holdsworth. Ross unleashed fuzz-inflected, wah-fueled licks and testified with overdriven bluetones during this searing set, which concluded with a frantic jam that reached a Bad Brains level of intensity." - Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times June '07


 Photo Ralph Gibson

In his acoustic based quartet, Blazing Beauty, Ross plays banjo, electric, acoustic and soprano guitars; uses cornet, acoustic bass guitar, and drumset to extend his expressive field into "folk" oriented musics and compositional approaches that communicate his dedication to fresh musical experience. His first recording of some of this work, Costume, was released in 2005, on Intoxicate Records (Japan), to rave reviews, and several critic's "best of the year" lists.


Photo Michael Halsband

Ross also composes music for his acoustic string duo, For Living Lovers, with acoustic bass guitarist, Stomu Takeishi. During the Summer of '07 he has been doing a series of duets with bassist/vocalist Me'Shell N'degeocello @ Brooklyn's, ROSE Live Music, in Williamsburg.

Photo Michael Halsband

Ross has scored music for the surviving reel of a 1922 Chinese silent film called Lotus Blossom, commissioned by the New York Guitar Festival, 2006, and has arranged and performed interpretations of the music of Reverend Gary Davis, and Mississippi John Hurt for the NYGF (New York Guitar Festival) in 2004, and 2006. He is currently composing for his next release, having released his latest CD, Puppet on Intoxicate Records (2006), and recorded interpretations of the film music of Toru Takemitsu, with classical guitarist, Daisuke Suzuki, and bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi, which was released in Japan in September '06 on Intoxicate Records. (Oh, and he loves a glass of a fine vintage, listening to great muiIc, while engaged in expansive conversation... especially in Italy.) 


Harriet Tubman is Brandon Ross (guitar, vocals), Melvin Gibbs (bass), JT Lewis (drums)

What do you remember about your first guitar?

My first guitar was a GHI, acoustic guitar that I bought for $30 at Great Eastern Department store in East Brunswick, NJ, USA. It was a steel string, “spruce” top. I later sold it at Summer camp to one of my co-campers for $50.

For Living Lovers, with acoustic bass guitarist, Stomu Takeishi. Photo Ralph Gibson

What do you recall about your playing learning process?
It was HARD for me to STUDY guitar, practice, to develop that form of discipline. Painful actually. PLAYING was fun, practice was tough… Learning via practice was truly a major challenge for me. I think it actually caused me to cause myself to get physically ill. That was a long time ago, and it led me to a deeper purpose and understanding of what music was for ME, WHICH UP UNTIL THEN I hadn’t needed to know, and I was plagued by lots of self-doubt. Once I came to know why I was doing what I was doing, everything got better, and went sideways… in a good way!



Photo Ralph Gibson

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?

The first record I bought with my own money was a 45 rpm single, of (I think) Stevie Wonder, singing “I Was Made To Love Her”.
The last record I bought is Dori Caymmi, “Poesia”

What do you expect from music?

I expect something inspirational and fresh from music.


Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why? 

I am most surprised by my singing on Kip Hanrahan’s “A Thousand Nights and A Night”. I hadn’t been singing for quite a few years, and Kip asked me IF I sang at all… like my guitar playing, to which I replied, “Yeah, I can sing…” I literally created the vocal melodies line by line with the lyrics Kip wrote, line by line, AS we were recording!

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion? 

The relevance of technique in music is simple: Technique is the RESULT of music.

Painting: Dwight

What quality do you admire most in an musician? What quality do you most empatize with in a musician?? 

Honesty. Musical honesty. 
The process of coming to the essence of a thing, and revealing something real and “beautiful”.

Photo Brandon Ross

What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene?

The benefits are affordability and access. The challenges are discernment, and a sustainable supply of electricity! Values shift in the context of digital music making. The field is leveled and the values, the aesthetic and so-called “musical” values are still defining themselves, in digital terms. The technology has introduced unfamiliar options and directions and standards of performance, artistry and composition. We shall see…

Photo Butch Belair

Define the sound you're still looking for.

Myself. I’m still looking for the sound of my Self, purified from everything I’ve ever heard or at all enjoyed, or allowed to imprint upon me.


How would you define order?

I define order as a function of perception. 

What are your motivations for playing music?

My motivations for playing music are Soulic. I am always moving into the sound of the ineffable - into the space where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, where essence shapes time and space.

Photo Maria Winther
What's your best musical experience?

My best musical experience was in a dream I had where I was playing guitar in another realm, where sound was JOY.

Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician?

Hearing the Copenhagen Boys Choir sing Benjamin Britten’s, “A Ceremony of Carols”; Joni Mitchell sing “The Dawn Treader” on the radio as a 2nd grader.


Dream about your perfect instrument

 I dream about my perfect instrument often… Something by Steve Klein, or Ken Parker, that SINGS when you breathe on it!!

What is your relationship with other disciplines such as painting, literature, dance, theater ...??

I love painting and photography, and my most recent release, Revealing Essence on Sunnyside records, was executive produced by the painter Eric Fischl, and designed and photographed by Ralph Gibson. Visual art has always been a point of inspiration for me. It moves me. I love dance  and then theatre, but those forms are less independent, more interdependent in order to realize than these other forms.

Painting Henry Ossawa Tanner's The Banjo Lesson

Where are your roots? What are your secret influences??

 Well, my roots are in my family, my upbringing. My secret influences are still a secret! You can have those after I’m done with them…

Photo Ralph Gibson

What would you enjoy most in an music work??

What I enjoy most is a fresh, original insight into the familiar, such that it comes across as a revelation. I LOVE when I have that moment, that experience, on and off stage.


Photo Ralph Gibson

If you could, what would you say to yourself 30 years ago, about your musical career??

I would say what Ornette Coleman said to me 30 years ago: “Always be (musically), yourself.”

Photo Butch Belair

Which living or dead artist would you like to collaborate with?? 

Imogen Heap; Ornette Coleman

Photo Ralph Gibson

What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past?? 

“You don’t have to do anything other than how you feel it in your heart.” “You can’t do, who you are. Who you are, does you.”


What’s the difference between a good instrument and a bad one?? 

The difference between a good instrument and a bad one is the builder/maker.

What instruments and tools do you use??

Acoustic guitars; banjo; electric guitars; soprano guitar; FX pedals; small percussion instruments.

Photo Ralph Gibson

What do you like the most about being a musician?? 

Traveling the world, doing what I love, and having my DAYS to do what I want.

Photo Junya Suzuki

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold??

I’m writing a suite of 12 compositions to accompany 12 photographic portraits by Venezuelan artist Carolina Muñoz; Recording a new solo CD of vocal pieces, for guitar and voice, sung by me; mixing a new Harriet Tubman CD with special guest, Wadada Leo Smith; producing the Swedish music duo, East Of Someday; and recording music of “Black Sun” the collaborative band of Harriet Tubman & Cassandra Wilson.


Selected Discography




2014 Revealing Essence For Living Lovers


2012 Grégoire Maret Grégoire Maret 


2012 Love, Peace, and Soul Don Byron



2011 Ascension Harriet Tubman


2011 At Home in Anger Kip Hanrahan  


2011 At the Crossroads James Carter  


2011 Heart's Reflections Wadada Leo Smith  

 

2010 I Never Meta guitar  



2010 The Complete Recordings on Black Saint and Soul Note Flute Force Four Alto


2010 Silver Pony Cassandra Wilson 


2010 Conduction(r)/Induction Lawrence "Butch" Morris Guitar  



2009 Spiritual Dimensions Wadada Leo Smith  


2009 The Whole Tree Gone Myra Melford  


2007 A Tribute to Joni Mitchell  

 2007 Breakfast in Bed Joan Osborne


2007 For New Orleans: Benefit for the Musicians Village New Orleans Habitat


2007 The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams Meshell Ndegeocello


2006 A Hundred Jumping Devils Rob Reddy's Gift Horse


2006 All the Love I Could Find Low Skies


2006 Little Boy Don't Get Scared Jazzonia  



2006 Puppet Brandon Ross


2005 Dance of the Infidel Meshell Ndegeocello



2004 Costume Brandon Ross  


2003 Feeding Frenzy Darediablo  


2003 Glamoured Cassandra Wilson


2003 Laughing Barrel Ron Miles Quartet  
2002 Jazz Chillout [EMI]


2002 Down for You Is Up Metropolitan 


2001 Everybodys Mouth's a Book  
Henry Threadgill & Make A Move 


2001 State of the Union 2.001
2000 BPM Graham Haynes 



2000 Treasure Hunt for the Prototype Harriet Tubman
1999 Future Jazz Howard Mandel


1999 Midnight Blue [Blue Note]


1999 Project Logic DJ Logic
1998 Blue Box, Vol. 2: Finest Jazz



1998 I Am a Man Harriet Tubman


1998 Shadow Nights, Vol. 1 Kip Hanrahan
1998 The Jazz Singers 1919-1994


1998 Jazzonia Jazzonia 
1998 Visions of Jazz: A Musical Journey


1997 Blame It on Me Alana Davis 


1997 A Thousand Nights and a Night (Shadow Night) Kip Hanrahan
1997 Divine Divas: A World of Women's Voices   


1997 Violin for Anne Rice Leila Josefowicz


1996 25 Years Abiodun Oyewole


1996 Conduction 25: Akbank & Conduction 26: Akbank II
Lawrence "Butch" Morris


1996 Conduction 38/39/40: In Freud's Garden/Thread Waxing Space/Thread Waxing Space
Lawrence "Butch" Morris


1996 Jazz Central Station Global Jazz Poll Winners, Vol. 1


1996 Where's Your Cup Henry Threadgill & Make A Move  


1995 Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud Julian Schnabel


1995 Makin' a Move Henry Threadgill


1995 New Moon Daughter Cassandra Wilson


1995 New York Guitars


1995 Testament: A Conduction Collection Lawrence "Butch" Morris  


1995 Tops of Trees Carol Emanuel



1995 Transition Graham Haynes


1995 Universal Sounds of America


1994 Carry the Day Henry Threadgill


1993 Blue Light 'Til Dawn Cassandra Wilson  


1993 Manifestation: Axiom Collection II


1993 Plays the Music of Mickey Katz Don Byron


1993 Song out of My Trees Henry Threadgill  


1993 Too Much Sugar for a Dime Very Very Circus


1993 Unplugged Arrested Development  


1992 Leroy Jenkins Live!  Leroy Jenkins


1992 The Children of Ibeji Ivo Perelman


1991 4-Play Cold Sweat 



1991 Live at the Knitting Factory, Vols. 1-5

1991 Spirit of Nuff...Nuff Very Very Circus
 1990 Live at the Knitting Factory, Vol. 3



1990 Prophecy Fred Hopkins


1989 Cold Sweat Plays J.B. Cold Sweat 


1989 Live at the Knitting Company Vol One


1988 Compilation Oliver Lake


1988 Impala Oliver Lake 


1985 Current Trends in Racism in Modern America
Lawrence "Butch" Morris


1984 Urban Blues Leroy Jenkins
1983 Life Is Art


1982 Plug It Oliver Lake & Jump Up


1980 Visions of the Third Eye New Life


1979 Attica Blues Big Band Archie Shepp


1975 There's A Trumpet In My Soul Archie Shepp


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