28 July 2012

Art in every line

Pic by Gary Taylor

David Braid quoted* this line from Joseph Conrad: “[a] work that aspires, however humbly, to the status of art should carry its justification in every line”. I’d read this before I heard David play at the Grammar Gallery and it came back to me in spades as I was listening to his playing on the night. This music was infused with consistent thought throughout. These were no head-solo-head arrangements, and occasional left hard chords, right hand melody, weren’t too obvious. These tunes were built and performed like classical pieces, where phrases lead to following phrases and they all build to a complex structure. So it’s not surprising that I heard this more as classical in style.

David talks in another article of Mozart as a creative awakener for his development, but I heard Chopin and Ravel and twentieth century in his playing, as well as Keith Jarrett and, perhaps more unexpectedly, Chick Corea. It’s amusing that his encore was introduced with a tongue-in-cheek apology to any who came to hear a mainstream jazz pianist. “What is jazz” is the topic of another essay of David’s, so I won’t get into that, but he ended with a masterful take on Yesterdays ably performed in a string of jazz styles (partly in homage to Oscar Peterson, who was a neighbour of his in Toronto) and then a supremely sparse, emoted take on a ballad by Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass (was it Wait till you see him?). But the rest of the concert was original compositions in David’s solo piano style. One longer tune, Resolute Bay, was inspired by Glenn Gould and the film The Idea of North and time spent alone in the arctic winter and was long and structured. Another was a take on a Chinese folk tune where the piano was prepared with bamboo chopsticks lodged between strings to mimic the tones of Chinese instruments. To my (Western) ears, this was wonderfully successful. Apparently David has a following in China, performing in fabulous new concert halls in unknown cities of tens of millions. He performed another piece on prepared piano with left hand playing all the world like thuddy and buzzing percussion. I was not the only one dumbfounded by the effectiveness and virtuosity. I couldn’t believe there was no loop machine or other electronics, but there was none. He showed me after how it was done (a pretty standard arpeggiated ostinato in the left hand sounding against well lodged chopsticks). I’ve wondered in the past about piano preparation, but this was genuinely valid stuff. I’m a convert. Another piece blended R&B and Chopin and was written when David mused on Chopin nocturnes after seeing the film Ray about Ray Charles. Suffice to say, these are catholic tastes and diverse skills, so what matter “what is jazz”? David’s music was entrancing and informed and intimate and refreshingly different. David Braid performed at the Canberra Grammar School Gallery and joins a string of Canadian performers who have recently visited Canberra.

*How a Polish sailor turned British novelist helped me find a voice as a jazz improviser, by David Braid, in Canadian musician magazine, Autumn 2010, http://www.davidbraid.com/conrad.php, viewed 24 July 2012

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