UI Jazz Professor John Rapson recently released a new recording, “Mystery and Manners,” Rapson will discuss his recording project on Saturday, June 25 at 5 pm at Prairie Lights Bookstore, 15 South Dubuque Street, downtown Iowa City.
Following is an excerpt from his liner notes:
These pieces are derived from The masterly intuitions of Vinícius and Nenê. At my bidding, they accompanied Rafael dos Santos to record “free” solo and duo improvisations. I expected they would send me a series of fragments, which I planned to transcribe, edit, and assemble into compositions, as I had previously done for projects with Anthony Braxton and Billy Higgins. But Vinícius and Nenê did not follow the script. Instead they sent fully realized complex compositions that put the fear of God in me. I dared not mess with the logic of how they unfurled and was puzzled with how to add anything of substance. I would have to find a way to write within them, instead of cobbling them together, and to acquaint myself with certain Brazilian styles that were unfamiliar to me at the time. More than once I wondered if we ought to simply release them as unaccompanied solos.
It took five years to finish the transcriptions, most of which were done in tandem with colleagues and students in classes or tutorials, but others in moments of free time like one might do a crossword. Next came a year and half of composing individual parts and recording them piecemeal over the original tracks, much as medieval composers fashioned one line over another. The recordings mixed my written parts with new improvisations in the hope they might meld indiscernibly. It is one thing to ask a musician to learn a part and make a contribution. It is quite another to ask they listen and study an existing track before finding their way into it. It takes hours, and it helps if the musicians are a little crazy.
Why work this way? One reason is that the resulting music becomes through-composed with unexpected textures, tempo changes and unequal phrases. Another is that the process allows one to see the “whole canvas” (as a painter does) from the very start, working toward details from initial gestures and letting the whole flesh out in front of you as you proceed. Another reason yet is the creative use of technology that was simply not possible until recently. This process uses many commercial recording techniques, but starts backwards from the improvisation and gradually adds compositional detail. For the most part, the musicians were not in the same room at the same time, let alone in the same country or even the same year. Of course, one needs patient engineers to put the puzzle together and it helps if they’re crazy too.
My titles are evocations that come to mind once the recording is complete, some with particular referents, others just loose associations. With Familiar Spaces I felt the similarity of coming back (again and again) to the home of Rafael and his wife Shinobu, to certain cafés and streets in Barão Geraldo. The “little bird” in Olinda refers to a pandeiro player nicknamed “Passarinho” that I met while touring with Rafael. (It was a boon that Magrão had invented an instrument that sounded like a bird.) Sarau refers to the memory of house concerts Shinobu took me to in their neighborhood. The Days Run like Wild Horses is swiped from a Charles Bukowski poem. A Vortex of Their Own paraphrases a Vinny Golia quote about Anthony Braxton.
Who: John Rapson, director of jazz studies at The University of Iowa
What: Discussion about jazz recording project “Mystery and Manners”
Where: Prairie Lights bookstore, 15 South Dubuque Street, downtown Iowa City
When: Saturday, June 25 at 5 pm
“Mystery and Manners” is available to purchase locally at Prairie Lights.