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I got back last night from the Jason Harms UK tour. It was a really great experience all around. I think my favorite gig was this one at a club called the Boston Dome in London…

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I just got back from Longview, Texas. The Jason Harms Quintet performed at LeTourneau University last night, and the performance was unusual to say the least. Our bassist (Jesse) somehow picked up a severe stomach bug, and so our Quintet suddenly became a quartet. Those of you who know jazz know that the bass is probably the most signature component of a traditional jazz sound.

The evening became an exercise in improvising, but not in the standard jazz improvising sense. I was struck by how the vernacular and vocabulary of my playing changed so dramatically. Of course things sounded different without the bass… but I’m talking about the way my mind approached the improvising.  Think what would happen if the NBA suddenly raised the height of the hoops from ten feet to twenty feet. The game would still be the same in essence, but things like defense down low would change entirely. There would suddenly be no threat of anybody dunking or hitting a lay-up, and rebounding would be completely different. It would probably take a while for players to override the long-standing instincts of how to play in the paint.  That was the case for me last night. Not only am I used to playing jazz with a bassist, but I’m also especially used to Jason’s songs. I’ve played them many times, all with the same sonic environment, and then with no warning I found myself in a completely different set of circumstances. The improvising felt very fresh and vibrant, while also urgent and risky.

I’m just trying to say that it was a cool experience. I don’t know if we succeeded or failed, but I think it wasn’t really that kind of thing anyway. There were some cool moments, and there were some less cool moments. Either way, the experience of being air-dropped into a situation so different from the normal environment reminded me of a great Miles Davis quote. According to Herbie Hancock, Miles used to always tell the band to leave their practicing in the practice room. “Don’t bring what you’ve been playing in there onto the stage,” he would say. What he’s getting at is the nature of good improvising.  True improvisiation responds to the situation you’re in RIGHT THEN, and doesn’t force things from a different situation into your current situation. If you figure something out in practice, then that’s great, but don’t just hit the stage and wait for an opportunity to use your new-found skill or trick.  The environment of the stage (in jazz, at least) is always changing and never truly predictable.  Every moment in the preformance can be responded to in a good or bad way, and searching for the right response without the asterisk of hoping to include your new trick is the most beneficial way to serve the music.

My experience last night helped to remind me that my preconceptions of what I’m going to play at a Jason Harms gig need to be kept in check so that I have more freedom to respond well in the moment. I’m pumped to hit the gig again with Jesse back in the saddle, but especially now that I’ve got a fresh perspective on the songs.

Thanks to everyone who came out for the Jason Harms Quintet gig at Bethel last night. I very much enjoyed the performance and the atmosphere surrounding it.

The new record, The Land Of The Fear Of Men, is now available for no charge at noisetrade.com. Head over there and get yourself a copy. But, in going the download route, you’ll miss out on all the incredible liner note artwork done by Adrian Johnston. The full series of the work used on the record has been compiled in an 80-page book, which you can preview or purchase at Adrian’s website. Be sure and check that out, but in the meantime, here’s some snipets from the series, beginning with The Land of the Fear Men liner insert…

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Jason and Adrian took a “Tolkien meets Bunyan” approach with this map of the fictitious “Land.” It represents the place where we all often go, when we are thinking too much about the opinions of others, and letting those thoughts drive our actions in a wrong direction.

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A depiction of man’s struggle in life, and the sorrow that sometimes feels crushing…

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This dude is deciding to set out into the “Land”… thinking that it’s going to benefit him. “There is no armor in the Land, only chains.”

PS. I just put up the opening track from Land of the Fear on my myspace page, as well as one of the tracks from the recent Westwood Church album by Joel Hanson. Joel’s working on a solo record right now, but we play every Sunday night at Westwood and they opted to have us record an album of their favorite worship tunes that we play each week.

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Last June I spent a week at Pachyderm Studios recording a new record for my friend Jason Harms. The album is now complete, and we will be performing the music in a concert at Bethel University this Tuesday (12/9). The album, titled The Land Of The Fear Of Men, will be available in hard copies with full-color art and print.

The cd-release performance will be at the Benson Great Hall on Bethel’s Roseville campus, and we will probably get going around 7:30pm. The music is very powerful, and the event is free… so just show up and enjoy!

Check out Jason’s website to learn more about the record.

Hey hey. This trip is going pretty well, but I’ve been feeling ill for a lot of the time here. Oh well.

Last night we played this great little jazz club in the Colonial City of Santo Domingo. It was a very cool experience. I’ll be back in town next week so look for regular posts to return after Labor Day. Later.

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