While music sales can’t make up for the loss of gigs, recordings are the main product musicians can offer right now. Assuming social distancing stays in place for months to come — which it should — what happens when the backlog of ensemble/band album releases dries up?
A pop band can record an album piecemeal in home studios. But jazz and improv, even chamber music, rely more on the artistry and strength of real-time interaction. Track-by-track recording doesn’t seem ideal. It’s certainly possible, as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra shows with “Quarantine Blues.” Likewise, group performances (and therefore group recordings) over the internet are certainly possible. Mark Dresser has been researching that angle for more than a decade with his Telematics project, and technology has largely caught up to the ideas he was first envisioning.
But the more likely route for most improv-heavy, free-form experimental music, especially given the budgets involved, is a burst of solo recordings.
It’s already started. Saxophonist Steve Lehman fired an early salvo with Xenakis and the Valedictorian, recorded literally in his car. (His wife, filmmaker Olivia Newman, caught some of the magic on video.) As Nate Chinen explains on his WBGO blog, Lehman’s EP one of several solo/duo projects that Pi Recordings plans to issue in the coming weeks, with all proceeds going directly to the artists.
On the local front, clarinetist Ben Goldberg is recording an ongoing Plague Diary, measuring 56 tracks and counting. Kyle Bruckmann likewise recorded a quarantine sketchbook called Draußen ist Feindlich. Both are available on Bandcamp.
Tim Berne even recorded his first-ever solo album, Sacred Vowels.
Of course, solo performance is an established genre of its own. Just about every free-improv performer puts out at least one solo record, it seems. And computers and looping can turn live solo performance into a multi-layered experience; Goldberg started doing that with even the earliest Plague Diary tracks.
Stray thought: On the rock/pop end of the spectrum, music is recorded piecemeal in the first place, so it’s easy to envision a band recording all their parts at home and engineering them into a normal-sounding album. What if you tried the same thing with free improvisation — passing a recording from one musician to the next, layering something together “exquisite corpse” style? There must be a recorded example of this out there somewhere, but whether there is or not, it would be fun to see someone try.
Photo: kylejglenn on Unsplash.