Life and Times (of a Perfect Stranger)
for jazz/rock band — 1974
This was written for the band I intended to call Perfect Stranger, which you can read about in detail here (and it predates Billy Cobham’s album Life and Times by two years, so no, I didn’t nick it and it isn’t a deliberate tribute).
The work has four movements, of which we only got as far as rehearsing the first, Formative Years, 12 minutes long. I deliberately set out to follow textbook classical sonata form for this, but with a series of improvised solos where the development section would otherwise be. I had recently read about Bartók basing the proportions of his music on the golden section, so I took this to an extreme, and there are, with regard to time, golden sections within golden sections within golden sections. At the same time I tried not to make all this glaringly apparent and produce what I hoped was an exciting piece of music. It was also an extremely complex piece of music, especially for jazzers who are used to playing in 4/4 (or 3/4, 5/4 or whatever) throughout, with repeated choruses consisting of 8-bar phrases. Not only did my piece have no such repetition, being through-composed, it also had frequently changing time signatures (every bar in large chunks of it), including 3¾/4 (you can see this in the snapshot of my scruffy pencil score above). As a result, the players’ eyes came out on stalks the first time they saw their parts, but we did manage to pull something together in the end. Despite (or possibly because of) being blind, the one who learned it all by far the fastest was Pete Jacobsen.
Sadly, it all proved too impractical to continue. No-one was being paid for any of this, and it was unreasonable to expect jobbing musicians to turn up to a rehearsal if there was paid work elsewhere. As far as I recall, we only had all nine members together on four occasions, but we did enough work in smaller groups for the band members to get some idea of the music. Eventually, I decided to call it a day, but we managed to get everyone together for one last rehearsal, where we made the recording of Formative Years you can read about and hear below (the only complete recorded performance by humans on this site).
The other three movements, which we never got round to working on seriously, are less tightly structured than the first, with more extended solos for the excellent musicians I had at my disposal — such a shame we never heard them (but perhaps we might yet?). The titles of these movements are not necessarily final:
- The slow movement: Out in the World, a slow jazz waltz with interludes of craziness and solos for flugelhorn, piano and bass clarinet.
- The scherzo: Midlife Crisis, a hectic piece, much of it over an inversion of the main bass riff of Formative Years, but in 3/4 and 2/4, with solos for alto sax, guitar, piano and trombone.
- The finale: Final Fling, a fantasia which eventually harks back to that same main bass riff, a brief drum solo and a kind of hymn before leaving us where we came into the entire work. With solos for tenor sax, trumpet, trombone, piano, alto sax and guitar.
I’ve now made my own MIDI recording of all four movements for demo and learning purposes (but not for public consumption here) — half an hour of music altogether — along with a new score in Finale, from which you’re invited to download an extract here, though I’ve kept the snapshot above of my original pencil mess (the barring’s changed now to reduce metre changes, so you get 7¾/4 instead of 4/4 + 3¾/4). And no, I’ve no idea now what the coloured numbers mean! (And I’ve since added blue ones...)
- soprano & alto sax, flute [bass clarinet in other movements]: Chris Biscoe
- soprano, tenor & baritone sax, flute: Mark Hutchings
- trumpet & flugelhorn: Dick Pearce
- trombone: Paul Nieman
- vibraphone & percussion: Clifton Prior
- Wurlitzer electric piano & tambourine: Pete Jacobsen
- Fender Stratocaster & bass guitar: Chris Sansom
- bass guitar & flute: Andy Crawford
- drums: Paul Cartwright
Performances / broadcasts / recordings
- 1974, a rehearsal studio in a railway arch somewhere in London: a crude recording of the first movement, Formative Years, using a borrowed Revox tape recorder and a stereo pair of microphones — and one of the musicians forced to stand too close to the mics (you know who you are). My friend Roger Jeffs and I then spent most of the night editing the many takes — over 50 edits in a 12-minute piece — and marvelling at how from one take to another, not only did the tempo and level change, but the acoustic, even though everyone, and the mics, stayed in the same spot! (Try the beginning of Dick Pearce’s flugelhorn solo at 5:19)
This is the identical recording twice, the choice being offered in case of technical hiccups on either of the ‘mother ships’. Note: these two players will run simultaneously, so unless you fancy a double dose (out of sync) of my ‘spiritual output’, I recommend that you take care to avoid this happening!
...with a sneak preview of the score
Or just in case YouTube isn’t co-operating today...