The last time my soprano saxophone was overhauled, the new pads had been given a special coating intended to keep moisture out of the leather. The instrument has been awkward to play ever since. Half way through a sweaty concert the pads start sticking to the tone holes, and I’m forever having to clean them. It will soon be taken back to the workshop. But last February I played a concert in a quartet that included no-input mixing desk expert Toshimaru Nakamura. The music was extremely quiet, and after a while I stopped blowing into the instrument and worked instead with the sound of the pads as they audibly unstuck and then leapt open under the spring action. This sonic material seemed to interact satisfyingly with the other musicians’ input, and had a surprising vitality. The previous week I’d played in the same venue, Cafe Oto in Dalston, with Matthew Shipp, the American jazz (in the broadest sense) pianist. Sticky pad sounds would have been a ridiculous contribution. Equally, most of what I found myself playing in this duo would have sounded nonsensical in the Nakamura quartet. So, what can the free in free-improvisation possibly mean?
Really great essay, written by free improvisation artist John Butcher.