20 September 2016
Frame of Reference - the making of an album
© Gerry Walden
Sean Foran writes about his new album Frame of Reference, just out on Jazzhead and featuring a European lineup brought together for this project especially. Foran will be touring with this music in October - for UK dates and details see Foran's website; Australian gigs will take place in Melbourne (16 October), Sydney (19 October) and Brisbane (28 October), with a varied lineup for each show (John Parker, Christopher Hale, Sam Vincent, Fran Swinn, Carl Morgan, Toby Wren, Jeremy Rose, Rafael Karlen).
The genesis of my album Frame of Reference goes back some time - longer than my usual development period when working on an album production and release. One of the primary driving forces for the music I create is the collaboration between myself and other musicians. These musical relationships are a critical part of the identity of the music, creating something deeply unique to the way that the music is performed and realised. In so many of my previous professional releases, I had written music for and recorded with groups of musicians I knew well, and had spent time together developing the music. The albums released with the group Trichotomy, and Berardi/Foran/Karlen are created by a group of musicians with long histories together.
For Frame of Reference, I wanted to take a whole new
perspective and process on the development and production of the
album, and to then bring this process to a brand new group of
musicians that had not worked together before.
The concept was to write a suite of music for an ensemble that would move effortlessly between notated and improvised music. Music that was strongly textural, and written for an instrumentation where there would be wide possibilities for shared melodic roles and changing perspectives on harmony. I also wanted to capture the spontaneity of a new band recording and chose musicians who would be sensitive to the sound in the way I hoped.
The project started in 2014, when I was commissioned to write a piece of music for the Brisbane International Jazz Festival. This was a wonderful opportunity, and I used it to start writing material to be used on this album. I planned to write a suite for a group consisting of piano, drums, saxophone, guitar and cello. This instrumentation was a little unusual, but in my mind allows me to move away from the traditional roles that players inhabit, giving the music new breathing room, and varied sound worlds for the players to explore. Importantly, though, I had some specific musicians in mind - all UK artists. I wanted to record this music with them, in the UK. I had spent time there previously, studying and touring, so documenting this impact on my music seemed appropriate.
I wrote the Brisbane International Jazz Festival commission for Trichotomy and guest artist Julian Arguelles (saxophones). Arguelles, a strongly lyrical saxophonist and collaborator with musicians such as Django Bates and John Taylor, toured Australia with me, performing at the Brisbane and Melbourne Jazz Festival and some club shows. The connection with Julian was strong, and so I set in motion plans to write the rest of the music for the album. The rest of the band consisted of Manchester guitarist Stuart McCallum, a player with a Bill Frisell-type approach to the guitar, but with a grittier edge and depth to the sound; Leeds-based drummer Joost Hendrickx, who I played with previously in the UK and someone who brings a strongly melodic approach to his work on the kit; and, finally, cellist Ben Davis, most known for his work with the acclaimed group Basquait Strings. Ben is one of the few cellists who can confidently move between composed and improvised passages switching between pizzicato and arco passages swiftly and with ease.
At this time in my career I also felt the need for a break from my day-to-day work. I believed a focused creative development time would be hugely influential in creating material for this project, but it would also enable me to develop new strategies for continued creative development and growth.
I received an Arts Queensland Individuals Fund grant allowing me to engage in some mentorship sessions with composers Franz Von Chossy (in the Netherlands), Baptiste Trotignon (in France), and Julian Arguelles (in the UK). These sessions were transformational, not only from a project perspective, but on a higher level. They gave me new strategies to work with as a composer and improvising pianist that I could implement in a variety of situations; but also allowed me to hone in on the material planned for Frame of Reference, exploring it in depth. These sessions took place in late 2014.
Now to the recording. I'd chosen this group of musicians for a few reasons. Obviously for instrumentation, but, perhaps more importantly, because of the way they each approach playing improvised music, their approach to sound creation, aesthetic and ensemble interaction. I believed the combination would be effective on an emotional level, and that together they could make the music breathe.
The challenge was to notate the music in enough detail so there could be the depth of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic interaction but also with enough freedom to allow the players the space to improvise with their own musical voices. This is a fine balance, and, for me, one of the most critical elements of the music on this album.
We assembled late on a Friday afternoon in the studio, south of London, in January 2015. After several cups of tea and discussions through the music, we were ready. From here the idea was to record the album in two days. This was a challenge, but the added benefit was the captured spontaneity that you hear on the recording. With no real rehearsal, and without the band having ever performed a live show together, the recording you hear is the band playing through the music in its entirety for the first or second time. The freshness, energy and intensity of this experience is evident on the recording and is unlike anything I've completed before.
Frame of Reference is an interesting and unique body of work within my catalogue of music. A focused mentorship experience allowed me to write a suite of music for a new ensemble where the musical outcome blurs composed and improvised concepts while playing to the strengths of the individual musicians. It's a sound I hope to take into more recordings in the future.
Frame of Reference - Jazzhead
Frame of Reference - Bandcamp
Sean Foran - homepage (http://www.seanforanmusic.info/)
© Australian Music Centre (2016) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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