Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen, November 2014
Five Questions for Ken Aldcroft
Guitarist Ken Aldcroft, a fixture on Toronto’s free-improv scene, is about to take his six-piece Convergence Ensemble on the road. The group, which includes the young Ottawa-raised trumpeter Emily Denison, is off to play in Fredericton, NB,
before making its way back west with stops in Rimouski, Quebec City, Montreal and finally Ottawa next Tuesday.
Below, Aldcroft, 44, introduces himself and his music to the blog.
1. Tell me about the path you’ve taken to be where you are musically.
While I led bands, composed, recorded, gigged and practiced, a lot, I
simultaneously followed the developments of the jazz idiom by checking out
various artists such as Bill Evans, Jim Hall, Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Paul
Motian, Paul Bley, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and Jimmy Giuffre. This
developed into checking out Human Feel, Dave Douglas, Tim Berne, Mark Helias
and John Zorn among others.
From this activity I began to question how much improvising was going on within
the jazz idiom. I felt that improvisation was secondary to idiom, role and function.
These questions led me to free improvisation. I started to make free
improvisation a priority, both performing and recording. I have tried to play with
as many people as I could in one-off, ad hoc meetings and ongoing groups. I
also checked out, on recordings and in concert when possible, the various
musicians in free improvised music scenes around the world: The British scene
with Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Eddie Prevost and John Butcher; the Dutch
scene with Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink and the musicians in ICP Orchestra;
the German scene with Peter Brötzmann and Alexander von Schlippenbach; and
the Canadian scene with John Oswald, Michael Snow and Casey Sokol.
As my knowledge and experience with free improvisation developed it led me
back to the jazz idiom. I began to check out Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill,
the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Sun Ra.
2. You studied at two post-secondary music programs, and I understand that you’ve studied with, among others, Bill Coon, John Abercrombie and Gary Peacock. Tell about how going to jazz schools helped your development, plus a bit about the impact of lessons with Coon, Abercrombie and Peacock.
School gave me the time to immerse myself into learning how to play jazz music
and hone the skills necessary to be a professional musician. Bill, John and Gary were very generous in offering their knowledge and experience as musicians and artists. They were all very supportive of my desire and dedication to playing jazz music.
3. Tell me about the development of your group the Convergence Ensemble. What’s its modus operandi and why? How did it come to employ aural and gestural cues as part of its music-making?
The Convergence Ensemble began as the amalgamation of two groups I was leading in the early 2000s, the Trio + 1 and Group, in combination with my experiences and work delving into free improvisation. So the premise of the Convergence Ensemble is it is an improvising ensemble that will use composed music as well as idiomatic or stylistic references and instrumental roles/functions in performance and recordings.
Once composition was included into the mix we needed to develop ways of introducing/utilizing them in performance with minimal prearranged direction. We developed the concept of spontaneous arranging and orchestrating, which is the ensemble collectively deciding in performance how, when, and why we will include composed elements. This led to defining two types of cuing: gestural and aural.
Gestural cuing is using a hand signal to cue another member or members of the
ensemble to play a specific section or part of a composition. This allows composed material to be played by two or more performers at the same time. An aural cue is when a member starts playing a composition, or section of a composition, and the other members hear the reference. They then decide how to support the decision by playing the same composition or by playing a different composition or continue to improvise.
4. What does Eric Dolphy mean to you? What is the connection between him and the music on Tangent?
Eric Dolphy is an example of a musician who truly found his own voice as an
instrumentalist and composer/band leader. And by all accounts was a very decent and warm human being.
Tangent is the suite of music I wrote inspired by Eric Dolphy’s life and music. It is the name of the last club Dolphy played before passing away.
5. You’ve said: "the audience is as much of the experience as we are," and "the audience has to meet us halfway," Please elaborate! What’s the role of the audience at one of your concerts?
In any creative music you need the audience to participate by actively listening to
what you are offering or sharing. The audience needs to be actively following how the music is unfolding in the moment. If the audience doesn’t do this it will be very difficult for them to "get it" and the music will likely just sound like noise or chaos.