Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Monday, 5 March 2012

DAVID MACK - NEW DIRECTIONS - ESSAYS FOR JAZZ BAND

One of the things I love about record collecting is the directions it takes you.
A few weeks ago I wrote about David Mack to say that I had never heard of him or of his record New Directions (in my review of Joe Harriott's Personal Portrait - read it here). Now I'm the proud owner of the very record and I was able to pick it up for less than the price of a couple of pints in the pub!
David Mack was a Scottish classically trained musician who played in the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. However, like many classically trained musicians around the world, he was also in love with jazz. And like many classically trained musicians around the world be tried to blend the two together.
New Directions, from 1965, is Mack's use of serial technique and jazz. You may not know what serial technique is.Indeed Mack acknowledges this in the sleeve notes: "An earnest searcher after the jazz truth might be pardoned, on seeing the schedule of this album for asking: Why serial jazz? And what is serial music anyway?"
He goes some way to answering the second question: "The method - not a system please note! - is founded on a twelve-note series, or 'tone-row'. It is not a scale, and any selected series functions rather int he manner of a Motive, being the source of the material for melodies, figurations, and so on, which the composer will use for that particular work."
For those with no musical training, the key aspect of Mack's work is that he took musical theory, originally developed by Schoenberg, and applied it to jazz. Mack was making use of classical avant-garde music and trying to weld it on to jazz.
Jazz is always being welded on to other types of music. You only need to think about soul-jazz, jazz-rock, jazz-funk, jazz-fusions of every kind and sort. And jazz and classical music have been bedfellows ever since Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
In fact there are passages on this record that remind me a little of Gershwin, particularly the clarinet work.
Having read Coleridge Goode's description of the recording of this record I must say I was not expecting to like it at all. He says, "Whether it was an important record is hard to judge because the actual playing was not all that wonderful. Mack used some older musicians with a rather stilted style of playing which perhaps didn't do justice to the music."
However, it is surprisingly interesting and imaginative music and not at all the dissonant and difficult stuff I had expects. Perhaps my tolerance for this sort of stuff has become quite high!
The album does, however, have the feeling of being film music without a film. I'm not sure what it is about each track, perhaps its the careful composition or the slightly rigid format, or the formal playing, but I can see them being used in a spy or detective movie. 
The standout on every track is Shake Keane's playing. Having, together with Goode, recently finished playing in Harriott's Freeform group, Keane was well used to taking on difficult and demanding concepts.
Harriott would also become involved in a classical music/jazz hybrid with Laurie Johnson's Synthesis but Mack's effort has no strings and, to my ears, falls more on the jazz side than the classical side.
My copy is the US edition on Serenus Records, a small US label that tended to put out avant-garde classical recordings. In the UK it came out on as a Landsdowne Recording on EMI - that Denis Preston man again! This cover was designed by Uri Shulevitz and its worth reading his Wikipedia entry if you have a moment (click here)
Anyway, see what you think for yourselves. Here are four of, what I think are, the most successful tracks:

David Mack - Johnnie's Door

David Mack - Chaquita Moderne

David Mack - Clockwork Boogie

David Mack - Tonette 

4 comments:

  1. Caroline McKinnon25 June 2012 at 21:05

    I am David Mack's daughter, Carol, aka Caroline, currently residing in California. If you want more info on my father's life/music/his journey etc. contact me, caromack@comcast.net so glad you found his record and appreciate what a cool cat he was, ahead of his time really.

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    1. Carol/Caroline
      Thanks so much for posting. How amazing that you should find my blog!
      Its a shame that New Directions has become so neglected.
      I will certainly get in touch to find out more about him.
      Or is there anything that you'd like to share here?

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  2. Carol/Caroline26 June 2012 at 07:50

    not sure where to start, yes, neglect is a shame, however fate is fickle and genius survives. you can email me for direct questions/answers caromack@comcast.net
    was googling dad's album to see if I could get a copy for a friend, a spoken word artist/jazz musician who tours Europe, more on him another time perhaps. That's how I stumbled on your blog. The internet is wonderful that way. Timing is everything. The blog is public, more questions might be better dealt with privately, hence my email or you can facebook/message me Caroline McKinnon, Novato, California.

    Cheers.

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  3. Hi, I just listened to the clockwork boogie. It was great! I am a great fan of film noir and this tune just screams noir. Loved it! By the way, I have come into a few copies of this album SEALED originals in nearly perfect condition with bright graphics and no tears or splits in the shrink wrap. I have one listed on Ebay right now. It's the only copy out there available and not too expensive for a near 50 yr old record in near perfect shape.

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