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 - Chaquita Moderne
David Mack - Clockwork Boogie
David Mack - Tonette