Friday, December 13, 2013

A Q and A With Pianist Liam Noble: On the Sofa Series #2

The second Q and A for the Sofa Series brings  pianist Liam Noble into focus

katan500: Favourite colour?
Liam Noble: Orange; my family say I'm lying.  I say I like it because I think not many people choose it, and that it's the same reason I used to support Aston Villa at school (in Bromley) instead of Liverpool. (katan500: Hmm... a sort of underdog colour....)

Katan500: Jazz is... In 150 characters? 
Liam Noble: A way of working.  I have some characters left!  Materials can be made up of anything.

Katan500:  Cats or dogs?  As It's Christmas... artificial or real Christmas trees?
Liam Noble: Artificial dog and Xmas tree; real cats.  I like the way cats are; if there's nothing to do they just sit and peer at people.  Or sleep.  Excellent role models I think.

katan500: What do you want for Christmas?
Liam Noble: I honestly don't know.  I like to just stop everything and get drunk, joke about the company of in-laws and then quite enjoy it anyway.  I see it as a recharging thing before the trials of attempting to play the piano with cold, January hands.

katan500: How do you relax?
Liam Noble: I fail miserably at this most of the time; I should be relaxing now.  The best way is to do nothing, with no distractions.  In some ways practising is relaxing, the more mundane and technical (scales?) the better.

katan500: Who is your ideal partner (however you choose to interpret)? Did you see Alex Hawkins (that other pianist) avoided that one...
Liam Noble: Yes, he’s no fool!  *Laughs* Musically, sound is the most important thing.  I like to play with people who have a sound that then dictates how they choose their materials (notes, noises, melodies or words). The rudiments of music are important, but only as ways of applying a sound; and some people find they have a sound that resists whatever those current rudiments might be, so they have to modify them or look elsewhere.

Katan500: Tell me something about yourself (your instrument, your relationship with it...etc)
Liam Noble: That's a good way of putting the early relationship with the piano was intensely private in many ways, a way of looking inward, almost more like painting. Eventually I conceded that I might have to perform in some way, but luckily the piano is a desk job of an instrument, (katan500: I guess you sit behind it like a desk...)... so I still have something comfortable between me and the audience.  Then I discovered the microphone, and never looked back; I like talking to the audience, it calms me down.

Katan500: Why did you choose the piano?
Liam Noble: I think it was the desk job element; also my Grandfather had a grand piano, which I now have at home.  So I guess, in the way people often say, "I didn't choose it, it chose me".  Which is ridiculous. Apparently I was in the car, aged 2, and some music was on.  My parents switched it off and I started crying, at which point my nan said "That boy needs music on".  It's always felt like that, like medication.

Liam Noble: Are you attracted to any other instruments... in other words, would you be unfaithful to your piano?
Liam Noble: I love the guitar; you can put your fingers on it and come up with things that would never happen on a piano, and that sound different.  A lot of jazz musicians tried to emulate other instruments, Earl Hines doubling right hand lines in octaves to emulate Armstrong's trumpet sound, Bud Powell and Parker, Paul Bley and Ornette...I think Bill Frisell found a way of playing the guitar like a piano, and yet it's so specific to the guitar too.  So, I think it's a rich vein.  I used to play the clarinet, but left it on the tube. Those cases are so small....

katan500: If you weren't a musician what would you be?
Liam Noble: I think I might have done something to do with writing.  Even more chance to hide away after the deed!

katan500: I think you'd make a great writer *gushing*. You've taken to blogging like a fish to water, the last piece I read Gaku Self Help was so beautifully written. I'm so jealous. What got you blogging?
Liam Noble: Well, that was weird...I put it on a grant application for the Arts Council, that I would blog to attract new audiences.  A tour blog, you know, charting the trials and tribulations of a band on the road.  Except we weren't really.  So what came out was just stuff that was littering up my head, thoughts on music and life really.  But the interesting thing was, I'd get these things down, and then I got fascinated about how best to articulate them.  So it was like composition, the idea comes out in 20 seconds, the composing of it takes all afternoon.   I enjoy it, like a parallel activity to music, but without the training and knowledge...

katan500: How do you describe your musical style and where do you position yourself?
Liam Noble: It always feels incredibly pompous to talk about oneself like this, especially using "oneself" as a word.  Still, I've been thinking a lot about it recently.  With the recent passing of Stan Tracey, I've been watching a lot of his stuff on YouTube.  There are some videos where you just see his hands; it's really quite remarkable how he "drums" the instrument, and I feel a real affinity with that.  Monk and Ellington did that too, and they were my earliest heroes.

Katan500What would you say your musical influences are?
Liam Noble: Well, they are many layered, I think, for anybody.  Ellington was my first love, just as a prescence in that band, the power of the piano to cut through, but only by reducing the amount of notes horizontally and concentrating on vertical sonorities.  (Stravinsky's music has that too, and that points to all manner of other areas of music).  There's a pressure to be "burning", to be "able to play" that means that anyone who reduces their note output is making a brave decision.  I try and aspire to that where possible. Of course, through Monk you get to Bud Powell, and into the "burning" stuff...Herbie, McCoy, Jarrett, all deeply ingrained influences.  But then there are those influences I have sought out in order to freshen things up. Through John Zorn and Naked City I discovered Frisell, and also Wayne Horvitz and Robin Holcomb, a husband and wife who's compositions have influenced me enormously but who are tucked away on the periphery of jazz.  New things come up all the time; playing withTom Rainey influenced the way I thought about rhythm as well as ways of applying those ideas to free improvisation. There's also the type of situation where you "do the gig"; going with the flow of what's around you can be immensely rewarding, and in that sense the more you've music listened (and to some degree applied to your instrument) the better armed you are.
In the end, honestly, I don't see it as my music, I see it as a compendium of "found sounds" that come out in particular ways for reasons unknown to me.

katan500:  Who do you admire (alive)?
Liam Noble: That list is shrinking all the time....

Katan500: Who do you admire (dead)
Liam Noble: I'm not sure about admiration as a concept.  I like some things, not others.  I admire the musicians that kept going in the face of far greater adversity than many of us will ever face.  As to my favourites; Ellington, Monk, Stravinsky, Miles, in many ways the usual suspects.  And I admire Brubeck, he dealt with his popularity on the best way he could.

katan500: Is jazz dead? What do you think  this means? 
Liam Noble: It means cheap, lazy journalism.  There seems to be very little writing about jazz that attempts to capture it's feeling, the sensations of what it means to be around it or in it.  Maybe it's hard to tell the difference between dead and alive with jazz.  Maybe jazz is like a cat, sometimes just sitting immobile waiting for things to settle down.

katan500:Tell me about your last tour...anything amusing happened...
Liam Noble: We are all such serious minded and intense people that nothing funny happened , we just are really into the music and that's all (*mock earnest tone*). My favourite moment was in Birmingham, in the interval before the second half of the "Brother Face" gig,  announced thus: "Take your seats for the second half of Liam Noble's Brother's Face"  (katan500: HaHa.  Well that's funny. But how did you arrive at the name Brother Face?). Ah, this was via a Robert Creeley poem called "Histoire De Florida", it's one of the lines.  I love the idea of looking into the mirror and seeing someone else who is, in fact, you.  Weird, I watched a documentary on Henry Miller yesterday where he describes exactly that feeling, via a shaving mirror. (katan500: *wonders how much time Liam spends looking in the mirror*)  

katan500: Which piece of your work do you like the best / has special meaning for you?
Liam Noble: I try to avoid having favourites, it's like having children.  Some albums are quiet and thoughtful, some are boisterous, some eat too much chocolate and then feel sick.  By the time most albums come out, you're so sick of hearing it your head is in the next one.  But I like everything I've ever recorded; you just have to put off listening to it long enough so you can't remember having done it.  In general, I regard my inevitable failures to achieve what I wanted to do with a genuine affection.

katan500: Tell me something about the new album...
Liam Noble: Well, the first thing is that I don't know what form it will take.  It's a recording of our recent gig at the Vortex, and there's a lot of music to sift through.  I am thinking of putting it out as a downloadable file which, when you put it through a 3D printer, makes life sized origami effigies of the band who then play to you personally. There’s a variety of approaches in the writing, but mostly I tried to avoid the hard bop template of “tune/solos/tune” whilst trying to preserve the idea of melodies that have some kind of air of familiarity somehow.  Everyone in the band has a very distinctive way of approaching their respective instruments; a lot of strong characters together, and so there are some pile ups that occur which are great fun…I prefer that to anything too precise.  There are some clips of our Brighton gig on YouTube

katan900: Er... Shabaka is without head (*gestures decapitation*) and Chris Batchelor looks a bit vertically challenged...
Liam Noble:  Apologies. The sound is good though... 

katan500: When is your next gig?
Liam Noble: Sunday 15th December at Cafe Oto, I'm playing solo, then Chris Biscoe, Roger Turner and John Edwards play as a trio (there's three "sound" players!), and then all four of us.

katan500: Did I ask you what you want for Christmas?
Liam Noble: Yes... but I guess in the time it took me to answer these questions I could have changed my mind.  Can I have a 3D printer?
katan500: You might get an artificial dog... Thank you for being a good sofa sport. Merry Christmas and see you in the New Year at the Vortex Jazz Club with Pigfoot 10 January 2014 

Babel releases with Liam Noble include:
Let's Call This (with Ingrid Laubrock)
Romance and Revolution (Christine Tobin)
Tatterdemalion (with Rachel Musson, Mark Sanders)

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