Solo piano culture

Friday’s gig at Wakefield Jazz was two hours of solo piano impro, Laura Cole (Leeds) followed by Alexander Hawkins (Oxford) – a treat for myself, a respectable audience of just under 40 – some of the regulars stayed away, others attended but were not necessarily enthused (although a snatch of Take The A Train cheered them up), and a number of dedicated afficionados found their way to the Wakefield Sports Club for the first time. It was something of an event. Laura Cole focussed on compositions, of her own and others written for her – dark, intense, exploratory, committed. Resonant. Alex Hawkins was more effusive, performative, crunchy bluesy riffs and florid gestures, eventually a few forearm smashes and Cecil Taylor-esque flurries, culminating in some Veryan Weston-style pentatonics. A thrilling evening overall, intense creative music, received with proper attention.

I’ve read a couple of articles about Mark Fisher this week (author of Capitalist Realism, committed suicide a couple of years ago), with some enlightenment. One, about his perception of where we’re at, ie in a world where there honestly seems to be no alternative to the miserable capitalist world economy around us (“that’s just the way it is, some things never change”) and we are overwhelmed by the oppressive magnitude of what needs to be changed, leading to inertia, and a sense of lost futures, lost alternatives – for those of us old enough to remember the imperfect social democracy of the 1970s – student grants, housing benefit, a gentler social security regime – and an Other way (in eastern Europe, USSR, Chine, Cuba, Nicaragua), debased in practice, but based on an accessible anti-capitalist ideal, a vision of potential. My inclination now is to write “Don’t laugh“, because the very idea of a practical or even an unrealistic alternative seems so far removed from where we are today. Mark Fisher would describe us as suffused by a nostalgia, not for the past, but for a future that perhaps we felt we were promised, but that never came to be, a vision of socialism and technology together forging a better communal life. The visions of the late 70s and early 80s, as I see and saw them, thus my formative years – perhaps I am extrapolating from my idiosyncratic experiences, keen to recover that youthful idealism and the open vistas of alternative possibilities.

However, I’ve not been spending the week digging out my Undertones and Selecter and Scritti Politti records – I’ve been listening to new albums by Matana Roberts (Coin Coin Vol. 4), soundscape/impro collage of the black American historical experience, a deep project with apparently 8 more volumes already planned; and by Richard Dawson 2020 – raw songs of now, on football, PIP assessments, late-night texting, distribution centres, the unpleasant detritus of 21st century capitalism, in searing and endearing detail. I’d suggest a combination of Richard Dawson and Sleaford Mods would be the best way to approach the UK today.