Expect the Unexpected (part 2)

13th September 2021

Features NMC Recordings

The unique recording process behind the forthcoming release from our partner label, Club Inégales, involved 22 guest musicians each providing one page of musical inspiration for the band to realise, which they were to do live, without any rehearsal. Peter Wiegold, musical director, tells us how these distinct scores translated into sound.

For Expect the Unexpected, the late John Cumming (Director of the EFG London Jazz Festival) and I asked 22 jazz musicians to provide us with a ‘one-page’ score.

This is a concept I borrowed from a Canadian jazz/free improvisation band that I worked with. A ‘one-page’ score is a great challenge for a composer. They have to distil ideas so there is character and inspiration, but not close things off, leaving open doors. (I often remember the jazz pianist Liam Noble saying, ‘I just write enough to get the guys going’).

A wonderful variety of pieces emerged for Expect the Unexpected, from written instructions through to graphic scores and fully-fleshed grooves, melodies, and harmonies.

Of course, the realisation of the scores in crucial, seeking a distinct sound, clear roles for the musicians, contrast of sections and more. Here I drew together the unrehearsed performances by signalling sections and using signs to create roles such as  ‘loop’, 'solo’ and ‘return’. I was also playing myself, on keyboard, (Gil Evans used to say he ‘nudged’ his bands through his playing).

Here are two examples of the different scores we received, and how they translated into sound:

Pat Thomas Syntax for Muhal

Pat Thomas’ piece had just written instructions. With the band playing so in tune with one another and flowing from one idea to another, a simple instruction, for example  ‘Bass F-Pedal ¾ slow' could become the eloquent and soulful section here. Once more my role here would have been to build the background step-by-step to arrive at this lovely texture with floating trumpet solos from Byron Wallen and Torbjörn Hultmark.

Kuljit Bhamra Tabla tune

Sometimes the simplest ideas in a ‘one-page’ score generate the richest moments, as performances freely evolve and open out.

Kuljit Bhamra’s piece has a simple four-note melody linked to a tabla pattern. Once I saw the score, I froze one of the rhythmic patterns (section 2) once more to create a ‘railway line’ on which the piece could potentially open out. Based on this, in the second half of the performance, a beautiful journey evolved, ending in a melancholic final passage - in which I gave no signals, but the band themselves gradually found new harmonies and new pulsating textures.

Here’s an encapsulated version of the piece. Note how towards the end, bass Ben Markland and pianist Martin Butler, long practised in the Notes Inégales band, are working together to move the bass of the harmony around.

Click here for part 1

To celebrate the release of Expect the Unexpected, you are invited to join a special livestream event at 8pm on 30 September, featuring conversations with Peter Wiegold, members of the Notes Inégales house band and several of guest artists. Sign up for free tickets here

Pre-order Expect the Unexpected now
Read more about the history of Club Inégales

NMC's Discover platform is created in partnership with ISM Trust.

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Notes Inégales: Expect the Unexpected

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