Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


The Simplicity Movement

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Recently I had one of those great listening experiences with the Robert Glasper Trio—the kind where you are completely wrapped up in the sound, and absorbed in the musical language rather than those endless subtitles from your own life.

I suspect that shaking free of that internal racket is one of the reasons I am drawn to all kinds of art. If I can give over to someone else’s narrative, or their visual acuity, or their sense of time, I have a chance to step out of my space and into another. It’s my way of pressing the reset button—I come back to my own life with a little more clarity, and a little more energy too.

I’m intrigued by two qualities in Glasper’s style. The first is a lack of pressure. I’m not thinking about intensity, because there’s plenty of that in both his hands and his expressiveness, but it’s a relaxed intensity, like there’s all the time in the world to make the trip. As a listener, you aren’t getting from one place to another, but you’re not wandering around in a chaos of fragments either. For me, it’s a refreshing approach to time—like he’s sculpting it rather than traveling through it.

This is exceedingly hard to do in an art form that unfolds in time. Music, writing, film, dance—they are all scored on a timeline, and part of the pleasure they offer is a conscious experience of that forward movement. With Glasper, I have the feeling of moving around rather than moving forward.

A beautifully-realized short story can have that quality too—when you get to the end, you want to turn right around and wander back through searching for the thing you can almost see. Alice Munro is a master. A local newcomer with that magic touch is Sheila McClarty—get your hands on her debut collection, High Speed Crow.

The other thing that sticks with me about Glasper is the simplicity of his ideas. As a listener, you can stay present, but at the same time you have enough to do. Periodically he lets loose with a barrage of complicated handwork, and there’s always a pull of elaborate counter-rhythms, so you know there’s enormous power there, but he puts all of that facility and imagination at the service of the small gestures, the simple motifs.

It’s got me thinking: many—or even most—of the things artists have been exploring for generations are simple things, familiar things, shared things. Movement. Color. The human form. Water. Stars. I want to know these things more fully, and I want an artist’s proficiency to be transparent enough so I can see through them to what their imagination can grasp.

I recently heard a writer under siege say that he always reminds himself to stop for a moment to look at a single flower. A flower, he points out, is such a simple thing—and every one is perfect. If we can catch even a glimpse of that…

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