reverse blue – chris speed transcription

This is a Mary Halvorson record, with Chris Speed featured on clarinet and saxophone. The record is ok, but far from an essential recording. I was interested in transcribing something without changes, but was a little tired of the solo by the end of transcribing it. Fun to play though, and the composition is cool!

The transcription is in Bb. Let me know if you want it in another key.

i’ve found a new baby – don byron transcription

This is another old transcription from Don Byron’s fantastic record Ivey-Divey. The record is a tribute to Lester Young (it was initially going to be to John Coltrane – until he realised how much Coltrane was influenced by Young!), particularly to Young’s trio with Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich (also very worth checking out). This whole record burns throughout, and is also a lot of fun. Byron really manages to let go of the baggage of “jazz clarinet”, and turns it into a machine. There aren’t many who can play it with the power that he does!

Transcription is in Bb. Give me a shout if you want it in another key.

alittleodd – chris speed transcription

Here is a transcription I did a few years ago, of Chris Speed playing with Trio Iffy. It’s one of my favourite ever clarinet solos – a great example of the clarinet working well in a contemporary jazz context. There are too many examples of the clarinet sounding really lame in a modern jazz context – too classical, too light, and with not enough attitude – but Speed is one of the few who really knows how to make it sound good.

You should also check him out playing with Tim Berne’s Bloodcount, for how he uses it in a free context, or on some of Uri Caine’s records. I really love his record Platinum On Tap – saxophone only, but he has such a unique voice on the instrument, and the whole record is amazing

gospel-shaped art

Jesus is Lord over all creation. Colossians 1 says that all things were created through Jesus, and all things were created for Jesus. That includes the arts! This is great news, because it means that making art is not somehow removed from a life lived for Jesus. It is part of it.

Jesus created the arts, not for us to make a name for ourselves, but for his glory. Here are three ways that the gospel makes a difference to my art – that I might make music for the glory of Jesus.

// art that is excellent //

We were made in the image of God, to exercise rule over the earth. Part of what this means is a responsibility to create culture. As we reflect our creator, we should strive to make work that is good – like God’s own creation. I love seeing in Genesis 2 that God makes trees that are not just good for food (which would be a utilitarian view of the world), but that are pleasing to the eye as well. God cares about aesthetics!

// art that is transcendent //

So many people believe that life can be explained away through the material and the rational, and that there is no need for a transcendent reality. But art has an amazing ability to point beyond itself. As it moves us, it points towards a reality greater than the world being the product of random chance. We often try and explain away the complexity of creation, but the power of art is that it points to something bigger. God makes sense of the awe and wonder we feel with great art.

// art that is gospel-shaped //

Art always communicates something. It has a valuable place in showing us how our culture thinks and feels – as well as what it longs for. There is such an opportunity here for the Christian voice to be heard – as we proclaim something very different from that of the world around us. This doesn’t mean simply painting pictures of Jesus on the cross, or writing songs about the resurrection. Rather, as our hearts are transformed and our minds renewed, the gospel will shape how Christians make art. Art that is honest about the brokenness of the world. Art that joyously proclaims the goodness of creation. Art that gives a glimpse of the greatness of God.

There is such need for Christian artists – whether in the visual arts, music, or other areas. I think there is amazing potential for art to enable us to taste something of a God who is so much greater than we know. We should embrace the questions it raises, and use the opportunities it presents to show how it points us to a God who is good.

this post was first published on the globe church blog, 1st july 2019.

culture-making – andy crouch

Culture is a bit of a buzzword for today’s church. We like to critique it. We like to copy it. We like to consume it. And more often than not we like to condemn it.

But I wonder, if someone was to ask you to give them a definition of culture, would you be able to do it? Could you give a succinct one-sentence summary of what culture is? We throw the “C” word around, but so few of us really understand what culture is that we often just end up standing at a distance, shaking our heads.

Thankfully, Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making gives some helpful insights into what culture is, why culture matters, and how the gospel should shape our view of culture. The book starts by racing through human history – quickly revealing our temptation to make culture far smaller than it is. We often limit it to just the things that “cultured people” do (like going to art galleries or classical music concerts); or to the fashions and trends that we see come and go; or to peoples’ ethnic identities. But culture is so much more than just these things. 

Crouch defines culture as “What we make of the world.” That perhaps sounds a little abstract, so he further defines it as “The name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else.” Because of this, he argues that we have to look at culture through its cultural artifacts – the acts of human creation and cultivation that become “The framework of the world for future generations.” But there’s a second level to his definition. It is also what we make of the world in that it is how we understand and interpret what goes on around us. In other words, “We make sense of the world by making something of the world. The human quest for meaning is played out in human making.”

I mentioned earlier the various stances we take towards culture – critiquing it, copying it, consuming it and condemning it. None of these are fundamentally wrong approaches towards culture, but one of the great insights I found in the book is that “The only way to change culture is to create more of it.” If culture is a collection of created things, then to shape the culture around us we need to create things that shape how the world around us works! This is so important for us as Christians. We need to embrace culture as a fundamentally good thing, indeed an essential part of what it means to be human, if we want to see God glorified and people come to know him.

The final thing that has really stayed with me after reading Culture Making is how culture fits into the New Creation. Crouch elegantly puts it like this: “Culture is the furniture of heaven.” This is such a freeing way of thinking about creating cultural works – that our motivation for excellence is not simply to shift more CDs, but instead knowing that our cultural works offer a glimpse of what the New Creation will be like, with culture that is fully redeemed by Jesus’s work on the cross. How much more should we care about our work, knowing that it is not meaningless, but has eternal significance? This means too that we can do things like appreciate good music for being good music – diverse and exciting and moving and beautiful – knowing that it is part of God’s plan for humanity from the beginning. And that is very good.

I think something I would like to have seen in the book would have been more practical implications for how the church can look distinctive as a result of God’s plan for culture – rather than just how our approach to culture should be different. How should a gospel worldview of culture shape how the church appears to the watching world, in a way that points to Jesus? How can we encourage everyone in our churches to be culture makers, rather than just the “creative types”? These are the questions that I would have liked to see more time spent on. Reading the book will have practical outworkings of these questions – but then the responsibility is on us to lead our brothers and sisters in making something of the world.

If you want to know better what it means to be human, and how being a musician fits into God’s great plan for humanity, then Culture Making is a book I thoroughly recommend. You will finish it better equipped to live out the gospel in your day to day, understanding more of why the church needs musicians as much as other jobs, and rejoicing more in Jesus’s redeeming work of the whole Earth.

this post was first published on the UCCF music network blog.