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Tim Garland: Beyond the Frontier

Ian Patterson By

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Composer, arranger and multi-reed virtuoso Tim Garland is a treasure the nation of the UK has yet to fully recognize. Having recorded a dozen albums in his own name, and arranged for and played in the groups of Chick Corea and Bill Bruford, Garland's pedigree as one of the leading jazz saxophonist/composers of his generation is unquestionable. In addition, his collaborations with the country's finest musical institutions, including the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, set him apart as one of the UK's most progressive modern composers. Few musicians have such pedigree or such an abundance of talent, and yet amazingly, Garland still awaits an invitation to appear at the country's premier celebration of jazz, the London Jazz Festival.

Tim Garland by Vladimir Korobitsyn

Despite this anomaly Garland is in demand around the entire world and, as his Lighthouse Trio's Libra (Global Mix, 2009) demonstrates, with good reason. The second of this two-disc set captures Garland, with trio members Asaf Sirkis (percussion) and Gwilym Simcock (piano), in a live setting, displaying all the energy and innovation which has won the group so many plaudits. Simply put, there few jazz trios quite as compelling as The Lighthouse Trio. But it is the first disc which is the most arresting; here, Garland's imaginative writing brings jazz trio improvisation into the womb of a modern orchestral setting, in this case the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Garland is not the first, and is certainly not the only composer to attempt to fuse such musical polar opposites. Nevertheless, his synthesis of these two genres, and his attempt at achieving balance between the power and structure of an orchestra and the chamber intimacy and freedom typical of the best small jazz groups, places him amongst the foremost composers at the forefront of what Gunther Schuller has termed The New Frontier.

Another recording, Celebrating Bach (Audio-B Recordings, 2009), sees Garland interpreting the music of Bach and Stravinsky on soprano saxophone in the company of the Northern Symphonia. Where Garland finds the time to also compose concertos for piano, saxophone and cello, as well as compose film scores is anybody's guess, though one suspects he has more hours than the usual twenty four in his days.

All About Jazz: Libra was three years in the making which is obviously a big investment, but you must be very pleased with the results, no?

Tim Garland: Yeah, absolutely. I remember talking with the people who did the artwork and they asked me how long it had taken, so when I told them I think they felt the gravity of how I felt about it. As a result I'm also very happy with the way it looks, which is all credit to them; they really pushed the boat out on my behalf. Of course, I'm really happy. Even if you listen back after the band has worked so long and you think "Oh, we play this much better now" but that is probably true of every recording. I wouldn't say better, I'd say differently.

AAJ: What was the inspiration for the suite "Frontier?"

TG: I heard Günther Schuller when he was doing a talk at a conference in Canada and he was basically saying that the next frontier would involve the use of the orchestra in a more integrated way...

AAJ: But you had already written the music before you heard Schuller give his talk, right?

TG: Yeah, I had written most of the music by that time and I felt like standing up and shouting [laughs],because I felt this was exactly the kind of thing I was working on. Of course there are many other ways too, which Mark-Anthony Turnage is involved in and many other writers as well who make creative use of the orchestra.

I wanted to approach the orchestra with a great deal of respect and it is rather like we are the guests of the orchestra rather than the other way around. Hence we don't play at all on the first track which is a self-contained orchestral piece, and it's only during the slow movement that we are allowed to sneak in one by one [laughs], into their world.

AAJ: But that was your compositional design, to begin with the orchestra and then ease in, no?

TG: Yes, that was very much part of the statement that it's us who are the guests of the orchestra and that puts us on a much more level footing, I think. The orchestra is a complete universe in itself. I was brought up as a composer and was writing really before I was playing. I also wanted to show my own particular balance of interests, and I was very keen not to show the orchestra —which is so often the case with jazz—that the orchestra is an expensive soundscape which sits behind the soloists.

Tim GarlandAAJ: Jazz with strings, right?

TG: Quite. Though there's a place for that as well; it sounds mega, and I love that too, but it seems to me that that's been done a great deal. [laughs] I would say that the language that jazz musicians are using today is very eclectic, global village-y, and quite often making use of really extended tonality and avant-garde techniques, and one needs in some measure surely to reflect that in one's use of the orchestra, rather than just using nineteenth century romantic Gershwin-esque techniques behind soloists whose language is in a way much more modern.

Going back to the genesis of all this, I wanted to demonstrate how you could pull two polar opposites together—the very intimate chamber sound of just the three of us with the might of a symphony orchestra., so in a way the sun and the moon being opposites. It's kind of cosmic, which sounds a bit hippy-ish [laughs], or other-worldly perhaps; something which doesn't pertain to urban life, which has marked so much of jazz history.

Tim GarlandAAJ: The forces of nature seem to be reflected in many of your compositions and album titles.

TG: It's true, when I look at the amount of things I've written about the sea [laughs], it's a real recurrent theme. I think it's a desire to link with forces bigger than yourself. There's a spiritual quest in there somewhere, without wishing to sound too lofty, to try and align myself with something pre-industrial in a very post-industrial age.

I'm hardly alone in this, I mean, the whole ECM catalogue can speak to you in a similar way. If you listen to Louis Armstrong, you can hear that his music comes from a completely urban environment , but for many years now, decades, jazz has also aspired to be more than just a celebration of big cities, to be rural, or pertaining to other areas of existence and I guess my music does quite often fall in that bracket.

AAJ: How much of a challenge was it for the members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to adopt your arrangements, and particularly the ten-beat Middle Eastern, Egyptian Samai rhythm?

TG: I don't think these orchestras find these things particularly difficult if they are clearly written out. What I had to do in this case was that I had a film session and I brought back some of the parts that I conducted with the orchestra. I then added the three soloists later and grafted ourselves on, and so I was able to record in chunks. It's true that for a performance version of this you'd need a bit more rehearsal time to make sure that people really were comfortable with these rhythms.

Increasingly, the RPO do a lot of film sessions and music of a hybrid nature and so they are quicker and quicker all the time. Time is really on our side as the orchestras get more youthful and they're used to a kind of eclecticism. You find with the London orchestras that it's amazing the speed with which they can get these things together. I was lucky, as the RPO are brilliant at that.

AAJ: Have you premiered the music with an orchestra, and if not is it an ambition?

TG: It's certainly an ambition. I've done various other works with a number of orchestras but I've yet to work live with the RPO and it's been something which we've been thinking about. The biggest platform in the UK is the London Jazz Festival but that's run by the organization Sirius, and I'm not on their books. I don't get published by them and they prefer to feature people who they publish. So once again I am not asked to play at the London Jazz Festival [laughs].

It leaves me that I have to be a bit inventive because putting something like this together would involve a certain amount of sponsorship. There are plans next year to work with a couple of other orchestras and the guy who runs the RPO is very keen to do this as well I'm hoping it will happen. It will happen [laughs].

One of the things that I did when we were on tour was make a connection with quite a few other orchestras, several of which were really keen. It excites me so much to think that I can continue to be involved in this are of music which is one of the most exciting areas that there can be.

AAJ: Do you fully agree with Schuller's thoughts on the possibilities of integrating large ensemble with improvisation, what he referred to years ago as the Third Stream?

TG: The term Third Stream is somewhat out of date in the sense that it was really only looking at African music as the Second Stream, and the Third Stream was bringing the Afro-American experience together. I'm not an authority on this but that's how I understand it.

But that doesn't really allow for the multitude of different ethnicities that come into play. I can understand that this thought was a product of the forties and fifties, the world in which Günther Schuller lived. There's a piece of Schuller's from the early sixties, Journeys into Jazz (1962), I think it is, and he's using atonality and swing and for that time it's pretty amazing. You can certainly hear a lot of influence in [Leonard] Bernstein

Tim GarlandI feel that we reaching a point where there is so much respect from both sides. Soloists aren't just limited to suddenly branching out into bebop licks which don't go with the language of the orchestra, but open soloists now are improvising musicians able to respond to the language presented to them by the orchestra.

Great jazz pianists like Geoffrey Keezer do take a lot of their influences from outside of jazz, so if the music that the orchestra is playing essentially sounds like post modern, not avant-garde especially, but contemporary music, then you're not going to get someone like Keezer burning Bud Powell over the top. You're going to hear something which is truly integrated, and that is absolutely wonderful because then it's not just about a jazz history lesson, it's really just about improvised music. Whether we even use the word jazz or not is not essential, it's a live music which is going to be a bit different every time it's played.

Tim Garland by Jose HornaAAJ: As far back as your group Lammas, terms like crossover were used, or jazz-folk fusion; are these terms which have little meaning for you?

TG: Well, they all have their place and we're all in the same situation regarding the need to package, uncomfortable as we maybe are. If you think of jazz maybe as an approach rather than as a genre, then it's possible to live comfortably with that word, to see jazz as an interfacing of a whole multitude of things.

Lammas certainly was a jazz/Celtic fusion, although I think the central issue was the strength of the compositions in the first place. The compositions, from the level of their DNA so to speak, have to accommodate all the good points of the players involved. I have heard other folk music with a jazz approach, but for me at least it rests with the strength of the compositions to really bring out what the guys have to offer. Otherwise either the soloists are shackled by the composition or maybe the soloists are doing their thing but the composition is just playing a minor role underneath and not really offering anything new. Hence my interest in and love of composition, because that's the aim I am always looking to achieve, to illuminate both sides of the equation equally.

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