Jeremy Brown might be a new name to many listeners of this music. He is a Professor of Music at the University of Calgary in Alberta Canada who teaches improvisation, is the Director of the University Jazz Orchestra and the Saxophone Ensemble and is a notable and prolific scholar of music. He is a busy professional musician who plays saxophone, flute, clarinet in classical, and jazz settings. He is a virtuoso, who is very highly regarded in Canada and elsewhere.
I met him when I was the Killam Visiting Scholar at the University in the Spring 2017 semester. He was my contact in the music department. Jeremy’s interest in improvising was sincere. Although he was quite humble about his knowledge of Free Music, or free improvisation, he was in fact quite capable of both understanding it and performing it. Before I went to Calgary Jeremy sent me a video of his performance of Other’s, a solo saxophone piece that he commissioned by the great John Butcher. I confess to being surprised when he told me about it, and blown away when I heard him play. The piece contains state-of-the-art saxophone vocabulary. Jeremy’s performance confirmed that he is a totally advanced, unique, and important contemporary musician who is able to play the most challenging music with ease.
We got together to play duos every week I was in Calgary. These sessions included serious discussion about improvisation and music of the highest level. Over the course of my time there I taught a class and conducted weekly workshops that included students in the department and community musicians. I also worked with the University Jazz Orchestra, led by Jeremy. He participated in everything, as a member of the groups or the class, with an open mind and great playing.
A few weeks into my stay Jeremy arranged for us to perform at a conference on classical saxophone in Edmonton. We did a short improvised piece. His decision to do that for a group who hold him in the highest regard as a respected colleague took a lot of courage, and he was very excited to do it. After our set he said to me “I’ve played every classical piece there is for thirty years and I can do it without thinking, but this was a challenge and now that I’m done I just want to go back on the stage and play some more”.
We decided that we needed to record our duo while I was still up there. We planned a session to be done in the music department by an outside engineer. The music was great but the engineer had some problems, and then never sent us the master recording. Soon after my residency was over and I left Calgary. Fast forward to July 2019. Jeremy would be participating in the Tanglewood Music Festival about 80 miles from Boston and a good studio. So we arranged to record again, this time with a trusted engineer, Joe Stewart. The session was a breeze and the music here is the result.
I try to avoid repeating myself in every part of my music. My recordings are documents of distinctive work that I do. The interaction and conversational dialog in this duo is unique in my experience and discography. Our weeks of rehearsal enabled us to be very aware of a lot of subtle material and to mix elements that are often left out in other settings. We’re working to go someplace that is precise and organic to create a challenging musical experience for listeners to decipher. We plan to continue this collaboration. A backlog of releases delayed this one, which turned out to be a good thing because our plans to tour were thwarted by the pandemic, but we will try to carry on when it ends.
Free Music often defies association. Unless there is a specific programmatic intent, finding words to fit as titles sometimes means avoiding exactitude. Magnitude is used as a kind of poetic marker, a signifier that suggests proportion, depth, density, or the absence or measurement of whatever. The puzzle is for pondering, reflecting on phenomena as a meditation. Or maybe the name considers the many indefinable things that go into making music like this.