17 Themes for Ockodektet
The hype (what there exists of it) for Jeff Kaiser’s 17 Themes for Ockodektet keys in more than once that the album was recorded on the trumpet player/composer/conductor’s 40th birthday. So it is with no little surprise that the mood of the album is at once festive and accomplished. There is chaos in the recording, there is noise of every level – simply put, if one is inclined to enjoy the sometimes discordant and sometimes fluid sounding off of a 17 piece jazz band, the record is plain fun – but there is also, perhaps due to the masterful weaving together of 17 different performers at once, a sense of culmination, of massive achievement. This is not merely the dissociated sounds of 17 people playing their own instruments coming together into one big noise, but musicians working and improvising together to such a degree that we are allowed the illusion of complete composition, and we can’t tell what’s been planned and what’s been improvised within the structure of the avant-garde score.
The key to this success, I believe, lies in Jeff Kaiser’s attitude towards music. On his Web site, it is posted that he is available as a private music instructor. “Whereas his music is very abstract and modern,” the site says, “his teaching method is concrete and classically rooted; students focus on the fundamentals, which give them the ability to pursue the creative.”
In that passage, innocuously meant merely as information to would-be students, there is set down what, in my view, is the principle essential to understand for any artist in any medium: Know What You’re Doing. Too many new artists, I think, consider the basics or the “rules” of their art form (whether it be music, painting, writing, etc.) to be unnecessary and constricting. The Best Art, they might argue, has come from those who have disregarded the rules, who have broken the mold. And, of course, they would be right. But I’d be willing to bet that, apart from the one-in-a-million intuitive genius who puts us all to shame the moment they’re born, those Best Artists knew the rules before they broke them. And that is the key to experimental music. Just like a science experiment, if you don’t know what you’re mixing together, you’re more likely to burn your eyebrows off and demolish the laboratory than you are to discover the cure for the common cold.
(A little aside, a “P.S.” if you will. I know it=EDs hurting my rhetoric to keep on typing after my “Big Finish,” but special mention has to be made of the packaging for 17 Themes for Ockodektet. It is simply marvelous. I don’t know if it will be the same for general release as it was for the promotional copy, but I don’t expect they’d have gone to the expense of making something THIS nice if they didn’t intend it for mass distribution. The CD is in a plain black sleeve, which fits in the middle compartment of a three-part cardstock folder, on which are various technical drawings of a machine I don’t recognize. But they look cool. And the whole thing is held closed by a neatly tied piece of magenta twine, which I assume must have been hand tied, and if it wasn’t, I want a machine like the one that tied it. Musical neonates take note: packaging like this gets you NOTICED. It’s one step towards a potential listener not assuming you sound like everyone else because you look like everyone else. Putting a little effort into making your package look snazzy never hurts, and it also shows that you care about the product you’re producing. This has been Public Service Announcement #527. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program, already in progress.)