There were some good moments the other night at Django. Before I played my solo set, a guest performer played a short set on his shamisen, which could be described as a Japanese banjo. Earlier I mentioned that I feel an affinity with the “stringy” sounds of a lot of traditional music from around the world. What I mean by “stringy” is music that highlights, on instruments ranging from the shamisen, to the citar, to the oud, exactly what strings have to offer: bends, slurs, hammers, and percussive rhythmic effects in the midst of melodic improvisation. (Be mindful that these are effects very rarely recurred to in jazz guitar, but are part and parcel of blues guitar and flamenco guitar …) Jimi Hendrix may be my favorite American practitioner of these effects.
The shamisen has only three strings (right?), and it is played with a very large flat pick. I think the instrument has some sympathetic drone strings–I don’t know–because the player sometimes hit the instrument from a different angle to get some very high metallic notes. I was so pleased to hear him play, in part because he was inspiring me to include in my set some of the riffs I often use that carry the inflection of these Asian or North African string improvisational musics.
I opened my solo set, commenting to the audience that students often ask me what Japanese music I like, but are disappointed when I tell them I like the traditional Japanese musics (though I don’t know anything about them) and have some CDs that I listen to. (The students expect me to know and value the J-pop artists they listen to.) Then I played my version of Norwegian Wood which always includes an interlude of improvisation where, droning on the A and D strings, I slide and wander around the neck playing in what is mostly the “Lydian Mode”, I suppose. But I hit it strongly enough that at more than one point in the solo, people laughed out loud, recognizing how I was quoting or referencing the shamisen improvisation they had just heard. Then I rolled back into Norwegian Wood.
My solo set was satisfying, and playing with the Django jazz musicians is always a treat. We closed the night with me singing “Heavan’s Door” with some of the rock musicians in the house.