Jazz guitarist Mike Rud spent the last two years preparing the material for his new album, Miniatures. But now that the CD is released, he's taking even more risks with the material, “chipping away at the edges of the phrases” and making spontaneous changes.
Rud's last Juno-winning album, Notes on Montreal, was a large-scale production, with even a string quartet. This CD is stripped down: just his voice and his guitar, but he's arranged the music so that it sounds like much more. In most of the pieces, he sings one melodic line and simultaneously plays a completely different one on guitar. The idea is to simulate a small group by himself.
The material includes many jazz standards, some of his own compositions, and his adaptation of Johann Sebastian Bach's Invention No. 8 – rewritten into a song about learning music called “You Have to Practice Slow”.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor talked to Rud about this project last March, before he recorded it. But since then, the project has developed further and in some unexpected ways.
Rud was back in Ottawa on Friday, September 25 for a mid-afternoon CD release show at the Record Centre. The show filled the store with about 30 listeners, almost all of whom stayed throughout and were intently listening, applauding, and swaying to the music.
It was the third release show for the CD. Rud formally released in his home town of Montreal on August 30, and a few weeks earlier in Vancouver.
McGregor talked to Rud after the concert about how the CD has evolved and where he's taking it next.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What reaction have you've got so far to the album?
Mike Rud: The reaction is almost exactly what I hoped it would be, in that the album is fashioned for being played live and being sold off the bandstand, just like I just was. It's a way of remembering what the live experience was like. And people have loved it, because people really react well to the one-man, one-guitar format. So it's been good!
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Notes on Montreal was such a concept album, whereas this album feels to me like an anti-concept album.
Rud: In some sense, yes, although as a guitarist the shtick where I sing one line and play another, that was a couple of years of work. That had to be put together quite meticulously, particularly, for example, a song like that quick Cole Porter one, “Just One of Those Things”. That is meant to sound spontaneous, but every note of that thing is cunningly crafted and desperately calculated into place, because it's going by too lickety-split for it to be any other way. So it's meant to sound like it's off-the-cuff, but that one – how I wish it were!
In time, my hope is to get it so that it is. So even today I started chipping away at the edges of the phrases, and well, I'll change this little bit. How much change can I get away with? How much spontaneity can I afford to introduce into this before the whole thing comes crashing down?
And there's something magical about having eyeballs on you when you play. It forces you to cope when things begin to come apart and you also know that the audience is there supporting you too. They want to see you come close to that edge, and they want to see you pull it out of the fire. And I think I got away with it today.
But there's been times ... I played the Bach piece in a jazz club, Dièse Onze in Montreal. I did three Thursdays in a row, and on the third one, I pulled out the Bach thing, and it hilariously just went down in flames! I mean, maybe not in flames, but if you were there, you might think, 'OK, it's alright, it's musical enough, you know.' But if you know how it can be, it was 'Oh boy did he ever screw that up!'
But that's totally the fun of it, because the stuff's got to be elastic and robust and it's got to be able to withstand stress. Because then you can start to monkey with it and see ... then you get a real piece of language that you can manipulate in real-time. That's the joy of that music.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What reactions did you get to the Bach piece?
Rud: There were some fantastic reactions to the Bach piece! Generally speaking people really like it, especially music practicers, because of the sentiments in it. There was one fellow on the Internet – and I won't give any way of identifying the poor fellow because I don't want anybody to ever give him grief about it – but he was obviously someone for whom Bach is what it ought to be. It's sacred music.
And I get it, but at 47, having been a musician all my life, I saw his negative reaction as [that] he was in a bit of a poopy mood. I'm not bothered by it. Actually, my honest reaction when that guy had that reaction was, of course I was disappointed. I want everybody to love it all the time. But partially it was 'Hey! Somebody listened to my tune and they're not in my family! It got all the way out there!'
OttawaJazzScene.ca: It was very interesting that the song caused such a strong emotional reaction.
Rud: And that could be just because it's just not all that good, or it could be because he's got ideas about what Bach should be, damn it! And I violated them in the extreme. That's in my nature. I'm a bit of a shit-disturber.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: When you originally described this album to me last March, I thought that there would be much more dichotomy between the instrumental and the voice. And to me they just nicely fitted together.
Rud: I'm very glad. Well, I got a lot of advice from [the CD's producer] Paul Johnston, and from my girlfriend, Robin Gorn, who's a very fine singer. When she would hear little bits and pieces, she would just say the merest thing and it caused me to ...
We did the first few days of recording in Edmonton and then [Paul] gave me these assignments and said come back and let's do this and that. And I made some changes to all the music across the three weeks in between. In fact, even to the Bach! I changed the key it was in, which meant all the fingerings changed and I changed words, which at that that speed ... I had been working on it for two years already at that point, and to make that kind of change... but I did because I knew that I wanted it this new way.
And then I came back and I rented a studio in the Glebe [in Ottawa] called the Gallery. It was a really nice little studio space. I did two more days of recording. And at that point, I'd begun to really implement some of these ideas about how might I get the singing to go more smoothly [with the music]. And so I'm glad if it flows in together – that's good to hear.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Did you have any more material that didn't appear on the record?
Rud: There were other things that I worked on, and then there were a bunch of things that I ditched at various phases. But one thing I didn't do today and I should have, is when I take the Charlie Parker rhythm change tune “Dexterity” and I sing the bass line, while soloing over top of it. And for that one I did yards of prep for that, and then winnowed it down in the last few months to just a very brief – it's a minute and a half long on the record. Because I whittled it down to just the parts that were working well. That and the Bach were the purest versions of the brain-splitting thing.
So when I got to the studio in Edmonton, I did all the prepared stuff, and I did a bunch of more off-the-cuff things. And as I listened back, I loved the off-the-cuff things, and I started to see that it was because of some things with keys that I was instinctively choosing off-the-cuff. And it was because of this and because of that, it allowed me to make changes going forward to that second session here at the Glebe.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: You're best-known as a jazz guitarist. Did you do any work on your voice in the last couple years?
Rud: A little bit, and I took a couple lessons – of course with Sienna [Dahlen, the vocalist in Notes on Montreal]. And I got some good advice from Paul and from Robin. It was when Paul, the producer, and Robin seemed to be saying exactly the same things that I was, 'OK this is genuine information here'.
And it continues to evolve. It's really inconsistent, but at least the good half of the inconsistent is better than it used to be. And my philosophy as a musician is just go play. Make a mess sometimes and then clean it up. And the overall what they call in stats the regression line – the trend – it will just [go up]. Your worst day will get better and better and better. Just keep at it.
It's what they call a scatter plot. So one day it's just a nightmare and the other day it's 'Omigod, that worked out beautifully! What happened?' And I know that with my guitar playing in the last 30 years the inconsistency is never as good as you want it to be, but the inconsistency begins to disappear. The difference between your worst day and your best day is smaller and smaller, even to you.
I don't know if I'll grow old enough to find that same trend happening with my singing, but I like words. I like this thing where you sing and play, and have a group of people you're engaging with. So I'm just never going to stop.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Will you be touring this album anywhere else?
Rud: Oh yes. It's built for touring essentially, because it's so easy to throw together a living room show so spontaneously. It can be done so easily. I've already done a number of them. I'm going to play on the East Coast in the middle of October, got some workshops and some private shows, and then November is Northern Alberta and Regina.
But it's easier in this format than any other format because there's no band to line up. All you need is a room and half a dozen people, and you've got a show.
And, in a way, perversely, the less people that show up the more perfect it is for ... there's a guitar player from here named Amy Brandon and we did a little tour, she and I about a year and a half ago where I started doing the Bach and the other stuff in front of audiences, and sometimes there was nobody at those shows. There were three or four people at most of those shows, sometimes six, seven people. I loved that because there's nowhere to hide. It's just like this many people and you better do it.
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