Thursday, February 28, 2013


The other day I was on the computer, while listening to Kodo.  I asked myself, “why can’t I solo like that?”  The question quickly turned into "why don't I solo like that?" And then the answer hit me like a light bulb going off: because my group limits me.

(edit: Actually, let me make it sound less conceited here - for any group, yours or mine or someone else's, there is a group style that members may or may not fit into exactly right.  We all have to make those adaptations, whether it means stepping up, holding back, or what-have-you.)

Now this isn’t going to be me disrespecting SJT or even being critical of it.  What I realized is that in our repertoire, when we have solos, I have to hold back.  In my earlier years, I was often told to ease off/back off/play less/etc. and at first I didn’t understand why *I* had to put limits on my abilities.  Later on I realized that just because I could didn’t mean I should.

When a song called for more interaction and cohesion in the solos between players, me playing really complex syncopation often meant the next player would get shafted.  As awesome as I thought I just was, I’d just make for a very awkward hand-off to the next soloist.  When a song had a groovy ji and I wanted to play something densely polyrhythmic, it was like me playing a different song from everyone else.  No matter how “good” those solos might have been, they weren’t strengthening the song or the ensemble.  In time, I came to realize this and figured if I’m really as good as I think I am then I should be able to tailor my solo to the song and play within those parameters.

I should clarify that the solos I’m referring to are more chops-oriented solos, less about movement and more about rhythm.  However, I was still effectively limiting myself by continually soloing within the established parameters.  It doesn’t make me mad to think about, it doesn’t make me think that SJT is to “blame”, or anything like that.  These were the songs and those were the rules!

What I realized was that while I get to express myself through ki and kata (energy and physicality) within the group, I don’t really get to express myself musically.  *That’s* where I feel restrained.  Again, this is no one’s fault.  What I have to do, if I truly want to express myself in a solo, is write a song where I can solo however I please.

Okay, there are limits on that – I can’t write a 10-minute-long solo featuring me.  I am still playing with SJT and there are a few considerations.  Any song I write needs to have parts that eventually can be played by others. Even if others aren’t able to play what I play in my solo, the spot itself can’t be too difficult or so customized to me.  And it's not just about the solos, although that is a large part of how I like to express myself.  My compositions were mostly with SJT in mind, thinking about how they would fit into the existing repertoireI never really tried to push compositional or musical limits and am just now realizing that I have the ability (and desire) to do so.

While I can strive to write a piece that is challenging to be in, I have to be aware that if others don’t find the challenge fun, no one’s going to want to play it.  It’s also interesting to think that if I make a piece that pushes people’s chops in order to play it, won’t that improve the group as a whole?

Ultimately, I am at a point where I want to express myself more, and explore what that actually means.  If I don’t feel the ability to do it within the group currently, it’s unfair to wait and expect it to just happen out of the blue.  I want to get into the studio, grab a bunch of drums, get the metronome on, and just solo until I feel what the ji should be underneath me, until I feel what kind of song would support that kind of soloing.  This idea excites and inspires me!  I have a song I’ve started to make some progress with, but this will be a very different creature entirely.

Examine your own group and soloing style.  You may not solo or you may not be familiar enough with soloing to feel you can ask yourself this question, but are you limited because of the repertoire and/or sensibilities of your group?  If so, what are you going to do about it?

Limitations can be like a brick wall, but sometimes it’s a brick wall where when you step back you realize you can either walk around it  - or find a better path altogether!

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