I’ve been fascinated with solo improvisational horn playing for many years. This fascination was born out of several factors: after developing a severe overuse injury in the early 1990s I felt I could no longer play brass instruments the way I had been able to prior to this time. At the time it was devastating, but to shorten a long story, I began playing again in 2006 after the encouragement of two people very close to me, and with the help of a group of phenomenal teachers I was able to resume playing. However, when I started to play again, I had basically fallen out of the scene of creative instrumental music, in some respects I had never really gotten to enter it in the first place; the upshot of this is that I had very few people I could play with easily. Most of the time I was playing alone by myself, trying to figure out what, if anything, I could still do as a musician.
Although there is a long history of creative solo improvisation in the 20th and early 21st centuries, and within that, solo horn improvisation, my first real exposure at that time was attending a solo concert by Kirk Knuffke at Douglass St. Music Collective in Brooklyn. Aside from Kirk’s beautiful playing, I was transfixed by the sight and sound of a horn player offering creative improvised music completely alone for an hour, and making it work! At the time I remember thinking, “I didn’t know you could do that!” I began to experiment with it on my own and quickly realized how difficult, and how worthwhile, this pursuit could be. I also began to learn more specifically of the long history of solo horn improvisation ranging from that of Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon, Wadada Leo Smith, George Lewis, and Steve Lacy up through more recent exponents such as Nate Wooley, Peter Evans, Steve Coleman, Ellery Eskelin, Dave Ballou, and Sam Newsome; the list goes on and on.
What is the attraction to solo improvising? Is it its intimacy, vulnerability, nakedness, solitude, freedom?
Is it the physical and creative stamina required, the courage it demands, or the composite sheer challenge of it? For me, it is all of these things.
Though many speak of the goal of getting to the point in one’s playing where the instrument is under one’s complete control and functions only as a conduit to the inner world of the musician, solo playing requires, for me, at times, a willingness to let the instrument show me where I was really going, and a subsequent willingness to go there instead!
Since my initial long break from improvisational playing I have been forced to stop playing music at other times in my life, to care for a loved one, for lack of time, sometimes for a brief lack of hope. This has forced for me a return to fundamental questions: Why do we make music? Is it important? Is it necessary?
Is it to have fun, is it to share oneself?
Is it to reach the spirit within and without, the infinite, the intrinsic and extrinsic divine?
Is it simply that one likes the way it feels in one’s own body to make these sounds, as it did when we were children?
Again, for me, it is all of these things.
I hope you enjoy this offering of sound. — Matt Lambiase