HELLO! I'm Billy Marrows. For the 2016 Lancaster Youth Jazz Commission I've been writing a new suite in which each piece stems from a different concept of the traditional Indonesian music, Gamelan. Here’s a sneak preview.
I am a guitarist originally from North Yorkshire now based in London, studying Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music. Earlier this year I won the Dankworth prize for jazz composition for my octet chart Destarata which can be heard here: https://soundcloud.com/billy-marrows/destarata
I'm excited to be working with a very talented octet made up of some of my favourite musicians to play with. The rhythm section is Will Barry on piano (Jasper Hoiby's Fellow Creatures), Will Harris on bass (Moonlight Saving Time and Michelson Morley), Luke Tomlinson on drums (Alex Bone's Said Skeleton) and myself on guitar. On trumpet/flugelhorn I have Alistair Martin (Tom Smith Septet), on alto saxophone is Tom Smith (BBC young jazz musician finalist in 2014 and 2016, Tom Smith Septet). Tom Barford will be playing tenor and soprano saxophones (Barry Green Sextet, Tom Barford's Asterope which I play guitar in - www.tombarford.com) and on trombone I have Olli Martin (has appeared with the Gareth Lockrane Big band and Femi Temowo's The Music is the Feeling).
I really enjoy writing for octet; it provides the intimacy and spontaneity of small group jazz whist offering a wide range of compositional colours and textures. Over the last year I've written a lot for this band and I'm very much looking forwards to our first public performance, at this year’s Lancaster jazz festival!
Hear the octet...
After being awarded the youth jazz commission back in May I discovered that writing octet music that explored ideas from gamelan was quite the challenge! I started of by doing research, it was not a music that I had ever studied before but had been intrigued by when hearing it performed in Java three years ago. During the writing process I found that many of my initial ideas were hard to realise and I got pretty stuck many times!
The first piece I wrote is built around an interlocking rhythm from Balinese gamelan called Kotekan. It is a fairly recent addition to the tradition in which to independent parts (called polos and sangsih) fit together to create a complete rhythm that can be played at ferocious speeds. Its role in the music is a faster embellishment to the lower main melody and it is played on the higher pitched instruments such as gangsa and reyong. More specifically, I explore kotekan telu and kotekan empat which combine some pitches sounded together with others occurring only in the space of the other part. I use these pattern in a variety of ways in the piece, bringing in other influences such as Steve Reich. It's been very interesting to work out ways to generate ideas for group free improvisation with it too.
In gamelan the lower instruments such as the sarons and slenthem play a slow 'skeleton' melody called the balungan. This is embellished with variations of itself at faster rates in the higher instruments, creating what is known as a heterophonic texture. In my own take on this, I have written a composition in which the melody is accompanied by a bass line that is the melody played at a much slower rate and in a different key (a tritone away...)! I bring in the influence of Django Bates and Weather Report, in particular the ever building melodies of the two Wayne Shorter compositions Elegant People and Palladium.
I've experimented with emulating the sounds of the gamelan orchestra with extended techniques on the guitar. Particularly interesting is the way they tune pairs of the same instrument slightly apart to create a shimmering interference beating effect.
Another interlocking rhythm that caught my interest was that which the gender panerus plays; each hand of the musician plays an independent rhythm that fills the gap in the other hand, keeping the momentum sustained. I've written a swinging Bob Brookmeyer-esque chart that began life by experimenting with applying this concept to the relationship between the hits and the melody...
I'm very excited to premiere all of this brand new music at the festival on the 17th September at 2pm in the Hall! You can hear a sneak preview of some of the music from rehearsal here
Billy Marrows / Youth Jazz Commission 2016
Saturday 17 September, 2pm
Commissioned for Lancaster Jazz Festival and Selected by Lancaster Jazz Festival Members.
Supported using public funding by Arts Council England
Presented in partnership with J. Atkinson & Co.