Solo

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Virtually all of the improvising musicians active in the last fifty years whom I admire have dedicated themselves, to varying degrees and in different ways, to solo playing. By early 2014, I had played a few solo concerts but none had been particularly successful; it seemed like an area due some attention. In May 2014, I had time to commit to a new project and unique access to La Poêle, a Mile End (Montreal) dance studio with which I have a family connection. I started a series, Trombone Solos at Odd Hours (Solos de trombone à heures indues), in which I’d play a thirty-minute improvised solo six days a week for as long as my schedule and interest could afford it. Having access to the studio calendar, I’d cherry-pick hours not likely to be rented at different hours during the day, and announce the concerts on this site and in local listings. The start-times, as you can see below, are ridiculously specific, and I endeavoured to start each solo exactly on time. The choice of start-times is in a way practical, since the concerts can’t start on the hour when studio bookings typically begin due to the need to set up, etc. It is also my sly commentary on the absurd practice –– particularly prevalent in Montreal –– of listing concerts for one time and then having them start as much as 90 minutes later.

This intensely underground project even received a milligram of international media attention.

I have now done six such series, more than 130 concerts. Some of the recorded proceeds from the second series were released in Spring 2016 as Heures indues (bim-73) on Chris Dadge’s Bug Incision label in Calgary. Furthermore, a piece from my January 2018 series, “For Woody Epps,” has been included on a compilation of trombone solos, Trombilation, on the Dutch label, Faux Amis Records. Two weeks of concerts from the 2019 series took place not at La Poêle but in the painting studio of the late John Heward, a gesture toward animating a special space that was long the site of dedicated quotidian artistic practice. These were reprised in November 2019, during a period when recordings from the January series were being prepared for release, a disc called Murray on the Rimouski-based label, Tour de Bras.

These are my Murray liner notes:

I had already planned a January 2019 installment of Trombone Solos at Odd Hours at another venue. After the death that autumn of my friend, the painter and drummer John Heward, it felt apt instead to do the work in his painting studio in the Murray street building, Montréal, where he and Sylvia Safdie had lived and worked for decades.

The periodic series, which dates back to 2014, comprises thirty-minute improvised solo concerts six days weekly for as long as my time and interest can afford, amounting to more than 120 concerts to date. They are about working in a context where the potential exists that someone will listen; otherwise it may just be ‘practicing.’ And to do it almost every day puts extreme pressure on the material and the player working with it, ruthlessly exposing his habits, lazinesses, and clichés — hopefully for the better.

John’s studio, a wildly resonant industrial space, resonates as a place for such work. Its walls are marked evocatively with the oh-so-present residue of his quotidian efforts to avoid similar pitfalls, to work with the material with conviction and curiosity and purpose. It was so moving to arrive there daily, put the things in their place, and embark — just as he had done for so many years. The proceeds of some of this work are included here.

If the series is for John, it is equally for Sylvia, whose wistful remark after his death, “the place is just so quiet,” affirmed how good and right it was to hold it there. However, these discrete pieces are for Andrew and Lorenzo* respectively; they were the audience members (each one an ‘audient’) for these concerts, and their ears, attention, and energy are vital keys to the work.

I am grateful to all of these people.

* The two pieces that Murray comprises are “For Andrew MacKelvie” and “For Lorenzo Belli”

2014

  • 1 May, 12:12pm
  • 2 May, 9:21am
  • 3 May, 5:26pm
  • 5 May, 9:01am
  • 6 May, 9:17am
  • 7 May, 5:37pm
  • 8 May, 5:06pm
  • 9 May, 3:23pm
  • 10 May, 5:26pm
  • 12 May, 4:07pm
  • 13 May, 9:02am
  • 14 May, 9:20am
  • 16 May, 12:31pm
  • 17 May, 5:22pm
  • 19 May, 11:11am
  • 20 May, 9:28am
  • 21 May, 1:03pm
  • 22 May, 5:17pm
  • 23 May, 1:26pm
  • 24 May, 9:05am
  • 26 May, 5:09pm
  • 27 May, 10:10am
  • 28 May, 1:13pm
  • 29 May, 10:14am
  • 31 May, 4:28pm
  • 2 June, 11:24am
  • 3 June, 1:05pm
  • 4 June, 9:11am
  • 5 June, 5:12pm
  • 6 June, 9:52am
  • 7 June, 12:12pm
  • 9 June, 9:56am
  • 10 June, 9:02am
  • 11 June, 9:44am
  • 12 June, 4:43pm
  • 13 June, 9:51am
  • 16 June, 9:09am
  • 17 June, 1:21pm
  • 18 June, 1:18pm

2015

  • 12 January, 11:23am
  • 13 January, 11:11am
  • 14 January, 3:21pm
  • 15 January, 12:19pm
  • 16 January, 12:07pm
  • 17 January, 9:10am
  • 19 January, 5:12pm
  • 20 January, 3:02pm
  • 21 January, 5:09pm
  • 22 January, 4:17pm
  • 24 January, 5:13pm
  • 26 January, 9:11am
  • 29 January, 4:20pm
  • 30 January, 1:06pm
  • 31 January, 4:14pm
  • 2 February, 9:15am
  • 4 February, 5:16pm
  • 5 February, 1:22pm
  • 6 February, 5:18pm
  • 7 February, 2:19pm
  • 10 February, 9:04am
  • 12 February, 1:16pm
  • 14 February, 12:12pm
  • 9 November, 3:17pm
  • 10 November, 4:21pm
  • 11 November, 12:16pm
  • 12 November, 4:19pm
  • 13 November, 12:14pm
  • 14 November, 9:02am
  • 16 November, 12:11pm
  • 17 November, 1:33pm
  • 18 November, 9:46am
  • 19 November, 5:27pm
  • 20 November, 9:48am
  • 21 November, 9:04am
  • 23 November, 3:20pm
  • 24 November, 4:12pm
  • 25 November, 9:10am
  • 26 November, 10:07am
  • 27 November, 9:52am
  • 28 November, 9:01am

2018

  • 5 January, 5:11pm
  • 6 January, 9:17 am
  • 8 January, 4:04 pm
  • 9 January, 3:24pm
  • 10 January, 1:16pm
  • 11 January, 5:03pm
  • 12 January, 1:17pm
  • 13 January, 4:12pm
  • 15 January, 3:22pm
  • 16 January, 5:20pm
  • 17 January, 9:13am
  • 18 January, 4:24pm

2019

  • 7 January, 4:17pm
  • 8 January, 5:21pm
  • 9 January, 1:14pm
  • 10 January, 10:06am
  • 11 January, 4:22pm
  • 12 January, 10:11am
  • 14 January, 11:44am*
  • 15 January, 2:06pm*
  • 16 January, 10:33am*
  • 17 January, 3:42pm*
  • 18 January, 2:36pm*
  • 19 January, 1:13pm*
  • 21 January, 12:40pm*
  • 22 January, 11:32am*
  • 23 January, 2:11pm*
  • 24 January, 5:07pm*
  • 25 January, 4:23pm*
  • 26 January, 9:59am*
  • 3 July, 10:37am**
  • 4 July, 1:13pm**
  • 5 July, 3:21pm**
  • 8 July, 2:09pm**
  • 9 July, 4:04pm**
  • 10 July, 10:30pm (Tranzac Club, Toronto)
  • 11 July, 10:01am**
  • 15 July, 3:49pm**
  • 16 July, 1:02pm**
  • 17 July, 9:56am**
  • 18 July, 3:08pm**
  • 7 November, 2:10pm*
  • 8 November, 11:07am*
  • 9 November, 3:02pm*
  • 10 November, 1:17pm*
  • 11 November, 3:24pm*
  • 12 November, 10:43am*
  • 13 November, 2:04pm*
  • 14 November, 4:31pm*
  • 15 November, 11:12am*
  • 16 November, 12:51pm*
  • 17 November, 9:43am*

* Murray Street edition; concerts in John Heward’s painting studio
** Silence Edition; concerts in Guelph Ontario

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Great review by Stuart Broomer of Heures indues: Trombone Solos (Bug Incision) alongside those of other superb releases by my friends Yves Charuest, Nicolas Caloia, Nick Fraser, and Rob Clutton.

‘Scott Thomson has ranged from The Rent, a group devoted to Steve Lacy repertoire, to site-specific compositions for a brass ensemble. In 2014-15 he had regular access to La Poêle, a Montreal dance studio, and launched a series of 30-minute concerts, Trombone Solos at Odd Hours (Solos de trombone à heures indues), six days a week – e.g., “19 May, 11:11am.” The resultant CD, Heures Indues (bug incision), has three pieces, each dedicated to an individual, each the sole listener for the performance. Thomson is an exceptional soloist, the beneficiary of close study of Paul Rutherford and studies with Roswell Rudd who has developed his own voice. He uses the whole instrument and has a keen sense of focus and development. “For Elizabeth Millar” begins in an extreme upper register, with little wisps of sound, from micro-glissandi that suggest animal voices to fragmented bugle calls. “For Jacques Gravel” explores multiphonics and muting, developing at one point a swing both vigorous and light. “For Lin Snelling,” the longest of the three pieces, adds the rattle of the metal mute against the bell and rapid runs, but Thomson also has something of the lyric upper register of Tommy Dorsey in his collection of sounds. What stands out most in these performances by appointment is Thomson’s sense of calm construction, every shift an organic evolution, akin to the solo work of Conrad Bauer.’

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Another great review by Stuart Broomer, this one of Murray: Trombone Solos

Trombonist, conceptualist, composer of site-specific works and programmer, Scott Thomson takes a speculative approach to improvised solo performance. In April 2014, he launched his first Trombone Solos at Odd Hoursin Montreal’s La Poêle dance studio at times like 4 June, 9:11 am. Since then he has performed over 130 such concerts, often for a single listener.In 2016, the Calgary label Bug Incision released Heures Indues, a CD with three performances; Murray comes from a 2019 series in the Montreal studio of Thomson’s late friend and collaborator, the painter and drummer John Heward.

Thomson’s solos don’t explore a single idea; rather, they’re perambulations, here two half-hour long journeys through a variety of impulses and inspirations, with shifting melodies and timbres that can burst forth with marching band gusto or alight in a singing high register. Sometimes there’s a resonant partnership with some other material, whether an appended mute or something like furniture moving in the room. Sudden volume shifts suggest that Thomson is playing two trombones, one blasting loudly into the microphone, the other a distant, whispered aside.

The CD is packaged with cards reproducing a few of Heward’s starkly powerful abstractions, and the echoes of his studio may play a role in these performances, thematic as well as sonic. There’s something dramatic here, moods developing and changing along with the materials, a moving meditation in a terrain full of surprises, the shifting interior monologue of a musical flâneur.

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Somewhat odd but ultimately very positive review of Murray: Trombone Solos by Frans de Waard in Vital Weekly, The Netherlands:

While the music is entirely improvised, I stuck to it. I am not sure why as this seems more the area of expertise of our improvised music crew, but I found it all quite captivating. Thomson plays with great style, going from something very quiet to something very loud. His playing is conventional in such a way that we recognize the trombone as the trombone; it is not so much an object to extract sounds from that happens to be a trombone, at least most of the time. I wouldn’t vouch for it to be not that for the entire time. Yet, he in his playing he shows us a wide variety of approaches and while the instrument at times sounds like a wet fart (sorry), it is the variation between the short attacks versus the long, sustaining sounds and the occasional rattle he also produces, but, as said, this is kept to a minimum. This is some highly imaginative music that is played here; one that captivated me for the full hour it lasted.