Spotlight: Ken Aldcroft

Few guitarists attempt to improvise for a full set using minimal if any effects or prepared guitar implements. Keeping the music interesting and, well, musical for a forty minute set with nothing but a guitar and your fingers is not easy. Ken Aldcroft manages to do it through a thorough background in jazz, extended finger techniques like tapping and pinch harmonics, and a rooted sound that comes from the blues.

What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?

I would have to say the blues.

What led you to create more experimental (non-mainstream) music?

Originally, as a teenager, I was looking for “real” or “true” music. I am not sure what that is or if it’s even obtainable but it led me to country blues artists such as Robert Johnson and John Hammond among others. As I became more proficient playing the blues, and then burning out on it, I discovered Charlie Parker (the Dial Recordings) and Wes Montgomery (Full House). It felt “real” to me and I really liked the sound and the feel of what they were doing, but I didn’t understand it. So I went to a couple of music schools and worked really hard to understand it and play it.

This activity led me through many jazz developments by following artists such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley, Charles Mingus, Paul Motian, John Zorn, Dave Douglas Tim Berne, Joey Baron, Ellery Eskelin, Mark Helias, Gerry Hemingway and William Parker. During this time I also investigated composers in the modern/experimental classical music traditions such as Stockhausen, Feldman, Boulez and Cage.

I became somewhat disillusioned with the jazz continuum. I began to question how much improvisation actually existed. This led me to the free improvisation tradition. I began to investigate the Canadian, British, Dutch and German scenes. Artists included CCMC, Ron Samworth, Peggy Lee, John Heward, Rainer Wiens, Malcolm Goldstein, Derek Bailey, Eddie Prévost, Evan Parker, Han Bennink and Peter Brötzmann. Thankfully, these investigations led me back to the jazz continuum and I discovered artists such as Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sun Ra, ICP Orchestra and Steve Lacy.

This journey opened my eyes to creative forms in all music and I checked out artists such as Captain Beefheart, Sonic Youth, Deerhoof and back to the blues Howlin’ Wolf (This is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album…).

Whose music inspires you? Past and Present.

I think I answered the “Past” in the previous question. I guess the music that inspires me in the present is all the people I hear and get to play with. I also enjoy discovering all the music from the past that I don’t know very well.

How did you get better at your current style?

Practice/compose, perform (rehearse), record, and perform: repeat

What are you trying convey with your music?

Since improvisation is the primary activity or foundation in what I do, I think I am trying to convey a journey within the moment where the performers and audience members follow the ideas and sounds in the moment. It can be whatever it means to whomever is listening. How they hear it or experience it is wrapped up in their own history with music.

Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?

For both live and recording I play a 1951 Gibson ES-125 or a 1967 Gibson ES-335, a DOD DFX94 (4sec delay/sampler pedal), and a Boss Turbo Overdrive pedal, a Fender Pro Junior amp or an amp I borrow from a friend or the studio. On my most recent solo album it was recorded and mixed trying to get a balance of the room sound of the guitar and amp together in combination with close miking the amp and guitar.

Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?

With all of my current projects I approach recording and performing live in the same way. The recording process is to document a performance rather than to create a specific composition to then be recreated in a live setting. I enjoy them equally.

How have you built up an audience for your music?

I believe that the way to build an audience is the same now as it has always been: You have to perform in as many places as possible, as often as possible. Recording or documenting releases in a variety of forms, such as CD, vinyl, and digitally, is also an important part of the process. Another part is being proactive in your city/town and becoming a presenter of your own music and the music of other artists in your scene and those who are from out of town. I am not sure how big the audience is for creative forms of jazz and improvised music, let alone for my music. But I continue on this path.

With whom would you like to collaborate and why?

For both creative jazz and free improvisation I would like to play with anyone who is completely dedicated to the art form and the process that comes with it.

What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?

I guess that would be my latest solo CD Mister, Mister. For this recording I used my spontaneous arranging and orchestrating concepts developed in my Convergence Ensemble, but in a solo format. Spontaneous arranging and orchestrating is used to merge composition and free improvisation. Basically, the idea is to retain the concept of the free improviser while performing pieces. Retaining the concept of a free improviser means that the composition, the initial inspiration for the piece or the arrangement/form, the styles it may reference, or the roles of the instruments don’t trump the flow of improvisation.

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