Playing the Kane Game
04 October 2016
Interview with Daniel Spicer. Image credit: Peter Fay
Double-bassist, improviser and composer, Dave Kane, has a clear vision of the higher path a serious musician must take: “You’re a searcher. You’re seeking something through creating music, by being a composer or an improviser. It’s a search for something and that search is the same as a spiritual practice: what is that thing, whatever it is you get a glimpse of, that other space where it’s very blissful? It’s there in all of us.”
He knows what he’s talking about, too. Over the last decade or so, Kane has built a reputation as a musical seeker of great depth and commitment, with a natural affinity for the turbulent spontaneity of free jazz and improvisation. Whether working with renowned units such as Bourne Davis Kane (with or without veteran UK reedsman, Paul Dunmall), The Spirit Farm, his duo with trumpeter Alex Bonney or leading his own eponymous quartet or the ensemble Dave Kane’s Rabbit Project – Kane is always the real deal. Moreover, in recent times, he’s developed a heartfelt spiritual practice that has become every bit as important to him as his music: for the last six years, he’s explored Ashtanga yoga, and for the last year and half, he’s been a devoted, twice-daily practitioner of Transcendental Meditation. What’s more, for Kane, the two practices – musical and spiritual – are intimately connected.
“I think that’s why I really connected with Ashtanga yoga and with meditation,” he explains. “It felt like ‘this is what I do when I’m playing free.’ I feel as though I reach the same sort of level of consciousness. I’m in a state of consciousness where the music is coming through me. It sounds like a cliché but I’m just a vehicle to serve that, by almost getting myself out of the way. But that comes through practice – being able to actually play, technically, the ideas, so you don’t have limitations that will stop the music in the moment flowing through you within a free context. Then I’ve found through practicing Ashtanga yoga, the breath is that thing: you’re constantly working with the breath within the poses, and it generates, I felt, an instant connection. I was like ‘oh, wow, this is just like the feeling or the level of consciousness I get when I’m playing music.’ It’s a vibrational thing, I guess.
“And it’s the same in meditation, when you’re reciting the mantra, you’re raising the level of your vibration to a positive level. You get the same thing when you’re playing with players who are better than you or who you have a huge amount of empathy with, then the musicians all commune on the same vibration, especially when playing free and improvised music because you never talk about what you’re going to do. Everyone’s just listening and allowing the music to go where it wants to go, and having the space and the empathy to allow that to happen. In a gig, playing free, time becomes elastic, as it does in meditation. Your perception of time changes, in the same way that it does when you meditate. I really feel a connectedness to something bigger – especially when playing free music because you’ll have all these crazy hook-ups with the musicians, like playing exactly the same thing at the same time. You start to communicate in a purely musical language, without any predetermined ideas. That’s really fascinating. You’re operating on a conscious level that is running at a higher vibration. You’re in tune to what’s going on. It’s the same if you practise yoga in a group of 20 or 30 people, the energy in the room is way higher than it is whenever you practise by yourself.”
It’s little surprise, then, that for his brand new commission for Marsden Jazz Festival 2016 – and his first ever solo commission – Kane has chosen to pursue a subject that speaks to both of his abiding passions. The Kleshas is a piece for solo double bass in five movements, which seeks to explore and understand the five obstacles to spiritual growth – or kleshas – as described in the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras: avidya (ignorance), asmita (ego), raga (attachment to pleasure), dvesha (aversion to pain) and abhinivesha (fear of death, or clinging to life). It’s a branch of knowledge that Kane has tackled with both scholarly seriousness and a subtle sense of humour: “I’m treating each of the kleshas as subject matter for me to interpret both philosophically and metaphorically. So, the ego movement is deliberately going to be a display of technical prowess, which is not how I normally work, and a bit tongue in cheek. And the raga, or attachment, movement will be something that will be really enjoyable to play and enjoyable for the listener as well.”
Perhaps it was inevitable that an artistic endeavour based on ancient Vedic teachings would yield its own pearls of wisdom. In fact, to come up with the finished piece, Kane had to work through some of the very obstacles the music seeks to describe. “My initial thinking on it was that I was going to use electronics and a loop pedal,” he recalls, “but, after spending days in the studio working with the loop pedal and some effects, I just wasn’t getting anywhere with it at all. I was really struggling.” The breakthrough came when Kane realised his self-doubt and blinkered insistence on focusing on the loop pedal were merely aspects of asmita – obstacles to progress thrown up by ego. “Whenever I was coming up against obstacles, what seemed like fruitless hours in the studio – it actually wasn’t, it was me fighting these obstacles that are in the piece in many ways.”
So, for The Kleshas, don’t expect loop pedals or gratuitous electronic processing. Instead, you’ll find one deeply sincere musician undertaking a journey of spiritual discovery through applied musical exploration: “This commission is giving me the opportunity to properly practise the bass, and spend some time with it – and that’s also really similar to my yoga and meditation practice. With a twice-daily meditation, within a few days you start to feel better – and feel the benefit – and it’s similar with the bass, if you’re playing every single day, whether it’s a couple of hours of scales and arpeggios or a couple of hours of just communing with the instrument – I guess meditating through the music. And, really, that’s what improvising is all about.”
Daniel Spicer is a journalist and the Director of Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival
Gig details: Dave Kane: The Kleshas 2pm, Saturday 8 October 2016
© 2016 Daniel Spicer