Spooky Creek is a piece commissioned by Pyramid Club with the assistance of Creative New Zealand. The piece has been worked on in rehearsal and, like all good music with an element of improvisation and group ownership, has evolved over the course of many performances.
Listen to the most recently recorded iteration above, and have a read to learn a little more about the working process from the composer Tom Callwood .
Devil's Gate in the distance.
During lockdown I was approached by the good folk at Pyramid Club to create some isolation-friendly musical work. With plenty of time on my hands I was keen to do something creative and the recently formed Devil’s Gate Outfit (DGO) was in need of original tunes to play, so I set about writing an appropriate ditty.
DGO is a 7 piece experimental improvising jazz group. We take jazzy sounding themes on a journey of discovery, exploring any sound combinations available to us. Saxophone, cornet, guitar, vibraphone, bass banjo, drums, double bass (me), bass clarinet and loads of percussion being the foundation of our sound.
I used my tried and true composing technique of sitting down at my out of tune old piano to write. I wanted the melody to be simple, memorable, and create a mood that would be distinctly different from the repertoire we already had. Something mysterious perhaps. Some ideas for the rhythm section would be helpful at rehearsal too.
After 20 minutes of piano noodling a descending melodic line took shape, utilizing the Ab harmonic minor scale and suggesting an Ab minor major7 chord. The harmonic minor scale has a dark and mysterious quality to it, perfect for the mood I wanted to create. A rhythmic bass response emerged creating a 6 beat pattern, which I imagined the double bass and bass banjo playing as a 2 note double stop. An ascending responding line and bass part popped into my head, this time suggesting an E major7 #11 chord, which created a lightness, countering the dark harmony of the first chord.
I recorded it on my phone before I could forget it. These two chords ended up forming the basis to the whole piece.
I named the tune 'Spooky Creek', a reference to a creek around the south coast of Wellington not far from Devil's Gate, where the band's name comes from.
I played it to Dan (guitar) and Ant (drums) who agreed there was potential for it to work for DGO. It needed to be developed, and eventually another section became an ear worm in my brain.
This time it started with a bass part, answered with an ascending melody, repeated, then the slightest variation of each part to make it fit the two chords from the first section. I made a demo of it on nylon string guitar -my guitar playing being slightly better than my piano skills- and sent it to the band.
I liked the idea of the two sections overlapping, working together to create multi-layered melodies and rhythms. I also chucked in an idea of a dotted crotchet rhythm coming in later.
The first DGO residency.
Coming out of lockdown, DGO were asked to do a Thursday night six week residency by our friends at Meow, which was a perfect opportunity for us to work on new material. A few weeks into the residency we got around to rehearsing my new tune.
It needed an arrangement; this is my favourite part of the process, turning an idea over to the group and seeing what happens. Being open to anything was easy as all the ideas I had were on the demo. I had no idea how it should or could unfold.
We went over the different parts, trying different combinations of instruments. It felt nice for the vibraphone to set up the melodies, the horns coming in second time around. The dotted crotchet rhythm I had chucked on the demo last minute became a horn intro. We collectively came upon the idea of using the bass part from the second section as something we move towards after a while. The drums stop once this is established; Anthony tried several approaches to bringing the drums back in, from the mellow swing in the first rehearsal to the rocking groove heard on the live recording.
This is Collective arranging 101! The music making I love.
Over the past year we have played Spooky Creek many times. Each has been recorded, analyzed, and any issues ironed out. The recording from the gig on the 31st of March is the latest recording, it is by no means the definitive recording, I hope you enjoy it.