Thursday, August 6, 2015

Phish Type II Jamming

The majority of the music Phish plays is improvised in some way or another. Much of that improvisation follows the standards set by jazz and rock n’ roll where the soloists improvise within the chord changes and/or structure of the song of the moment. However, Phish will sometimes takes things a step farther - into uncharted waters - in what is called Type II jamming.
Essentially, a Type II jam is an improvisation that departs from the structure of the song from which it sprang. In Phish’s case this usually means that a new impromptu structure (keys, modes, rhythm, tempo, timing) is created along the way. This is not to be confused with “free jazz” or what the Grateful Dead called “Space” - music that is seemingly devoid of focus or a destination.

No, unlike free jazz or Space, you can isolate virtually any segment of a Phish Type II jam and, although you may not be able to identify which “song” it is, the music will still resemble a composition, albeit a spontaneously composed one. A Type II jam does not have to come out of a song itself, but Phish usually uses established songs as springboards for this type of exploration, and virtually any song in their repertoire has this potential.

Type II jamming is not exclusive to Phish, but they are certainly the best at it. For many fans it is that sense of the unknown – the risk/reward potential of this type of experimentation – that keeps them coming back for more. Most Phish shows will have at least one instance of Type II jamming where a listener might forget what song it is, but the great shows find a way to return to this undisclosed location again and again.

If Phish can turn this on or off like a faucet – and one tends to think they can – then the question becomes why are they so selective about when to do this? Do they not want it become formulaic or forced? By keeping the element of surprise intact / that feeling of suspense / that “anything can happen” attitude, then I suppose it makes it all the more special when they construct spontaneous masterpieces like the Riverport Gin, the Worcester Jim, the Nassau Roses Are Free or the Tahoe Tweezer.

The time has come for a group of talented improvisers who have studied the way Phish orchestrates their off-the-cuff compositions to focus exclusively on their own type of Type II jamming. Cut to the chase.  start there...get there...finish there.  Or would that be too much of a good thing?

No comments:

Post a Comment