Archive for December 4, 2010

Change of the Century

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on December 4, 2010 by telescoper

It’s cold and rainy outside so I thought I’d indulge myself by posting a bit of music. When I was in Oxford last week I was treated to a glass or two of wine after my seminar and during the conversation I was mildy castigated by Pedro Ferreira for not posting enough “modern jazz”, and especially not enough Ornette Coleman. I explained that I always feel like I’m cheating when I just put up a bit of music without actually writing something about it at the same time, and I especially feel that way about pieces that some people might find a bit challenging.

Anyway, I went through my collection just now and found the pioneering album Change of the Century which is well represented on Youtube (and not cursed by the copyright mafia), so here we go…

Coleman’s music must have sounded strange and dissonant for listeners in the late 1950s but it was soon assimilated and became part of the language of jazz from the 1960s onwards. This album dates from 1959, right at the start of his acceptance as a major artist. This album is actually also one of his most listenable LPs and contains a number of tunes which are catchy and even singable. There are obvious overtones of Charlie Parker throughout, but Ornette is already introducing some novel features, especially the use of suspended rhythmic figures which Miles Davis was to call the “stopping and swinging” approach to improvisation.

The album also features Don Cherry on trumpet, Billy Higgins on drums and the superb Charlie Haden on bass so it’s by no means a solo vehicle for Ornette Coleman’s alto saxophone. Indeed, some of the most exciting moments in the album belong to the intricate alto-trumpet unison passages, which are so complicated but played with unbelievable accuracy by the musicians. The following track, simply called Free, provides good examples.

Ornette Coleman’s playing, though, is truly remarkable: agile, constantly moving and full of nervous energy, but also bursting away from the constraints of the bar lines and sometimes taking ideas over the boundary between one chorus and the next. In this respect he was fortunate to have Haden and Higgins playing behind him because they seem to be able to sense the direction of these spontaneous departures, giving the music a close-knit unity which sets it apart from so many other groups recorded at the same time.

If you’re interested in modern jazz you really should get this album. It’s consistently brilliant. As a taster, here’s the track called Free, which is my favourite.

Don Cherry and Billy Higgins are sadly no longer with us, but Ornette Coleman is still going strong. I hope to post some reflections on his later work in due course.



Meanwhile, Down Under…

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , , , , on December 4, 2010 by telescoper

At the end of day two of the Second Ashes Test between England and Australia, England were 317 for 2 in response to Australia’s 245 all out. Cook is 136 not out and Petersen 85 not out. Going well for England down under in the heat of Adelaide, I’d say. Australian captain Ricky Ponting seems to be hoping for help from above..

..although, given that this is in Australia, surely his hands are actually pointing downwards?


Important News from STFC

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , on December 4, 2010 by telescoper

Donning my community service hat,  I’ll just pass on some important news from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) concerning Astronomy research grants. The message is contained in an email that has been circulated concerning the new grant system and you can also find it at Paul Crowther’s website here. I urge all astronomers to read the text in full. I believe separate instructions are going out to particle physics and nuclear physics groups concerning their grants.

The main points are that:

  • The new system of consolidated grants will be implemented for the forthcoming deadline (7th April 2011).
  • There will be no more standard grants.
  • Detailed guidance on how to apply the consolidated grants is not yet available.

A lot of questions remain to be answered, such as how on Earth people are going to be able to write a big proposal in the short time available when there are as yet no proper instructions, how groups with several existing grants will go about consolidating them when they all have different start and end dates, how the consolidated grants will be assessed, etc.

Also, it is now clear that results of the existing grant round (for grants due to start in April 2011) will not be forthcoming until January at the earliest, so that Swindon Office will be trying to sort out the new system at the same time as trying to complete the last round of the old one.

The combinations of delays to this round with the hasty implementation of a drastically different scheme for the next round is bound to cause a lot of problems both for STFC staff and researchers wanting to apply for grants, not to mention the Astronomy Grants Panel (of which I am a member).

The main purpose of this change is to save administrative costs at STFC, but it seems to me the main effect will be transfer an increased burden to universities, at least in the short term. Once again everything’s being done by the seat of the pants, with a complete lack of joined-up thinking.

Please don’t shoot the messenger, or anyone else on the AGP!