Carole Nelson is one of a number of Irish artists with an international
vocation who has resisted the lure of the city and is rewriting the association of rural Ireland […]
Aintzane Legarreta Mentxaka, ‘Recensioni / Reviews’,
Studi irlandesi Irish Studies (2019), pp.606-617
All Things ‘Arboreal’: Jazz and Forests?
This time last year, I had been waiting for months to hear if my final edits to my seemingly interminable PhD had been approved. I thought when I did get it done, that I would return to more video and photography of Hollywood forest and perhaps more art and sustainability policy work. I am still gathering images, but the day I got the news that my PhD had finally been confirmed I had a new friend, Carole Nelson, a Carlow-based Jazz composer and musician, with me.
Carole had been asking me for some time for advice on forests and ecological knowledge. She was developing new jazz compositions inspired by her walking in the beautiful Clashganny wood that overlooks Carlow’s Barrow River. Carole was becoming aware of the ecological crisis and asked me to help her think through ideas. Meeting Carole has been so important in encouraging me further to share my knowledge with others too!
Carole was building on her previous pioneering jazz concept album, One Day in Winter (2017) that was inspired by a winter’s day in our valley here in Carlow. A music academic, Aintzane Legarreta Mentxaka has extensively reviewed Carole’s music career and her recent Carole Nelson Jazz Trio work (with talented musicians Cormac O’Brien and Dominic Mullan). Mentxaka argues Carole is advancing jazz in rural ways beyond its formation as a city-inspired art form (see the fascinating paper in the Studi irlandesi Irish Studies journal (2019) here). I was fortunate to hear Carole perform One Day in Winter with her trio – ‘The Carole Nelson Trio’ at our Visual Carlow Centre in December 2017, and I was entranced. I congratulated Carole afterwards as I had been listening to this album on repeat, as have many of my friends. Carole again said – “I need to talk to you about forests!”
Mentoring a Jazz Composer!!
I was more than a little startled to advise an accomplished composer, as my music, let alone jazz knowledge is close to zilch. But we began meeting regularly, over bowls of soup, going for walks, with me taking pictures and listening hard to try and understand a new art form. But mostly, what was very productive and special was our shared conversations on material I sent Carole; books, videos, ideas about forests, and of course, the overarching eco-social crisis. And then later, ping, I’d find an astonishing new ecological or forest inspired jazz track in my Dropbox from Carole. Carole was creating new tracks as we met over several months for a new album, with the working title ‘Arboreal’.
I thought you might like to listen in on a conversation from last January, that I was having with Carole about forest fungal mycelia. We turned the recorder on after I spluttered in astonishment that one track Carole sent me seemed heavy and not what I thought forest fungal mycelial activity might be like and she just burst into a Philip Glass-type riff. Anyway, have a listen below to hear how a jazz composer translates forest-fungi ecological interdependency:
If you have listened through, below is me playing Carole’s track ‘Canopy’ on my iPhone in Hollywood forest. Hollywood’s birds are provided backing support 🙂 (Its a poor recording but isn’t the work a tender, mindful impression of forests’ life-giving canopies. I’d like to record it again at dawn when the birds are really in song!
‘Canopy’ (working title)
Carole works fast! I was so fortunate a couple of weeks ago to hear the first airing of about a dozen new tracks of the new ‘Arboreal’ album, performed with the trio at the Dublin International Bar. And, for the the first time I heard Carole’s new composition ‘Beneath the surface’ inspired by forest mycelia with a drum accompaniment. Carole played this track near the end of their performance and you can hear Carole exclaim in the recording. She was trying to keep up with the fast moving rhythms of fungal mycelia. To me, the composition feels like how fungi are relentless searchers, connecting, transmuting and sometimes resting dormant beneath the forest floor. I just love it.
‘Beneath the Surface’ (working title) (PLAY THIS LOUD!)
The Carole Nelson Trio are setting off this weekend to record the album at HellFire Studio and I wish them every success. The more I have got to understand the jazz world, the more connections to forests I see – Jazz is complex, delightful, mysterious, embodying the freewheeling energy of life. And thank you Carole – it has been a joy to connect with you and your special work!
Carole’s work is generously supported by the Carlow Arts Office and the Irish Arts Council.
Music for the Ecological Emergency: #MusicDeclares, #JazzDeclares!!
Followers of this blog know I have been advocating the arts have a crucial role, alongside science, to shift society towards living well with the Earth and its inhabitants. Greta Thunberg’s astonishing activism and the brave international Xtinction Rebellion movement have inspired many people around the world in recent months to march and now engage in non-violent disobedience for the planetary eco-social emergency.
And, as in cultural revolutions of the past for a better world, some ecoliterate cultural workers have been very active in the groundswell of these mass demonstrations. They lend their creative talents to engagingly transmit the dire situation humanity is in, to the greater public. Art in all its forms has powerful ways to move the hearts of people towards new understandings. Music especially can engage everyone.
The group, CultureDeclares, (on Instagram #CultureDeclares), has developed in parallel with Xtinction Rebellion, to offer their creative skills for marchers and protestors. This cultural activity is evident in the numerous bright banners, flags, buttons, catchy chants and posters that are being created and shared in an instant across the world’s news and social media. Culture in this way shows its social power to inspire many other people to start marching too.
Some creative people have now signed up to the international #CultureDeclares movement, including myself (you can join too – see here). Cultural workers are beginning to understand that the environmental emergency is because globalised Western modern culture is in crisis – and that it will take a cultural, creative revolution to envision and inspire communities to a sustainable and just ecological age.
Interestingly, over a decade ago, before Greta and Xtinction Rebellion, it was the music sector in the UK, who first began thinking about how the arts could engage audiences for sustainable living. Music organisers helped formed England’s Julie’s Bicycle (which has inspired Creative Carbon Scotland and other organisations around the world to assist country’s Art Councils and cultural workers toward ecoliteracy (Ireland is in very early stages of having similar activity, see here).
So for this recent wave of activism, I was therefore not surprised to hear that there is an active UK, and now global, Music Declares Emergency group. Through social media they are inspiring other musicians to create work for these urgent times. See Instagram @musicdeclares and follow the hashtag #MusicDeclares. And now there is, with Carole’s work – #JazzDeclares! 🙂
Follow Carole’s work here. And do let us know if you like this forest jazz work!
PS Update: 2020, I now offer limited ecoliteracy mentoring-coaching for creative professionals through my work at Haumea, see more info here.