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Alex Ward - JPop.com
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Alex Ward

Alex Ward

Alex Ward


Alex Ward was born in 1974, and began learning piano and clarinet at the ages of 5 and 9 respectively. While growing up in Grantham, he developed an interest in a wide range of music, largely inspired by trawling through his parents’ record collection. The presence of a copy of Ornette Coleman’s “This Is Our Music” led him to investigate subsequent developments from jazz, including free improvisation. As a result of this interest, he went on a summer course on improvisation run by Community Music in 1986 Read more on Last.fm
Alex Ward was born in 1974, and began learning piano and clarinet at the ages of 5 and 9 respectively. While growing up in Grantham, he developed an interest in a wide range of music, largely inspired by trawling through his parents’ record collection. The presence of a copy of Ornette Coleman’s “This Is Our Music” led him to investigate subsequent developments from jazz, including free improvisation. As a result of this interest, he went on a summer course on improvisation run by Community Music in 1986, where he met Derek Bailey, who invited him to play at various events including Company Weeks in 1988, 1990 and 1994.

Bailey also organised the recording and release in 1991 of his first CD, a duet with percussionist Steve Noble, “Ya Boo, Reel and Rumble”. During this period, Ward developed his approach to improvisation, shaped by twin interests in jazz and contemporary classical music, and also through regular practical experience of improvising on clarinet and alto sax with the Stamford-based collective AWARE, led by Brian Parsons. In 1992, he went to Oxford to study music, and began playing with the various improvisers based there, including Pat Thomas, Jim Denley and Nick Couldry. While there, he met the electronics player Switch (Benjamin Hervé) with whom he formed the duo The XIII Ghosts. Their first CD, “Giganti Reptilicus Destructo Beam” was released in 1995, and featured the aforementioned Oxford improvisers amongst other guests.

Its fast-moving collage structure and deliberately misleading packaging reflected an impatience with the documentary-style presentation and puritanical avoidance of evocation characteristic of many recordings of improvised music, but was misinterpreted as condescension and undergraduate dilettantism by many critics and musicians. Amongst those who were not put off the music by the packaging were Derek Bailey and Eugene Chadbourne, both of whom listed it in their CDs of the year. In addition to The XIII Ghosts, Ward’s collaboration with Hervé led to a rekindling of interest in rock music (which had always been lurking in the form of a Zappa-fixation). Starting to write together in 1994, Ward and Hervé gradually amassed material which led to the formation of the rock band Camp Blackfoot. While they drew inspiration from experiments with the vocabulary of rock music (the post-Beefheart/Sonic Youth guitar extensions of Slint, Gastr Del Sol and U.S.

Maple, and also some of the dodgier recesses of 70s prog/“art rock”), the aim was always to deliver the material with the energy and aggression of early 80’s hardcore. Their debut CD “Critical Seed vs. the Spartan Society”, released in 1999, took 9 months to record and embellished the group’s live sound with string and horn arrangements as well as studio manipulation. Most of Ward’s writing and playing with Camp Blackfoot was done on guitar, and as the band developed, his interest in playing the instrument became more serious. At Steve Noble’s encouragement, he began playing guitar in a freely improvised context as well.

A trio with Noble, Ward on guitar and John Edwards on bass released a CD, “False Face Society”, in 2001. Under Noble's direction, he has also worked with the Spanish dance company Mal Pelo, playing guitar in performances of their piece "An (El Silencio)" in Barcelona, Girona, Annemasse and London. In addition to his own projects and free improvisation, Ward has also performed as a member of many other ensembles, including Eugene Chadbourne’s Hellington Country and Butch Morris’ London Skyscraper. In 2002, two bands with Ward as a member – Simon Fell’s SFQ and John Bisset’s Pocket - released radically contrasting CDs: SFQ’s “Thirteen Rectangles” being a relentless 70 minute composition of extreme complexity and difficulty (in every sense), while Pocket’s eponymous CD consists of 12 concise pieces of tuneful instrumental guitar pop. Behind the apparently contradictory stylistic approaches, however, Fell and Bisset share an important characteristic which explains Ward’s attraction to playing their musics: both have found exactly what excites and delights them in music and pursue it with the blend of single-mindedness and openness that can result only from such a sureness of aesthetic purpose. In 2000 Ward finally escaped Oxford and moved to London.

This was one of the many factors that put a strain on Camp Blackfoot, and in 2001 Ward left the group, feeling that it was no longer producing the kind of material he would want to perform live. (He has continued writing with Benjamin Hervé for a studio-based project, which should emerge sometime in 2005.) Much of 2001 and 2002 were spent tackling the problem of composing for improvisers, and while this produced some material that may yet see the light of day, it was mainly characterised by long hours of staring at blank pages of manuscript in an increasing state of abject despair. Out of this creative impasse, however, emerged a surprising development: songwriting. Ward, who had never had any inclination to write lyrics before, suddenly found in words both the vehicle to structure his compositions and the means to express some of the quandaries and bleak perceptions that had threatened to prevent him from writing anything at all.

The resultant CD, “Hapless Days”, was finally completed in 2004, and while covering diverse styles including noise rock, dissonant jazz and sci-fi funk to name but a few, and featuring instruments ranging from synths and guitars to banjo and violin, did so with the aim of conveying the character of each individual song as directly and powerfully as possible. The lyrics, meanwhile, address the difficulties and paradoxes inherent in any type of expression or communication (artistic or personal) and the self-defeating behaviour patterns induced by these barriers (whether one tries to overcome them or ignore them). In 2005, "Hapless Days" was released as the first CD on the label Copepod, which was set up by Ward together with keyboardist and composer Luke Barlow. Ward is still active in free improvisation – the second release on Copepod, "Help Point" was by a Ward-led improvising quartet featuring Luke Barlow, Simon Fell and Steve Noble. Other recent CDs include “Crypt” (a set of acoustic guitar duos with John Bisset) and “Limescale” (the eponymous CD by Derek Bailey’s new highly acclaimed quintet).

He is also still performing in a wide variety of other people’s projects, including the Luke Barlow Band (whose debut CD was released on Copepod in 2005), and a tribute to Jelly Roll Morton organised by Philip Clark and featuring Ian Pace, Mary Oliver and Han Bennink, playing specially commissioned pieces by Michael Finissy, Mike Westbrook and others. His personal focus, however, is still primarily songwriting – the follow-up to “Hapless Days” is already underway, and takes the preoccupations of that album into simpler, more country-oriented territory. Ward is currently performing songs from both albums both as a solo performer and with his band The Dead Ends on the London circuit. Read more on Last.fm.

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