Perfect Stranger’s current set includes:
(not necessarily in this order)
• Life & Times (of a Perfect Stranger) (>30 minutes)
• Ludwig’s Van (>20 minutes)
• Lugubrious Boots (c. 7 minutes)
• Kapadokya (c. 9 minutes)
• Igor’s Boogie Phase 1 and Phase 2 (c. half a minute each)
More will follow...
Please note that the descriptions here are of the music as composed. It’s not possible to describe the various solos that occur along the way, as they’ll be different in every performance — but rest assured there are plenty of them, and they will be of the highest quality from this line-up of musicians!
The short audio extracts are taken form Perfect Stranger's performance in the EFG London Jazz Festival at Karamel in November 2022, with that same line-up (no deps required). Where featured players are noted, that's because some measure of improvisation is going on.
Life & Times (of a Perfect Stranger)*
The first thing Chris Sansom wrote for the original Perfect Stranger in 1974, and the key work in the repertoire. It's in four movements, lasts about half an hour and is loosely based on the conventional structure of a symphony.
Without going into too much detail…
The durations of every movement, section, subsection and so on use the Golden Section as a structural principle — an influence from Bartók, one of his musical heroes.
Various thematic elements recur, often in varied form, all over the place, the most basic being a 3-note descending motif with intervals of a minor second and a major third (sometimes inverted or stretched). E.g., the first movement’s main bass riff, which contains this figure four times, returns upside down as the main riff in the third movement, then returns the right way up and slightly extended in the final movement.
Life & Times is retrospectively dedicated to the memory of Pete Jacobsen.
The movements are:
1 Formative Years
The one piece the 1974 band more or less got together. This is a deliberate exercise in classical sonata form, the development section being represented by a series of solos. There are very many changes of time signature, some of which are unorthodox, such as 7¾/4. Here's a bit of the main theme (very briefly: Alcyona Mick — keys)
2 Ankle Deep in Dust
The slow movement, mostly a slow jazz waltz…
…which segues without a break into ...
3 Midlife Crisis
... a hectic scherzo, much of it in 29/4 (9 lots of 3 and a 2), with interludes in 4/4. Here's the end of part III (Alcyona Mick — keys)
4 “It’s weird being the same age as old people”
A fantasia, for want of any other designation, veering between tempi, time signatures and styles, leading up to something like a rock and roll version of the main theme from the first movement. This breaks off for a drum solo, then a kind of gentle hymn, and eventually the intro from the first movement, turned backwards. I stole the title from a t-shirt.
Here's a bit of that rock and roll (ish) (Eddy White — guitar)
*This is nothing to do with Billy Cobham’s 1976 album ‘Life and Times’.
At something over 20 minutes, depending on what happens in the freer sections, this is the longest uninterrupted piece in our programme, also dating from 1974. As the title might suggest, it’s based on a piece by Beethoven: his Große Fuge for string quartet, op.133 (from the set of 'late quartets'). Listeners who know it will recognise it immediately. It divided the critics at the time and continues to do so — Chris Sansom's ‘re-imagining’ of it may well do the same.
Much of it has a shuffle feel, but there’s also funk, bebop, reggae and quite a long tempo-less and pulseless passage in the middle.
Here's how it starts (briefly: Tom Green — trombone, Mick Foster — soprano, Shanti Jayasinha — flugelhorn)
Here's some of the tempo-less noodling in the middle (everyone!)
This is the section labelled Arnold's Boogie in the score:
And here's some of the reggae bit:
The title gives some clue as to the nature of the music: it’s mostly slow and features the main bass guitar (with Chris Sansom's bass providing the underpinning). It speeds up to a fast jazz waltz in the middle section, which then crumbles and settles back into a return of the slow material. Also composed by Chris in 1974.
Here's the climax of the initial build-up (Paul Michael — bass)
And here's where it all crumbles later on (all the rhythm section)
This is the only original piece in the set that doesn’t date from 1974. The main tune (played on the fretless bass after the pulsating rhythm of the quasi-Turkish dance gets going) started out as a simple scene-change piece for a theatrical production in 1995. Since then Chris has added the ‘big tune’ which occurs at the very beginning and twice later on, and the whole thing has grown into the current piece. It’s in 7/8 (3+2+2) and uses a deliberately obscure melodic mode which includes two augmented seconds.
The end of the intro, into the main dance tune, first on the fretless bass, then on the two soprano saxes:
The ‘big tune’ leading into the last appearance of the main tune, on fretless bass and bass clarinet:
Igor's Boogie, Phase 1 and Phase 2
by Frank Zappa
One of Chris's biggest musical inspirations and influences is Frank Zappa, and one of Zappa's biggest ditto was Igor Stravinsky (Chris's too, for that matter). On Zappa’s 1970 album Burnt Weeny Sandwich there’s a pair of tiny (35 seconds each) wind and percussion pieces called Igor’s Boogie, Phase One and Igor’s Boogie, Phase Two. Chris has transcribed these for members of the band, and in between them we, er, sandwich something else, currently Lugubrious Boots.