In my previous post I gave you all an overview of the art of improvised music known as “jazz”, using the preparation of food as a metaphor. Well today in the this second part of the series I am going to focus on one particular aspect of jazz that makes it so fantastic: space or density, from a jazz drummer’s perspective.
We all know that music is made up of “stuff”: sounds, categorized as rhythm, melody, harmony, theory (scales, note names, varying types of chords) and so on. But there is something else that is lost in the mix that makes all of the notes and chords and rhythms work, that which is “not” note and rhythms, the stuff know as silence. It is so vital to music, creative artists in places like Japan consider it the essence of music and things like painting, etc.
To make it easy to understand how, imagine a nice frothy milkshake. A nice homemade raspberry milkshake is amazingly delicious… because of “nothing”: air. Technically it is something, but since air is flavorless it is not an ingredient. But the vigorous frothing of a milkshake is essential or it is just raspberry milk. Nothing wrong with raspberry milk but it is just not anything near a raspberry milkshake because of all that air thinning out the shake and “fluffing” it up into something that tastes way better because the air thins the milk into its most delicious density.
Space or silences in music do the same thing, give music a beautifully perfect density somewhere between too much space and too little. It is amazing looking back on the career of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and his endless innovation. yet through that innovation one thing remained: his almost supernatural ability to “say” with a single note what it took many others practically an entire career to say. His feel for space and silences in music was second to no one, and I have no doubt it will remain that way for the rest of recorded time. His sound was dark and complex but surprisingly sweet as well, like being kissed while stabbed in the back. The modern jazz drummer’s job is to find that balance as well, using a mix of traditional and avant-garde techniques to find that proper density for whatever music they are making. Moving on from foundational bebop drummers like Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, the birth of modern jazz drumming arrived in the music of Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Elvin Jones, and others; a brilliant response to and advancement of jazz from the early 1960s on. And it comes as no surprise that a list of such drummers will reveal most of them were and/or are Miles Davis alumni.
So I would like to introduce you to the flavor of jazz density through a lesser known cocktail from the Basque region of Spain, the Kalimotxo (pronounced kali-mock-so or cali-mo-ko). This simple, fantastic “cocktail” is a mixture of red wine, Coca-cola, and a slice of lemon, enjoyed by Spaniards as early as the 1920s though not well known outside of the country. When the first Spanish Coca-cola factory opened the drink become more commonplace, and is now considered a classic of Basque edible culture.
It was originally made of cola and any cheap red wine laying around, so there basically is no wrong way of making it, thought certain grape varieties and certain colas may be more to your taste. To test this theory I bought a de-sugared Pinot Noir wine, and Coke Zero (sweetened with aspertame) and still found a mixture that tasted great. The secret is in the mix. Though they say the wine and cola should be in equal amounts, a 2/3rds glass of cola mixed with 1/3rd of wine seems to be best overall. Think of it as the wine as existing in the “spaces” in the cola, the spaces where the wine can do its part to “kalimotxo” the cola. Then the slight tinge of lemon: another “space” filler where cola would have been. It all depends on how you look at it: red wine with cola added, or cola with red wine in it? That is up to your taste buds.
a fresh lemon
1). Pour two thirds of a glass of cola. Coca-cola products in particular taste great (Pepsi has the wrong flavour profile and tastes terrible in this instance).
2). Add 1/3rd of a glass of wine (Pinot Noir is a decent option).
3). Add a quarter slice of lemon.
5). Though red wine is not usually chilled, a cold red wine added to cold cola on ice is really refreshing. I introduced the cold kailmotxo to a friend who doesn’t drink and they now drink a tiny glass of it daily as their afternoon snack!
The humble kalimotxo is a delicious and inexpensive way to entertain guests, a great conversation starter (Spanish wine-cola; who knew?), and a great way to taste yet another great quality of jazz, the strategic study of density through adding another thing. The wine thins the cola to a certain density, ergo the cola thins the wine to a certain density, and as such the flavours of each are brought out in delicious balance as they fill the space between pure cola and pure wine.
I am sipping some freezing cold kalimotxo right now. Like Miles Davis’ jazz… it is really good!