Ep. 1 - Introduction 

Hello. I have decided to write this new blog Musician at Work for several reasons, which I will outline shortly. It is a view of the world from my point of perspective - both issues in my life as a professional musician with a finger in many musical pies, but also as just a bloke trying to get by in the wider social, political and cultural climate of the UK today. 

Online presence 

Having an online presence is an essential part of life as a professional musician in this country. This is needed mainly for self-promotion and advertising (eg: informing potential audiences of upcoming performances and new projects/albums, etc). This is particularly true of a freelance musician, which is the category that I mostly fall into (apart from a few regular, ongoing bands). More about freelance musical life later... 

Sometimes, this need for an online presence seems to be a bit absurd and illogical to me. I recently thought about entering a jazz composition competition funded by a regional branch of the Arts Council. One of the criteria for assessing the viability of the winning proposed compositional idea was the ‘scope of the online presence of the composer’! If this was for a competition where the prize involved attracting an audience for a live event I could understand this, but here the prize was a radio broadcast of the performance of the work by a band that didn’t necessarily include the composer in its ranks. Huh?!  

I didn’t bother to enter the competition… Thinking about it, a competition for the best idea for a composition rather than the best actual composition seems a bit bonkers in itself.  

What musicians do all day 

In the current lockdown-affected world there seems to be a strong pressure to justify the work that musicians (and artists in general) do as ‘real’ work. The validity of this career as a ‘proper job’ seems to be more in question than ever, and this is reflected by the shockingly bad organisation of financial support for freelancers in the Covid pandemic. The government just does not know what we do and how the music (and wider arts) industry is actually organised. I hope to enlighten and inform with my future blog posts. 

This lack of understanding from the wider audience became even clearer to me over the Summer when a friend interviewed me as background research to her upcoming novel which featured a musician as one of the main characters. She is an extremely knowledgeable and widely-read person, but the ‘unworldly’ and ‘romantic’ ideas that she had about life as a musician were very wide of the mark. The interview proved to be a real ‘reality check’ for her. Maybe she is not alone in needing this? 

Show your workings 

This phrase, which for me harks back to the dreaded maths exams of my youth, is part of a philosophy which is gaining prominence amongst artists in all fields. I first came across it a few years ago when my PhD supervisor recommended the book Show your Work! By Austin Kleon. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Show-Your-Work-Getting-Discovered/dp/076117897X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=8UI611W1QIYJ&dchild=1&keywords=show+your+work+austin+kleon&qid=1611161026&sprefix=show+your+work%2Caps%2C153&sr=8-1)  

The basic philosophy involves opening up the process of creating works of art to the audience rather than just waiting to present the final finished product. This (usually online) access helps to explain your creative processes in the making of a work and some of the ideas and techniques behind it to interested observers. This helps to build a relationship between the creator and individual members of a potential audience and opens up the possibility of a two-way stream of ideas and greater understanding between both sides. Watch this space… 

Music education 

2021 is the 40th anniversary of passing my PGCE in secondary music teaching. Since then I have taught in schools, colleges, universities, workshops and community projects, usually part-time alongside a professional involvement in music. I still teach part-time in an FE College. Education is in my blood and I will also be passing on a few nuggets of (hopefully) useful information in this blog. 

As you can see, the reasons behind this blog are many and varied - from an extension of my self-employed business, a small (semi-political) platform for my voice and opinions (and also that of my industry), somewhere to share and explain my artistic ventures and projects, and an educational tool. 

I hope you enjoy reading it! 



Yes, but try telling my bank manager this... 

“Musicians are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. 

They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime. 

Every day, they face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get real jobs, and their own fear that they’ll never work again. 

Every day, they have to ignore the possibility that the vision they have dedicated their lives to is a pipe dream. 

With every note, they stretch themselves, emotionally and physically, risking criticism and judgment. 

With every passing year, many of them watch as the other people their age achieve the predictable milestones of normal life 

– the car, the family, the house, the nest egg. 


Because musicians are willing to give their entire lives to a moment – to that melody, that lyric, that chord, or that interpretation that will stir the audience’s soul. 

Musicians are beings who have tasted life’s nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another’s heart. 

In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, and perfection as anyone could ever be. 

And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes.” 

David Ackert, LA Times

Competition time...? 


I thought I would go through the latest batch of composition competitions that arrived in my inbox yesterday, and see if there is anything of interest to me. 

NB: All the comments are about the relevance of the competitions to me personally and not about the competitions themselves. 

C4: The Choral Composer/Conductor Collective Announces 2016-17 Student Composer Competition 

I'm not a student at a "school" in New York... 

Chamber Music Amici Composition Competition 

I'm not a legal resident of Oregon... 


I'm not an Australian citizen and "emerging" is pushing things a bit... 

Call for Scores: Ensemble Schallfeld and Francesco Filidei Workshop with Ensemble Schallfeld 

"For composers taking part in the Darmstadt Summer Course 2016"... 


"Composers of any age, nationality and place of residence who haven’t scored nor orchestrated more than three feature films (longer than 60 minutes) are eligible to enter." So far so good... Pay 75 euros to write a symphony orchestra score for a given 6-minute film. The best 5 get a big performance in Zurich with the winner getting an award and CHF 10,000...  

Sounds interesting, but I haven't got the time at the moment. This would make sense particularly if the resulting score was composed in such a way that it works on its own without the pictures - giving you a 6-minute stand-alone orchestral piece - but the whole point of film scores is to subtly support and not over-power the images...  

 Kalamazoo Mandolin & Guitar Orchestra Call for Scores 

Instrumentation. Must consist of the following make-up: Mandolin 1 (4), Mandolin 2 (7), Mandola (2), Mandocello (2), Contrabass (1), and Guitar (4). Divisi may be used as much as wanted but may not exceed the numbers listed above. Guitars are classical 6-string standard tuned guitars. 

Length. There is no restriction on length of the work. 

This is just a group fishing for new pieces scored for their bizarre line-up. There is no prize to speak of... Anything written for this group couldn't easily be recycled and used with any other group, so why bother - unless you are a mandolin-geek (a lesser known relative of the ukulele-geek). 

Latitude 49 announces a call for scores, 

Goal for Call for Scores: 

To build connections and relationships with composers and to surface new works that could possibly be programmed in future Latitude 49 programs, or recorded on future albums 

This is Pierrot-like Ensemble - replace the flute with sax - looking for new works. Interesting details: travel expenses for the composer from any US city, and you are encouraged to send a head-shot photo (!)... 

The Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra YOUNG COMPOSERS COMPETITION 2016 

The problem is in the title... 

The Vancouver Performance Scorebook Project 

The Vancouver Performance Scorebook Project (Maren Lisac and Alanna Ho) is looking for musical and performance scores by people currently based in the GVRD, for publication in a collective book project. The book will consist of music scores in non-conventional types of notation, e.g. graphic and verbal, as well as instructions for non-musical performance pieces, for all kinds of people to explore and perform. When the book is complete, we intend to put on a combination concert and book release party featuring selected pieces from the book...  

Where is the GRVD? I don't think I live there... 

Fifth Piano Composition Competition Fidelio via Internet 

Dear friend, if you think that you are capable of composing a piano piece 1-3 minute long, perhaps you may be interested in this competition via Internet from home. No matter how far you live. To enter this piano competition you only have to send your audio file. It costs 7 euros or equivalent in dollars and there are five prizes , three of them in cash. http://concursodecomposicionparapianofidelio.com/ 


2016 University of Tennessee Contemporary Music Festival - Yarn/Wire Call for Scores 

Composers must submit two scores of any style, instrumentation, and length for this call for scores. These scores need not conform to Yarn/Wire’s instrumentation, but should showcase the composer’s best work. Yarn/Wire will then choose one composer to receive a $500 award and to create a new work approximately 10 minutes in length to be premiered by Yarn/Wire in October as part of the festival. The new work will be written for two pianists (two pianos or one piano 4-hands) and two percussionists and may include electronics. 

I don't have anything close to that line-up, and anyway, it's a pig in a poke... submit 2 pieces to get the commission to write another one... 

All in all not a very interesting batch from my point of view. Maybe next time... 

If any of these are up your street, go for it. You have to be in it to win it...

Return of the Blog... 


Apologies for the lack of a blog in recent weeks. This situation arose when I just ran out of steam at the end of term - not just with the blog, but everything - and barely had the energy to keep on top of all the end of term admin, reports, concerts, etc... let alone deal with the PhD and the blog (which I treat as a kind of brain-loosener, warm-up activity, before the serious business of academic writing.) But now, after a short Easter break, I am back with a vengeance, planning to get up early (6am) and work until 2pm every day (except Sunday - I just need a day off a week for my mental well-being) throughout my Easter "holidays",    

So here I am - at my desk, as I was yesterday actually - but that proved to be a bit of a false start for reasons that I will explain... 

Just before the Easter weekend, a full-time lecturing job at a reasonably local HE institution came up in my inbox. (I receive alerts for "relevant" academic jobs automatically every day.) Not completely up my street but close enough to warrant an application. It needed a Masters degree but no PhD (unusual), 2 years of HE teaching experience (I have 14!), and in several other ways I fit the bill. I spent the Easter trip away thinking about the job and the feasibility - travel, etc... I looked up train times from various local stations, the walking distance from the station at the other end. I researched the job, the institution, the staff (a couple of whom I know), organised to chat to them "off the record" to get any inside information, talked to my present boss (at a very part-time job), arranged to have a reference from him, checked out the online application form, etc... Generally thought long and hard about how to sell myself on the application... 

Then yesterday, a day before the deadline for applications, I went to the job application form to find a note saying that the job advertisement was now closed (early), and "Thank you for my interest."  

Obviously they had an internal candidate lined-up, and were just going through the motions of advertising it externally - or was that just an elaborate April Fools gag. To add insult to injury, I received three more notifications of the same job from different sources throughout the day...  

What a crap system we have in this country! And what a total waste of time, energy and emotional investment - for me and every other mug out there who had been through the same process. At least I didn't fill in the extensive application form and make (yet another) personal statement, for it to disappear into the ether without trace or even acknowledgement. 

Onwards and upwards... apparently.

To the Max... 


I woke this morning to read the news that British composer, Peter Maxwell Davies, had died of leukemia, at the age of 81. 

Why should this bother me - "the jazz guy" - jazz double bass player and bass guitarist? 

Well, in a former life I was a trombonist (classical and jazz), and studied for a masters degree in contemporary classical composition. Before that was a classical music degree, where I was mostly the "early music guy", and ace sackbuttist in various early music groups... 

Incidentally, I stuck the university composition course for about three weeks before discovering that if you didn't write 12 tone or serial music you didn't get good marks - this was in the late 1970's. I was interested in tonal-ish music (including jazz). This made me either so far behind (or, as it turned out, ahead of) the trendy style of the day that I wasn't taken seriously by the composition lecturers... 

Before that, I went to a grammar school where the head of music (an organist and harpsichordist, and Messiaen, Monty Python and Early Music fan) had studied in Manchester. He (David Johnson, aka DJ) had been a contemporary of what later became known as the "Manchester School" - Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, Sandy Goehr, Elgar Howarth, John McCabe and John Lill. 

How many degrees of separation? 

One of the offshoots of this connection was that, in the school brass group, we would test out new works for the Junior Just Brass range of publications by people like John McCabe and Elgar Howarth before they were published officially. 

My teenage rebellion consisted of playing Schoenberg, Webern, Berio and Messiaen LPs very loud at home - no Genesis, Hawkwind or Led Zeppelin for me. I was a weird kid! I remember reading about the earth-shattering dissonances in Rite Of Spring (Stravinsky). I borrowed the LP from school and listened to it. I was so used to "crunchy" harmony that I didn't even spot the correct passage - the piece finished and I had missed it! Later on, the reason that "free jazz" never scared me was probably because of all this contemporary classical listening at an early age... 

Anyway... Peter Maxwell Davies will be missed, not just as a composer, but also as a supporter of all things Orkadian (He lived in the Orkneys from 1971 onwards - I've never been, but am a total Outer Hebrides nut!), a champion of music for young people and amateurs, and an outspoken supporter of proper music education for all. The only things I'm not so keen on are the title (Sir Peter) and the role of Master of the Queen's Music - I don't think my politics would let me accept either of those, but realistically the chance of being offered either of them is fairly remote... Ooh! Look at that flying pig! 

I was just finishing off this post when I read that Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer) has been found dead - suspected suicide. It's a bit bizarre to have to have these two in the same blog, but ELP were the only prog rock band that I liked and their version of Pictures at an Exhibition is a much earlier fixture in my musical memory banks than the Mussorgsky original. That came much later... 

Just one of those days... 

(rather muted) Cheers, 




This post is written in a mixed mood of annoyance, irony, sadness and defiance. 

Three things have triggered this: 

1. I was booked to teach two 5-day jazz performance courses aimed at beginners - particularly people who are already classical players - for a well-established educational establishment. (I will not name them.) Yesterday these courses were both cancelled, as only one person had signed up so far. Fair enough if the course was weeks away, or even two months. The first course was not due to start for four months - July 11-15 and 18-22! Is it just me, or is that decision not a bit premature... 

Ironically, I had previously had an email conversation about the courses with a female cellist - who had started playing as an adult - asking if she, as a string player, was suitable for a jazz course. I replied very positively and she signed off her last message with - "Great! Thank you! I'll book myself on for a new musical challenge... so see you in the summer." What a brilliant attitude... 

2. This contrasts with someone else (again not named) who recently stated that as they were now XX years old (XX being less than the normal retirement age) that they couldn't cope with getting to know any new music at that age. The "old dogs, new tricks" argument. Well, as someone doing a PhD in my mid-50's (slow-learner?), that argument just doesn't wash with me. And all my artistic heroes developed and changed continuously throughout their careers - Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Picasso, Haydn, Paul Gascoigne, Debussy, Stravinsky...  

(NB: one of these isn't really my hero... but which one?) 

3. Then I realised that the "new" music in question - as the peak of contemporary, cutting edge, avant garde madness - was actually written about the time the person in question was about ten years old... If my cut-off point was when I was ten, I wouldn't be interested in anything created after 1969, and, correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to think that things have developed a bit in all genres of the arts since then...  

Not all of it is good, and just because it's new, that doesn't make it good, but it is "of my time", and I should at least be aware of it. When I stop trying to keep abreast of new developments - in everything - just dig a big hole and put me in it! 

So, in conclusion, if anyone needs a composing, arranging, workshop tutoring, conducting, bass playing, old git to "boldly go (grammar!) where no man (or woman - correct use of academic language) has gone before" I now just happen to be free for a couple of weeks in the Summer...  

Open to all offers. 



Decisions, decisions... 


The topic today was initially discussed in the pub, after last night's rehearsal (also in the same excellent pub - http://www.theorganinn.co.uk/ ) by the three members of Dr Zebo's Wheezy Club...  https://www.facebook.com/DrZebo/ 

As you can probably tell from the facebook page, we are a profound and academically rigorous ensemble determined to preserve the authentic ethnomusicological performance practices of West Wiltshire. Not! 

What we actually do is collect (or compose new) tunes borrowed (or inspired) from anywhere and everywhere, and then combine them in elaborate medleys/mashups/remixes, whilst having a laugh and a few drinks. We then generally amuse/bemuse audiences in folk clubs, acoustic music venues, beer or gin festivals, wedding receptions and the like... with the results of our labours. 

We have been thinking about recording a CD, after doing some trial recordings with the excellent sound engineer, Tim Walker https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-walker-0130a515 . (NB: Highly recommended if you ever need a recording engineer (and he's a tasty bass player too)). 

Having heard the warts-and-all live recording, we realise that there are things that we all individually need to tighten up before doing a proper recording... But how "authentic" should the CD be? The recording options seem to be: 

1. An "everyone playing together" recording giving an exact record of the band sound live. 

2. Mostly live, but with some tricky bits (eg: backing vocals or solos) overdubbed later. 

3. The live arrangements of pieces with extra overdubs by members of the band - extra guitar, fiddle, trombone(!) or backing vocal parts. 

4. The basic trio plus additional players adding touches of (maybe) keyboards, drums or even a horn section. 

When you realise that the recording technology used to record the entire Beatles "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album is now available on an iphone - in fact you can do more with just a phone - the options are endless... 

Then, if we do some new, fancier versions, do we just use these for occasional tracks on the CD, with the rest "as live" - or should the whole album be seen as a different project from the live band? 

Finally we have to decide which pieces to do! And do we owe royalties to John Coltrane (or his estate) if I play a version of the head of his tune, "Spiritual", on the double bass as the introduction to some of Mike's new slip-jigs? 

This CD recording lark is harder than you would think! 



The hidden stuff... 


Thanks to Matt for prompting this post. Last night, in a conversation in the break at the Bath Community Big Band rehearsal (which I conduct) Matt (trumpet 1) commented that he was enjoying reading the blog - so you are the one! - because it made him think about stuff, to do with music, that he doesn't normally think about... 

That got my "little grey cells" whirring... I suppose, as a composer - and therefore self-confessed music theory and analysis geek - I do see (and hear) music in a different way to the "normal" listener. 

I had a similar experience myself when, years ago, after a rehearsal with free jazz flautist and professional artist John Eaves, over a mug of coffee, we both looked at some paintings in his studio - his own works (some in progress) and some by other people. He talked about the paintings in a way - partly technical and partly his emotional responses - that made me see them completely differently... 

With music, I just think that pieces do not come together by accident randomly (What about John Cage? The exception that proves the rule?) but they are constructed in a very rigorous and workmanlike way that I happen to find fascinating - in the same way that if you build a table, it should not fall over and it should stop stuff falling on the floor. If it looks beautiful as well, fantastic, but it has to be "fit for purpose". Musical compositions, or sentences in English, are the same. There are certain basic rules that they have to follow to make sense. The emotional impact or specific meaning of the sentence/composition is another, separate matter... 

This level of construction should not usually be visible/audible to the observer/listener - unless you are the architect of the Pompidou Centre - as they are only aware of the immediate surface. But another practitioner in the same medium - composer, painter, architect, football manager - will respect all the hidden stuff that really makes the thing work. 

On another matter - as I write this I am listening to a new CD by the Kenny Barron Trio "Book of Intuition" on Spotify. It was reviewed the other day with 5 stars so I'm checking it out. An absolute cracker! Very classy swinging piano trio jazz played by three master musicians, who are all 100% on top of the hidden stuff, both individually and as a unit... The best new CD I've heard in ages. Enjoy! 



Open letter... 



My entire post today consists of two things... 

One full of sadness - reports of the death of George Martin, genius producer of the Beatles - and one full of wisdom and hope... 

Read this now! 

An Open Letter from Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock 

To the Next Generation of Artists, 

We find ourselves in turbulent and unpredictable times. 

From the horror at the Bataclan, to the upheaval in Syria and the senseless bloodshed in San Bernardino, we live in a time of great confusion and pain. As an artist, creator and dreamer of this world, we ask you not to be discouraged by what you see but to use your own lives, and by extension your art, as vehicles for the construction of peace. 

While it’s true that the issues facing the world are complex, the answer to peace is simple; it begins with you. You don’t have to be living in a third world country or working for an NGO to make a difference. Each of us has a unique mission. We are all pieces in a giant, fluid puzzle, where the smallest of actions by one puzzle piece profoundly affects each of the others. You matter, your actions matter, your art matters. 

We’d like to be clear that while this letter is written with an artistic audience in mind, these thoughts transcend professional boundaries and apply to all people, regardless of profession. 


We are not alone. We do not exist alone and we cannot create alone. What this world needs is a humanistic awakening of the desire to raise one’s life condition to a place where our actions are rooted in altruism and compassion. You cannot hide behind a profession or instrument; you have to be human. Focus your energy on becoming the best human you can be. Focus on developing empathy and compassion. Through the process you’ll tap into a wealth of inspiration rooted in the complexity and curiosity of what it means to simply exist on this planet. Music is but a drop in the ocean of life. 


The world needs new pathways. Don’t allow yourself to be hijacked by common rhetoric, or false beliefs and illusions about how life should be lived. It’s up to you to be the pioneers. Whether through the exploration of new sounds, rhythms, and harmonies or unexpected collaborations, processes and experiences, we encourage you to dispel repetition in all of its negative forms and consequences. Strive to create new actions both musically and with the pathway of your life. Never conform. 


The unknown necessitates a moment-to-moment improvisation or creative process that is unparalleled in potential and fulfillment. There is no dress rehearsal for life because life, itself, is the real rehearsal. Every relationship, obstacle, interaction, etc. is a rehearsal for the next adventure in life. Everything is connected. Everything builds. Nothing is ever wasted. This type of thinking requires courage. Be courageous and do not lose your sense of exhilaration and reverence for this wonderful world around you. 


We have this idea of failure, but it’s not real; it’s an illusion. There is no such thing as failure. What you perceive as failure is really a new opportunity, a new hand of cards, or a new canvas to create upon. In life there are unlimited opportunities. The words, “success” and “failure”, themselves, are nothing more than labels. Every moment is an opportunity. You, as a human being, have no limits; therefore infinite possibilities exist in any circumstance. 


The world needs more one-on-one interaction among people of diverse origins with a greater emphasis on art, culture and education. Our differences are what we have in common. We can work to create an open and continuous plane where all types of people can exchange ideas, resources, thoughtfulness and kindness. We need to be connecting with one another, learning about one another, and experiencing life with one another. We can never have peace if we cannot understand the pain in each other’s hearts. The more we interact, the more we will come to realize that our humanity transcends all differences. 


Art in any form is a medium for dialogue, which is a powerful tool. It is time for the music world to produce sound stories that ignite dialogue about the mystery of us. When we say the mystery of us, we’re talking about reflecting and challenging the fears, which prevent us from discovering our unlimited access to the courage inherent in us all. Yes, you are enough. Yes, you matter. Yes, you should keep going. 


Arrogance can develop within artists, either from artists who believe that their status makes them more important, or those whose association with a creative field entitles them to some sort of superiority. Beware of ego; creativity cannot flow when only the ego is served. 


The medical field has an organization called Doctors Without Borders. This lofty effort can serve as a model for transcending the limitations and strategies of old business formulas which are designed to perpetuate old systems in the guise of new ones. We’re speaking directly to a system that’s in place, a system that conditions consumers to purchase only the products that are dictated to be deemed marketable, a system where money is only the means to an end. The music business is a fraction of the business of life. Living with creative integrity can bring forth benefits never imagined. 


Your elders can help you. They are a source of wealth in the form of wisdom. They have weathered storms and endured the same heartbreaks; let their struggles be the light that shines the way in the darkness. Don’t waste time repeating their mistakes. Instead, take what they’ve done and catapult you towards building a progressively better world for the progeny to come. 


As we accumulate years, parts of our imagination tend to dull. Whether from sadness, prolonged struggle, or social conditioning, somewhere along the way people forget how to tap into the inherent magic that exists within our minds. Don’t let that part of your imagination fade away. Look up at the stars and imagine what it would be like to be an astronaut or a pilot. Imagine exploring the pyramids or Machu Picchu. Imagine flying like a bird or crashing through a wall like Superman. Imagine running with dinosaurs or swimming like mer-creatures. All that exists is a product of someone’s imagination; treasure and nurture yours and you’ll always find yourself on the precipice of discovery. 

How does any of this lend to the creation of a peaceful society you ask? It begins with a cause. Your causes create the effects that shape your future and the future of all those around you. Be the leaders in the movie of your life. You are the director, producer, and actor. Be bold and tirelessly compassionate as you dance through the voyage that is this lifetime. 




A personal response... 


Today's post is a response to Craig's comment on yesterday's post - This asked me what I thought of the concept of viewing "melody as rhythm" and the hierarchy of melody/harmony/rhythm in Western music. 

My honest answer is that I don't know yet... I am storing up a collection of ideas that I wish to explore with new compositions - once my PhD is written up. (See various previous posts.) 

I definitely get the concept of Parker's bebop tunes making more sense as rhythmic material than as conventional developments of an initial melodic motif. There is a Dizzy Gillespie story of him always improvising by thinking of new ideas as rhythms and then hanging notes on these rhythms. Especially in a bebop situation where the harmonic material is a given (usually the chord changes borrowed from a jazz standard). with harmonies changing every 2 or 4 beats within a 12 or 32 bar structure. 

A classical composer (either Satie or Stravinsky - I can't remember exactly) - would often compose the rhythmic structure of sections of a piece before assigning notes to these rhythms. I think this is way of getting the neo-classical "wrong-note" harmonies to work... The rhythms make sense even though the notes are "wrong". 

As far as Andrew Hill's Time Lines album goes: This seems to consist of lots of rubato loosely imitative trumpet and clarinet/sax lines over piano washes and drum and bass busy-ness. An interesting effect to use for short periods, but not an idea I would want to over-use. I just find that the lack of any clear pulse means that the rubato lines float in mid-air rather than pushing and pulling against the beat. This lacks any real energy and it just ends up sounding busy for no real reason - a case of much ado about nothing. Not really my cup of tea. 

NB: I have just ordered his 21 Piano Compositions - 


to see how it looks on the page... (And to see if my aural analysis is correct!) 

Any more comments gratefully received...