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The Riffing Project

New Jazz and Songs with Dance (But what is riffing...?)
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According to Websters New World Dictionary a riff is : "a constantly repeated musical phrase used especially as a background for a soloist or as the basic theme of a final chorus." That gives a precise but reduced answer to the question "What is riffing?"

Riffing is a form of improvisation that has its genesis in the Afro-American music of the 1920’s and 30’s sometimes known as “jazz”. It probably has its roots in some form of African music as it was imported by those human beings intended for the slave market in the New World. This is just speculation on my part ; to my knowledge no historical studies have been made to corroborate this idea. Nevertheless, we have recordings of music from the 20’s and 30’s that demonstrate the "riffing" principle. Often times the "riff" would become fixed and serve as the basis for a "Head Arrangement". This music was rarely notated but could lead to complex and invovled structures

"The Riffing Society" takes this premise and "updates" the musical contexte to serve as a basis for modern improvistation. There are many internal rules that we have developed for ourselves and we are continually striving to perfect the aesthetic nature of the music we invent.

Up to now we have been making "Free Riffs" which is riffing based on our internal rules but without any reference to pre-composed musical structures. Now we’ve introduced a new element : the "Calculated Riffs". This is "riffing" based on compositions made to incite the musician to "riffing". Of course “Free Riffing” is not completely excluded to make way for the “Calculated Riffs”. On the contrary, "Free Riffing" is necessary part of the process of discovery.

The "Free Riffs" and the "Calculated Riffs" are seperated by songs that we love to sing from our old repertoire, things that have accumulated over the last 35 years : originals, traditonal and standards all mixed up and thrown together.

"Quand la musique prend l’homme"
La Libre Belgique, 23/03/2006


Five musicians and four dancers follow the winding road of the riff : the musical phrase that repeats, spawning endless variations and provides the piece with rhythm, color and style. Each night, the riffers, listening intently, connected, invite the audience to seize the essence of improvisation : the moment.

Art imitates Life. Why not Life that imitates Art? Art that could show the possibilities of life, not lead us back into the old schemes. When we see Greek tragedy we say either, “Gee, they sure are modern” or “Damn, we haven’t evolved very much”. Riffing is about trying to avoid this : Simple game playing, enjoying the basic musical relationships, accepting our weakness’ and our strengths and trusting one another, being together. No preconceived notions about style i.e. jazz, hip-hop, acid - this or that. No ostentatious virtuosity. Just enjoy the rhythm. And dance is the logical extension of the music. The musician searches the dancer and offers a form. As my friend Bud says… “here the dancers must also follow the Riffing concept adapting it to their instrument. The Riffing of the dance with the music limits the movement to a tighter expression based on rhythm and structure. This improvised dance is the music given body and the dancers become members of the band. The dance will enrich the music.

« Spectacle imprévisible, joyeux par nature »
La Libre Belgique, 12/10/2008


: Garrett List, voice • Jan Rzewski, alto saxophone • LOUISLOUIS, guitar • Anne Gennen, baritone saxophone • Pascal
Rousseau, tuba

Dancers : Bud Blumenthal • Domenico Giustino • Fatou Traoré • David Hayo • Julie Bougard


A co-production World Citizens Music & Cie Bud Blumenthal / Hybrid, created thanks to Theâtre Marni and the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, Diffusion.