No, it’s not about some eerily buzzing instrument playing a single note over and over while you’re chanting a persuasive “om”. It’s just a couple of common points and attributes that many of the pro musicians seem to reach sooner or later in their life… usually later though.
Less is more: It happens to most musicians; early on, they tend to be blazing fast, playing a lot of notes and/or writing complex pieces intentionally for the sake of it; showing off their speed, dexterity and levels of creativity. Past the zenith of that, they usually slow down in tempo, play much less, but every note is meaningful.
The compositions become simpler – at least on the surface – but more confident and elegant; in a way, dare I say, easier to grasp. Where there are less notes, there is more space as well; using space musically can bring out something very musical while actually enhancing the rhythmical sense.
Back to nature: Seems to be very common for older and wiser guitarists – even the shredder kind – to reach for the acoustic guitar, keyboard players to go back to the acoustic piano, or bassists – even ones who never played it previously – to start playing the upright bass. After all those long years of chasing tone with the electric and electronic instruments, it all starts sounding the same, and since they get loud easily, after some time it gets old and tiring.
Picking up the acoustic instrument can be very relaxing, and enables a very direct control that’s just not possible on anything electric or electronic. The frequency response of an acoustic instrument is usually much broader as well, enabling a more natural sound.
Dynamic is king: After the bold and loud attitude, many of the pros get into playing with dynamics, often in an exaggerated way. It’s kind of like taking off compression from a mix; the loud parts get pretty loud with plenty of energy, but wise musicians dare to play very quiet when needed, as well. It gives the music more colors and playing with dynamics can actually replace some over the top sounding embellishment, rendering it unnecessary in the end.
It happens a lot for great improvisers, but composers might reach this point as well; think of Mark Hollis and the almost complete neglect of compression on his last album from 1998. Even though sometimes you can hardly make out the words, somehow it results in a deeper and more emotionally filled performance without the evening effect.