The Independent Ear

JImmy Katz also has an intrepid ear

One of the more prolific, keen-eyed photographers operating in the music arena is Jimmy Katz. Doubtless future generations will recognize Jimmy Katz in the pantheon of jazz photographers, alongside Herman Leonard, Chuck Stewart, Bill Gottlieb and other greats of the medium. Though his photography career continues to evolve, more recently Jimmy has seized opportunities to act on his passion for jazz recordings, through his own new imprint Giant Step Arts. At least one of his initial Giant Step Arts releases, drummer Jonathan Blake‘s 2-disc trio date Trion, garnered significant note in end-of-year 2019 critic’s polls – including significant spins on my own radio program, Ancient/Future Radio (Wednesday nights 10-midnight on WPFW in the DMV market, live streaming worldwide at The Giant Step Arts release from tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander is among his most extended form, original work yet recorded, and trumpeter Jason Palmer‘s Rhyme & Reason Giant Step Arts date is likewise among his most engrossing recorded work. With all this in mind, clearly some Independent Ear questions were in order.

With such a successful career as a photographer, what was it about making records that so intrigued you?
As you may know, I have been a photographer in the music business since 1991 and I have shot more than 200 magazine covers and been hired to participate in more than 550 recording projects. I got to work with a lot of my heroes and hear a lot of amazing music, but in this time I also saw the recorded music industry contract. As a lifelong record collector, I always had in the back of my mind, “Would some of these recordings be stronger if the musicians had recorded all in one room in front of fellow human beings?” I discussed this with a number of musicians who said they played better in “Live” situations, rather than in the studio. Musicians said that when playing “Live,” they could be more creative and play with greater freedom and abandon. Right now there are a lot of terrific studio recordings being made but some are quite controlled. It’s wonderful music, but I thought that I wanted to produce projects that would tap into the source of jazz, music that comes out of “Live” venues. Even if they are not the perfect venues to record in, they are often places where inspiration and creativity are at the highest level. Fans know that history remembers the “Great Performances” and many of those are “Live” concert recordings. So as an engineer I try to achieve good sound, but the real goal is to capture “Lightning in a Bottle,” the magic of an inspired “Live” performance. That is the focus of Giant Step Arts.

Almost three years ago I was approached by donors who wanted to have a positive impact on the jazz community. They realized that the record business was in a state of shambles and more importantly that musicians were not being properly compensated. Giant Step Arts, LTD is a unique 501(c)3 (editor’s note: a not-for-profit tax designation) and we don’t sell anything or own any music. We collaborate with each of the artists we choose to work with. For a music project, we pay the leader and everybody in the band for two nights of recording and a rehearsal, but the leader owns the masters, gets digital files to sell and gets 700 CDs to sell, free of charge. I engineer the “Live” dates, I mix and master with the legendary Dave Darlington and the visionary Ann Braithwaite does all our publicity and promotion. Dena (My wife) and I do all the photography and we design the CD packages as well. Within this framework the musicians can create music that is free of commercial constraints and all we ask is that the musicians make a profound artistic statement. In addition, we are not afraid of music that explores themes like social justice, racism, sexism, politics or the environment. Right now we have limited resources, so our projects are by invitation only.

Talk about the recordings you’ve made thus far on your Giant Step Arts label, and why you felt it was important to record those particular artists.
To be clear, Giant Step Arts is not a record label. We do what a record label does but we don’t sell anything. The musicians own the masters and get all the proceeds from the sales of their music. Also, we are trying to promote musicians who have already been validated by their peers, so we are looking for musicians who have a deep connection to other creative musicians of this era. The leader’s mission is to make a bold artistic statement with original material and that has a unifying theme. Jason Palmer, Johnathan Blake, Eric Alexander and Michael Thomas have all been wonderful to collaborate with. They have each put together all-star bands featuring the best and the brightest of this generation and they are presenting profound, original material.

The records you’ve made thus far have been live performance recordings. Will you continue to concentrate on live recordings?
“Live” recordings are the focus of what we do.

What are your recording plans for 2020?
We are releasing another double CD with the trumpeter Jason Palmer that is the music that he wrote for each of the paintings that was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston 30 years ago. We are releasing it on March 18th 2020 the 30 anniversary of the theft. Later this spring we are releasing a project with the grammy nominated alto saxophone Michael Thomas that is inspired by new technology and in early summer we will release another project led by the great drummer Johnathan Blake.

We often partner with another New York City not-for-profit, The Jazz Gallery, and on May 21st & 22nd we are recording the powerhouse alto saxophonist Darius Jones who is doing a project called “In August of 1619.” As you know this is when the first African slaves landed in North America and Darius has written an extraordinary suite of music inspired by this event. We are also recording the great trumpet player and composer Marquis Hill in August. His project is called “Free To Be” which will include the fantastic, Jazzmeia Horn, Marcus Gilmore, Joel Ross and Junius Paul. Also in August we will be recording another Jason Palmer project with jazz giants, Mark Turner, Joel Ross, Ben Williams, and Nasheet Waits. With a micro level of support, on February 28th & 29th, we are collaborating on a project with “The Leap Day Trio” which is Matt Wilson, Mimi Jones and Jeff Lederer. It’s going to be the first “Live” record made in the newly opened Cafe Bohemia in 60 years. I am really excited about all of these projects.

What’s your overall sense of the jazz recording industry?
For a number of reasons, over the last 20 years, the income flow to musicians from recorded music has dwindled to a trickle. To make matters worse, if 43 million Pandora streams of “Happy” earned Pharrell Williams $2700, where does that leave jazz musicians who have far fewer streams? Streaming may be great for the streaming businesses and consumers, but with streaming, the individual who has created the music, has often been ELIMINATED from the revenue flow. This makes the act of delivering music through streaming, a profound and seminal event in the history of recorded music. In our small way, Giant Step Arts, is trying to create a model that is different. The income from recorded music may continue to be small, BUT WE WANT ALL OF THIS INCOME TO GO TO THE CREATORS OF THE MUSIC. Also, what we do is easily scaleable, so the more funds I can raise, the more musicians Giant Step Arts can help and the more artistic statements can be completed. I would encourage your readers to check out and to purchase our projects directly from the artists we work with.

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The indomitable Bobby Hill

There is a deeply admirable earnestness and a steadfastness about concert impressario and radio producer Bobby Hill (currently heard on Takoma Park community radio station WOWD) that I’ve always admired. Back when he founded Transparent Productions and began presenting thoroughly uncompromising improvisers of many stripes around Washington, DC, he established that with the same sense of urgent purpose with which he piloted his equally uncompromising weekly radio shows at WPFW. A quiet, relatively soft-spoken, always deeply thoughtful soul, there remains a kind of zealotry burning deep within Bobby Hill when it comes to some of what more than a few folks might consider the more far-flung strains of modern music. And that’s precisely why when I came onboard as artistic director of the DC Jazz Festival in 2015, I immediately sought out Bobby to engage him as part of our festival’s Jazz in the ‘Hoods family of DC jazz presenting entities to present some of his programs during the festival. For those of you who don’t know him, meet friend and colleague Bobby Hill…

What is it about what is the often freely improvised music, and is always uncompromising, original music, that you’ve championed in both your broadcasting and presenting efforts all these years, that continues to stimulate your senses.
Simply put, such music brings me endless sounds of surprise. You know I call my radio program This! Music, and I don’t mean to present the naming emphasis lightly. I discovered jazz through John Coltrane’s ‘By the Numbers’, from his The Last Trane’ recording, which was his final release on the Prestige label. . The year it was released (1966) was the same year that Trane recorded ‘Live in Japan’. Two very different sounding forms of jazz, one more traditional and other, far less so. The latter forms bringing more original patterns and flows, of extemporized ‘jazz’ music. I can air play every note of Trane’s ‘By the Numbers’ by heart and memory, but only the spirit of his ‘Leo’. This! Music is how one it’s founder’s founders of jazz’s avantness, drummer Sunny Murray, describes this early 60’s form discovery. Presenting and broadcasting it is further influenced by the many early WPFW programmers that preceded me, folks like Art Cromwell, Greg Tate, Ken Steiner, and many others.

My friend and colleague, longtime artists manager and attorney Gail Boyd, has developed a Facebook group called Alternative Venues for Jazz. I’ve always considered Transparent Productions as an ultimate “alternative venue for jazz”. How did Transparent Productions develop?
In 1997, when the premier presenter of such music in the DC area, District Curators, was transitioning to other presenting avenues, a few fellow WPFW programmers – Larry Applebaum, Herb Taylor, Thomas Stanley, and myself, plus new area member Vince Kargetis – got together, talked, and figured we could collectively try to keep such presentations of this music, happening. In collaboration with District Curators, “Dare to Be Different – Jazz Arts ’97 Washington DC Festival”, our first offering was a duo performance between saxophonist Joe McPhee and bassist Michael Bisio at the know defunct Food for Thought restaurant. It was great music and a well-receiving audience. It was followed by bassist William Parker performing solo at an also now-defunct Kaffa House cultural space. The Parker audience was overflowing, evoking the renowned bassist to speak about the colors that he sees in the music that he plays and hears. After this well-received and attended performance by Parker, we said ‘we got this’, and have been now doing it for over two decades, and nearly 400 performances. We have presented a wide range of specially curated offerings, including the world premier of William Parker’s Electric Band, and pianist Matthew Shipp solo, playing and speaking on the influence of writer/activist Jean Genet on his life and music. There have been many other such original performance offerings.

Special thanks must go to a longtime and original support, Zinnia, who housed many of our artists, including Parker and Shipp, in her lovely NW D.C. home, before moving out of the country.

Considering that 100% of the proceeds go to the artists, how does Transparent sustain itself, and how do you avoid the label of presenting what musicians often dread – the proverbial “door gig”?
Again, it’s always been a joint collaboration of doing what needs to be done to make things happen. From curating artists, arranging performances space, flyer creation and distribution, and more. The supporting audiences are the true hub. The only label that we enjoy using is ‘Free’ (music, not cost).

Thinking about the reality of alternative venues from purely the home for Transparent Productions aspect, talk about some of the venues where you’ve presented performances and what those actual venues have meant to your presentation?
Our performance moniker reflects words from saxophonist Henry Threadgill: “Live music is it. There’s nothing like live music and spirits”. Many venues have made it possible for us to share such spirits. From smaller spaces like Takoma Park’s Sangha Fair Trade (our first home), to many other small clubs and restaurants like Electric Maid (Takoma Park), Mr. Henry’s, & Chief Ike’s Mambo Room (D.C.), churches (Westminster), museums (Hirshhorn) M.O.M.A.), colleges (George Mason, George Washington, UMD), area embassies (French).

What have been some of your favorite moment’s in Transparent Productions’ history, those moments when what you present have been most meaningful to your evolution as a presenter?
A great part of our evolution was the near decade that we presented at the historic, but now-closed Bohemian Caverns. I was raised just around the corner from its 11th & U Street location. The owner, Omrao Brown, allowed us to facilitate an ongoing series called Sundays@7@The Caverns. We kicked off the series in with a performance led by guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly, and ended it with a performance by cellist Janel Leppin and guitarist Anthony Pirog, for which these artists donated the full door back to Transparent, as thanks for our work there. Our offerings have also witnessed changes that have occurred in the city’s landscape, over the years, via gentrification. Bohemian Cavern’s is just one of many spaces no longer here. But new spaces seem to always come.

How has your now 40-year broadcast career dovetailed or positively interacted with your Transparent Production’s activities.
My first thoughts of presenting began in the early 80’s (when I was also just starting at WPFW radio), as an assistant for singer Arnae. Arnae was producing the Smithsonian’s Jazz In the Palm Court series, under the guidance and leadership of singer and Sweet Honey in the Rock founder Bernice Reagon. The series enabled artists to focus on the music of an ancestor artist. One very memorable one was when the late pianist Geri Allen did a program on the music of the great Lovie Austin. So WPFW sparked Jazz in the Palm Court, ultimately sparking Transparent Productions. So, it’s has definitely been a positive dovetail. I’ve met so many great audience members, artists, and heard and presented such great and original music.

What is the next evolution for Transparent Productions?

Thursday, February 13, 2020@8PM, KAZE@Alleyworld, w/Satoko Fujii on piano, Kappa Maki, Christian Bezos on trumpet, and Peter Menard on drums.

Sunday, February 16, 2020@7PM, Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble@Rhizome, w/Kahil El’Zabar on multi percussion/composition/voice, Corey Wilkes on trumpet & percussion, and Alex Harding on baritone sax & percussion.

Monday, March 9, 2020@8PM, Steve Swell Quartet @ Rhizome, w/Steve Swell on trombone, Rob Brown on saxophones, William Parker on bass, and Michael T.A. Thompson on drums.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020@8PM, Tim Berne Sun of Goldfinger @Rhizome, w/Tim Berne on alto saxophone, David Torn on guitar, and Ches Smith on drums.

Sunday, April 5, 2020@8PM@Rhizome, w/Joseph Daley Tuba Trio, w/Joseph Daley on tuba and euphonium, Warren Smith on drums, and Scott Robinson on saxophones.

Friday, June 12th DC Jazz Festival collaboration (artist TBD)

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The intrepid sessions detective

A few years ago some distinctively packaged recordings arrived on the scene that at first glance appeared to be new additions to the re-issued jazz recordings landscape that has been a steady reality in the music since the late 1970s/early 1980s when record labels first woke up to the reality that there was gold in them there vaults. Upon closer review however it was clear that these recordings, primarily released under the Resonance Records imprint, were in fact recordings made by master level artists that had not previously been available in the marketplace.

Not long after Resonance began to quite positively impact the jazz records marketplace, I was contacted by the producer largely responsible for these first-time historic recordings – which auspiciously began with some prime Wes Montgomery performances – an excitable man named Zev Feldman. Seems Zev’s mom lived in the DMV in suburban DC, where he was raised, and he wanted to come on my WPFW radio program. We met there for an interview, followed by my contributing an essay to “Manhattan Stories,” a date featuring Charles’ band with Gabor Szabo and Ron Carter largely as a result of programs I’ve produced for Tribeca Performing Arts Center’s ongoing Lost Jazz Shrines series. One year our Lost Jazz Shrine was the notorious East Village haunt known as Slugs (“In the far East”); infamous as the scene where the late, great trumpeter Lee Morgan was tragically gunned down by his confused lover – a vivid account of which can be found in the 2016 documentary “I Called Him Morgan.”

The laudable efforts of Zev Feldman, and his label head partner George Klabin, have continued at a good clip, including such 2019 Resonance and affiliated imprint releases from such giants as Eric Dolphy, Cannonball Adderley, and an essential 7-disc box set of early (1936-1943) recordings by the pre-American songbook Nat “King” Cole. Seeking an update on his activities prompted some Independent Ear questions for Zev Feldman.

The intrepid Zev Feldman

How did you get started on this quest to develop the Resonance and affiliated labels?
I had been doing strictly sales and marketing the first 15 years of my career, then I met Resonance Records founder George Klabin and he made me a proposition that if I could go out and find previously-unissued jazz recordings he would let me produce them for release. Not reissues, but what I like to call ‘archival discoveries.’ That was 10 years ago and I’ve been fortunate through my work for Resonance I’ve been recognized and given the opportunity to work with a number of other unaffiliated labels such as Blue Note, Verve, Real Gone Music, Elemental Music, Reel To Real Recordings and many others.

How long have you had the sense that there are so many undiscovered recordings out here, and particularly recordings made by great masters?
I’ve been noticing more and more ever since I started doing this work 10 years ago that there are all these important recordings yet to be uncovered. I’ve been privileged to learn of a number of things that exist because of all of the great press we’ve generated at Resonance. Our first archival release was Wes Montgomery Echoes of Indiana Avenue in 2012, followed by Bill Evans Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate that same year. For the Evans release, I worked with George Klabin’s original tape archives of concerts that he had recorded himself and that helped me pick up some great experience in this realm.
The most recent Wes Montgomery “discovery”

What kinds of relationships have you forged that have enabled you to access some of the previously “undiscovered” recording sessions you’ve uncovered and released thus far?
I’ve cultivated a number of important relationships over the past 10 years of doing this work. Access to this kind of material comes from a variety of places, such as artists and their families, government tape archives (ie, French, Dutch, etc.), radio archives, club owner archives and personal collectors. I’ve befriended the custodians of a number of these entities that have over time learned to trust me in this area of this business.

Is it your sense that there are a lot more such discoveries to be made?
Absolutely. Every day we’re discovering new things to explore, even with jazz legends such as John Coltrane and Bill Evans, where one might think everything has been unearthed already.

What’s been the market response to these previously undiscovered recordings?
The market response has been great. I’ve been very fortunate to receive a consistent stream of editorial accolades across many of the productions I’ve been fortunate to be involved with from all different labels. Resonance has really set a new standard for deluxe archival jazz releases, providing high quality presentations like museum pieces that are timeless and tell captivating stories. The booklets on these releases are investigative music journalism and in many was are just as important as the recordings themselves.

What have you got up your sleeve for 2020?
It looks like things are stacking up to be a real barnburner for Resonance, and Blue Note, in 2020. I can’t go too deep into anything yet, but be on the lookout for archival projects from Bill Evans, Art Blakey and many others from my orbit coming real soon.

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Jerome Jennings – Drumming man

From my past 18-year tenure as artistic director of Tri-C JazzFest (Cleveland), one of my great delights has been witnessing the full-scale professional flowering of young musicians who came up through TCJF and Cuyahoga Community College’s student jazz education ranks. Most auspiciously, among those who have ascended from TCJF’s education programs to become first-class professional jazz musicians have been the trumpeters Sean Jones and Dominick Farinacci, and Curtis Taylor. Add to that list drummer Jerome Jennings, pride of Cleveland Hts. High School (for you NFL fans, that school also gave us all-pro tight end and Kansas City Chief Travis Kelce).

After Heights High, and years of participating in the Tri-C JazzFest education programs, Jerome matriculated at Rutgers, then received his Masters in Music from the prestigious Juilliard School. Clearly those years of tutelage and mentoring by numerous first class professionals rubbed off as Jerome has auspiciously given back to succeeding generations of young musicians through his subsequent teaching-mentoring work as conductor of The Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, the Jazz House Kids education program, and as a drum instructor-mentor at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s education programs.

At the drums Jerome Jennings’ has lifted the bandstands of such NEA Jazz Masters as Hank Jones, Sonny Rollins, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, as well as affiliations with the Mingus Big Band, Mike Stern, and Christian McBride. Jerome has solidly joined the ranks of drummer-bandleaders and his second release as a leader is Solidarity. Clearly some questions were in order for Jerome Jennings.

What growth would you say you’ve experienced from your first release The Beast (2016) to Solidarity?
I have experienced exponential growth from my first release, The Beast, to my sophomore release Solidarity. These projects are an artistic expression of where I am musically and socially. Both were a learning experience for me with regards to preparing the music, booking the studio, and choosing the band that I wanted to record my ideas. I wanted to explore more of my writing and arranging ideas on Solidarity. This particular project was special because in 2017 I began to learn more about Black woman and the LGBTQ+ communities through my wife, friends, and literature. Inspiration for Solidarity further developed through the writings of authors/ scholars Toni Cade Bambara’s The Black Woman, Dr. Sarah Haley’s No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity, Farah J. Griffin’s If You Can’t Be Free, Be A Mystery: In Search Of Billie Holiday, Barbara Ransby’s Making All Black Lives Matter, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider and many other publications. Hearing the voices of black women and people of color in the LQBTQ+ communities nationally and internationally has changed my view of the world. It inspired the growth and music presented on Solidarity.

The drums would seem to some to be an ideal position from which to lead a band, however that role hasn’t always been considered that way in jazz. What has inspired you to develop your bandleader chops?
I agree that it seems ideal for drummers to lead the band. We see and hear the music from an optimal position. Its our job to paint and orchestrate the music in an honest, hip way. My inspiration comes from the various band leaders that I’ve performed with throughout the years. Hank Jones, Christian McBride, Sonny Rollins, Hamiet Bluiett, Dee Bridgewater and countless others; all have their own special way of leading the band. I’ve taken a little bit from them and created a style of leading my own band(s). I think that it’s important to have a concept or understanding of how the other instruments function within your band. I still love to play as a sideman, but being a leader is something I have always dreamed of one day pursuing.

What have been some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from other drummer-bandleaders in your quest?
I’ve learned so much from other drum bandleaders! Victor Lewis stresses the point of polarities, balance, and team ball playing on the bandstand. Victor is the first to highlight the importance of composing music. I call Victor Obi Wan Kenobi of the Jazz scene. Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts spoke with me once about allowing the band to interpret harmonies as ‘a sound’ and not so much in a rigid way. Tony Reedus (RIP) explained the importance and concept of ‘playing the room.’ Carl Allen has given me priceless advice on keeping the gig and traveling on the road. Michael Carvin spoke with me at great length with regards to consistency and patience. I’ve learned greatly from watching exceptional drummer band leaders – Louis Hayes, Billy Hart, Ralph Peterson, and others.

None better to confer with on the nuances of being a drumming bandleader than the great Roy Haynes

In terms of your development, what are some of the more impactful working relationships that have spurred your efforts as both bandleader and sideman?
Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Louis Massiah, Tim Reis, Eddie Allen, and Hank Jones are/were some the most impactful relationships that I have. They are all amazing performers and are very serious about preserving and upholding the best in our culture and music. I notice their commitment to become better people and artists everyday! I’ve checked all four out in the context of sideman/woman and bandleader. Each have an empathic approach to the art of being a sideman/woman. Observing their humanity off of the bandstand has been very impactful in my development. They consistently treat everyone (from the janitor to the festival producer) that enters their circle with respect and dignity. Louis Massiah is not a musician. He is a documentary filmmaker. I’ve learned so much from his body of work, integrity, kindness, and work ethic. I value(d) my relationship with all of them.

How would you advise aspiring drummers seeking to develop their craft in terms of their being sought-after for performing opportunities – both as sidemen/women and potentially as leaders?
Constantly work on your craft through listening, practice, and observing. Focus on the details. Naturally, the drums are usually an accompanying instrument. Play in as many musical situations as possible. This will help you to become a well-rounded accompanist. It’s best to be a good follower before you evolve into a leader. Don’t get so enamored with playing with ‘famous’ people. Every performance is an important stepping stone to the next. Play a restaurant gig like its a performance at Carnegie Hall

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Sarah Elizabeth Charles: Free of Form

Several years ago, on assignment to write a magazine piece on the burgeoning crop of players and subsequent influence on the jazz scene from arriving young Caribbean musicians. Initial investigation turned up a number of exceptional and vital musicians… but completely male-centric, no women. Subsequent interview conversations recommended investigating a young woman vocalist of Haitian descent, who at that time was new to the scene. Introducing Sarah Elizabeth Charles.

My research revealed a refreshing vocalist of lovely, clear timbre with a healthy respect for delivering potent lyrics. Then I caught her at the venue below renowned Ethiopian-Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson’s chic Red Rooster restaurant, just up the street from one of the legendary crossroads of black America, 125th & Lennox. That particular evening Sarah Elizabeth Charles was singing with keyboardist Jesse Fischer‘s potent unit. I determined to introduce Sarah to DC audiences at the 2016 DC Jazz Festival. Sarah’s latest release is Free of Form, an evocative, socially-conscious album full of penetrating, original lyrics. Clearly some questions for Sarah Elizabeth Charles were in order.

Would it be fair to characterize this release as a bit of a shift in direction for your artistry? And if so, how would you characterize that artistic shift?
I would say that Free of Form represents more of a natural progression in my artistry as opposed to a shift in direction. My band SCOPE’s first two records, Red and Inner Dialogue, were snapshots of where we were as a band in those moments. On both of these projects, there are more covered/arranged content in addition to some original music. I feel that as the evolution of these albums commenced, so too did the process of slowly moving in the direction of what Free of Form was to become. We had started playing with vocal layers as early as 2011 with the recording of the song “Easy” on Red and began improvising in live performance and in the studio, playing with textures, rhythms and instrumental layers in 2012/2013 leading up to our beginning to record Inner Dialogue. I guess what I’m pointing to is what has felt like a very seamless transition from my songwriting/arranging space, to rehearsals, to live performance, to the studio and then circling back around to the songwriting/arranging space. This journey has all taken place in a cyclical manner and with the revolution of each project, we’ve been able to slowly evolve to where we find ourselves now as artists and as a band.

One thing I was struck by with Free of Form is your use of extended forms on an otherwise fairly quiet landscape. What were you going for in that regard?
This is a really interesting observation and I think it speaks to our main characteristics as a band which are grounded in remaining adventurous and fluid. The thing that I would say we are going for here is to allow enough space for freedom of expression. Each of those sections in the extended forms that you’re pointing to are moments that can manifest and develop differently each time we play the song. They’re meant as spaces where the song can take on a different meaning depending on where each person is energetically at the time that they are playing it. As the bandleader and the songwriter, I’ve grown to see the value of leaving this space for whichever members of SCOPE happen to be playing at any given moment. The music is able to take on its most true identity when the through composed and improvisatory sections are properly balanced. It’s also just more fun for us.

Clearly you’ve engaged a lot of creative electronics here, including multi-tracked voicings, etc. Thankfully none of that comes as a result of your engaging false narratives like the dreaded harmonizer, but you have certainly extended the vocal textures here electronically. Talk about your process for engaging those tools and why you felt and planned that sensibility with this release.
I love voices and playing with them in the studio. One of my favorite parts of tracking is to be able to record something, listen back to it and then head back into the booth and react to what is there right in the moment. It’s almost like a form of improvisation for me that is super specific to the studio and that has slightly delayed action. Many of the multi-track voice moments were either done in this fashion or live on my looper while we were tracking. I love to able to play not only in response to others, but in response to myself and to push the limits of what the voice can be texturally at any given time in the music. In today’s world, the studio and technology allow for really amazing opportunities for recorded sound and I enjoy playing with those limits and boundaries in ways that I feel serve the music that we are recording.

Trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is one of your key collaborators on this release. Talk about his contributions and what they meant to the overall ideas you had with this release.
I’ve been working with Christian since 2013 and consider him to be a collaborator, a mentor and a friend. His evolution as an artist led us to meet prior to the recording and release of Inner Dialogue and I am so grateful that he saw enough similarities in the directions that we were both moving in to want to work together. I remember when I asked him to produce Inner Dialogue. His initial response was “no” and I remember being silent on the end of the line and not knowing what to say. He then quickly followed up by saying that I was already producing my own material and that he’d only be interested in being involved if he were able to co-produce with me. This is one of the many moments that I’ve had working with Christian when I’ve realized how great our creative partnership could be. Since then, he has co-produced and played on both Inner Dialogue and Free of Form (which was the very first Stretch Music release not by Christian himself), I have guested and co-written songs on his most recent and upcoming 2020 releases and we continue to stay very closely connected, planning for SCOPE’s fourth album to be released on Stretch Music in 2020. As a mentor, he’s given me encouragement to push the boundaries of the music and to trust my gut and I am endlessly grateful for this. I see our creative collaboration as a continuous exchange and look forward to the work we’ll be doing together in the future.

The tracks on this record are for the most part your originals, none of which I would characterize as being of the “baby I love you” canon. What were you going for with the themes and the lyrics of these songs?
This question is really great. I often joke with those closest to me that even my love songs sound intense and don’t have the classic “baby I love you” type canon. I love that canon too, but it just hasn’t really come out of me in that way yet. Maybe some day…
Many of the songs on Free of Form are meant to communicate a reaction and view point of occurrences in the outside world. The commentary of the lyrical content ranges from topics around police brutality (“Change to Come”) and poverty (“Learn How To Love”) to addiction (“Another Cloudy Memory”) and the strength of the feminine spirit in all human beings (“Taller”). The overall theme points to being free of any pre-conceived notion as to what lyrical or musical content can or needs to be and letting myself react to the outside world in relationship to my own personal experience. I was writing this music in 2015-2016 and there were therefore many things happening in the world to inspire me. At this time, my teaching artist work in various settings (including with teens and at Sing Sing Correctional Facility as a part of Carnegie Hall’s outreach division, at The New School forming new curriculum around Jazz and Gender and in Haiti with Rise2Shine) also inspired me to use my platform to tell my truth related to these topics and others. Our first album Red is a documentation of where we’d been, Inner Dialogue is a reflection of who I was internally at that time and Free of Form is a representation of where I want to go and what artistic space I want to occupy at this point in my journey.

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