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Barney McAll: Dynamic Pianist And Composer

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I got to do some duets with Maceo. It's just so amazing to hear these guys play. There's so much culture and so much weight in every note they play
Composer and pianist Barney McAll is a leading light of the new Brooklyn—the New York borough that is the fount of much that is new in jazz. The spectrum of McAll's music is wide, ranging from mood-setting jazz ensemble recordings to electronica. But it all comes down to the notes, and their relation to each other. As McAll says about growing up with and learning music, "If you have a piano in the house that's a start." Organic music is both the source and the destination.

McAll's fifth album, Flashbacks (Extra Celestial Arts, 2008), has its launch party April 8, 2009 at New York's The Jazz Standard. The launch will feature leading musicians such as Billy Harper
Billy Harper
Billy Harper
b.1943
saxophone
and Ben Monder
Ben Monder
Ben Monder
b.1962
guitar
. McAll moved to New York from Melbourne, Australia in 1997 after being offered a fulltime job by alto saxophonist Gary Bartz
Gary Bartz
Gary Bartz
b.1940
sax, alto
as his pianist. He describes his life before the move: "I'd been going back and forth since 1992, just staying for as long as I could or as long as I could deal, and I made contacts and started working more and more. In 1997, Gary toured Australia and I toured with him and he said, 'Come back and join my band.' That was a great opportunity, and that's when I moved to New York proper. But I'd been putting my feet in the water for many years before, and it's such a fascinating city."



Since then, he has been involved in many varied projects and collaborations which have led, amongst other things, to a Grammy nomination with Groove Collective

in 2007—he is the group's pianist. The group was nominated for best contemporary jazz album of the year for their album People, People, Music, Music (Savoy Jazz, 2007).

"I've come up through jazz piano," he says, but McAll's musical world is wide, both in terms of style and geographic inspiration.

McAll says, "There's all sorts of stuff going on, there's so much going on—it's completely crazy. I always like to say the radar screen is completely green with blips. Because of the internet everything is so accessible, there are so many options, and you know about everything that's going on in the world almost immediately—it's a wacked out time, you know."

Looking at McAll's MySpace page, a teaser for his music, a range of musical styles and approaches to writing is immediately evident. Even the way that he set up the site—it's primary purpose is really to list his tour dates: "I actually just use MySpace to put my calendar up, and my website is connected directly to my calendar"—is an example of a unique approach to creativity. "The MySpace [design] is like an improvisation," he says. "I just threw in random html codes, just threw it all into the mix and just kept taking it out and putting it in until I had something that I sorta liked. It's really like an html finger painting."

As to whether that may be representative of his writing technique, McAll says "Maybe, well, I don't know. Some of the music up there is pretty left of center. Some if it is like some strange sketches I've done down in my basement. Some of it is from records that I've made—I just keep changing it up—I'm not really sure if it represents me. I suppose it represents the eclectic nature of the music that I like. There's some filmic stuff up there and then there's this crazy mixed meter electro project that I'm working on with this guy in England. I seem to generate a lot of music in different fields. I'd like to represent myself as interested in many areas of music, I suppose."

One track is a short piece called "Palin's Brain" that may, to some, appear to be a musical illustration of its subject. McAll says, "It's not really that literal. It's just that I was so appalled with Sarah Palin that I just wanted to make some sort of statement. It wasn't really literal, it's more like stream-of-consciousness. I just felt like it's such an appalling insight into our society that someone like Sarah Palin can get so much press and get into such a high position in politics. I thought I'd throw something up, make some comment—it's a little passé now."

He continues, "And then I have this very barren desolate music for the [track] "USA post Buy Out". He says he was visualizing a possible aftermath of the current financial crisis. "The thing that makes [the crisis] possible is the internet and this anonymous moving around of numbers. It's revisiting the Wild West, a lawless situation with lawless financing, and what happened is they've pulled the reins on it now but it took them [so] long to pull the reins on this whole new way of stealing peoples' money, and especially [that of the] middle class and working class people."

"They've pulled the reins on it but now America's [messed up], and there are people that were thrown in jail, but there are a lot of thieves who disappeared and there's no recourse. They can't find them—it's this incredible greed. I recently wrote the score for a film called We All Fall Down [written and produced by Kevin Stocklin and directed by Gary Gasgarth, the film is set for release during April, 2009] and it's about the housing market collapse and its repercussions so I learned a lot about how Wall Street played into this whole economic collapse."

"After 9/11, and after the dot com collapse, the Wall Street fat-cats wanted to keep the money graph rising, so they looked into Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac and they saw that there was a lot of honest money still being made in real estate, so they started securitizing a hundred mortgages or a thousand mortgages together, and then selling those to offshore investors, and it's just disgraceful that they mishandled so much hard- earned peoples' money without any concern for the human beings involved. There was actually a day in August of 2007 where everything just seized up, but the thing that [annoys me] is that so many of these guys got away. The cats got away with the cream."

"All those song titles [on MySpace] are really just abstractions, just messing around really, but in the title ["USA post Buy Out"] I was referring to the fat cats again, and speaking about how it becomes more desolate for the working class. I'm seeing the indicators, you know, I'm seeing poverty, I'm seeing unemployment, more and more homeless people on the street. I'm just saddened by that, so I thought I'd put a piece of music up."

There is also an interesting piece entitled "Terminate Moby." "It's in 13/8 and then it's been cut up. I was just interested in mixed meter electronica. I'm still working on some tracks for that. It's a collaborative project with Peter Hemsley, an English producer, and it's going to be called Spasmodics."

Chapter Index
  1. Arvo Pärt
  2. Afro-Cuban Bata Music
  3. Mother Of Dreams And Secrets
  4. Jazz Influences
  5. New York
  6. Flashbacks
  7. Letterman Adventures
  8. The Future

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