Kent Carter and the Continental Continuum
AAJ: Do you find yourself having to structure the music more strictly for dancers?
KC: Oh yeah, it's not just getting on stage and improvising with dancers. We've done that and it works, but there's more to it than that. During that '70s period, [dancer/choreographer] Carolyn Carlson and Barre Phillips were doing some great stuff with John Surman and the late drummer Stu Martin; their work with Carolyn was excellent. She was with the opera for a long time in Paris.
AAJ: How did you get involved with some of the British improvisers in the '70s?
KC: I met them by going over to do a concert in London; John Stevens was involved, and he liked my playing and asked me to join him in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. That's how I met everybody there, and I could say that John Stevens was the influence in my English career. We did some stuff with Keith Tippett, John and Trevor Watts, working in the theatre and doing The Connection with an American director, and that ran for about three or four weeks.
AAJ: As in the Jack Gelber play, The Connection [done with music by Freddie Redd and Jackie McLean in 1960]?
KC: That's it; we did it at the Hampstead Theatre in London.
AAJ: Wow. I'm just thinking that the musical context is very different from how it was done in the '60s with Freddie Redd.
KC: I wish you could hear this version; it was burning! That quartet was fantastic. There are some tapes around of that; if you're into archiving, the guy to talk to is Martin Davidson [Emanem guru]. Martin is taking care of business; for this period and that kind of stuff, he's the man.
AAJ: Coming off of the Steve Lacy ensemble, how did you view John Stevens' music? How did that differ for you?
KC: That was a very interesting experience, because he was working on a 'chamber music' conception, with Derek Bailey and the soprano saxophonist Evan Parker, and he had a weekly thing going on at the Little Theatre Club in London, and whoever felt like playing that week would come out and do it. He was involved in a number of different things, but his conception was no conception. His thing was to sit down and make music with no clichés, just through interaction and listening. So this sound developed which was quite exciting once it got going. It wasn't so easy at first because you didn't have anything to hold onto.
AAJ: Right, because even with the Lacy group, when no tunes were used there was still a sort of vibe or feeling.
KC: There was an inner roar happening, there was a fire burning. And with John it was different; that fire was there but it came out in another way. The ensemble was the total thing, and it moved through space in such an incredible way. Have you heard it?
AAJ: Oh, sure.
KC: Isn't it amazing?
AAJ: It certainly is; it's very difficult music, and a lot of what I've heard has been a growth into something from a low burble, which is very hard to latch onto instantly when you first start listening to it, but after twenty minutes, you realize that you're just surrounded and it's amazing.
KC: And you start smiling, 'oh for Chrisssakes, this is incredible!' You don't take it off, but you leave it on...
AAJ: Even with the duo recordings, a lot of them sound sort of similar, but you notice these little things popping out - especially in the drumming.
KC: These events happen all of a sudden, and you don't know where they're coming from. He and Derek and these guys really developed that into something. I played with John in a more straight-ahead situation in Detail; it was more Ornette Coleman-oriented. I took Johnny Dyani's place in that group; Froede Gjerstad was the tenor player, and we used to work in Scandinavia. [trumpeter] Bobby Bradford was in the group when he could make it, and occasionally [violinist] Billy Bang. That was fun!
AAJ: Wasn't John living in Scandinavia for a while?
KC: He was teaching there; I don't know if he lived there, maybe for a while in Stavanga. He was quite involved in workshops and stuff [in Scandinavia].
AAJ: Coming from New York to Europe, how did you view the respective 'scenes'? Were they rather different?
KC: I don't particularly know what to say about that; if you're around people who have another way of appreciating something, it seems like the European audience knew something was happening before the American people knew what was going on. It comes from America, but when you come to Europe the people are sitting in an audience and listening to the stuff seriously, it's a much more cultivated situation in a way.
AAJ: There wasn't really a galvanizing thing like the October Revolution in Europe, though.
KC: No, but the '70s in Paris were quite strong because we had the Art Ensemble here and some other groups. It was moving, and everybody knew each other - it was a big family in a way, a scene.
AAJ: When you were in New York during the '60s, do you think there was as much community between players as you found when you got to Europe?
KC: Yes, but it was stronger [in the States]. I mean, this was a cultural revolution going on in creative music - a very serious matter, really. Europe has an older story and it has a history of diffusion in art. There, media institutions support real work as much as they can. That period was a struggle to free the creative musicians from the shackles of the music industry and to control their own destiny. The industry [in the States] never wanted to deal with 'Serious' music. That was a strong move.