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Drummer Bob Rees

By Published: September 9, 2004

BR: I would say that I probably think about both. But from a structure standpoint I am thinking really generally. I guess you couldn't really even call it structure. I mean I am looking for - we are looking for a good place to end a tune, you know, and create some sort of form but it can be pretty open...and then mainly general things like dynamic contrast, being busy or being not so busy, texture changes, things like that.

AAJ: There is sort of a general approach to playing and then there is kind of a generic approach to playing. So when a guy plays generically he is just sort of playing one thing all the time and just sort of makes it fit all settings if he can get away with it. And then there is a general approach which might even be termed as eclectic in a way which is really keeping your ears open and paying attention to what is going on.

BR: Yeah, you know. As long as my ears stay open I find myself in new situations all the time. I guess I'm still learning how to play and deal in those situations. And it doesn't have to be specifically free improvisation. It might happen to be a Flowmotion song, you know, where I sit down and I don't quite understand the form or there is something I don't quite understand or I'm not sure what I am going to play. I'm sort of learning and trying different things and figuring out what works and what doesn't. It's sort of a Bob Rees way of playing that works for me in a lot of different genres or projects. I figure out things that are just in my bag - not tricks but ways to listen and to understand music and to react that work in a lot of different situations. I guess that's what I mean when I say general. They are general enough but they are very important and they work in a lot of different ways. Just to be more specific, and this works in free improv and it works in like regular ABA rock and roll songs or whatever, one example is how to create tension, how to create release using percussion and using sounds. So when I play the drum set in a free jazz setting I'm just dealing with those textures and figuring out how to create energy and move the energy or slow the energy down. And I'm doing the same thing with the congas and the cowbell, you know, textural changes. I feel like they are related, they are similar or basically the same thing at least from my standpoint, from my approach. One of the Jack Straw things that is coming out is a duo of Greg Campbell and me, a cd of all improvised percussion.

AAJ: You just finished a tour with Flowmotion and you were up in Alaska. Can you talk about that a little bit?

BR: Yeah, two weeks in Alaska. Alaska is a very special place, really beautiful people, the nicest people on Earth, and they love music up there. They are very appreciative and they don't get enough music. When I joined Flowmotion about a year and a half ago they had already been up there three times and developed a little bit of a following. Now it has gotten to the point where we do really well up there. Tons of people come out to every one of our shows and they treat us really well, they pay us well, and it is one of the best places to tour for us. This last one was the most successful one yet. We are trying to do it in other places, California and Colorado are next, but Alaska is just really good to us. The beauty of playing in Alaska is that no one up there is really from Alaska. They are either up there working for the summer or they have relocated, and they are from all over the country down here in the lower 48 so when we play shows like in San Francisco or anywhere, there is always somebody that has seen us in Alaska. So it has kind of paid off to play up there a lot. People bring the music back home, to their home town or wherever they are from.

AAJ: What can you suggest to help listeners open their eyes and open their ears to outside music better?

BR: For me, and this goes with not just music but all sorts of art forms and even different cultures, it's just having a really open mind. If something is done really well there is just some sort of inherent quality, a reason why it is good. I think that eventually people can understand it. I know it's really subjective too but there is good jazz and there is not so good jazz and there are reasons for that. It's the same way with anything, all kinds of art, and those qualities shine through eventually. I think people will understand it if they can keep their minds open. If you don't understand something try to ask somebody that does it or performs that type of music and try to find out about it, find out the reasons behind it. Learn more about it. The more you understand the more enjoyable - the more you can appreciate it. It kind of reminds me of my wife learning to appreciate free music and improvisation. She has a really open mind and when I first met her it was like she didn't really understand - she hadn't really heard the music anyway, and she was able to understand it more just asking more questions and figuring out what was going on. She actually enjoys a lot of it now. And she is also able to say what she doesn't like or what particular style of music she doesn't like or why she likes this and why she doesn't. I think people can evaluate that.

AAJ: I was going to ask about Wally Shoup a little bit.

BR: Wally is a good guy to play with. He respects drummers, I'll say that. It's just been a good experience to work with him. He comes over about once a month or we try to get together about once a month and just stay up on what we have as a duo and a trio when we have a bassist or whatever. But he has just been a good guy to help me understand the art of improvisation a little bit better because he is so dedicated to that one style of music. That's a totally different perspective than what I have so it's good to bounce ideas off of each other. He is good about explaining why he either wants to be part of something or why he doesn't and he has enough knowledge and has spent enough time studying that kind of music for people to respect his opinions.

AAJ: What do you suggest for musicians who are learning and are playing free improvised or outside music?

BR: You mean like people who haven't really played the music before?

AAJ: Yeah, or even like people who do play the music. I mean, you would be amazed at what you can teach somebody who has been playing it for 30 or 40 years.

BR: Well, I'm just sort of learning it myself. For me, when I first started, it really helped to play with a lot of different people. In doing that you sort of learn a lot of different ways that people approach the music. Also, you are in different situations, you know, different instruments, different configurations and that kind of changes the way you play. That was the biggest thing that helped me, to get out and play with as many people as I could, you know, just saying yes any time somebody wanted to get together and play, just saying yes all the time. Eventually you just become more sure of yourself as to what sort of improvising you want to do and the kind of improvising you want to do with other people. What happens to me is eventually I get to the point where it's either I have to take a break from it or I need to reinspire myself in a different way. And then I totally get turned on to maybe another type of music that I haven't either played or listened to and then I totally dive into that. For me, eventually it always comes to an end but I still have a love affair with improvised music, for sure. And I always go back to it because it is such a release and it is such an enjoyable way to express myself. But I have noticed that if I don't have like a Flowmotion or a more structured setting, eventually I'll go crazy and I've got to go back to that and do something in that setting. So I need balance. Being involved in a lot of different things makes me happy. Too much of one thing doesn't.

Photo Credit
Jack Gold

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