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Ingrid Laubrock: Playing with the Future

By Published: August 15, 2005

AAJ: In performance, it's very clear how important intuition and in the moment creation are to your band. Does conscious thought play a part too?

IL: I've often thought about that. Yeah, sometimes, it's difficult to describe. Sometimes there's a thought process that starts something off. You think of a shape or an interval, for instance, or you think of a chord, or you think of what you might play on this chord, and then you take it from there. Sometimes it seems you just play and you don't really know what you're doing, you don't think about it. Other times it's an intellectual thing that goes, "OK, this is not happening, let me step in, let me take charge." I think it's all very fast actually! It's not that conscious. There seems to be a balance between thought, physicality and emotion.

What I find I can do much better now, the older I get, is to be in the moment and concentrated, focused. If I really concentrate it flows much better. And if I make sure I keep a sense of play, like child's play, in it, then I will stay more open to whatever's going to happen. I'll be happy to play, to tease, whatever you do. It's definitely not intellectual in the way most people use the word. It's not calculating and unemotional.

AAJ: Your band is made up of some of the most exciting young musicians in London. In what ways are each of them special to you?

IL: I met Seb [Rochford, drums] through F-IRE. I had listened to his band Polar Bear quite a few times and I always really enjoyed it. I love the writing. After a while he asked me to do a few gigs with Polar Bear, and I've depped for both Pete [Wareham] and Mark [Lockheart]. It's a great band to play with. I love Seb's music and I love the freedom he brings to it. He tunes into peoples' creativity very strongly and he allows them to be themselves. He is one of the most unselfish bandleaders around, he doesn't impose himself much in his rehearsals, but he lets you get on with it, find your own space in his music. He's a really creative guy who can handle things going differently. And I like the darkness that comes from Seb as well.

I also met Ben [Davis, cello] through F-IRE. I think he's a fantastic improviser. He's got a really beautiful sound, he gets loads of different colours out of the instrument. We also play together in Jonny Phillips' band [Oriole]. I think our sounds go really well together and there's a strong connection when we play. He once said I was his "other half on stage" and I can go with that, if it doesn't sound too gushy.

Barry [Green, piano] was at the Guildhall School of Music at the same time as me, when I was doing a postgraduate course in jazz. He was one of the people I played with a lot at college because he was always up for staying on after lessons and blowing. We continued after my course had finished, met up two or three times a week. We still do that. Barry seemed the obvious choice when Karim [Merchant] left the band, because we had this thing of playing together. He's very musical and also a good friend. We've done quite a few gigs as a duo as well. There's always a real sense of enjoyment when I play with him.

Larry [Bartley, bass] is very important. We've played together for about 12 years. We met at a Saturday afternoon workshop and our paths have kind of always crossed again. He's such a strong person onstage—and offstage—he's very honest and will always say what he thinks. When he feels the music isn't happening he says so but when it is, he's the most enthusiastic guy I know. He's a really natural musician, has got very good intuition, and is very alert to vibes and atmosphere. Larry's a great guy to play with and has been really important in my life.

All these guys are bandleaders and have their own albums. Seb's Dim Lit and Held On The Tips Of Fingers with Polar Bear, of course. Larry's Along This Way, with amazing original compositions. Barry's Timings, with various duos, and Ben's How Do Birds Hear Music, with the Basquiat String Quartet and drums.

AAJ: There are some tremendously talented musicians in London. In that respect things are very healthy right now. But how do you find the scene itself, in terms of supporting what the artists are doing?

IL: There aren't enough places to play. Ronnie Scott's is being really watered down, rebooking the same bands all the time, and sometimes booking bands that I would call cabaret for two, three weeks. The Pizza Express has been commercialized too, I feel, even though that might change. The Vortex re-opening is a good thing and I like playing at The Spitz. There are many musician-run small gigs now, like the Progress Bar, Horseshoe and the North London Tavern, which are getting busy.

Watch out for Soup@TheOthers, if it ever becomes a reality. Last year me and my partner put on this night called Soup at the rehearsal space we rent, which is a big warehouse room in Stoke Newington. It was like a private party and felt great. We have plans to do it again and make it a regular night.

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