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Greg Burk: Everyone Should Be Present

By Published: November 14, 2005
AAJ: One of my two favorites on the new CD is the album opener, "Old Souls. Maybe I like it so much because it seems like the perfect blend of that rubato, open side of your work and the structured side as well. I also love the way that it begins in a relatively open fashion, albeit around that bass vamp. But there's a sort of coalescing to it, a sense of coming together, almost like a flower slowly opening its petals. It takes two minutes for you to begin playing the real melody of the song. Tell me about this one.

GB: Well, I wrote the tune when I was living in Detroit. I lived there for two years. It's funny, because the tune is so melodic and open, but at the time I was studying and playing bebop.

AAJ: It's not a bop tune.

GB: It's not a bop tune. But we recorded that tune three or four times and each version is completely different and I think the version that I chose was just for the reason that you said, that it unfolds so—well, it's not forced. There's nothing forced about it. We're very much in tune with the way that we're phrasing together and feeling the cadences. Steve plays the melody on it so beautifully. You're right, it does kind of sum up what I had in mind for the recording because there's material there—I've played that tune and it sound completely different, but the material is just serving this approach to be as together as we can. Everyone should be present. I didn't just want Swallow to play the bass notes and Bob to just play some time.

The melody is really simple; it's kind of one phrase that gets moved through a set of changes. But through the evolution of the changes and the way the melody builds, there's a story, and that was what I was trying to access through the way we approached the tune: what is this melody, where does it come from, and what is it trying to say? Like I said, I wrote the tune when I was living and playing a completely different kind of music, but that was part of the revelation of playing rubato: that there was a whole other side of melody that was there but didn't come through in a changes situation.

AAJ: Swallow's bass is fantastic on that song, and when I play it on my car stereo, it makes my doors rattle and hum sympathetically. John Weston engineered this and you and he mixed it together. The CD's got a very good mix.

GB: Thank you. Bob participated on a few mixing sessions. I spent a lot of time mixing it because the room is a very special room. It's an old Masonic temple with very high ceilings; we were all in the same room and to play acoustic drums and piano in the same room is a challenge, mixing-wise—especially because Bob's drum set is so vast. He's got two bass drums, two snares, two high-hats. And his sound is huge. The only way we were really able to do that was because Steve was playing electric bass. That enabled us to play in the same room. So, yeah, we mixed it—John Weston is a fantastic engineer. I had worked with him on mixing and mastering other projects, but hadn't recorded in his studio until this project. He's got a Steinway that was the Steinway reserved for Claudio Arrau, the great classical pianist—for when he played on NBC. It's a really unique, beautiful Steinway.

AAJ: It's a fantastic-sounding piano.

GB: Oh, that alone is inspiration! [laughing] So, yeah, the mixing was a challenge. But I think each tune has a little bit of a different kind of a mix concept because I wanted to highlight certain things that might not have been apparent if there had just been a flat mix on the whole recording. And Steve Swallow on the electric bass—he can bring soul to electricity like nobody. Like a blues musician; they play electric instruments but there's so much soul.

AAJ: Actually, I can't think of anyone that sounds like Swallow. On any instrument.

GB: Yeah. When I faced the possibility of making a new recording, I asked myself who I wanted to do this with because I have a working band and we recorded the week before this recording. That might be coming out later, but that recording came about completely different even though the material was similar—because they were different musicians. There's no way I could play the same with Moses and Swallow. Swallow was always somebody I wanted to play with because he was a key member of the projects that I was influenced by, like the [Jimmy] Giuffre trio, and Bley's trio, especially. Of course his recordings as a leader, too, are fantastic. I always found myself wanting to hear more of him, though.

AAJ: Not an uncommon criticism. Sometimes people wish he would take more of a dominant role on his records.

GB: I think he was very interested in the writing aspect. Recently, he kind of tackles a different writing situation on each project—trio, quintet, I think he's doing something with a string quartet now. So I think that's the reason. But I always found myself wanting to hear more bass solos, more bass in the mix. So that was part of why I wanted him. And he's still around! There's a lot of great musicians who I would love to have had an opportunity to play and record with, but they're not around. So with this opportunity to put together this dream trio—there was no reason not to do it.

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