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Wallace Roney: Fulfilling the Promise

By Published: November 28, 2005
AAJ: We have to talk about your Slick Rick cover on this CD, "Hey Young World, with its reggae pulse. Once again, Eric Allen has fantastic time on this one and your solo's got a perfect mixture of slow, medium and fast licks. But this is Antoine Roney's greatest moment on this CD to me; he nails his solo on tenor. He's such a great player, and a good writer, too: his tune "Then and Now on Prototype is a great song. Tell me about Antoine; what are his greatest strengths as a player?

WR: Well, Antoine is, again, another musician who's overlooked, probably because people want to be spiteful. But he's one of the best creative musicians out here, and he always has been. He's a great musican and great artist; those are different things. A great musician is a musician who can do anything they're supposed to do. A great artist is someone who can go beyond that. It's possible to be a great artist and not a great musician. and it's possible to be a great musician and not a great artist. He's both. Matt Garrison is both. These guys, you put them in a professional situation, they can easily be first call. But they can go way above that. Antoine is definitely one of those artists that never plays the typical thing. He's always reaching for another side, and it's not by accident; he can play the typical thing, but so many other people play it too—that's why it's called "typical. That's what Antoine brings to this music. He's a creative artist and a great writer—I wish he would write more. I think he is doing a lot of writing again.

AAJ: Speaking of his song "Then and Now —that song demonstrates another side of what you do, the more so-called straight-ahead bop or post-bop stuff, without any electric touches. Sort of like your version of Kenny Dorham's "Poetic on the new CD. On "Then and Now, you and Antoine seem to really savor playing through those changes. Do you enjoy playing that stuff as much as it seems?

WR: Well, here we go again. It's the same thing! That's why I do it. I'm trying to say it's all the same thing. It's the same approach. People might not understand it, but if, in the middle of my solo, Geri or [keyboardist] Adam [Holzman] put a splash of electric keyboard on it, it might easily sound like "NiceTown or "Shadow Dance. To me, I'm not not playing what you call straight-ahead jazz when we're playing, say, Slick Rick's tune. I'm playing the same thing! It's the same prerequisite. It's just the melody or the bass line might be different than straight 4/4. But straight 4/4, walking bass, doesn't mean it's not creative jazz.

So the bass can be walking, the bass can be playing a groove like in "A Night in Tunisia or a groove like something Parliament played. It's what you do with it—that's what I'm trying to say. And in terms of the instrument you use, it's how creatively you use it; sometimes it's not appropriate to hear something where the bass is walking all four notes and the beat is electric. Sometimes it's more appropriate to have a more acoustic wash to it. Sometimes you can do that on a tune like "Cyberspace and it'll have a different feel, but that's why you have these options! They're called options.

AAJ: It's all just music. I think the problem is that in jazz writing, we writers are stuck with the vocabulary we have, so you end up with declarations like "this is a bop tune. This is a funk tune. It might be helpful to the listener, but it does compartmentalize everything to the point where it must be exasperating to the artist to read that sort of statement.

WR: Well, it's interesting you say that because I halfway agree. I agree that it bores us when you say, "this is a bop tune, "this is a such-and-such tune. But if you say it's funky or it swings, "this tune swings, you can describe it that way instead of saying defiantly that it's this kind of tune. Because all the tunes have aspects of what you say about that one tune. They all swing! They're all funky. They're all advanced. They're all spiritually based. But you can say that this one has this kind of feel to it. It does get funny to me when people have to explain a song in terms of something else that they heard before. "This sounds like such-and-such. We know those things; let's see how creative the writer can be—let's see him go deeper and say what it sounds like to him instead of who it sounds like.

AAJ: Well, I personally don't have much interest anymore in reviewing a record and saying, "oh, it sounds like Herbie. It sounds like Herbie's Mwandishi band. Because of course it does, because anything that follows that would; we're talking about an enormous vocabulary that he established. It's like saying someone playing rock with minor sevenths and a middle eight section sounds just like the Beatles.

WR: Right, or like saying Mwandishi sounds like Bitches Brew. Yeah, it's like that—but what does it sound like past that to you? Do you hear the instrumentation? That to me is better than putting it in a bag and saying it's like, ah, Weather Report. Fine, what about it? Did you a get a soprano soaring over the texture?

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