Charlie Peacock: Accepting the Gift of Freedom
AAJ: You play quite a bit of Fender Rhodes on this record, and there's a lot of your piano as well on the tracks. But really, your ultimate instrument here is the studio itself.
CP: Yeah, most definitely. You won't see me taking any five-minute solos, because [laughing] I would be completely bored by my own playing! To me, you've got be a real giant to be given that much real estateand I think that maybe part of what people are liking about the record is the economy of the events as they're put together and how you get from one event to another. As opposed to a jazz record that has a head, and then a four-minute solo, an interlude and another four-minute solo. I always liken it to real-book jazz, and I stopped liking that kind of music about twenty years ago. I'm much more interested in what happens with improvisation and then what kinds of composition can be melded with thatwith the improvisations.
AAJ: In terms of the studio, for this project anyway, how did you work? Were all the players in the same place at the same time? Or were you building the tracks up, and, say, adding the horns one by one?
CP: The bulk of it, 80% of the music that you hear, is all the musicians in the studio at once. It was important to me to do that; that was one requirement that I did give myself. I would risk that much. I wouldn't be the sort of auteur producer who is locked in a room with ProTools for three years, just tinkering with everybody's performance. I really wanted to risk playing with people, because that's what happens in pop musicprogressively, over time, you risk that less and less as you attempt to buy these sort of microinsurance policies to make sure you succeed by commercial standards.
AAJ: You build a record.
CP: Yeah. And I wanted to get away from that. I wanted to put myself in a situation where things could just come completely undone. I also wanted to put other players in without a lot of control on my partlike, say, [drummer] Joey Baron. Whether he had played to tracks very much or not, I'm not sure. And part of our discussion in the beginningbecause I brought prerecorded tracks for us to play to in New Yorkwas him saying, "well, what do you want me to play? And I said, "I just want you to play what you hear. So don't feel that you have to hold something down in a traditional way or that you have to play completely free because the groove is already implied for you. So it was a challenge to other people, too, to interact with the electronic parts of it.
AAJ: You got a pretty fantastic roster of musicians to play on this record. I suppose trumpeter Ralph Alessi is as prominent as any of them; he's on both sessions and his lines are often central to the tracks.
CP: Uri Caine was the one who told me about Ralph. That guy is just a giant trumpet player.
AAJ: Yes, he's on a lot of great records lately.
CP: I think you're going to see him really rocket in the next couple of years. Number one, he's just as skilled as anyone on the planet. But his vocabulary's also very big and he's a very soulful player.
AAJ: I won't bore you by listing every musician who plays on your CD, but two players who seem incredibly important to how the music works are the two bassists: Victor Wooten on electric bass on the Bellevue stuff, and James Genus on acoustic on the New York material. Even during the more static, programmed sections, they add a real human warmth that is audible and palpable.
CP: That's great. That's what I was hoping for, because I like the repetition in the static partsthe ability to loop things. But I always try to combine some elements that were more random, a little more reckless and human.
AAJ: I'm going to ask you more about that. But first, let's talk about "When Diana Dances, the CD's leadoff tune. It's got a swaying elegance to it, and while it's not overcomposed, it's gotlike many of your songsa very memorable theme. It starts with a sort of Spanish vibe, with Ralph's trumpet and Jerry McPherson's spaghetti-western guitar, then goes into its trumpet/tenor theme. But that's just how it starts. Tell me something about this song.
CP: "When Diana Dances is no exception to this: in every case, these songs in their original form were considerably longer than they are. So part of my job, I thinkand this is where there's a fine line between production and compositionis to recognize in someone's improvisation a repetitive theme, or a theme that ought to be heard multiple times, or expressed again. I think that when you hear the sections as they unfoldwhen it shifts to a new picture in a sense, to a new scene, to borrow from a film vernacularpart of the reason it does that is that's exactly what happened naturally in the improvisation. But it may have happened later or it may have been just a moment that then, from a composition standpoint, I took and capitalized on more. That's something I did over and over again as I was delighted by what someone was playing. As a producer or composer, I was saying, "oh, you should have stuck with that a little bit longer. So through the production process, I helped them stick with it a little longer. I'd sort of stay in those moods longer, or repeat things that maybe they had only played once. A bass line that had only been a snapshot of four bars ended up being eight bars.