Peter Knight's Invisible Cities
AAJ: The band 5+2 that plays on this CD is an interesting mixjust the combination of five brass instruments with bass and drums provides a distinctive sound. You lead and participate in a number of different groups. Tell me what you like about this instrumental line-up. What are its particular challenges for composition and performance?
PK: One of the things I really like is the sudden contrast from lush to sparse: as soon as the brass stops playing figures you are left with bass, drums and single line soloist... no chords. I have always liked the austerity of chordless jazz groups like Dave Holland's 80's quintet with Kenny Wheeler, as well as Aussie groups, Ish Ish, and Scott Tinkler's trio; and so I like that contrast in 5+2. I am also excited by the effects that can be achieved with breath sounds and tapping and other 'off-horn' techniques. The fact that there are 5 horns means that you can create a gesture with plenty of impact using these very quiet sounds.
The tricky thing about this line-up compositionally is that the brass sound can very easily sound like a number of things that we are very familiar with: it can very easily sound like a fanfare... you know that 'Roman Processional' sound, or it can sound like a Salvation Army brass band, or it can sound like half a big band. There's nothing wrong with any of these sounds per se, but it's frustrating when they emerge and they are not what you intended. I did a lot of experimenting with voicings before I arrived at the kind of sound that communicated what I wanted.
AAJ: Why did this group come togethera structured considered choice that was to do with combination of sounds? A group of musicians you like spending time with? A group of instruments you wanted to compose for?
PK: All of the above. I wanted to experiment with brass and with writing for a larger ensemble. I also wanted to play with particular people. Making music is a social activity so it's great if rehearsal can be a fun hang as well as being productive musically; this group achieves that.
AAJ: Will 5+2 go on to do other things?
PK: Certainly. I think that a lot of the hard work is done now. We have developed an 'ensemble' sound, approach, and working method. I'm really hoping we'll play at a few festivals and the like in the next little while and perhaps do a short tour. Then I am keen to start a new writing project for the group as I think we've really only just begun to scratch the surface of what's possible.
AAJ: The musicians in the group on this CD have some unique characteristics. What springs to mind Adrian Sherriff's gift with the bass trombone (and some of his unique sounds which are used with great effect on the CD) and Anita's classical training, which has also been mentioned by other musicians such as Andrea Keller as something that shows up as a differentiating aspect of her musicianship. When you write, do you think about the players in the group; not just about their instruments but about their strengths, their personalities and where they will be able and willing to go with the music?
PK: Yes, I'm always imagining who is going to be playing the music. I think this is particularly important when writing for improvising musicians because the composition is completed in their perfomance of the music. They are expected to bring ideas and their 'voice' to the work rather than just 'play the dots' as is more common in a classical setting. The music on Invisible Cities and Other Works is more detailed compositionally speaking than is a lot of jazz music, but nonetheless the improvisatory elements are incredibly important.
You're right when you mention Adrian and Anita as both being musicians with unique skills. They are both a hugely important part of the sound. Anita is one of the few bass players that can comfortably move from classical bass technique to swing. This offers me a lot of possibilities as a composer because she can operate as a voice within the brass section, rounding out the bottom end, and then move into a jazz rhythm section type role...it's almost like having an extra musician. Two for one!
AAJ: What projects are coming up for you?
PK: I have an album coming out on Jazzhead Records in the first half of next year that has already been recorded. The line-up is Colin Hopkins piano, Stephen Magnusson guitar, Frank Di Sario bass, and Tony Floyd drums, and me of course. This is more in the 'jazz' mold but Magnusson twists it into something else.
I am also composing a piece for a contemporary music concert series curated by the composer, Kate Neal, which also features the work of David Chisholm and Martin MacKerras. This will be premiered at BMW Edge in Federation Square (Melbourne, Australia) on Saturday 8th April by the Dead Horse Ensemble.