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Interviews

Pianist Burton Greene

By Published: June 11, 2004
BG: I just did some spontaneous playing with some guys over here, a Canadian tenor player named Rob Armus; a young guy about 25-26, the American trumpet player Adrain Longo, and Tony Wilson, a guitarist from Vancouver. I love to do it with other players because for me it’s an intimate conversation. I don’t need to converse with myself as much; I enjoy doing it with other people. With me it’s more interesting to work off of compositional frameworks or fragments at least. I rarely do a total improv from A to Z, though I did one on that record with Mark Dresser for CIMP. On the next solo record I might throw one in, just a very basic graphic idea or something. I find that for me to be free, the more chops and the more of an understanding of different types of music you have, the greater the palette and the more colors you can work with. For me, free means that at one point, my muse tells me chord changes, funk-bucket, etc., I’m going to do that. I would approach that whole thing free anyway. I might jump out of the bar lines solo, and it’s great because... the thing that’s so boring about the bebop imitators is that the giants created that music and they cleaned it out. Few people could clean it out today like they did, because that was free at the time. That’s the way Dizzy, Bird or Mingus played that shit in the ‘50s. Being free is following your muse at the moment, and if you feel like playing a Mozart cadenza, do that too. How high is up? There are so many forms you can use, but I just try to follow my muse. For me it’s like breathing in and breathing out; if I really exploded through some real free combustion playing, then I need to charge my battery again and I might take a very strict form to do that.

AAJ: You’ve explored all these different avenues for improvisation; not just freedom, but also ragas, East European music, klezmer, and it’s almost like you’re freer now than you were in the ‘60s, because you’ve extended that palette.

BG: Of course, the more you have the more you can say.

AAJ: So how do you view your early work?

BG: I hadn’t meditated yet. I’ve been a meditator for many years too, and that has let me focus and milk the cow longer. Savor the milk; take the essence and take it to another level. Work with it, nurture it and go with it. At the time I was exploding in a lot of different directions, and I’ve taken my earlier stuff as a sort of collage, and now I try to tie up the loose ends. I had fifteen different bits of information in one piece, whereas now I have three or four and take it deeper and further. I don’t need to work with so many colors in one piece; I’d choke it and then get lost. I’m more into nuance and subtlety now than I was then, I guess.

AAJ: I would agree; for example, listening to your new Drimala release, it’s worlds away from anything you did in the ‘60s. It sounds more fully-formed to me.

BG: Well, it wasn’t preconceived; it was still spontaneous, but in a compositional framework. There was an audience there, of course; I’m going to do another one in ten days at the same place. It’s going to be a CD presentation concert, but I’m going to do as much new material as I can because there’s a great engineer there and I’ve got to get him on the case again.

AAJ: Where do you see your music taking you next? Are there avenues you haven’t explored that you’d like to get involved with?


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