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Interviews

An AAJ Interview with Chris Speed

By Published: May 4, 2006

AAJ: What do you believe were the most important musical insights you achieved during work with Human Feel?

CS: Human Feel was the basis for everything I do today. My ideas about spontaneity, intensive energy, collective improvising, and just going for it were developed with Human Feel.

AAJ: As follow up, are there any plans for further Human Feel recordings?

CS: No plans. But we'll record again someday...

AAJ: You've recorded twice with Orange Then Blue, WHILE YOU WERE OUT and HOLD THE ELEVATOR. Aside from the span of years separating them, what were the most profound differences between these two experiences?

CS: There was a rub between the experimental and straight-ahead people that was pretty obvious by the later recording. The band seemed to be having an identity crisis at that time, like whether to keep doing songs in a Gil Evans fashion or to focus on more radical material.

AAJ: What have you learned from working with Orange Then Blue?

CS: I enjoyed working with OtB. It was where I met Matt Darriau, who introduced me to the world of East European music. And at the beginning of my time in the band we were exploring some interesting synthesis of free(er) jazz and world music. It was also my first experience writing for and introducing my concepts of free/collective improvising to a larger ensemble.

AAJ: What were the circumstances that led to your working with Tim Berne and bloodcount?

CS: I was a big fan of FULTON ST. MAUL, and loved the duo shows he did at the Middle-East in Boston with Hank Roberts. Tim had heard me with OtB at the Vancouver festival. Then he invited me to jam with him and Jim when I moved into "The Windsor Manor" in Brooklyn. It seemed like the next day he added me to his trio with Formanek and Jim for a West Coast tour, and that was it. I'm glad I can read music (piano lessons), because his music is extremely demanding, technically and conceptually.

AAJ: What do you believe that you learned from working in bloodcount that you could not have learned anywhere else?

CS: bloodcount was the biggest influence in my first years in NYC—by the sheer fact of immersion—mammoth rehearsals, month long tours, and epic compositions. Witnessing how a band is run, watching Tim deal with music and business (promoters) was invaluable. Tim is so amazing, a great composer and visualizer of the bigger picture, as well as a unique improviser with a great sound. I really respect that he treated me as an equal from point one, even though I was really intimidated the first few gigs. He encouraged extreme-ism in the improvising. It's obvious when you listen to the band improvise that we all trust each other, which is a big reason why it is so successful musically.

AAJ: At the risk of inadvertently forcing you to label the band or its music, how would you describe Pachora and the music the band makes?

CS: East European Rom influenced downtown jazz that isn't klezmer.

AAJ: As follow up, do you feel the term "modern jazz" should be used in reference to Pachora? Why or why not?

CS: Sure. East European Rom influenced modern jazz that isn't klezmer.

AAJ: A pleasant surprise for some listeners (at least for this one) was the cover of David Bowie's "Man Who Sold the World"? for the Pachora AST cd. What was the motivation for covering this?

CS: It's a great song.

AAJ: For AAJ readers who may not be familiar with your solo work, what do you feel are the similarities (aside from personnel) and differences between your recordings YEAH, NO (Songlines, 1997) and DEVIANTICS (Songlines, 1999)

CS: Well, the similarities are that it is the same band, and the same label. The differences—well, the 2nd record (Deviantics) has more grooves. Jim debuts his melodica! We play a song that Skuli wrote. We also do a song that was originally recorded with Human Feel. And we did a tour with the tunes before recording. Before the first record (Yeah No) I made the guys go to band camp in Pennsylvania for a week.

AAJ: When and how was the instrumentation/personnel for the trio on IFFY arrived at? (or alternatively, did you conceive this as a clarinet-sax/organ-synths/drums trio or as the Speed, Saft, and Perowsky? Or both?) note: I hope this question makes sense. If not, I guess what I really mean to ask is if you intended to group specific instruments or individual musicians...

CS: I generally think and write for the musicians. I wanted to work with Jamie and Ben and we did a couple of gigs at the alt.coffee that were mostly improvised, and subsequently the Iffy book was written after I lived with the tapes of those gigs (I love my Sony cassette recorder). Similar to the process I went thru for the first yeah No record, where I was inspired by the directors comments from the laser disc of Mike Leigh's "Naked". He described a process where actors improvised scenes in order to create a very specific script. Anyway, what I wrote for IFFY took a radical shift from the improvisations—instead of a constant collage of varying textures acting simultaneously, I was more specific with the zones we would go to. And I used blues and swing for a basis, then twisted it into a deranged angle on jazz.



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