Peter Madsen: Comfortable Inside and Out
Madsen is married and lives part-time in Austria, where his wife is from. He maintains a place in New York City, and is able to work both the Stateside scene and the European scene. "It's a cool lifestyle in a way. We get to enjoy both worlds. I live in a small little town, HÅ§chst. It's very quiet. The opposite of New York, total opposite. It's a tiny little town on the border of Switzerland, so I'm actually the opposite end of Austria from Vienna, which is on the east side.
"Definitely, people over here have a different kind of mindset, in the culture in general. Television definitely has a much smaller role that it does in the United States. People are willing to go out and see good music, or check out some good art. It's a different kind of quality. I find I can actually work a lot more over here then I was doing in New York, though I was working a lot in New York. The other thing is, they tend to pay a little more over here, which is really great.
But, he adds, "There are many, many reasons why I'm here. My grandparents were from Denmark, so I've always had a fascination about Europe and thinking about living here at some point, just to try it out. I don't know how long I'll stay. At this point it feels great to have two places to enjoy and make music and meet some great musicians.
He remains busy. In addition to his own work, and the Ellis and Wesley bands, Madsen has recorded and worked in many other situations, including a fruitful link with Mario Pavone and Mike Musillami.
Madsen became the pianist for Thomas Chapin's band after he moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey. He says it is Chapin who introduced him to Pavone.
"Mario wanted to put his own group together and he thought I'd fit perfectly with what he was trying to do. So I was working a lot with Thomas and Mario, sometimes together, sometimes separately in different situations, says Madsen. "It's one of the many things I'm into. Trying to develop improvisation from no chord changes, coming out of Ornette Coleman and other people. Mario does the same. Most of his music is without chords. Sometimes he writes them in, and sometimes I put them in. I improvise chords to the melodies that he writes. But it's mostly improvised, nothing really structured. Which is fascinating to me, to try to improvise chords as you go along rather than follow a set pattern.
The evidence can be seen on Pavone recordings like Deez to Blues (Playscaspe, 2006) and Boom (Playscape, 2004). Madsen, with his improvisational spirit, his experience, and big ears, fits into the group like hand in glove.
"A lot of people think it's very composed, what I'm doing, he says. "They come up and say, 'Wow, that's really complicated, what you're doing.' I say, 'No, it's not. It's improvised, most of it. It's very difficult music. A lot of music Mario writes has difficult time signatures, in and out of all kinds of different grooves. There's a lot of things you have to pay attention to while you're improvising all these different things. A lot of people who do pieces of music without harmony don't use a harmony instrument. They just drop the piano.
"Ornette didn't really use a pianist after his first couple of records. A lot of guys were using piano-less groups, because the piano often got in the way, I think they thought. Mario likes it when I put in harmonies that are sometimes fitting and sometimes dissonant, rubbing against, shall we say, the things that he writes. It's an interesting experiment. I really like it a lot.
Musillami runs Playscape Recordings that turns out fresh, creative music that people like Madsen, Pavone, Chapin and others delve into.
Madsen says Musillami "is really serious about putting out quality music that is not in the normal direction that people are going, always. He wants something very special. So I'm very happy that I met him quite a few years ago through Thomas Chapin and Mario and that he started this record label. Besides being a great guitarist, he's very serious about doing this. He's not doing it to make a lot of money. He does it because he's serious about the music. He wants to put something out that's serious for people to check out. It also gives us an avenue to be creative. He doesn't restrict us. He wants us to do some creative things. I fell very lucky about that.
So Madsen continues to move on, making music on two continents and always seeking creativity. "I'm doing a lot of solo work. This is what I'm trying to promote for myself over here. Present myself and what I can do by myself and play a variety of different kinds of music, he says. "And I do play with groups from over here and a lot of groups from the United States that call me when they're coming over or want me to come back to the United States to do a recording or whatever. It's kind of a full package and solo piano is just a part of it.
He says he has another CD being released in Europe. Again, it is not a run-of-the-mill project.