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Interviews

David Binney: Airplanes, Cities, Moods and Vibes

By Published: September 4, 2006
AAJ: Kenny Wollesen and Craig Taborn have appeared on your records before. Craig's pretty much sticking to piano here—there's a bit of organ and some synth, but none of his Fender Rhodes, and his piano ostinati are really important to the pieces. Kenny is, like Eivind, mostly concise, controlled, and as he always is, pretty perfect. Tell me why you chose them for this record.

DB: Well, Craig is in my quartet. We play every two weeks in New York, and have toured so much in the last couple of years. He's just one of my favorite musicians on the planet. He's a genius! If you check out any of that live stuff on my site, the way he plays live, especially, is just incredible. So I try to involve him in most of the projects that I do at this point, because he's also so versatile. On the road, he just plays acoustic piano in my band. That's all that he does. And at the 55 Bar, he just plays Rhodes, because that's what they have—and he's amazing at that. And then he's amazing with the computer and all that stuff, so I wanted him to get him to do that a little bit more on this record. We've also done concerts where he did mostly all computer stuff. So he's just really versatile. And he knows more music than anyone I've ever met. Dan Weiss comes close, but as far as what he listens to and amount of stuff that you can mention that Craig knows—it's unbelievable, and it doesn't matter what kind of music it is. I love that.

And Kenny is just a great drummer, obviously, and one of my best friends. We live about 50 feet from each other in the same building, and we've been friends for years. It's kind of amazing, as good friends as we are, that I haven't used him more in the past, but I've always wanted to. So I really thought of doing a project with Kenny, especially with Bill there, because he plays with Bill all the time. Kenny and I had this band, Lan Xang, together with [bassist] Scott Colley.

AAJ: Right, and Donny McCaslin.

DB: Yeah. That band is actually starting back up again—not that we ever considered it to be over, but we're going to be playing a gig at the Stone in New York. We've played a lot together over the years. I was in the Wollesons, Kenny's band—it's now disbanded, but it was a great, funky band. We've just played endless amounts of gigs together. So I wanted him involved with this.

AAJ: Then there's Frisell. I don't think he's ever been on one of your records, and there's no way he's not going to be a big part of a group's sound. I think you've always worked well with guitarists on your records, Adam Rogers in particular. Why'd you get him on board?

DB: Well, Bill is Bill Frisell. He's always been one of my favorite musicians to listen to, and I have so many of his records, and I've always dreamt of doing something with him. And when I put this thing together, I heard his sound in it, and at that point I knew Bill, at least a little, from running into him on the road, seeing him in New York, hanging out a bit. So I just asked him if he'd be interested, and he was. He didn't know Taborn or Eivind or know of them, really—no, wait, actually he had heard Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear, 2004), Taborn's record. Somebody had played it for him on the road, and he loved it; at the time he heard it, he didn't know who Taborn was. So when I mentioned everybody who was involved and what the idea was, he was into it.

We were going to do it in New York, but he's traveling so much, and then his favorite guitar engineer is in Seattle, so we just decided to go to Seattle and do it and then relax there, and have a different experience. Which was great for me, because all my records before that have been done at Systems Two in Brooklyn—which is a great studio, but it was nice to do it outside New York with a different engineer.

But Bill—he's just Bill Frisell. What he did on the record is just amazing, and that stuff is all live except for maybe a couple things he overdubbed. But I would normally associate the amount of sounds that he gets within one song with somebody overdubbing and changing the sound. He just does it by standing there and playing through the song, and his knowledge of how to do that and where he places things is really sort of amazing. He's a great musician, and I was very happy that he did it, and very happy with the way it came out.

AAJ: I think one person that's significant on this record is tenor player Chris Potter, only because he's not on it, and the two of you have done a lot of collaborating on your records. Here you're the only horn, which means you've had to double things yourself when you have those kind of doubled horn parts in your songs that he's done with you, or fill that musical space with other instruments. Any reason you're the only sax here?

David BinneyDB: Not really. With a lot of my projects, I heard that tenor/alto thing. I heard it for years, starting with Donny and, on my recent records, with Mark Turner and Chris in between. And Chris probably in the future too. But I certainly don't hear every project like that. It just so happened that I heard that sound on the projects I was doing. But even on that record Balance, I'm really the only horn—there's a couple Donny is on. Chris was actually supposed to be on that record, but he had to go out on the road with Dave Holland or somebody and I couldn't reschedule it.

But I like doing records on my own. The last one, Bastion of Sanity (Criss Cross, 2005), had Chris on it, and the new one coming out on Criss Cross in September has Mark Turner; he's on about half of it. Maybe more than half. But I'll probably do more single-horn stuff in the future, just because I think it's something I'm hearing a little more than before. I like melodies orchestrated, and I always have when I hear that on records. Even on some of my records like South (ACT, 2001) or Welcome to Life (Mythology Records, 2004), even the countermelodies and guitar things are sort of doubled, and I like that kind of orchestration. Also, Chris Potter is Chris Potter, and he's one of my best friends and he's a great musician. That's number one. But the sound of that is something that I'm very attracted to. So I love having Chris on things. But for this record, I wasn't hearing it; I wanted Bill. If there's any doubling, I wanted to feature that guitar sound.


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