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Rebecca Martin: Paradox Of Continuity

By Published: December 25, 2006

AAJ: I haven't heard Thoroughfare, but I'm assuming that one is more in the singer/songwriter vein?

RM: Thoroughfare is similar to Ballads in that they're original songs. That's the difference. And there is a difference actually the more I go along and see how I interpret my own songs versus other folks' tunes. It's very different. I think I do sing differently. I don't know what that's about. [Maybe] it's because of the guitar. Having another element that I've got to think about. I sure do like the freedom of just singing and not having to play an instrument.

But to me playing an instrument is so important because otherwise what's written harmonically, if you don't play it [the voicing of the chord] in the way that you want it... see, this is another problem with naming things. If you have a chord that sounds similar to something, like an E minor, but actually there's a sharp seven and all this other stuff in there. It's a pain in the neck to write all this stuff out but if you don't then you miss part of the chord that gives you more information to use to make choices in what you play. That's the trouble with a lot of stuff. That's why I play guitar and picked it up later in life.

AAJ: Do you play guitar on every track on Ballads?

RM: Pretty much. I got inspired because if something is written and has all this depth as a voicing and it's been left out because someone names it [or] simplifies it, then that doesn't inspire me at all.

AAJ: It works vice versa as well. If you write a tune where you want the chords to be more simplified and somebody comes in and "hippifies them all up and puts all this other stuff on them, that can change things in a negative way as well.

RM: Well, yeah, because that's not what you want. But generally that's not always the problem. For me that's what's wrong with things like The Real Book [a widely used, illegal book of jazz tunes/standards since the '60s/'70s] with those old songs. The way something's actually written, and the score is so beautiful in combination with the melody, and it's all been dumbed-down. It really has. You can't believe [it]. Go find a songbook and listen. Go find a George Gershwin songbook and check out any of his tunes in there that are common that you can find and play every note that's written in there with the melody. Then check it out next to a Real Book. So much of it is lost. It's incredible and it's a shame because it's mind-blowing what was actually written.

So playing the guitar gives me more of an opportunity to say, "No, it's not that, it's this (sings a few notes of a chord), whatever it is. Then they're like, "What? Let me hear that again. And I'll play it note by note and they'll say, "Oh my god, that's a blah blah so and so..., Then I'll say, "Ok, good. We're on the same page now so pull that music out of the song.

So, back to where we were, about Peter and how the musicians make everything what they are. Peter really made that record wonderful. His parts and ideas and his generosity to the music and giving me all that time.

AAJ: I'd be interested in the recording process for the latest record with Paul Motian. You said you went in knowing the tunes you wanted to do and he'd ask you what arrangement you wanted to do. I imagine you'd say something like, "I'll sing this and then Chris will play here and then we'll do this. What was the session like with the Ballads record? Form-wise it's more involved than the Motian record. There are more parts happening with form and with instrumentation. I'm wondering if you had parts for everyone and went and rehearsed the tunes for a few days and then recorded? Or did everybody just come in and you just hit it?

RM: The process for Ballads was years and years of live performance. Everybody really developed their own parts for the tunes. I'd been playing with everybody on this record on and off for many years and some of the songs had been written a long time ago but just hadn't been recorded yet. Over the years the guys got very familiar with the songs so that they had the freedom to create parts. That's the fun for them—to try to find the strongest part they can write for the song that has the most meaning in a short amount of time because the songs are 3:30 to 5:00 minutes long. It's really important that it has an arc. It's not as open and free as if they were just playing, you know, a standard; playing the tune and then soloing and have all the freedom.

Actually [pianist] Brad [Mehldau] just came to mind. One of the things that I love about Brad is that he's such a strong melody player. The melody is always, always in his solos. In a sense, I feel that's what these guys are doing with my music. They're improvising but they're always playing the melody I've written and always implying the harmonic intention. They're always searching for the most meaning in what they're doing in a very short form. Once they find it they just stick with it. Then, in the moment, the improvisation is truly just the freedom for everybody to interpret that day how they're feeling and it comes out in the song even if the parts are the same. There's always freedom. I don't write parts out. A lot of times the guys might forget exactly what they wrote so the part they're playing may not be exactly what they'd written initially. It's always a little different.

It was done in the same way as Paul's record in that that we went in and recorded live to get the basic tracks. Mostly within three or four takes we'd have the track that we felt, collectively, everybody played their best. The challenge was that there were so many musicians on [Ballads] and trying to choose the right instrumentation for whatever particular tune we were playing. I always have trouble cutting things out because I love all of it. It's like starving and wanting everything in the grocery store and not being discerning. It's sort of like that on this record because I play with all these great guys and I hadn't recorded in too many years which is another reason why there are so many songs and it was just great. It was very hard to cut anything out and I was encouraged not to by the label and the co-producer Brian [Bacchus], which I don't think was the right thing to do. But we did it. I think it's too many songs now, but I hadn't recorded in a long time and I wanted to get all this stuff documented before it was too late. Obviously it was the right thing in that respect and there's plenty more. But I won't do that again. I don't think that was the thing to do.

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