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Alex Machacek / Jeff Sipe / Matt Garrison: The Improvision Round Table

By Published: October 29, 2007
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Improvision: The Music

AAJ: Yeah, come to think of it Jeff is the jam guy. I mean the common perception would be that Matt and Alex are meticulous, that write everything out, that have these intricate compositions and solos and what you're telling me is that's not your approach—that the intricate stuff comes out of the jams.

MG, JS: Exactly

AM: Yes

AAJ: For instance, people would associate a looser type groove, like "Gem2, with Jeff, but not something like "Along Came a Spider, which has all these arpeggiated guitar parts with interlocking drum parts. By the way guys, the transition between "Gem 1 and "Gem 2 is monstrously tight. Sounds to be Jeff's fault.

JS: Well, "Gem 2, like everything else, was inspired in the moment. The music writes itself if you allow it to happen and the transition can be sudden, smooth, jolting or elegant. You surrender to the moment and hopefully get the right thing. Between "Gem 1 and "2 is obviously a sudden transition.

AAJ: And quite elegant. How "live is it?

AM: Basically that happened live with a bar or two removed. Just a little cosmetics there to make it just more...

AAJ: More unbelievably seamless! These sounds that are not guitar, bass or drum like on the CD— were any of these done during the session with computer or synth?

AM: All the sounds that you're referring to are guitar-synth sounds, and I didn't bring it to the sessions. So they were all added later.

Alex MG: No, I remember you added some stuff like this during the session—didn't you bring something?

AM: Well, sometimes I looped stuff and Matt also has a looping pedal and he also looped stuff. I took as much as I could from the original parts.

MG: Yeah, that's what I was talking about.

AAJ: Is any of "Matt's Riff looped? That one features a longer, more circular line for the theme.

MG: No, we played that.

JS: That was a live thing. Some of the call-and-response stuff to what was set up by the drums is really cool. The effect is that we're dialoguing right there and you set me up so beautifully to do that.

AAJ: The bass solo on that one just takes it to another level.

AM: Matt—you're the man [laughs by all].

MG: When I think about it I could have done more with some things on the record post-session, but that's the downside of having a studio in your apartment, right?

JS: When do you walk away? [Laughs by all]

AAJ: Can you talk about the duet piece?

AM: Because when we played live, and because I know Matt's playing from other records, I know that he always plays these beautiful chords and has absolutely no problem playing by himself. So I told him, "Matt I want to do a duo, so you just play." So he played and I just stood back and composed around that and it turned out to be a really nice piece.

MG: Yeah, man.

JS: You really enhanced it. It's beautiful.

AAJ: Wait. Time out. Do you realize you just said you wanted to play a duet with a musician so you asked him to play a solo? [Laughs by all]

AM: Yes. You know how some jazz musicians write titles to their current girlfriend? "For Monica or whatever? So I thought let's keep it a little more useable; hence, "To Whom it May Concern. [Laughs]

MG: When I heard that piece and the way it came out I listened to it forty times in a row. It's just so interesting where you took that man. We've got to find a way to do that live or even with the trio. Dissect that out and present it.

AAJ: There is a minute of that from ninety seconds out that's very complex, part of which gets classical sounding with complicated substitutions and contrapuntal work between bass and guitar. That sounds beyond you, Alex, reacting to what was laid down.

AM: But I just worked with what I had. I composed around that. On my last record, [sic], I did the same thing with an upright bass solo and we've since played it live. We re-learned it. I'd say as soon as you rehearse it just a little bit you can play stuff like that live. I don't see that we would have any problems to reproduce that song live.

AAJ: Maybe it's because it's off of something that came spontaneously out of one of you, in this case Matt, before.

MG: Cool man.

AM: The only reason I wouldn't want to for that live is I wouldn't want to be trying to do it and hear people chatting and yelling [laughs]. That would take away the beauty of it. [Note: The participants then go off the record and name some venues where just such things have happened.]

Matt Garrison AAJ: Let's discuss the leadoff "There's a New Sheriff in Town.

MG: I remember we did that in a very short amount of time. That first minute took us literally one minute!

AAJ: Wow! I want to ask Jeff about it. You've got a seven-second tom intro on that and go right into the Bad Brains punk riff and then, thirty-five seconds into it, a Mike Clarke, Headhunters type snare and hi hat groove.

MG: Killing!

JS: The moon must have been in Scorpio that day—we just needed a shredder to start—a fast tune—so we just launched into something and everybody came up with something right away.

AAJ: Then we get an incredible and lengthily crazy 32nd note riff over a walking bass line. Now I know this was worked out after.

AM: Don't make me play that live because—at that tempo...

AAJ: That's a nut-buster yeah. [Laughs by all]

MG: Now we've got to do it—that's it!

AAJ: Two minutes in a different lead line, or motif, is used over the walking bass line. It changes the song up completely, and then turns right into a guitar solo laden with mini-motifs.

AM: That was inspired by Matt because he was playing these pedal notes.

AAJ: But to clarify, even though you tracked the solo after the session, I'd bet the solo was done live in your studio.

AM: Definitely, yes—live, but at home.

AAJ: This one also gives us Sipe's only real solo of the session.

JS: Well, there are lots of little moments, like segues or transitions after a solo and into other sections that would be like a rhythmic poetry session. Some of those are little spots, not a drum solo per se, but nice little statements between sections.

AAJ: This one is the longest of those. Then it seems like it's going to fade out but this perfect little movement ends it. It seems like it could have been added from another tune.

AM: No, that was Matt live. He just looped something and played long notes and we used it.

AAJ: It's got that mystical, eastern tonality Matt's been using in his music. It really ends the trip poignantly.

Matthew JS: I'd like to urge people to check out "Yoga for Cats. Right in the middle of that first movement, when we go completely out like insects flying around and go back into the groove. That is a real Zambi moment there [Note: Sipe is referring to 1:45 to the end of "Yoga for Cats 1, and the pickup to "Part 2. "Zambi is a term describing superlative spirituality, as coined by Colonel Bruce Hampton, founder of the Aquarium Rescue Unit].

AAJ: Yeah, that's triggered by a little backwards bass loop there.

JS: A departure then return.

AM: That's all Matthew on that part. For me that it was beautiful to play with a bassist that uses the whole register of the instrument. You get the whole palette. It was really exciting to work with that.

AAJ: One of the themes I hear throughout this record is that Matt plays the top, middle and bottom of the songs, unlike other bassists. Another theme is that many of the solos don't come out of a solo section per se—they emerge from the music, or the arrangement, in a natural way. Sometimes it's surprising for the listener to realize, a couple of bars into it, that we're now into a guitar, bass or drum solo.

AM: That was intentional

AAJ: On "Gem 1, again, the drums parts just build throughout the duration of the song, as does the melodic complexity of the head and then finally the solo, where Jeff and Alex just completely go crazy at the end of it.

AM: At the beginning of that song Jeff plays so many accents that it has to act as a kind of head, if you want to make that kind of comparison. The tune is three times sixteen bars and is in layers. So the first time you hear the first theme, the second you hear theme one and theme two, and the third sixteen you hear all three things together. I actually worked out a fourth part for it that I left out because I was running out of time.

AAJ: On "Gem 1" there is a passage just before the two-minute mark where extra lines are added to the contour of the theme and Jeff shadows you, but actually, then—and now I am getting it—you based that line off of what he did. That tune certainly has enough motivic information—the climbing motif you do in the middle becomes a sub-hook that takes over.

JS: That's my favorite part of the tune—awesome.

AAJ: I noticed you added a second guitar part behind the main one, like chasing yourself—this adds forward momentum.

AM: Exactly. That was intentional to make it happen to get all the themes in.

AAJ: All that cat and mouse propulsion gives the song an odd-time feel.

AM: But it is in four

JS: Most of it is, isn't it?

MG: Yeah

JS: It just doesn't sound like it. For me, this is the freshest recording and the first that I've had the chance to play odd groupings. I mean even-spaced odd groupings, more along the lines of what Frank Zappa was doing, and Edgar Varese, and that kind of rhythmic approach. It was a real thrill for me to play with cats that can hear that stuff and actually apply what little I've been delving into. I feel like I'm scratching the surface of it but I've actually been able to open the door to my stuff with this CD.

Helborg AAJ: How do you feel that this rhythmically is an extension or a progression from what you did with Shawn Lane and Jonas Hellborg?

JS: We never got into that so much actually. We never even touched it. We did a lot of talas and cycles and stuff like that but as far as the truly polyrhythmic stuff, no. We did lot of syncopated stuff but not so much polyrhythmic stuff. That's the difference between the rhythmic challenges of the two groups as I can see it. This group can kind of delve a little bit deeper into the rhythm aspect of the whole thing—it's really exciting for me.

AAJ: That's interesting , because people think of the Hellborg, Lane, Sipe thing as challenging in that way, and if this is on another level ...

JS: I think it's a little more elegant but a little bit deeper in some respects. It's hard to talk about music. That group was a great group but this one allows for a little more poetry I think. There's a breathing room around the notes on this CD that's missing in a lot of the groups I've played with. There's space surrounding every note— no matter how dense the music gets or simply how fast it is, there is always space between the notes—it makes it for me—it's beautiful.

MG: That's great, Jeff

AAJ: Another theme—at first listen, this music is much less dense and complex than at least the stuff Matt and Alex are known for on their own, and I think a lot if that is due to your involvement Jeff.

JS: It's interesting playing in this trio, with the improv and just doing frameworks and sketches. Because at times I felt like, "Wow, I've really got to give these guys something to work with, because I knew they were going to go back and do some stuff over the top of it. So we would launch into an improv and it was like, "Alright, what are we gonna do now?" I remember myself thinking, "Alright, I've gotta spark it here or I gotta push it there. I've got to give these guys something rhythmically to do." You know, instead of laying back. It was very much kind of fronting or sparring with myself.

AAJ: The cool thing about it is whatever's happening there that loose feel underlying it all actually brings out the musicality and virtuosity of Alex and Matt more, to me, than almost their own stuff. You start thinking to yourself, "Man! These guys can do anything."

JS: I think that's true with most collaborations. People get outside of their box when they're in the new place—the new zone.

MG: That's exactly why I was really glad about this no matter how it turned out. That little gig we did before that was actually very helpful to me, to get a feel. It's not really about what we're playing ever. Of course that's part of it ultimately, what's coming out of your hands—but like how do you relate to each other in those moments that you're just there?

JS: Yeah

MG: That moment—that's the shit for me—being able to relate to another human being. And then whatever objects we use to do it, so be it.

JS: [Laughs] It could be a broom or a guitar.

MG: I think we all dealt with each other in a very—I don't know—it just felt really nice, man.

AAJ: Like Jeff said, maybe in the space around those notes there was room for everyone to have a dialogue.

JS: Yeah man, just to be able to throw something out and have it come back at you in a split second is amazing.

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