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Chris Tarry: New Challenges, New Influences, New York

By Published: December 17, 2007
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More Tunes on Sorry and the Luxury of Having a Steady Group

AAJ: It's kind of nice that your bass part is the last thing you think of. It's often the first thing a writer thinks of—his own instrument. It's nice you have a steady band to write for; in New York, that's a luxury.

CT: It's a real luxury. And it's great that everybody enjoys doing it so much—I mean, I'm a sideman just like everybody else in the band. We all come from the same spot. It's not like I'm some guy that's hiring these guys that are groaningly and grudgingly playing this music that they're not into. It's just a really fun hang. It's a bunch of guys who play together in a lot of different situations—and who are fortunate to get to come together in this thing, this situation.

AAJ: "Universal Traveler is, of course, your cover of the French pop group Air's song from their 2004 Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks) album. You use the same acoustic guitar arpeggios from the original, but on your version it's Pete's acoustic and Jon's piano. Kelly's sax takes the vocal melody before the tunes goes into group improv, and it's funny—I really like Air, but their stuff is so unimprovisatory, so static. The way this group improvises on the song really bursts it open. Why'd you choose to do this tune?

CT: I keep saying, "When I first moved to New York. But [laughing] when I first moved to New York, I was living with a couple people, and one of them was really into Air. I'd never really checked them out. And that song kept coming on, and I thought it would be kind of interesting to do as a instrumental version.

So I wrote it out, and it just sat on the shelf for a while—I didn't really think about doing it. Then, when it came time to do this recording, I pulled it out. I wasn't really sure about it, but everyone in the band seemed to like it, so we went for it. I was happy with how it turned out—especially the outro vamp, where Kelly's playing where it goes out and fades. That was just one of those things I had lying around. Then we ended up playing it on tour, which was really a lot of fun.

And apparently someone gave it to Air! I didn't quite hear what they had to say—I'm always expecting an email from one of the guys in Air mentioning how I messed up their tune.

AAJ: Right, in their broken English.

CT: Exactly. I am curious what they think.

AAJ: How much does this one change live?

CT: It actually got a little better. A little more free-flowing. It's one of the more structured tunes—if you check it out, the form is identical to the way Air does it.

ChrisAAJ: The solos are, well, solos—that's different.

CT: But they're solos over the actual form of the tune. Obviously, they chop their version up in the studio. And it's pretty close to the original tempo, too. Air has this really distinctive drum groove on the original, which was cool, and I liked how Dan incorporated it. I actually wrote it out, and Dan incorporated an essence of it. I wanted to get the essence, and still be loose. The original had some very signature things that made it fun to listen to, and I wanted to keep those elements.

AAJ: "Wind-Up Bird has a super-tight head melody before it goes into some burning electric guitar soloing from Pete with typically interesting Jon comping and a rubbery groove of your bass and Dan's drums. Later Pete's electric does some fine rhythm work under Kelly's solo—it sort of jumps into the rhythm section and then there are the three of you instead of two.

CT: Right, there are some "wock-a-chickas.

AAJ: That's the technical term, yes. It's all really taut; there's a lot of tension and some fascinating thrilling harmonic changes. The head melody sounds hard.

CT: This one has such a lame story behind it. I had just gotten the music software program Sibelius, and I was trying to figure out how to write charts out on Sibelius. As an exercise, I wrote a tune. I wanted to write a complicated tune that entailed [laughing] having a complicated chart! So I wrote that tune just to teach myself how to use Sibelius.

Then we played it and everyone seemed to really enjoy it! So I said, "Okay. The bridge section's chords are actually taken from an old Metalwood tune that we used to play live—just solo changes that evolved over the years. So I took that and combined it with something else, just smushed two things together and came up with the tune.

The funny thing is that that's always the tune that everyone loves to play. Whatever band I bring that tune to, they always love to play that tune. It's certainly the tune I've done on record that I'm the least emotionally attached to. But live, over a three-week tour, it came together. It's a tune that requires a lot of trust, and people have to really know it. Then it just takes off in a really amazing way.

AAJ: It's kind of a barn-burner. It turned out well for a software exercise.

CT: Yeah, it's such a stupid story. I just sequenced it in—I was trying to learn how to import something into Sibelius. So I very quickly wrote that A section, brought it in, and then thought, "Well, I guess I need a B section for this chart. So I put that in, and that was it. Not one of my most inspired efforts.

AAJ: You just need to invent a better story behind it.

CT: Well, some of the songs have a deep jazz story. This one, not so much. I did want to write something in eleven.

AAJ: The story just gets more emotional, doesn't it?

CT: Yes. Nothing says emotion like eleven.

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