Lucian Ban: Transylvania's Rhapsody in Blue
AAJ: You also lead Asymmetry, a quartet you recorded with Jorge Sylvester on alto, Brad Jones on bass, and Derrek Phillip on drums. Describe the music of Asymmetry and the chemistry of the players.
LB: Jorge is one of the most original voices on alto in the last decade. The rhythm section is one of the best and most versatile in New York, I think. They played collectively with everybody from Elvin Jones, to Muhal Richard Abrams, Greg Osby, Vijay Yere, etc. So it didn't matter what I would write, these cats could play everything. And actually the writing was in a sense minimal because the musicians could make so much more out of the notes on the paper. Great band, and our album, Playground (Jazzaway, 2006), represents one the best things I've done to date.
AAJ: Is this your working group?
LB: It was a working group until [drummer] Derrek Phillips moved to Nashville. But we still play some gigs and we're thinking of a European tour.
AAJ: I heard you at the Cornelia Street Cafe in April . Sam Newsome was on sax that night. He's got a really original voice on soprano and tenor, commanding the room with his playing. How did you guys get together?
LB: Sam is an old friend and collaborator. It's always a pleasure and honor to work with him. He's a master soprano player with a unique sound and a high level of participation in the group. I think we met through Alex Harding, and I enjoyed playing with him from the first note. He started as a tenor player with Donald Byrd and Terence Blanchard, quickly acquiring international notoriety. Then he made a 180-degree switch to playing soprano sax exclusively, and he's now considered one of the premier soprano sax players in the world.
We toured Romania twice, actually, first in 2003 with his group Global Unity, featuring Derrek Phillips on drums, Carlo DeRosa on bass, me on piano and a great tenor player from Romania, Christian Soleanu. Then we toured for the second time this spring with a grant from Meet the Composer. Sam and I composed and arranged a jazz suite based on Romanian folk music. We toured Romania in March and April this year, performed the suite and conducted workshops at several NY clubs and universities. The Romanian Cultural Center is planning to record our group for a special release and European tour in early 2008.
AAJ: What have you been working on recently?
LB: I recently did a couple of concerts with Tuba Project in Romania, working with Alex Harding and a young electronica wizard from Bucharest for a jazz-otronica album. In October I did a ten-day tour in Romania with the great singer Sandra Weigl, playing German cabaret and Romanian gypsy music done in a downtown jazz manner. That band featured Gerald Cleaver on drums, Sean Conly on bass, Lilly Henly from Boston on violin, Alex Harding on bass clarinet and baritone-sax, and myself on piano and musical director.
AAJ: What is the next project that you hope to record?
LB: I definitely want to record a project called Elevation, with Abraham Burton on tenor sax, Jeff Carney on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums. Last May I did a week long gig at Dizzy's with Abraham as guest and it was astounding.
AAJ: Can you compare your audiences in America with those in Romania?
LB: If music is good people will relate to it all over the world. With this said I will say that American audiences are more familiar with jazz in general. They can relate faster without necessarily being real connoisseurs. On the other hand, the Romanian audiences are still very hungry for creative music, and they appreciate it as such. There are so many great musicians in NYC, famous or not, maybe the audiences take it for granted.
AAJ: As a musician are you interested in why people listen to the music they listen to?
LB: Yes, tell me what records you have in your collection and I'll tell you who you are.
Lucian Ban/Alex Harding Tuba Project, Tuba Project (CIMP, 2006)
Lucian Ban & Asymmetry, Playground (Jazzaway, 2005)
Alex Harding & Blutopia, The Calling (Jazzaway, 2005)
Lucian Ban/Alex Harding Quintet, Premonition (CIMP, 2002)
Lucian Ban/Alex Harding Duet, Somethin' Holy (CIMP, 2002)
Jazz Unit Septet, From Now On (Green Records, 1999)
Jazz Unit Septet, ChangesLive at Green Hours (Green Records, 1997)
Courtesy of Lucian Ban