All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource


Barry Altschul: Another Time, Another Place

By Published: February 19, 2008

AAJ: What you had written before were mostly solo percussion pieces.

BA: Yeah, right, which really I didn't write, I just improvised. I wrote pretty much all the music for the album, though, and I found that that's how I like to compose. I need the pressure of a project to get new music together.

AAJ: How did that first date for Muse come together? I suppose it was a merger of several projects you were working on.

BA: Mike Cuscuna and I have been friends since he was in college, and at the time he got me the date for Muse with Joe Fields, who was the producer (and I also got production credit). Muhal was living with me—he had just moved to New York and he spent nine months with me. My house became the focal point for a lot of Chicago musicians who came by to say hello to Muhal. I remember actually, straight from the airport came [saxophonist] Steve Coleman and [guitarist] Jean-Paul Bourelly.

Barry Altschul

At the time I was working with both the Sam Rivers Trio and with Braxton. Dave and me were the rhythm section, and I had known George through Braxton. When I asked them to do the date, they said yes. First of all, I didn't think Sam would say yes, and also I was with him and saying to myself, "Maybe I should use another saxophonist, just to make it my own project." I'm not gonna get into what happened, but eventually I spoke to Sam and he said, "Why don't you use me?" and I said, "You got it—that's it, no problem!"

They were all great, it was the first time I composed and they dealt with the music beautifully, and they treated me and it with a lot of respect. It was beautiful, easy, the whole date was done in six hours—we'd rehearsed in my house, so when we went into the studio we knew the music, and it was up to them to get the sound together. I don't think there were more than two takes on anything.

AAJ: Both of those Muse records are interesting because they offer a number of aspects of your work and the groups you were with at the time. I take it that was a conscious decision on your part.

BA: Well, see, I didn't think of it as different aspects of my work—I just thought of it as my work. To me it was all the music, and it all was part of the same thing. On the second record we did a Monk thing ["Suite for Monk"], which was an Anthony Davis arrangement, and that was really nice to do. I was able to get [guitarist] Bill DeArango, who was this Cleveland legend who worked with Bird and Lester Young, and all of a sudden he got into electronic stuff, which blew everybody away from his hometown. We met and I asked him to do the date; he got very nervous in live and studio performing, but he was great in the house. And I asked Dave to do a string thing.

Speaking of which, one of the things I was involved in (and Jerry Newman may have the tapes), was that I was the drummer with this bass choir.

AAJ: Bass Is (Enja, 1970).

BA: Well, there was that too—that was Peter Warren's thing, but Dave Izenzon was getting together a bass choir. There were thirteen basses and me! It was fabulous—he had Steve Swallow, Percy Heath, all these great players. Peter Warren, Jaime Faunt, Dave Holland, Glen Moore, and Ron Carter...

AAJ: Predating the New York Bass Violin Choir, I guess.

BA: Yeah, that was Bill Lee—Spike Lee's dad. This was different, and we just recorded once and the tapes are probably at Newman's. John Lindberg has a lot of Dave Izenzon tapes too, because he studied with him. I have a couple of tapes with Dave Izenzon and [clarinetist] Perry Robinson, some performances from when Ornette had a performance space.

AAJ: Is it true the story of Izenzon putting a bass in every room of his building? I heard that from Burton Greene, I think.

BA: I'm not sure about that part, but he certainly had enough basses to do it!

AAJ: You mentioned that, where it says on Bass Is that you play tabla, you're actually playing rhythms with your hands on the bottom of one of the basses.

BA: It was Dave Holland's bass.

AAJ: It's interesting that there was a short period of these bass groups coming together, like Barre Phillips had his thing too. It's an idea that I wish hadn't flamed out. Did Bass Is work or was it just the recording?

BA: It was just the date. One of the best bass concerts I ever heard was lying in my hotel room listening to Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and Dave Holland improvise bass duos. They just played together, and I think at one point they may have pulled out some classical music and done duets with that also. I was in heaven—we were in the same town, on the road, they got together in a hotel room with their basses, and I was lucky enough to be there!

Barry Altschul AAJ: Enlighten us to what you've done over the past couple of decades of your work—my understanding of the history gets a little spotty here, though I know you've worked with Adam Lane recently.

BA: There was a period from '84 to '93 that I lived in Paris, which were considered the "lost years" by some. Truthfully, I was very busy—there was a record with Pepper Adams, and I was kind of the house drummer for Black Saint and Soul Note. I did a number of records with Kenny Drew, Niels-Henning, with [pianist] Franco D'Andrea and a bunch of people. I also had my own band that recorded for Soul Note [That's Nice (1985)], with Andy McKee on bass, Glen Ferris on trombone and Sean Bergin on saxophones.

comments powered by Disqus