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Joe Fonda: Rhythmic Architect

By Published: May 19, 2008
AAJ: Your autobiographical motifs.

JF: In some way, yeah. Those sounds really express who I am. For me, that song really has the essence of Joe Fonda in it, and it goes back to the very beginning of my journey as a musician. So I'm really glad you were touched by that piece! It means a lot to me.

Joe Fonda / ZMFAAJ: Another recent record of yours is a set you recorded in 2005, Circle the Path (Drip Audio, 2007) by the ZMF Trio, which consists of you and two Vancouver musicians, violinist Jesse Zubot and drummer Jean Martin. It's a string band, really, and violin and bass can do some great things together, as you've shown with your FAB group. You and Jesse write the lion's share of the material, but everyone composes. Tell me about Jesse and Jean, and what you like about playing with them.

JF: The first thing I like is the fact that they're not from New York. These two Canadians have their own thing—completely. It's really nice and refreshing to play with people from other places, because quite often they have their own thing. I'm a New Yorker, so I know what the New York thing is, and believe me, it's the greatest. But being with Jesse and Jean—they have a different approach, a different aesthetic, and they bring another flair to the music.

So first of all, I like the fact that they're Canadian and they have their own thing. Second, Jesse is a very unique violin player. He kind of sounds like he comes out of—well, I don't know if you'd call it Canadian folk music. He told me when he started playing, he played with his father, and they used to do German polka music because there was a big German community where he lived. They would go around doing all the German dances. And I can hear these roots in his music; even when he really moves into a really moves into a very contemporary approach in an improvisation, it still has this deep, rural Canadian reality.

I mean, he comes out of some small town in Saskatchewan. We played a festival up there, and we were driving in the area, and I said, "Man—this is like going through South Dakota or something." It was really, really rural. I really like that element in Jesse's playing.

Jean Martin, the drummer, is from Toronto. He has a different kind of thing. I don't know if he's originally from Toronto. But he has his own approach, too, and it's unique. They're both wonderful people who are truly dedicated to their art.

Even Jean Martin's approach to time is unique. He has a unique way of thinking about pulse that's different from any other drummer I've ever played with.

AAJ: That can have a nutritious effect on your own playing.

JF: Yeah. It changes my playing.

Joe Fonda / FABAAJ: I have to ask about FAB, the Fonda Altschul Bang trio that consists of you, drummer Barry Altschul and violinist Billy Bang. You have a couple records, the newest being the Live at the Iron Works, Vancouver (Konnex, 2005) CD. This performance is much more about improvisation, spontaneous group composition, than the FAB Transforming the Space (CIMP, 2003) CD, which preceded it. Of course, when this group improvises together it always sounds like songs—they're just songs that didn't exist before they were played.

JF: Our first record was more about compositions. Since then, it's evolved into a completely-improvised ensemble. Once in a while, we throw in a few pieces that are written by Billy. We do one Cuban piece. But primarily, the music has become totally improvised.

I'd like to say that one of things that's so amazing for me is the energy level that the three of us play on together. That's a really strong and unique thing that's inside that trio. The three of have a very similar energy, a very strong, powerful energy, and when you put the three together, it's really infectious.

And I grew up on Barry Altschul. Playing with Barry is a wonderful thing for me, because when I started listening to this music, I just lived on all those great records that Barry played on. Like Circle, and the early Braxton records, and a lot more. And I'll tell you something—I used to hear the drums as much I heard anybody playing on any of those records. There was something about Barry's thing—and it's still so—that reached me. So it's a great honor and joy to be working with him.

And as far as Billy goes—Billy is a totally unique musician. He's true individual with completely his own sound, and a man who can get more emotion out of an instrument than anybody I've ever played with. He has the ability to put so much of himself into what he does, and it never ceases to amaze me. I aspire to that level of playing with what they call feeling. Bang has got it.

AAJ: Isn't that really the ultimate goal for a musician?

JF: I would say so, unless you were overly concerned with technical proficiency or something like that. For me, it's the ultimate goal. This guy plays violin in a way that is so rhythmical.

It's really interesting for me, because Billy and Barry both came out of the Bronx—they're both from the same neighborhood, and they're both very rhythmical people. Billy plays violin almost like a drum! It's amazing. He gets so much groove and so much rhythm going out of a violin. I've never heard anybody do anything like that.

align=center>Joe Fonda Bruno Angelini, Joe Fonda, Ramon Lopez

I really enjoy working with this band, and the music has a way of traveling—when we do a concert, it's amazing which roads we take and how we get there and where we end up. The group is really three very strong individuals that bring their personalities together. It is a collective, but it also has that element of the three of us coming in as really strong individuals. Then the collective process starts. That's a unique thing about the band—when you see the FAB Trio, you see those personalities. And somehow, then, the melding begins from that point.

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