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Tom Abbs: Combining Music and Film

By Published: June 23, 2008
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The Transcendentalists

AAJ: Talking of labels with emerging artists, the CIMP label put out one of my favorite recordings of recent years, Real Time Messengers by the Transcendentalist, with yourself and David Brandt and Steve Swell and Daniel Carter. I thought that was an unheralded gem. That was very much a band based round the rhythm section, in terms of the dynamics. I was sorry that group didn't last longer. How did you feel about that band?

TA: It's interesting because Dave Brandt and myself were pretty much a younger generation. Steve has been around for a long time, as you know, and obviously Daniel is a veteran of the downtown scene also. So it was really exciting. Dave Brandt studied with Milford Graves and he has a lot of rhythm going on all the time, and has his own thing with it also.

So we had this youthful bass and drummer, really a lot of energy, and then these two horns that are just piercing and just so strong. So Dave and I were able to create these swells of rhythm and energy for Steve and Daniel to go on top of. That was always really exciting for us and I think there is that youth and elder dynamic in the band that somehow is very interesting. There actually have been talks recently of us getting back together.

AAJ: That would be great.

TA: Dave moved to San Francisco a couple of years ago, but he's coming back regularly to New York, and Steve and Daniel and I have talked recently about it, so I'm hopeful that will happen. We're all still friends. It was really when Dave left, that was the end of that for a little while. Coming back after a number of years is always exciting because we've had our own developments and it's always interesting to see how the music changes after a little bit of time.

AAJ: How did you find the experience of recording for CIMP in the Spirit Room?

TA: I think I've done seven or eight things up there now, and I'm actually going up in April with Andrew Lamb and Warren Smith to do an Andrew Lamb trio date. The experience is, well they're such a family up there, Bob Rusch and Marc Rusch, his son who does the engineering. They treat you like family. The whole experience is very relaxing and comfortable and they're all about making you just think about the music.

You've got everything you need and it's really just a wonderful space. It's also a farm up there so you get this natural feeling. After leaving New York and you drive five hours to this country place and there is that kind of transition into their space, it's very poignant, I think. So what they have there is very special in terms of creating an atmosphere and bringing you out to the more natural world and providing opportunities for people. A lot of those recordings wouldn't get recorded without them. So I can only express my thanks for what they've done and all the good experiences.

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Triptych Myth and Cooper-Moore

AAJ: One of the other bands you've played with is Tryptych Myth, with Chad Taylor again, and Cooper-Moore on keyboards and other instruments. Is that band still playing?

TA: We do gigs once in a while now. Chad is so busy these days it's hard for us to get together. We did one record for Hopscotch and one for Aum Fidelity, and we were actually supposed to do three records for Aum Fidelity, but the deal fell through after the first record. That actually slowed down the band's progress a little bit. We did a gig in the fall, which was a lot of fun. Actually there is a clip on YouTube of the last gig we did at a college in Vermont, and you can actually see part of that. Since everyone is so busy and Cooper-Moore is off touring with Assif [Tsahar] from Hopscotch a lot, we're looking to get to another level, as far as gigs go. So we're being a lot more picky about the opportunities we're taking. So it cuts down on our performances. I'm actually hoping that we'll record for ESP soon.

ESP just put out the documentary Inside Out In The Open by Alan Roth and of course Cooper-Moore is featured in that. Bernard Stollman is a big fan of Cooper-Moore's, so we're hoping that will somehow work itself out to record again.

AAJ: How did you meet Cooper-Moore?

TA: I'm sure you're aware of the bassist Wilbur Morris, Butch Morris' brother. Well I was a huge fan of Wilbur, and he had played on some of the festivals that Jump Arts had produced, and so I had met Wilbur a number of times, talked to him and loved his playing. He was just an amazing performer. He got sick with cancer, and it was around the time he was sick, before he passed away, that I got a call for a gig with Alex Harding, who's on the Knox record, and Reggie Nicholson and Cooper-Moore. They called me because Wilbur was sick, and I was quite honored to sub for him. So that's how I met Cooper-Moore.

We played. I had heard Cooper-Moore do things on his other instruments, but on that gig in particular he was playing piano. I had never heard anybody play piano like that in my life. The piano was in tune when he started and out of tune when he finished, because he hit it so hard, he was so aggressive. He was out of his seat so many times during the performance, he would stand up and beat on the piano. The energy and his touch. I just fell in love with his piano playing.

Actually I was on the road with Chad, and Chad and I were looking for a trio to play in. We were playing with Steve Swell and Jemeel Moondoc at the time in the Active Ingredients band that recorded for Delmark. We really were looking for a trio to play in together as we had come up together at the New School playing in trios. I said "Wow. I was just playing with Cooper-Moore the other day. It was amazing." And Chad said "Wow that would be great. I love Cooper-Moore's playing."

I called Cooper-Moore up very humbly and said "Cooper-Moore, would you play with myself and Chad Taylor?" He said "Who's Chad Taylor?" I said "Oh you'll like Chad's playing, he's a good drummer." So we got together. Cooper-Moore explained to me that he wasn't really playing piano any more at the time, and I couldn't believe it. That gig he did with Alex Harding was a rarity, since he had quit playing with William Parker's band In Order To Survive.

AAJ: Yeah, that was a fantastic band.

TA: So when we asked him to play piano in this trio, he got really excited about it, and we rehearsed a lot. So that's how that band came about.

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