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Interviews

Lola Danza: Free To Sing Free

By Published: February 25, 2009
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The Voice as an Instrument

Other influences on Danza include Sarah Vaughan, Anita O'Day, Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin

vocalist
, Jeanne Lee, and Nina Simone
Nina Simone
Nina Simone
1933 - 2003
piano
.

"Jeanne Lee is an avant-garde jazz singer, really incredible. And she's one of my favorites. She has a great album called Conspiracy (Earthforms, 1974) and there's another one with her and Ran Blake
Ran Blake
Ran Blake
b.1935
piano
, a pianist. Really great."

She also acknowledged that at times on the new album she "does get into some tribal influence. I feel like the voice is a very flexible instrument. It's mind boggling. There's not a lot that has been explored as far as the palate of different sounds go, because there is such a vast palate of sounds that you can make with the voice. And if you look back through history, talking about tribal things around the world, with the voice 55 muscles are involved in making vocal sound. If you talk to any linguistic specialist, they'll tell you that when you are young you get used to using certain muscle positions that then affect the voice. And that creates an accent so you have a certain style of talking, because you are around certain areas or groups or whatever. So a French person sounds very different from an Asian person or an African person or an American person. Because we're using different muscle patterns and have different sized vocal mechanisms to create these sounds.



"What I think can happen through this type of music is the exploration of using different sounds with the voice to create. Because if you think about it, if you listen to a piano it has a certain type of sound. A saxophone has a certain type of sound. For instance, at a recent benefit concert that featured John Zorn, there was a pianist in his trio, Sylvie Courvoisier, who used mallets and duct tape on the strings of the piano to transcend the instrument. Hal Crook does it with his Harmonizer on the trombone. As an artist you try to transcend your instrument.

Lola Danza"Piano is a hard instrument to get different types of sounds out of it. If you look at someone like Lowell Davison or even someone like Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
b.1929
piano
, they have been able to transcend the piano sound by having so much technique, so many different imaginative ideas, and the ability to create so much within the moment. At home, I'm practicing how to make these different types of sounds with the voice and put them into a musical context and just explore the flexibility. The possibility of using the voice within music is limitless."

She says the voice "can be written into a symphony. For example, Berlioz: I love his 'Requiem.' He is actually having the choir comp for the (orchestra) in Latin. And it's a trip to listen to 'cause he's using the instrumentation in a totally different way. So when I heard that, I thought. 'That's another possibility.' So what I'm looking for are the possibilities and the impossibilities of what the voice can do.

"The human voice is limitless and has not been fully explored, not by any means. The human voice is capable of so many different things. And also for me, the human voice is really the connection, the essence of our being, of who we are, so in this music, that's what I'm doing. I am allowing that connection to be seen no matter how personal. It's who I am, and I am just allowing that to come out in this music."

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The Road To Avant-Garde

Before Danza's 2007 move to New York, she had not yet fully embraced free jazz: she says her compositions were world music with jazz. "It had form, but it was moving into the free thing. There would be free sections, and I was exploring and trying to go in another direction. So I wrote for a string quartet, and I use guitar, bass, and drums a lot and I have some albums that I released with that: Rebirth (Evolver Records, 2002) and Vision Quest (Evolver Records, 2005). In the last album, you can really see that there's a bridge between what just happened on this newest album and the singer-songwriter, jazz sort of thing.



Evolver is her own label.



Visionquest has a mix of free pieces as well as compositions. It's sort of chamber music-ish sounding, because I don't really use the drums very much and it (has) strings—it's two basses actually."

So what in particular led Danza to avant-garde?

"I think it's listening to instrumental music," she says, "and I wanted to be inside of the music and I think that free jazz allowed me to explore that without putting any limits on it, psychologically speaking. I started hanging out with these free jazz guys in Boston , Nat Magavero [drummer] and John Lockwood. The three of us sort of just having these experiments around Boston, and I just started playing with stuff, sitting in sessions, talking to people ... I had been searching. Looking back on this, I had been looking for this for a very long time, but did not know how to say what it was or what to call it. And somehow it found me.

"These last three years I've been working on what came out on that album. I'd been writing [and] singing compositions that I wrote, and I felt they were good but they weren't exactly what I was looking for, and I put strings on it to shake it up a bit ... But then me and some friends were listening to John Scofield

John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
, Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow
b.1940
bass
and Bill Stewart
Bill Stewart
Bill Stewart
b.1966
drums
in my apartment back in Boston years ago, and, as instrumentalists, they're able to experience music this way [by] being inside of the music. Instrumentalists can experience music in the way that a voice has not been able to experience in group playing. Usually the voice is on top.

"So this time I wanted to be inside of the music, just like a guitarist or a drummer, even more so than a horn because a horn stays on top a lot of times. I wanted to be inside, so that's the development of this process of learning how to be inside of the music. I wanted to actually have the voice comp for the band, have the voice give tones to support the band, rather than only singing on top of it. So that's what this project was about, and over the past three years that's what I've been investigating. It's been three years of working on this process of 'How can the voice do this?'"

She notes, "There is so much more territory that has yet to be explored. And right now, this recording, it's a year old and already I'm somewhere else, musically speaking. There's new territory. This music, it's changing. It grows so rapidly. You know, people are like, 'Are you going to do a CD release party and are you going to have the same band?' Well, you can't really have the same band because this recording, it's done. It's over. Now I am searching for more, the search for something else. This new album can never be captured again. That night doesn't exist anymore. It's in the past. I wouldn't want to relive it again. Not at all, because I'm thinking about something else now. I have so many ideas and I want to develop and explore them all."

"I have just discovered the music of Bill Laswell
Bill Laswell
Bill Laswell
b.1955
bass
," says Danza. "Cause and Effect (Innerhythmic, 2007) and Imaginary Cuba (Wicklow/RCA, 1999) are extremely powerful, as they have a strong political message. Points of Order (Innerhythmic, 2001) is hip. Buckethead and Karl Berger are on it. Bill Laswell is masterful. He's brilliant."

Lola Danza

Guitarist Marc Ribot
Marc Ribot
Marc Ribot
b.1954
guitar
is also on her radar. "Saints (Atlantic/WEA, 2001) is a solo guitar record and he plays "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" from (The Beatles') White Album (Apple, 1968) and it's incredible. Ribot's interpretation of that tune is the sexiest thing I've heard in a long time. He's so amazing. He can totally manipulate the sound on his guitar. It's insane. He has many different personalities when he plays. It's as if each note takes on a life of its own. When he plays "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," he sounds like a cowboy. I mean it gets really dirty and it's groovin.' You feel it."

She adds, "I have a few guitar players I work with. I love guitar. I don't usually work with piano, just because I feel like guitar has so much more possibility because you can bend the note. A guitar can do anything. It has so much flexibility with pedals and all kinds of stuff. I love Bern Nix
Bern Nix
Bern Nix

guitar
, Marc Ribot, Ben Monder, Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
, John Scofield, Egberto Gismonti
Egberto Gismonti
Egberto Gismonti
b.1947
guitar, acoustic
and Dave Tronzo ... I just started playing with Bern Nix and he's legendary. He's got a solo album out called Low Barometer (Thompkinson Square, 2007). Bern is such a humble guy and a genius.

Dave Tronzo's a Boston guy now. He used to be in New York. Incredible, incredible. He plays slide guitar. There's a great recording of him live at the Knitting Factory playing "Monk's Dream" and it's amazing, beautiful, incredible. That, to me, is how Monk would have wanted it."

Of the trend of jazz artists making cover versions of rock tunes, Danza says, "It's great. I actually did that on my album Vision Quest. I used a Radiohead tune, "Motion Picture Soundtrack," and I also used Beck's tune."

It's interesting to note how she says "used." Jazz is all about improvising. She isn't saying she simply covered the tune. She took it as a start, and built on it. It brings to mind Bryan Ferry's talking of other people's tunes as "ready-mades." Even he, as a more traditional (though faintly avant-garde) rock singer, took songs written by other people and added his spin to them. Pre-written songs can be seen as "ready-made" to make a new start on—that is, beyond making a simple jazz band or group cover. And it is interesting that jazz artists such as Danza, Monder, Ribot, Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
and the like are performing and recording their versions of some rock tunes.

It is perhaps not surprising that Danza was attracted to the music of Cindy Lauper when she was a child. Lauper's album contained, of course, "Time After Time," a hypnotic tune rapidly and successfully covered by Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
.


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