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Ravish Momin: The Business of Time

By Published: March 3, 2009

AAJ: You want it to be of a piece, and whoever you plug into certain outlets, you get something that makes sense.

RM: And something that you can keep working with; Tarana could easily have become a footnote and I could've gone on to something else, but I always felt this was something I could keep developing, as well as find out who I was through the music. The first band fell apart, as they both wanted to go on and do different things, and I had to pick new people who could stay with it and I picked Sam and Brandon. I wanted to keep the band growing, but it still was Ravish Momin's Tarana. Whatever you put in there—theremin, accordion, cello or trumpet—it's still my music and my drumming. That will be the thread that runs through all the instruments and that's what hooked Pedro, because initially we were signed up only to record as the first version of the band.

Ravish Momin / Fulton LightsAAJ: You've also arranged traditional South Indian music. Have you thought you might arrange other composers' music and place it in the context of Tarana?

RM: Sure, I would love to, and I think a lot of it would be getting past the legalese—not that I want to do the music of Shuggie Otis or anything, but I definitely want to play other people's music. Like Skye, who's with me now on violin; he's offered to bring some of his music. He's got his own quintet. He's a great up-and-coming composer. He's about 28 and is a very mature player; he's in a Brazilian band and he can go from avant-garde music to traditional Turkish music and Blues. That's really hard to find—someone who can dig into Leroy Jenkins and come out spinning Ali Farka Toure, plus with touring chops to hold it all together.

That's a huge component of why I choose the people I do—not just having badasses in the band, but who can tour and get along with people. It's not like those other players I've chosen in the past are bad or anything—they're amazing, it's just like a second (or third) marriage—you have to think about it a little more before jumping into it again. I'm a little wiser and more in tune with the kind of players I want. I may not have violin in the future, but the ability to straddle different musical worlds is what I need.

AAJ: How early in your playing career was this evident? When you started working as a musician, when did you realize that you required these certain syntheses?

RM: I think it was a logical choice for me. It was out of necessity because, like I said, I wasn't getting work and I wasn't feeling anything because I didn't know what kind of player I wanted to be. I knew I wanted something from everything, though I didn't have the proportions figured out or anything.

AAJ: Were you thinking along those lines prior to joining some of the saxophonists whom you played with? Were you playing in "free" bands more for the work?

RM: No, that was a logical extension of playing in those bands. I wasn't career-minded in that sense. I genuinely thought—perhaps naively—that free music really was free, and that you could bring in your own ideas. It really wasn't like that, and I got jaded.

AAJ: Well, you were also with bandleaders whose ideas were pretty specific, too.

RM: And to be honest, the whole concept of time in free music—somehow those became mutually exclusive domains, and I have no idea why or how. I don't understand that.

AAJ: You studied a bit with Andrew Cyrille. Did he have any insight on that front?

RM: He was a very big part of why I play the way I play. I'd gone through x, y, z jazz teachers who said, "Let's unlearn you," and I wasn't feeling that. Andrew was the first teacher I had that auditioned me and said, "If you're going to be my student, just play for me—whatever you can." He sat there, closed his eyes and listened and I felt ridiculous, but he said, "Okay, I see what you have and what you don't have, and I want to build on what you have." No one had ever said that to me before, and he's a very deep cat. He acknowledged my Indian musical roots as a basis for jazz, and that's still the most revolutionary thing.

AAJ: He's always been an explorer.

RM: He was one of the first to use his hands, tapping on the drum seat, chanting or blowing into his instrument, and he was way ahead of the curve. He was doing a lot of extended techniques. He had a lot more facets to his personality than playing with Cecil Taylor or somebody would make obvious. He's just a very diverse cat, but with intent.

Ravish MominAAJ: You've done some teaching yourself, too, right?

RM: I do teach, but it's more at an elemental level with kids in the schools, rather than teaching my thing. It's teaching jazz history, going back to Bix Beiderbecke and Jelly Roll Morton for these kids who only know Jay-Z, Common, and Ne-Yo. I'm trying to build them up from there. It's very rewarding and very frustrating at the same time.

Honestly, I haven't mastered anything, so I'm not ready to teach my roots. I have so much to learn and so much to put together that when I do get there...well, maybe it will always be a work in progress. I know at some point I'll have enough of a grasp to be able to talk about this, but right now I can't, because I'm still learning.

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