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Barney McAll: One to Watch

By Published: March 6, 2009
AAJ: Explain your thinking behind "Thirty Three" and "Obatala" please, as well as the Tanzanian folk thing.

BMcA: Well, what I did on these first two tunes was to apply my own harmony and melody to these certain ceremonial rhythms. "Thirty Three" started out as an Elegua Rhythm which I slowed down and changed around a bit. I did the same thing with "Obatala." I started with the original rhythms as a foundation and then just experimented with them.

It's funny because when we went in to the studio, Eddie Bobe, the percussionist on the CD, who is very knowledgeable as far as Afro-Cuban music is concerned, told me we had to record the Elegua rhythm first. This is because Elegua is the spirit who 'opens all doors.' Eddie then said that if the spirit of Elegua is unhappy with the situation then the tapes will get chewed up or some other catastrophe will occur!

As it turned out though, that track is my favorite and really just unfolded like a dream. I'm grateful.

With the "Tanzanian Folk Melody," I have had this cassette of African field recordings for years and the track I adapted has been on my mind for quiet a few years. It's amazing, it really sounds like John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker
1917 - 2001
on the cassette. Anyway, I just transcribed it and worked with it mixed it up a little bit in the studio. It's pretty much all a G minor pentatonic scale and based fairly closely with what's on the tape. I loved the sound of it. I've been listening to a lot of African music lately.

AAJ: In contrast, "Release The Day" sounds a bit like a Philly soul thing from the '70s or '80s. What's going on there?

BMcA: Good question! I mean I have always loved soul music. Especially Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
. It could be a sort of homage. I was thinking about Gary Bartz
Gary Bartz
Gary Bartz
sax, alto
playing on it when I wrote it, I know that much. That was also the track that Joey Baron didn't have to worry about at all. On some of the other tracks, Eddie would explain the rhythm to Joey before we could start. On "Release The Day" it was flicking a switch. A groove switch! Joey worked with Barry White at one stage you see.

AAJ: Your synthesizer work and some of the guitar work reminds me a little of Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew (and a little of Zawinul). Was that a conscious idea of yours?

BMcA: Yes and no. I was listening to Bitches Brew a lot before I recorded the CD and I just loved the way Miles and Teo Macero

Teo Macero
Teo Macero
1925 - 2008
had captured such rawness. I was very aware of trying to capture the feeling you get when you play a tune for the first time. There is a sort of fresh unfolding that occurs the first time you play something and I wanted to get that on tape. There were no rehearsals in an attempt to capture some of that sparkle... I may also have uttered the M word to Kurt as well.

AAJ: There is quite a breadth of music on the new CD though there is nevertheless a very coherent treatment of certain things, such as a high degree of composition and arrangement (compared with comparatively little improv), horns and guitar that would fit into the Stax soul method, an emphasis on the band sound overall and the compositions rather than soloists, and a wide ranging mixture of influences—Africa and left-field synthesizer, for example. Do you agree?

BMcA: Yes. I like the idea of a unit and a band sound more so than some startling soloing. I like Al Di Meola

Al Di Meola
Al Di Meola
but prefer Muddy Waters. I also like combining tricknology with raw and live playing and I have always tried to mix up all sorts of influences and elements with my music to keep things fresh and hopefully surprising.

At the same time, I am also trying to find my own voice amongst all this and to to achieve a continuity and some sense. Pretty crazy hey? I suppose the eclecticism may reflect my New York surroundings?

But I will always be searching I think. I'd like to be an 'eternal beginner,' to quote Rilke... and hopefully just find a few spots of magic along the way.

AAJ: Do you see yourself as a synthetist of these various things?

BMcA: I suppose so. It's funny, Billy Harper

Billy Harper
Billy Harper
told me he never listens to music at home. He has no desire to hear it and feels it may corrupt his own sound. I, on the other hand, love to listen to all sorts of music and find great solace in it. Solace and inspiration... I suppose I'm trying to balance these external musical influences with my own intuitive music. The thing is though that African music or Indian music or great players like Bird or Coltrane for example can engulf you with their potency and power and you may never find your own, if humble, music.

I can't forget the dream I had where I went to a composition class that Mike Nock was taking.

I was wearing headphones, meaning I was listening to music on the way to his class. Anyway , in the dream Mike took them straight off and kicked them sky high!

I took that to mean 'stop listening to external music and start focusing on more individual and internal music.'

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