Barney McAll: Dynamic Pianist And Composer
McAll has played, as leader, group member and sideman, with an array of musicians. A longstanding colleague is trombonist Josh Roseman. McAll has played in two groups with Roseman, the trombonist's big band Extended Constellations, and a smaller group called The Water Surgeons.
Roseman sometimes has a [Jamaican] ska tinge to his music. Says McAll, "He's basically just having a look at those [ska influences]he's half-Jamaican, half-Jewish. We actually did a record in Vienna with Josh New Constellations: live in Vienna (ENJA, 2007)that was a tribute to Don Drummond, trombonist from the Skatalites, but it was really all this subverted ska music, 'cause he's really into subversion. He's the great subverter. I've learned a lot from Josh because I've known him since 1992 or so, when I met him here [New York]. I've been playing with him on and off since then. He's a really innovative composer, and, like I was saying, there are no boundaries with what he writes and how he writes. It's very inspiring. Working with Josh has changed my perceptions of what you can do musically, compositionally.
"A lot of the players that I've had the fortune to play with here have changed me in a way that I'm very grateful for, 'cause you can reach out further when you're playing someone else's music that's reaching out further." Indeed, "Terminate Moby" was partly influenced by Roseman's work. "Actually it was sort of inspired by Josh in a way too, 'cause he has some music sort of like that."
McAll describes playing with Roseman's group, The Water Surgeons, which is documented with some clips on YouTube: "It is three trombones, and I play various sound objects and piano and an instrument called Chucky. But that's a pretty bizarre combination, because Josh plays trombone and bass; Jacob Garshik plays trombone and accordion; Curtis 'Curha' Hasselbring plays trombone and guitar; and I play piano, bass and sort of freak stuff. It's a really bizarre combination." Roseman's website describes the group as "a semi-ambient trombone choir."
Continuing the trombone connection, McAll has also toured with the great Fred Wesley, trombonist and former music director for James Brown. "Fred's an amazing person to be working with. I learned so much just from hearing him play, the way he takes his time. He's really a seminal musician. He was James Brown's musical director when James was really peaking in the late '60s towards the early '70s. Then he went on with Parliament Funkadelic, and he played with Maceo Parker's bands [Brown's famous saxophonist]. He wrote a lot of hits with James. To tour with him is a real honor and I feel very fortunate because I learn so much everytime I'm just hanging out with him."
"I got to play with Maceo through Fred. I did a gig in North Carolina and Maceo was on it, so I got to do some duets with Maceo. It's just so amazing to hear these guys play. There's so much culture and so much weight in every note they play."
McAll explains how the duets came about: "We were doing this concert and Maceo said, 'Do you know "Autumn In New York?"' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Let's play it.' I was having trouble with my keyboard, so I had to stick around, and Maceo wanted to stick around at the sound check before the concert. And then he said 'Do you know "You Don't Know Me"?' and I was like 'I love that song,' so, 'What key?' 'Eb.' We played it and felt really good and he said, 'You know what, we're gonna play two out tonight.' So, in the middle of the concert he said 'OK we're gonna play just a couple of songs, just the pianist,' and it was fantastic. Then the rest of the band came on, and it worked really well because it created a nice arc to the concert. 'Cause after we finished, it really built up. It was a really great experience just to hear Maceo; he was a great jazz player. He could really [play], he's such an individual musician. So that was a highlight for me."
A frequent collaborator [he is on the Lithuanian concert] is Peter Apfelbaum: "He is another great influence on me. He's just a natural freak of a musician. He's a beautiful pianist, tenor player, drummer. He plays drums, tenor and organ in Josh's big band. We just finished recording Josh's big band record, and he's another guy [where] there are no rules. 'No rules' is the only rule that he abides by."
Tenor player Billy Harper has also been a big influence. "He played with Max Roach, he played with Louis Armstrong, Art Blakey and Lee Morgan. He's like my mentor here. He's almost like my New York dad. Actually, I toured with him in Australia when I first met him, and when I came to New York I asked if I could study with him and he said, 'You know what, I don't really teach, but you can come and hang out.' And I've been hanging out with him for many, many years. The whole way he lives his life, the way he writes music, everythinghe hasn't really showed me things as such, but I've just learned by hanging out with him."
McAll even recorded with Jimmy Cobb on the pianist's first album. "Jimmy Cobb was the drummer on Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue (Columbia, 1959), and my first record, EXIT (Jazzhead, 1996), was with Jimmy Cobb and that was a really magical experience. He actually was in Australia with Nat Adderley and I was already friends with Vincent Herring, who was with Nat, and I asked Vince if he and Jimmy would play on my record. So we rehearsed in my St Kilda flat, which was like a small apartment, and I had Jimmy Cobb in my apartment which was pretty surreal as it is. But to have a musical experience with someone like that; Jimmy Cobb is just a beautiful cat."