Scott Tinkler: Trumpet Down Under
Bassist/composer Lindsey Horner recently said, "I think one thing that has really changed in the past quarter century is that the music has become so broad, so truly international and genre-encompassing that the days when jazz was one very definable, finite thing are well and truly gone." These remarks also serve to introduce this interview with the Australian trumpeter Scott Tinkler. The recent emergence of a small cadre of Australian jazz artists has yet to gather the notice of, say, Indian pianist Vijay Iyer or alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.
Nevertheless, it's likely that a lot more will be heard from Scott Tinkler, alongside multi-instrumentalist/composer Jacam Manricks, vocalist Chris McNulty and pianist/composer/bandleader Barney McAll. Tinkler brings, perhaps, the broadest outré sensibility of them all. His solo trumpet recording, Backwards (Extreme, 2007), poses some of the most extreme sonic sounds this side of the post-Coltrane continuum (to borrow from Braxton-speak). Yet Tinkler certainly has all the talent to convey the standard jazz curriculum, as can be heard in his quartet with pianist Paul Grabowski.
Tales of Time and Space (Sanctuary, 2009), featuring Branford Marsalis and Joe Lovano, is an essential barn-burner with the joint quintet led by Grabowski and Tinkler. This is a compelling artist from down under, with a sound and conception all his own.
This interview took place prior to Tinkler's traveling to the United States for the 2008 edition of the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT), in New York City.
All About Jazz: You mentioned that you will be coming to the United States for the  annual FONT festival, curated by Dave Douglas. What do you see as your contribution to the ongoing language of improvisation on the trumpet?
Scott Tinkler: Yes, I'll be coming out to New York for FONT in September, and that is one hell of a question. Whether any of the things I employ as a musician can be seen as contributions to the ongoing language of improvisation is not something that I have thought about or are really of concern to me; they are simply ideas or devices that I'm drawn to use and explore as an improvising artist. I've found that some concepts assimilate their way into my playing quite naturally whereas others take quite some practice to find effective ways that they can work in a musical setting. In my answer to your question I will cover four main areas of my artistic practice.
First, my main area of focus over many years has been rhythmic development and exploration. I'm very much into the idea that rhythmic options should be explored as much as harmonic ones have been. In that same sense I am into rhythmic substitutions or superimpositions as well as rhythm cycles or magic squares, as used in Indian Carnatic music. I find the trumpet can be a very effective instrument in this area, as the articulation on the trumpet can be very forceful and dynamic. My aim has been for better control over all rhythmic variations in the pulse so that I can get away from lines that are solely built on the eighth-note. It is also important to me that I gain flexibility with these rhythms so that I can move between them freely. I approach the study of these rhythmic options systematically so that all bases are covered. I then work on each one until it becomes as comfortable and as natural as playing eighth-notes.
My approach in the use of these ideas in performance is leaning much more toward a totally improvised setting rather than a structured compositional situation, where there is a form with several odd length bars or meters. In cases when I do use a particularly complex form, the improvisation will take us away from the structure and into an interpretation of the form, in much the same way that has been done by many for some time. I'm really into learning this stuff carefully but then not trying to perform it or get it right on the bandstand, but rather just let it be part of my playing in a natural and interactive kind of way. In a similar way to Ornette Coleman playing Harmolodic music, I could say I like to play "Rhythmolodic" music.
Secondly, for some time now I've been looking at the harmonic ideas introduced by Elliot Carter as well. Although twelve-note-all-interval chords tend to be very difficult on the trumpet (each chord covers five and a half octaves), I've been learning some of his chords in abbreviated ways to introduce a very different harmonic spectrum which I'm starting to get a hold on slowly. Just as the rhythmic variations get away from the eighth-note, this approach moves away from the dominant-tonic sound. The combination of these allows me to play very long phrases that have a very different sense of tension and release.
A third area of practice that I have been exploring is prepared and extended techniques on the trumpet. I like to use water, drums, cymbals, or any reverberant object that is sympathetic to the air movement or vibrations of the trumpet as well as techniques including circular breathing, multi-phonics, split-tones, and stop-tonguing. I also like to party disassemble the instrument too. I find that I still explore pretty much the same ideas rhythmically and harmonically when involved in these moments. None of these ideas are new or particular to me, many players are exploring these ideas very successfully, and I guess it's just how each individual puts it all together that makes them sound different.
Last, but by no means least, a further important area for me is the focus on group improvisation as opposed to the separate soloist's idea. This too is by no means a fresh idea but an aesthetic I do like to follow. It is important that the people I play with have an equal footing in the music at all times and not be filling a role. For me, this means more responsibility for each member too, because we are not relying on any one person to keep the time or the momentum of a piece.
Hopefully, this allows for lots of space in the music too. I like to avoid the feeling that everyone plays because they can. Frantic, free playing is not the aim at all, but rather a compositional attitude towards the creative process of improvisation. This, of course, is an idealthe fact remains that I might play for a while and then not. This may sound like I've taken a solo as such, but I prefer to see my involvement as part of the whole piece rather than a solo. I really aim to play inside the band and not over it. Each time I'm involved needs to be part of the piece rather than an entity until itself, "the trumpet solo." In that sense, anyone who is not playing is still involved in the music because they affect it by the act of choosing not to play.