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Wayne Krantz: Back on Track

By Published: August 25, 2009
AAJ: I like that definition of jazz as a commitment to spontaneous creation—it kind of widens the playing field. Had the three of you played any of this music live before, and was there much in the way of rehearsals before recording, or did you just go in and thrash it out?

WK: It's almost all new music. We rehearsed a couple of times and had a gig the night before the recording where we played a few of the songs live for the first time. We had the composition more or less under our hands when we got to the studio, I think. Then, the thrashing ensued.

AAJ: The playing is superb, I guess in large part it's because you know each other's playing so well after a dozen years or so: what are the particular strengths of Tim or Keith?

Wayne Krantz

WK: Thanks, but knowing each other doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be superb, unfortunately. If we could count on that we wouldn't have to work so hard. It's a demanding approach, in ways that even great players sometimes have to adjust to for the music to work. Standard roles for bass and drums don't always apply, and though I've gotten better at describing it to people there's still an x-factor.

Lefebvre was in on the ground level of the thing and Carlock came soon after, so they both really, really know what it's about and how to push it the right way. Tim hears everything—repeat, everything—and, among other things, figures how to turn it into something tonally intelligible. Mistakes, ring modulator stuff, ultra-distorted stuff...he fields anything.

It puts a lot of responsibility on me, because everything matters. Some people play chromatically to cope with obscure tonalities, but he actually gets in there and deals with it specifically. He's a musician, unlike myself, who only plays what will sound good in a given moment. If nothing will sound good, he doesn't play anything. One of the great improvisers. And I'm not talking about something so mono-functional as turning in a good solo, I mean somebody who can forge incredible sounding music in real-time, in a band context. Also one of the baddest grooves out there.

Carlock is a fantastic improviser and orchestrator, too. With all the incredible stuff he does, all the colors, melodies, phrases and sounds he plays, the inventiveness of it. The incredible feel and unstoppable groove—with all that, the thing that inspires me most is his spiritual connection to everything he plays. I've heard him in tons of different situations over the years—little gigs, big gigs, rehearsals, recording sessions, you name it—and he's always connected to the music in exactly the same way.

It's a total connection, with little room for distraction, second guessing, self-criticism, ego. It's pure. To me it's not even about the drums with him, anymore. It's just this beautiful, silvery music thing that happens when he plays.

They both have a profound understanding of shape and form, too. That's a biggie.

AAJ: Is there ever a danger of falling into some sort of comfort zone when you know the other musician's playing so well? How do you keep it fresh when your on stage together for many years?

Wayne KrantzWK: Almost all music that exists is being played in a comfort zone. Most music depends on that to function correctly, to be listenable. It's relatively rare that invention and risk are what makes the music worth playing and listening to.

Speaking for myself, I don't find improvisation particularly comfortable. I'm usually suspicious if I'm feeling overly comfortable on a particular night. The recordings of nights like that almost never make the cut when it's time to put a live record together.

We break it up all the time. If it gets boring, we change it. We don't treat the songs like we owe them anything. The better we know a song, the more we can adapt it to our immediate needs, whatever they might be. It took us a while to figure out how to make something from almost nothing. Once we did, re-invention became more or less a mission statement.

AAJ: Let's talk about some of the songs. Tell me about the inspiration for "Rushdie"?

WK: The inspiration was a memorial for a friend who once said he respected the writer. "Rushdie," "Mosley" and another song that didn't make the record, "Tabackin," were all written in memoriam for him, I guess you could say. "Rushdie" seems apt too for its mix of prettiness and rock 'n' roll, like some of Salman Rushdie's stuff I've read.

AAJ: On "Rushdie," at about two minutes, you quote something which I've been wracking my brains to remember but I can't—what is it?

WK: I'm not aware of it. I'll listen for it next time I hear it.

AAJ: You've said that you get annoyed when you hear another voice in your playing; could you expand on that comment a little?

WK: I think I was talking more generally about influence, that I wouldn't want to constantly remind the listener of somebody else when I play. But sometimes I trip over things that I've heard when I'm playing. There's this one melody that turns up a lot...I don't know what it is—something from the '80s, maybe a Grace Jones hook or something. About once a year some fragment from a jazz standard falls out, which makes no sense. It's funny, really.

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