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Alan Ferber: Developing String Theory

By Published: June 28, 2010
AAJ: What was the overall inspiration for the album. Was there an overall musical challenge you were approaching?

AF: My wife Jodi is a cellist—she is a fabulous cellist in New York. I originally met her and got to know her music; then got to know her community of musicians she plays with. I would go out and listen to a lot of musicians that she was playing with. I just naturally started to immerse myself in string-centric or string-oriented music around New York. She does a lot of work in the new music world. She has her own project where she brings people in, improvisatory folks. In other words, she doesn't just hang out with a bunch of orchestral musicians. She introduced me to a lot of string players that exist outside of that realm.

I think naturally over time I became more and more attracted to that sound. And not in the way of [using] strings as sweeteners, but how I could use them creatively to enhance my nonet project which I had already been working on for the last five years. I was looking for a different sonic approach to this record. So initially, the seed of the idea came from there. It then blossomed as I listened more and more extensively to her scene of friends and colleagues.

AAJ: Earlier, you didn't mention classical as a strong musical influence, but this album certainly sounds as if you have a background there.

AF: If I were to give you my strongest classical influence, it would be Bach; his four-part choral writing is used all over this record. If you go in and look at the scores and how I think about moving the voices around, it really comes from the studies I've done of Bach. And it is a double-string quartet on the record, which means I am dealing with four voices so that those four-part chorals were [where] I drew a lot of influence.

AAJ: It seems a challenge to have that kind of structure, but still giving space to let the improvisation work. It creates an interesting effect that is not just head, improvisation and that's it. How would you describe that process? Maybe walk us through one of the pieces from composing it to recording it in the studio.

AF: The last piece, and I think this a general rule I carry over to all my pieces. I observe what instruments and personalities I have available for that piece. Then I really try to take advantage of almost every combination I can to maximize the number of colors I can from that expectation. So, for example, I am not trying to use all forces at all times. I am trying to find ways to maximize the peaks and the valleys dynamically and texturally. So in that last piece, you'll notice in the middle there's about a full minute when only strings are playing and then the end and the beginning are just horns. And every combination in between is used during the piece. I bring instruments in, drop them out. Viola and tenor at one spot, then cello and trombone or clarinet at another spot. Then just the strings, just the horns. I want to take advantage of all the colors in my palette.

Selected Discography

Alan Ferber Nonet, Chamber Songs (Sunnyside, 2010)

Charlie Hunter, Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid (Spire Artists, 2010)

Chris Jentsch Group Large, Cycles Suite (Fleur de Son, 2009)

David Binney/Alan Ferber, In The Paint (Posi-Tone Records, 2009)

Gary Morgan and PanAmericana!, Felicidade (Self Produced, 2008)

Anthony Wilson Nonet, Power of Nine (Groove Note, 2006)

Alan Ferber Nonet, Scenes From An Exit Row (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2005)

John Hollenbeck

John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck
Large Ensemble, A Blessing (Omnitone Records, 2005)

Eric Starr, She (Eric Starr Records, 2003)

Alan Ferber Septet, Playground (Jazz House Records, 2001)

Todd Sickafoose Group, Dogs Outside (Evander Music, 2000)

The Daversa And Morell Band, The D.a.M. Band (Rough Cut Records 1994)

Photo credits

Page 1: David Smith

Page 2, 4, 5: Courtesy of Alan Ferber

Page 3: Scott Friedlander

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