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Darius Jones: From Johnny Hodges To Noise Jazz

By Published: January 11, 2011
Little Women

AAJ: Noise band Little Women are a pretty amazing band. Throat(AUM Fidelity, 2010) is fantastic, and has a lot of variety too—it's not all blast and extreme sounds. People might think that the music is far removed from an acoustic jazz group like the trio on Man'ish Boy. For example, when you played at the Saalfelden Festival in Austria in 2008, a magazine described the band as providing a "first hand [idea of] what terror can mean"! How did that scene happen?

DJ: Little Women is, for me, taking that experience [of playing with Marty McCavitt in Richmond] and manifesting that in a more acoustic situation, but trying to organize it, organizing chaos. How that came about [was] playing with different guys and we had a similar aesthetic: we felt jazz music was lacking something, and we felt what it was lacking was balls. With Little Women, what we are dealing with is four really uniquely individualistic people coming together in a band. Say, for instance, you've got a band of four really innovative people, and they [are] into the idea of being a band. That's going to sound like some really interesting [stuff]. It's not going to sound like everyday ordinary stuff. And that's really what you're getting with Little Women.

There are no rules to that music. The only rule is we will not use effects. So the guitarist can't plug into an effects pedal at all. All he can use is his guitar. The drummer, Jason, on Little Women gigs he uses nothing but sticks. We're minimalizing, we're making everything smaller so that we can get the most out of it.

AAJ: That could be going back to the early days of sticks and stones!

DJ: Yeah man, some caveman-like shit [laughs].

AAJ: Is the music all composed?

DJ: Little Women's music is highly compositional. It's very structured. That music is highly structured. I don't think we play tunes in that band, we play pieces of music. We're dealing with almost a kind of classical thing, you know, pieces instead of tunes. Little Women works in the suite format. We create suites. A suite is basically a grouping of pieces together to form a vision of one piece. So the record that we released before was called Teeth (Sockets and Gilgongo Records, 2008) and every tune is called "Teeth 1," "Teeth 2," [and so on]. You're hearing just different parts of the suite. And the record that came out in April is called , and basically you're just hearing different parts of Throat.

AAJ: Does the new album see any change is approach to the first one, for example a broadening of sonics?

DJ: In the saxophones we dealt with multiphonics a lot, so that's something that's different [to] the last one. And we're dealing with different aspects of form too, how things begin, end, the ups and downs, the momentum, dealing with different aspects of approaches to improvisation. There is a lot more guided improv, rather than straight going from nothing—we're using certain techniques and improvising within the scheme of those techniques. Also, there's a lot of duo playing, so you hear more improvisation like that on this record. The thing about Little Women is the beginning and the end is always the same but it is re-arranged. So [it's] just like [how] Duke Ellington every night came and played "'A' Train" but it would be slightly different. He would arrange it differently each night, [though] we don't arrange it differently each night. We just play it as hard as we possibly can, and see what happens. And then, you know how people in jazz have an ending tune, to tell people "Hey, it's over"? We have that too, which is basically us screaming and doing things, getting onto our knees and screaming into our horns. We are making that into a whole thing.

AAJ: This is getting into the area of performance art. Bern Nix
Bern Nix
Bern Nix

said to me it was performance art.

DJ: I was in Paris playing with Cooper-Moore, and William Parker
William Parker
William Parker
bass, acoustic
was there and he [said] "You can develop anything. It's possible to develop anything you want to develop." He said, "If you wanted to develop a whole thing with just picking up and dropping a fork, you could." And essentially what Little Women is saying when we get to that point, when we're on our knees and screaming out and stuff like that, what we're really trying to say is, "None of it really matters. At the end of the day nothing really matters. Us playing all this technically hard [stuff] that you probably can't even comprehend doesn't mean anything. It has no meaning." At the end of the day it's all about primitiveness. That's what people respond to.

It's funny, Weasel Walter
Weasel Walter
Weasel Walter
said to me once—he was at a show—he said, "Really, what you guys did [vocally] at the end was what you did in the set with your instruments. You just did it vocally." People responded to it so intensely when we were doing it vocally. That tells me something. It tells me people feel that connection to the organic process. The organic process. I think the only reason we're even remotely interested in intellectualism is because of ego. I really believe that. The human being is so afraid and intelligence and awareness helps us not to feel fear. If we were all big and strong and mighty powerful beings, we'd probably be a lot dumber. The only thing we would really fear would be someone with a mind. It fascinates me that awareness and intellect is something that we all fear, and that's why it's attractive to us. But at the heart of all man is organic-ness, it's primitiveness, because it's part of all of us. We all fuck, man. We all have sex. And that's some raw [stuff]. I mean, if you've ever seen a baby born, that's some serious stuff.

AAJ: How do you allocate the saxophone parts. Does one play fifths, or thirds, or what?

DJ: What me and Travis Leplante do in Little Women is basically, our concept is to become one horn. That's what we're doing. We're not really trying to be separate. We're trying to be one thing. [That] is the goal. And blending those two things together, since he has a lower instrument than me, he's going to operate on a different frequency versus what I operate on. The thing is, there's a point in both frequencies when we are combined. And [you have] also the different techniques... utilized on a horn. Something on his horn may pop out more than something on my horn. So our goal as a group is to create this situation where you're hearing something that you've never heard before. You can't really go, "Is that a saxophone, or is that this or is that that?" You don't know who's who. The goal is, "Is that him, or... who is that?"

AAJ: In a sense, Little Women are more like a rock band than a jazz group. Is it easier to tour with Little Women?

DJ: Little Women is a different band. It operates on a different principle. We will show up and play if you want us. That's the concept for that band. I don't really have a concept for my trios. It's very different. Little Women is like a rock band. It doesn't operate like a jazz group. It operates like a rock group would. We're all a collective force. I'm the leader of the Darius Jones Trio. I'm not the leader; no one is the leader, of Little Women.

AAJ: Is the label "noise jazz" appropriate for the band, or is there another phrase that you would use?

DJ: When people ask me "What do you call this?" My only response is, calling it "noise jazz" is an accurate depiction, and the reason I like that depiction is because I feel that noise music is valid. I feel that people should check out more noise bands, like Lightning Bolt, and Color. There are just a ton of these bands. It's amazing; it's some of the deepest music I've ever heard.

AAJ: Some people may wonder how a Hodges devotee, a serious fan of the performer of a track like "Daydream," could also play in a noise band.

DJ: I think it's something I've always heard. I don't think it's new. It's something that I heard in my head. Noise is really just dealing with sound, purely, without the context of Western harmony or any of that stuff. It's dealing with the aspect of combining sounds and soundscapes and stuff. Getting into [John] Cage got me deeper into that, looking at music from that perspective and really wanting to combine things that may seem un-combinable. Or to combine things that are usually combined but looking at them from a different standpoint. So I think it was a natural progression for me, especially dealing with the voice and my concept of organic-ness. I mean, dude, I walk outside, I hear sounds, and a lot of times people think that's noise, but I don't think it's noise, I think it's music.

Sometimes I find myself getting caught up in sounds in the weirdest ways. I become super silent, [and listen to] people talking and how the rhythms of the way they talk are. And the accents, the inflections that exist in the way they talk.

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