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Interviews

Microscopic Septet: Chance Meeting with the Future

By Published: February 7, 2011
AAJ: Your titles themselves are often surrealistic. Some of them even sound like anagrams. What about "Pack the Ermines, Mary"?

JF: That's a direct quote from William Burroughs. It means, "Let's get out of town, right now!"

AAJ: Do you read surrealist literature, is that an inspiration for you?

PJ: I like it, but into your music you put all the input you've had—personal things, movies, books, television, pop music, jazz—it all comes out in what you do, I think.

JF: I agree with Phillip but I would just add this: about surrealism: those were the first humans, that I know about, to organize a movement around the idea of dreams. And we're sort of living whatever time comes after that... We pay attention to our dreams, but we try to locate our dreams in real life as well.



PJ: So you're saying we're "post-surrealists"?

JF: I don't see us falling into any kind of movement.

AAJ: Your music has a jigsaw quality to it—putting together elements of the great big bands of the past—Monk, Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
, Ellington, Fletcher Henderson
Fletcher Henderson
Fletcher Henderson
1897 - 1952
arranger
, even Sun Ra—how do you see yourselves fitting as puzzle piece in the music of the future?

JF: I think this: there are basically only two forms of definition: there's restrictive definition, and then there's a kind of liberating definition, one that includes the future. And the first form always involves concepts. But there is no concept of the future, and so what we hope to do, I think, is make music that will live now, and will live later on.

PJ: There's a kind of truism that you often read in the press, which is that at a certain point jazz stopped evolving because the newer forms of music didn't look like the type of evolution that you had in the past. Both in jazz and in classical music basically music history trudged through this death march from tonality to atonality, where when we got to Schoenberg on the one hand and John Cage
John Cage
John Cage
1912 - 1992
composer/conductor
on the other, or, Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
and improvised music in the European sense, that that journey was over. And people who have been gauging the development of jazz see no more development because now we've finished that journey. But I disagree with that 100 percent, and I think the times that we've lived through, the last 30 or 40 years or so, have been one of the most interesting and least analyzed or recognized in the history of jazz.

It's going through these side-paths which were passed by on the mad rush to get to atonality, and now people are going back and combining different things, and integrating all the influences of everything that's happened over the last 30 or 40 years into the music, and it's resulted in some amazing music.

JF: At our highest moments in this band, we're not commenting on the future, we're commenting on the future of the future.

AAJ: Well, the idea of recombining elements of past and present brings to mind John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
b.1953
sax, alto
, who played a role in your band early on. What in particular did Zorn bring to the table? Why did you bring him into the band?

PJ: John was one of my best friends, from when we were very young. I brought him into the band because he was somebody I played with. Joel and I played with John a lot before we started The Micros. We had a trio for a while, and a peer group—people like Wayne Horvitz
Wayne Horvitz
Wayne Horvitz
b.1955
piano
and Marty Ehrlich
Marty Ehrlich
Marty Ehrlich
b.1955
reeds
and Elliott Sharp
Elliott Sharp
Elliott Sharp
b.1951
guitar
and Bobby Previte
Bobby Previte
Bobby Previte
b.1957
drums
. We played at this place called Studio Henry with all these people and others, and we were all part of a peer group trying to evolve this music forward, and that went in many different directions. Ours is one of them. They took it in their own directions.

JF: And as to what John Zorn brought to our band, I would say he brought his full Zornishness!

PJ: At the very beginning of The Micros we didn't really have an idea of what kind of band it would be. We would just experiment and eventually we decided that the most fruitful thing we could do was to do our own music. But one of the things that John did was write an arrangement for the theme from Barney Miller; he wrote an arrangement of "Tico Tico," a bunch of Sonny Clark
Sonny Clark
Sonny Clark
1931 - 1963
piano
tunes. But by the time we made our first record we were already pretty much committed to our own music, so we didn't really follow up on that.

AAJ: On the subject of arrangement and composition you divide it pretty much equally between the two of you, but is there any shared responsibility in the individual songs, or is it strictly divided?

JF: If Phillip brings in a composition, then I usually hear what he's trying for right away, and then add what I have to it; and I'm sure he does exactly the same thing with me. And I love what Phillip does with my compositions. And further, when I write a tune, not only do I think of all four horns and what they bring to it, but almost inevitably each tune I write will have a moment crafted especially for Phillip and what he brings to the table.

PJ: As composers we both do our stuff separately and bring it in as separate pieces. However, I think, certainly on my side, Joel is an influence there and a raw exchange of ideas.

JF: And then they get modified by the band itself.

PJ: We're open to input and so on... I remember when I was in Ohio once, a tune I had written I specifically thought he would like. And he said, "That just sounds like something John and I would write!"


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