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Geni Skendo: Breaking Free

By Published: March 1, 2011
GS: I have different projects. Two of them are with Brian O'Neill
Brian O'Neill
Brian O'Neill

The main one is Orchestrotica, and a smaller one—a quartet. Brian owns a big bass flute. I love it. So it's bass flute, vibraphone, upright bass and percussion. It requires me to have the control of a classical player. Everything is very detailed and precise, but also jazz solos with free moments—the best of both worlds. But it's challenging, especially with the bass flute. And I don't own a good bass flute; I have a Chinese one, so I have to work harder. I also have a duo with Brian: shakuhachi and percussion. Asian, folk, contemporary music. On the one hand, I play Japanese music, and I use different projection techniques, like using triads and different patterns. And also, Brian plays free jazz on—not drums, but ethnic percussion. And Brian is very tasty on that, so it gives us great space and this beautiful color. So with them, we performed at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Another project I perform in is my band. First it used to be called Shakuhachi Funk Sextet, because I was too much into the funk then—before I learned! And now, it's called Geni Skendo World Jazz Ensemble...

AAJ: Before you learned what?

GS: It doesn't matter what the name is, it's about the music. I wanted to think it was funky, but you know, a jazz player, a heavy cat, can be groovy. It was a student mentality, but I didn't know. And now the music I do with my—sometimes a quintet, sometimes a sextet—it has a drum set, percussion, piano, upright bass, guitar (Ben Levin, the guitarist, plays microtonal music as well), and bass flute and shakuhachi and flute. So with this one, I found people who are really good at what they do. The drummer is Dave Fox
Dave Fox
. He plays R&B, jazz, funk, free jazz; Noriko Terada on percussion. Ben plays like Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
in addition to the microtonal work, and he also plays Asian, so he's very flexible. Takeshi Ohbayashi plays piano, and Will Slater is the bassist.

We do my original music, but also other people's. The way we do it is, I process things. We process things. We eat food, and we process it; we hear something and we say what we think about it. I hear their music, and I play it by ear. I hear how I hear it in my head. I learn something, and I sing it this way, or maybe I sing it differently, and the music mixes up in my brain with the stuff that I do. So, in the end, it's a mix of these odd rhythms...

AAJ: So you'll hear it and reprocess it in your head and send it back out...

GS: Oh, yes. I really like tone colors, so that's how I do my band. If I were standing outside to analyze my band, it would be like this: drummer plays odd rhythms, plays funky but goes to free jazz in the middle of the funk tune; goes from jazz to out, back to the rhythm. Funk, out, the rhythm. Percussionist plays ethnic grooves the whole time, even during the free jazz, because I like that! This mix of colors, of worlds. The pianist has this classical touch, but also plays jazz. When I want to play this pattern, if you like, the guitar plays the string pad. These voicings—they start from the melody, they go out; they go in and out the whole time. Of course, we go completely free some of the time, but it's from the song, like another part of the song. It's basically what every good musician does, on different levels.

AAJ: When you're living under a Communist regime, you sort of have to break...

GS: Break free.

AAJ: Find your own ways of being free within an oppressive system.

GS: Totally, totally. That's why I always want to break free from structure. So, now, I am relearning structure again.

Selected Discography

Mr Ho's Orchestrotica, The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel (Exotica for Modern Living, 2010)

Elena Zoubareva , Allure (Self produced, 2009)

David Fiuczynski
David Fiuczynski
David Fiuczynski
, Kiff Esspress ( FuzeLicious Morsels, 2008)

Newpoli, Newpoli (Beartones, 2008)

Geni Skendo and Dominik Wania, Portraits: Shakuhachi and Piano (GeniMusic, 2008)

Geni Skendo, Stella (GeniMusic, 2007)

Photo credits

Page 1: Mike Spencer

Page 2: Courtesy of Geni Skendo
Geni Skendo
Geni Skendo


Page 3: Brian O'Neill

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