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Matt Haimovitz: Rare Birds

By Published: March 16, 2011
AAJ: You have Gershwin's "Lisa"—which has a Tom and Jerry, swinging levity— sandwiched between David Stanford's "Tryptich" which is a fairly heady tune and Mingus' own pretty heady "Haitian Flight Song;" did you labor much over the order of the tracks?

MH: Absolutely; we agonized over the order. We generally do on a recording. It's very important in terms of mixing and obviously if you have electric instruments and a drum set it affects what you're hearing and what leads into or out of it. I didn't realize this until I heard John's [McLaughlin] contribution and then I thought we just have to put that first and from there we started trying to figure out how it all works and trying to space the eight-cello arrangements out so they weren't all together. We could have put "W.R.U. first but I learned something early on when I was touring in alternative venues and opening for a bunch of rock musicians; I would jump right in with heavy hitting, cutting edge contemporary piece and after one of these shows a promoter came up to me and said: "Before you start playing all this Ligetti and Schoenberg could you give them a little love? Play a little Bach or something?"I learned a lot from that, that if you do give the audience a little love at first then you can take them in directions they might not expect [laughs].

I felt we had to start with "Open Country Joy" and hear John [McLaughlin] first. With "Half Nelson" by Miles Davis I love the connection that John [McLaughlin] came out of Miles' band. The Gil Evans
Gil Evans
Gil Evans
1912 - 1988
-style arrangement is just perfect for the cello ensemble. Then I thought we should get some drums into it and go a little nuts with "W.R.U." Then I started to realize that there was a back and forth rhythm to it all and a certain drama. I really like the Shostakovich-like, really dark chords that open and close "Tryptich," I thought it was a very funny evolution into the light chords of the [George] Gershwin tune "Lisa" from there.

AAJ: It's that very striking juxtaposition which really sparked the question. Sanford's composition "Tryptich" is very dramatic, almost menacing piece in some ways; can you talk a little about this piece and how it was to perform?

MH: Absolutely; it's an unusual piece for David [Stanford] . In the middle section where I'm playing a saxophone solo with a fun groove to it and I can imagine that coming out of David at any time but just before that where it's kind of minimal you wouldn't know that it's a cello ensemble playing; it sounds like a harmonium or something. That kind of minimalism is totally antithetical to David; he's one of the most maximalist, contrapuntal composers I know.

I think he was just trying to balance the CD. He knew what the other arrangements were. There's definitely a darkness to the piece which you hear in a lot of David's music; I don't want to say anger but a certain attitude and this piece certainly has it. It's a brilliant piece for the ensemble. It's the most removed from the jazz pieces but on the other hand it fits right in there. It's his classical tribute to the idea of the cello big band.

AAJ: It's an undeniably striking piece for sure. You're taking this music to the South by South West (SXSW) festival in Texas, aren't you?

MH: We are. We're playing in March.

AAJ: Throughout your career you've taken classical cello music into venues where it would normally never be heard, particularly; are you trying to do something similar with this by taking Meeting of the Spirits to unusual venues?

MH: Certainly to some of those venues. I guess my dream for this would be to bring it to some fun, outdoor jazz festivals over the summer and take it to a whole new audience, from what we do. It's been interesting to see the radio reaction which I never would have expected; a lot of jazz college radio is actually playing the music and it's even charted at number one in Canadian Jazz Radio and it's charting Top 20 at CMJ in the United States. That's a complete surprise but a dream come true in some ways because although my strongest passion and my history is in the classical genre I feel more and more we don't listen any more to just one kind of music or one genre and I feel like broadening the audience for my own music which I consider to be classical and going out there and introducing my music and Uccello's music to a lot of people for the first time through this project.

It's a thrill to reach a broader audience. Also we're bringing the jazz music back to a classical audience where many people will appreciate it for the first time. It hasn't happened yet; it's gone much more in the other direction in reaching a jazz audience. We stopped sending the CD to classical radio stations thinking it wasn't really for their format but after the Grammy nomination they started asking for it. So we sent it out to 300 stations and we are starting to get some exposure there. I'm very excited to think that some classical audiences are hearing Ornette Coleman for the first time.

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