David Binney: Underground Tremors
AAJ: The first track on Graylen Epicenter, "All in Time," is a very powerful, episodic number with a very dynamic opening. Did you have any doubts about opening the record with this dramatic two-minute drum duet from Blade and Weiss?
DB: I wrote that composition originally for a gig I had with a different band called Afinidad, which I have with [pianist] Edward Simon, [guitarist] Adam Rogers, [bassist] Scott Colley, Gretchen [Parlato] and [drummer] Antonio Sanchez, along with percussionist Rogerio Boccato, who's also on Graylen Epicenter. We had these gigs down south in Arkansas, Kansas City and so on, and I had this idea for a drum solo that Antonio [Sanchez] and Rogerio [Boccato] could play together.
My idea with this composition was to play this head that's not too long and right away goes into a drum solo, an intense drum solo. A few years ago, I had Brian [Blade] and Dan [Weiss] together in a quartet and it worked well, so I knew it would work well on this record. I like to start gigs with that tune, because the melody followed instantly by a really intense drum solo shocks people. It really gets people's attention. I figured I'd start the record like that, and people would either like it or not.
AAJ: It's an explosive start. Blade and Weiss play so sympathetically on four of Graylen Epicenter's tracks. Was there a temptation to use them on every one?
DB: Yeah, there was a temptation to use them together on everything. I thought about it. There were tunes that I thought were not only better for one drummer, but for each of themtunes where I could really hear Brian [Blade] playing this and another where I knew this has got to be Dan [Weiss]. They're definitely sympathetic, listening musicians, and ultimately playing with them is the same experience, in one way, because they're listening so hard. But in another way, they come from such different angles to the drums, so there were compositions that work better for either one of them. I decided to have them on the tunes that I heard them being really comfortable on. I've played with them both for years, so I know what's going to work and what's not, and I know what's going to be in their comfort zones.
AAJ: The music on Graylen Epicenter is very energetic, epic in fact, yet there's seemingly a simplicity in the approach to making it. It's an interesting juxtaposition.
DB: That's been the way my whole career; what I do is somewhat complex, whether in my improvising or my writing, and yet my whole goal has been to make it sound simple, to make it accessible and something people will enjoy listening to, even if they don't know what jazz is or what improvised music is. It's the same with the way I play; I'm highly technical, but at the same time I'm just trying to play a solo that's emotional and not based on the technique. I want to be able to reach someone who knows nothing about what I'm doing, and yet it is complex to someone who does know what I'm doing.
AAJ: The musicians are all monsters, but how much of the playing on Graylen Epicenter surprised you?
DB: That's an interesting question; in a way I could say that none of it surprised me because I know them really well and I have them there because I know whatever they play is going to be great, but exactly what they play is never determined until they play it. I could answer that in two ways: absolutely nothing surprised me or everything surprised me. I guess it's somewhere in between. I love it all. I love what they did. There are certain things you just couldn't write, and they provide that.
AAJ: The composition Graylen Epicenter is pretty extraordinary, and your playing with Taborn is wonderful. Could you talk a little about this composition?
DB: As I was writing it, I kept hearing it as being a kind of epic thing, and something that I wanted to unfold naturally, but at the same time, I purposefully go through a lot of different moods and sections. Once I'd gone from the first section to the second, I realized that the thing to do was to go through a whole epic story, and that's how it developed. At the end, it finally returns to what it started as, but I twisted that by bringing in a Brazilian samba group, basically. I wanted everything to be ever changing, even if you've heard it before.
AAJ: Wayne Krantz plays beautifully on the track "Graylen Epicenter." What do you like about his playing, or playing with him?
DB: He's just one of the greatest musicians I've ever met. Seriously, he's a unique player. When I put Wayne into a situation, I know is going to be really comfortable for him and something he's going to really enjoy and just eat up. He's just an unbelievable musician, and his time, I mean, any drummer will tell you that they've never played with any instrumentalist who has stronger time than Wayne Krantz. It's like a metronome; it's unbelievably strong. And yet he's always really melodic. That solo on that tune is one of my favorite solos, and I think he really loves it too.