Patrick Brennan: Rhythms of Passion
AAJ: Let's delve into some of your Cadence/CIMP recordings for what they revel about some of your under lying musical concepts. saunters, walks, ambles (CIMP, 1999), with bassist Lisle Ellis, reflects an outré take on the Monk cannon. What makes his music so endearing to you?
PB: Monk is one of the four composers, along with Ellington, Mingus and Ornette, who showed me how to compose for improvisers (and Threadgill came in later to always remind me not to settle for too little). I always bounce what I'm doing off of their examples.
In '82, after releasing Introducing:SOUP (Deep Dish), I was unemployed and seriously considering giving up on all this composer/bandleader silliness. I ran over to hear Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd playing duo one night at Lush Life on Bleecker Street. They were playing nothing but Monk. It was so viral that I went home, closed the door, and practiced nothing but Monk for weeks on end. Somehow, something worked out
There's something so deep about Monk's music, so tied in with the will to live (and to really live beyond just surviving). Strong feeling for anything or anybody sends important gravitational signals, not the least of which is a special call to pay attention. Asking why you like or love somethingto inquire into what it is that's drawing your attentionstarts to take you beyond what you already know into new understandings.
Monk's interfaces (what jazz musicians call "tunes" or compositions) are exceptionally durable, as are Ornette's. They're extremely dense with suggestion. You can take a Monk or Coleman melody and beat it up, play it out of order, dice it like Osiris, and it still keeps its identity and integrity. The sequence of intervals, the melodic curves and the way the phrases talk to each other contribute to their distinctive strengths. This isn't a common quality either. An Ellington, Charlie Parker, Mingus, Coltrane or Miles Davis melody is more likely to melt away into its chords or modes. They don't travel as far.
This resilience offers improvisers unusual freedom, because the motifs don't fall apart, no matter how hard you work them. It's strong enough to test the growth of your own identity. If you can meet the material, which is an exercise in attention and detail all on its own; and speak with that in your own voice, something's going on. This is what my friend, sculptor M. Scott Johnson, calls "the ecstasy of resistance."
What I admire so much about Monk is that he didn't appropriate, imitate or take short cuts. If something was already in the tradition, he'd reinvent it all over again in his own termsand I mean even the swinging pulse, chords, overtones, blue notes, anything. Nothing seems accepted as a given. He worked from deep, pre-stylistic, even pre-musical understandings. He didn't tell me that or anything. It's there in the music for anybody to get to. Monk's contributions are a paradigm of a composer raising the level of his community. Once you engage that Monkian labyrinth, you're never the same.
AAJ: When and why did you tour Europe playing solo, and how did that lead to duets with bassist Lisle Ellis?
PB: It was more than touring. I was offered a footing in Lisbon and lived in that area with my family from '92 to '99. I'd been hesitating about doing solo performances for a good while because of how high Roscoe Mitchell and Steve Lacy had already set the bar. However, I grew into it and eventually proposed a solo recording to CIMP, and they suggested I do a duo recording.
I'd met Lisle Ellis in '82 when he was living in Montreal and I came through with my band. After that, whenever he came to New York, my house was his house. In Europe, I'd heard him absolutely burning on a recording with Glen Spearman, so I knew where his ear had gone. I also knew I could trust him personally as well as musically and that he had lightning hearing and reflexes, which I needed for this because, as he was coming from San Francisco and I was crossing the Atlantic to do this, there wouldn't be very much time to prepare. We recorded that album and then picked up the thread in a number of different collaborations since he moved to New York in about '05.
AAJ: How does the CIMP/Cadence recording process work for you in terms of the sonic outcomeboth of the duo context and your regular working band?
PB: I like it more in theory than in practice. It's perfect for absolutely ideal circumstances.
AAJ: That answer is very vague. I am sure "The Crew" is receptive to positive and negative feedback. Let's hear it from the gut?
PB: saunters, walks, ambles is an interesting snapshot of a couple days of musicking, and I come across people who enjoy that more than anything else I've recorded, although for me it's overly long; and it, on the whole, wanders around from track to track. It feels like an assemblage or a collection of events. I don't usually feel an urge to, "wow," play it again and again. Ironically, the drum is honor enough (CIMP, 2004) is the only sonic openings recording that would really benefit from some corrective surgery, which is a solution outside of CIMP's aesthetic.
As for the literal recorded sound, it's hard to be more accurate than CIMP, but I wish it was an accurate recording of a different room. And, while the sound is vividly present on high class equipment, the bass disappears on the radio or on the kind of junk that most of us listen to recordings on, which matters to me because, for me, the bass is a front line instrument. So, even technical excellence and integrity encounters limits. There's not any perfect way to resolve the built in artificiality of recorded music. You also need a very thick skin to pursue "artistic freedom" in the shadow of any producer's attitudes, opinions, presence and pressure, which almost unavoidably infiltrates the music as well.
CIMP is a very brave and admirable initiative, and they stand behind their artists' recordings with consistency while accomplishing all of this on a shoestring. Not small things at all. But in my case, the records seem to function better as documentation than representation; which is what you need to expand audiences and access to venues so that you can continue developing the music. It turns out that the recordings I've produced myself, such as muhheankuntuck (Clean Feed, 2006), which way what (Deep Dish, 1995) or Introducing: SOUP have ended up more successfully representing what I've been after. But in each case, the variables have also been wider than how the music was recorded.