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Interviews

Brian Adler: A World of Percussion

By Published: October 31, 2011
AAJ: Let's fast-forward to your current musical endeavors. It's getting more and more common in the pop and rock realms for artists to explore alternate modes of delivery—direct downloads and such. It's still a pretty rare thing in the jazz realm, however. What made you take the leap?

BA: I think it is a matter of timing. I toyed with the idea in 2006 with Prana Trio's second album, Pranam (Circavision Productions, 2006). At first we released it as a digital download to test the marketplace, but the press and fans did not embrace it; everyone wanted a physical copy, so we had it duplicated.

I think that this is the right time for this leap to be taken into the digital world. People want to go green and create forward-thinking products. The old mold of physical media is on the decline, and fans are supporting this change now. I saw that Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
began a series of digital downloads of selected songs recorded live, as well.

That being said, there is still pressure from labels, reviewers and fans to continue to produce CDs, and some musicians like them because it gives their music a tangible form.

AAJ: The tracks are being released one or two at a time. That's a luxury you certainly don't have when dealing with physical media. What's the advantage to this? Are the tracks being released in any particular order? If so, how did you come up with the release schedule for the tracks that make up The Helium Music Project?

BA: I believe that people are more prone to listen when the music is presented in small portions. This is why I am releasing a song here and two songs there, rather than a whole bundle all at once. It leaves them wanting more, and hopefully they will be curious about what will come next. Also, the background story of each song can be shared and the different musicians that play on each track can be featured. My hope is that by spreading out the releases, The Helium Music Project will generate momentum and reach a larger audience.

As an artist, there is a refreshing flexibility in this structure. I am stretching out the process, taking my time with the writing and recording, allowing the music to grow and find a personality of its own. The time between each release is not set, and the exact number of songs is not set either. The master plan can change if it needs to, continuing as long as it seems fit rather than on a deadline.

As for a particular order, I am going with what feels right. I am particularly excited about the Phase 3 release coming up. In it, there is a song recorded with Four Across, a band that I played with for quite a few years. The group dissolved, unfortunately, and this is the last unreleased recording that we made. There's also a tune with an incredible singer named Heather Masse that you may have heard on A Prairie Home Companion.

AAJ: So far, the Helium Music Project is quite successful, from an artistic point of view. The Hermeto piece you chose gets a particularly inspired performance. It's also one of those pieces that's been done but not done to death. Do you have any particular connection to Hermeto Pascoal
Hermeto Pascoal
Hermeto Pascoal
b.1936
piano
's music?

BA: I really love Hermeto's music for its sense of adventure. The album Seeds on the Ground (One Way, 1971) with Airto Moreira
Airto Moreira
Airto Moreira
b.1941
percussion
and Flora Purim
Flora Purim
Flora Purim
b.1942
vocalist
, and particularly the tune "Andei," is one of my favorites. I like how the melody and the tune are so simple yet so evocative. It grooves so much that people are able to connect with it too, which is important to me.

"Andei" translates to "I walked," and that is the only lyric in the song. The idea of walking connects with what I am doing with The Helium Music Project, as there is a subtext of moving forward, or exploration. I thought an interpretation of this song would be a nice way to start off the Helium series. It is also a nod to Airto, who is very influential to me as a drummer.

AAJ: Helium is a great reference point for this project, on so many levels. You're doing away with the disc, putting the music online, and you're creating connections with musicians all over the globe. It's almost like you're doing away with the whole band concept as well. Or perhaps you're forming numerous bands everywhere you go. And yet the sense of connection between you and your far-flung community is quite palpable. How were you able to connect with all of these diverse musicians worldwide? What are the logistical challenges?

BA: The initial concept was born in Argentina two-and-a-half years ago. I was traveling to Buenos Aires to visit family and present my music. I met some incredible musicians there and introduced my music to them. As I played more gigs, more musicians jumped on board as well. They all had a similar desire to be a part of this larger project. We recorded some songs there, and some here in the States, and thus the Helium Music Project began. Besides Argentina, a lot of my connections have come through New York. Living here, I am privileged to meet and play with many musicians from across the globe. For example, German musicians Peter Ehwald and Benedikt Jahnel
Benedikt Jahnel
b.1980
piano
, who are both featured on "Lazy River," went to school in New York. After meeting, we played together in the States as well as in Germany, in various projects. I met Nicky Schrire
Nicky Schrire
Nicky Schrire

vocalist
, the South African vocalist featured on "Andei," on the subway. New York is really a special place because these types of encounters happen all the time, and you never know where they might lead.

Each song has been conceived through a completely different process and exploration. Many jazz records are recorded in one day with one band, which, to me, is not as creative a process as it could be if it were more spread out both chronologically and geographically. This is another area where I took a cue from the rock world, where these alternative methods are more common.

"Esa Pantera Bajo La Luna" was composed, performed and recorded completely in Buenos Aires, Argentina with Rodrigo Dominguez
Rodrigo Dominguez
b.1970
saxophone
, Juan Pablo Arredondo and Jeronimo Carmona. "Lazy River" was composed in New York and sent to Germany, where Peter Ehwald, and Benedikt Jahnel recorded piano and saxophone. They sent their work to me. I laid down the drum tracks and sent it all to Kate McGarry
Kate McGarry
Kate McGarry

vocalist
in North Carolina. She recorded her vocals, sent it back to me, and then we added Dave Eggar on cello back in New york. On "Andei," every track or part was recorded completely separately over the course of six months, beginning with the bass and ending with vocals.


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