Michael Carvin: The Making of a Master
Carvin gave similar conceptual directions for Antoine Roney for the recording. "With one song, I said, 'Antoine, we're going to all be under water. And I want you to emerge first. But as soon as your head pops up at eye level I want you to hear a bullfrog.' I was trying to create different sounds that I've heard in Viet Nam and growing up as a kid in Texas. So, Antoine said, 'Well, I'm going to need another sound. The tenor is not going to work. I'm going to bring my bass clarinet.' I said, 'You have a bass clarinet?! Bring that!'" Carvin considers Roney a perfect collaborator in a spare setting. "Antoine and I have played a lot of duets together. And anytime I do anything with an experimental band, I always like to have Antoine to be part of it, because he really knows how to listen to the drums, and he knows how to play off the rhythm of the drums. We've played a long time together."
The trio setting of the Lost and Found Project 2065 has special significance for Carvin and, arguably, in the history of jazz drumming. Carvin actually got a kernel of inspiration for the album watching the New York Yankees, when an announcer described how one of the players had a chance to "hit for the cycle"that is, to bat a single, double, triple, and home run all in the same game. Carvin reflected for a minute about his recording career. He'd taken the unusual step of recording a solo album, Drum Concerto at Dawn (Mapleshade, 1996). He'd made a duet recording with Jackie McLean, Antiquity (SteepleChase, 1974), a milestone in both of their careers where he contributed his own compositions and, essentially, was co-leader. And he'd recorded as a leader in a quartet setting, most recently the Marsalis Music album in 2006, not to mention cutting records as a leader in quintet and sextet settings. "I said, 'I've never made a trio record as a leader. I'd done solo, duet, quartet, and so on, but not a trio." And then he checked. Max Roach didn't record in this sort of combination; he never made a solo record. "Elvin Jones didn't do it; Buddy Rich didn't do it; Gene Krupa didn't do it. I'm the first drummer to have ever accomplished that"that is, "hitting for the cycle," as a jazz drummer.
Over the course of his jazz career, Carvin has collaborated with a host of other musicians, working as a sideman under pianist Hampton Hawes and later trumpeter Freddie Hubbard during the early 1970s and recording his first album as a leader in 1975, The Camel (SteepleChase). Since then, he's shared the stage or recorded with great musicians that span a wide variety of styles, from Dexter Gordon to McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor. For Carvin, there are three collaborators that stand out above all.
"I had three perfect musical marriages: Jackie McLean, Pharaoh Sanders, and Dizzy Gillespie. When I first heard Jackie, I fell in love with his sound, because it's razor edge. His sound is cutting. And I have a wide sound. Jackie hipped me to be yourself, whoever you are. He introduced 'me' to 'me.' He never told me what to do or what not to do. He'd say, 'You're the drummer. You figure it out.' And I loved that about him. I was a good reader; I could read just about anything, but I didn't know 'me.' Jackie released me to find myself."
Carvin recalls that he and the saxophonist actually inspired each other toward self discovery. He remembers vividly the conversation that led up to the landmark duet recording with McLean, Antiquity. "We were on a plane on our way to Copenhagen. We were going to teach at a music school for two weeks first, and then Jackie was going to make a record." Nils Winther, one of the founders of SteepleChase records, and Alex Riel, a Danish drummer, had set up the recording session, but McLean wasn't happy with the personnel they had lined up. "Jackie was saying, 'Oh, man, I don't know. I don't really want to play with those guys.' You know Jackie; he was a sweetheart. I said, 'Well, don't play with them. You're Jackie McLean. You don't want to play with them, don't play with them.' So, he said, 'What do you mean, don't play with them? Who am I going to make the record with?' I said, 'Let's you and I make the record. Just the two of us.' He said, 'You're crazy.' He got mad at me. He didn't speak to me any more on the plane. The next morning, he came to my room at six o'clock, banging on the door. I opened the door, and he said, 'I wrote this song for you last night, this is the first song for the duet record.' That was a great record, because after that record, Jackie heard his voice. Before Antiquity, Jackie was still chasing Charlie Parker. After Antiquity, Jackie McLean was Jackie McLean."