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Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Setting the Record Straight

By Published: January 21, 2013
AAJ: As a related follow-up, although individual solos are part of the group's aesthetic, collective improvisation is even more predominant, especially in regards to the frontline's thorny interplay. Can Jon and/or Peter elaborate on their alternately complementary and contrasting approaches?

JI: The main goal in this ensemble for me during the improvisation is to keep things moving forward, never letting things settle (unless that's a temporary proactive choice). Further, I'm not necessarily into the idea that a solo or improvisation has to make a consistent linear line, definitely not all of the time. So choosing to jump in, in the middle of one of Peter's ideas, or laying out for an excessively long time when it might make sense to join in, is an attempt to keep shifting the flow of a piece. Sometimes it works out really well, and sometimes it creates a hole that we (or I) have to dig myself out of. But that kind of tension/weirdness is supported, accepted and sometimes looked for in this band.

AAJ: A common complaint about post-modern music is the potential for eclectic artists to lack a consistently recognizable sound (tone, phrasing, etc.). Although sonically fascinating, do you ever worry that so many schizophrenic shifts in mood, style and technique could be counterproductive to developing a distinctive voice on your respective instruments, or do you see such approaches as their own means to an end?

ME: I completely disagree with the premise of the question. I think that a musician's "distinctive voice" is easier to hear in a wider variety of circumstances... you can hear the same musician from different perspectives. I think that the way in which a musician navigates the changes of mood and feeling, however rapidly, exposes more of their inner thinking about music than only performing in controlled situations does. If we are lucky enough to have "distinctive voices," and I think we do, it is because we are able to expose so many of our influences and move beyond them. Every musician is just a walking collection of influences and exercises, and we have all tried to use elements from as many sources as possible, so our voices emerge as personal edits of all the music we have heard and played. A lot of jazz musicians are limited by their education and narrow musical world view, and I think that makes a distinctive voice more difficult to come by... I mean, come on, how many indistinguishable jazz tenor saxophonists are there?

JI: I completely agree with Moppa on this.

PE: I actually do think that the growing trend of musicians trying to "be able to do anything" poses some real problems along the lines you are referring to. I find myself less and less concerned with this as time goes by (I think I felt pressure to be able to "do anything" as I was leaving music school), and although I still play in a fairly broad range of situations, I'm more interested in cultivating and developing something (a voice? a sound?) that's flexible and adaptable (very important if I plan to continue improvising) while at the same time allowing me to feel like I'm being myself. It's hard for some people to believe but navigating through a variety of material in one piece actually feels very natural for me and I don't have to "step outside of myself" in order to oscillate between diatonic melodic shapes and white noise on the changes to "Misty."

Sometimes I do think about multiple perspectives or narrator voices (like shifting between first person narration and an omniscient 3rd person) as a way to access the material in different ways. This stuff crosses my mind not while playing but more when just reflecting on why certain things feel natural to me and why others don't. I recently watched John Butcher
John Butcher
John Butcher

play a solo concert and it really blew my mind—he worked with a much narrower range of materials than I was expecting and somehow instead of presenting an encyclopedic range of saxophone sounds in the course of his pieces, he presented some kind of metaphorical representation of that same thing. This kind of "deepening" rather than "broadening" approach appeals to me very much. I know I'm not explaining this idea of instrumental performance as a metaphor very well... still working on it.

AAJ: Jon, you've just launched your own label, Irabagast Records with two very different inaugural releases: Unhinged, the sophomore effort from your newly revamped Outright! Quintet, following the group's 2008 self-titled debut for Innova Records); and I Don't Hear Nothin' But The Blues Volume 2: Appalachian Haze, the visceral follow-up to your powerhouse duet with drummer Mike Pride, I Don't Hear Nothin' But The Blues (Loyal Label, 2009). Considering Moppa has run Hot Cup Records since 2001 and Peter founded his own imprint, More Is More Records in 2011, did you derive any wisdom from them on how to run a label?

JI: Yes, I've asked them for a lot advice and just a general view on what that whole world is like. It's a completely different thing than trying to get gigs or working on music, and the only way to figure that stuff out is to go through it, though having people around who have done this same type of thing definitely helps.

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