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Interviews

Wallace Roney: In the Realm of Anti-Gravity

By Published: June 11, 2013
"The unknown means to stretch your ability," he explains. "Say Art Tatum
Art Tatum
Art Tatum
1909 - 1956
piano
has technique like this. You can try to dare to equal what Art Tatum did, but put it in a modern context, not the way he did it. Or what John Coltrane did with Charlie Parker. Trane took Bird's ideas further. But the only way you do it is you have to go through it to have it. You don't just wake up one day and say, 'I'm going to play the saxophone.' or 'I'm going to play like Miles Davis.' You have to understand how to develop a sound. Why do these lines make sense? Once you understand that, then have the audacity to see if you can take it further. Blend it with something else."



His current musicians are on that mission, he feels.

They do light a fire, particularly Abadey on the drums, cooking, dropping bombs, switching gears but not losing place. Whether cooking on Duke Pearson
Duke Pearson
Duke Pearson
b.1932
piano
's "Is That So" and Roney's "Combustible," or floating through the McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
ballad "You Taught My heart to Sing," this band is exciting. Tyner's "Song for Peace," is superb, both serene and majestic in Roney's rich trumpet statements, and dangerous with Solomon's intense sax solo. Solomon's "Kotra" seems like it could fit on Miles Smiles.

"My band just keep evolving. People, fortunately, like some of the things we're trying. They feel they want to play with the band and consequently play with me," says Roney. "The guy I'm on the lookout for is one that has no hangups about trying to be as creative as he can be... Some people's creativity is to ignore some of the great things that happened. Mine is to be able to have all the great things in your back pocket, or as your language, then see if you can take it further. You have something to work with. A lot of guys come to me and see there's a chance for them to try to do things they weren't allowed to do in other situations."

The group hasn't played together that long, but became a band quickly. Roney says with glee, "They were hounding me. 'Can I bring a tune in? I got something for the band.' I'm like: Hold on. Slow down. They didn't slow down. They were like: We're ready. I was like, 'You want to be a band? Y'all are ready all ready?' So Ben [Solomon] brought out a tune and Arnold [Lee] brought a tune. Everybody wanted to bring out their tunes. They started sounding really good. I shaped those things to take on another kind of life. Instead of the way they originally intended it."

He says the title cut, by drummer Roy Brooks, "I knew from when I was a kid. I knew Roy. He was a beautiful cat. Complex guy. This song 'Understanding' just made sense to me. I always wanted to do it to honor Roy. It reminds me of when I first turned on the radio on my own. I think that song was the first thing that came on. I've been listening to jazz radio since I was a kid, all my life. My father turned it on and I loved it. It wasn't like he turned it on and I had to hear it. When my mother and father broke up and there's a period of adjustment and you find out who you are. I was 10 years old and I wanted to reclaim my sanity. I found a radio and I said, 'Man, I don't want to listen to that rock and roll crap. Where is the jazz station?' I switched around and looked for the jazz station, at that time it was WRTI in Philadelphia."

Roney is rightly proud of his band and glows when he says, "Nobody else can really play like these guys; the combination of things I put together in assembling those guys. When I first heard Ben, he really was going into Trane's space. Not Trane's space from being another person. Not Trane's space and this one part of it. He wanted to go all the way in and see how he'd come out of it. And I loved it. And then you have Kush, he was going all the way into Tony's [Williams] space. He's trying to. That's a hard one. Well, Trane is even harder. But Kush is going in there and understanding Trane and Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
1927 - 2004
drums
. I told him remember Art Blakey and Max [Roach]. So he put all that stuff together in that kind of way. And Victor is up there playing everything from Nat Cole to [Thelonious] Monk to Herbie [Hancock]... Then I'm floating up on top with my stuff that I got from Miles and the things that I liked and it all comes together. Everybody is of like mind at that point. I insist everybody listen to everything and everyone."

He adds, pointedly, "Those are young men with fertile energy. They have the chops that everyone is scared of. It's called creativity... That's where I live."

The band sounds better the more it plays, he says, but the problem is getting gigs. Unfortunately, that is a common problem.


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