Skerik: Concept is All Anyone Cares About

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Im as much into Arabic symphonic music as Duke Ellington. Or punk rock, or doom rock, as classical music. Its all the same to me. Im looking for innovation and beauty.
SkerikSeattle-born saxophonist Skerik—née Eric Walton—isn't a jazz musician. Or at least, he wouldn't say he is, because no contemporary instrumentalist is more indifferent to—even contemptuous of—musical boundaries and genres. His early years in Seattle were deeply jazz-informed (his father was a jazz fan), but he was playing in rock groups at the same time he was involved in his school's jazz ensembles, and was as inspired by Bobby Keyes' tenor work on Rolling Stones records and Dick Parry's sax breaks on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon as he was by the playing of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins or Booker Ervin. His enthusiasms run deep and wide; his conversation is peppered with references to his musical heroes, be they seminal 1980s punk bands the Minutemen and the Bad Brains, underrated tenor man Eddie Harris, or any of a hundred other artists he reveres.

In the 1980s, Skerik's musical restlessness drove him out of Seattle and around the world. During stints in Paris, London and the South Pacific, he played blues, jazz, rock, soukous—really, everything. Upon his return to Seattle, he began experimenting with various electronic effects; he remains a master of these sax-enhancing tools, but is hardly confined to them. An association with drummer Matt Chamberlain led to the formation (with percussionist Mike Dillon and bassist Brad Houser) of Critters Buggin', the longstanding instrumental—and musician-revered—rock band. Around this time, Skerik started playing with, well, everyone: drummer Stanton Moore, bassist/vocalist Les Claypool, drummer Mike Clark, 8-string guitarist Charlie Hunter, guitarist John Scofield and former Pink Floyd bassist/vocalist Roger Waters. "When you're playing live, he's the guy you want in front of the band, Charlie Hunter told me when I interviewed him last year. "He's indefatigable; he just goes to this place where he can kind of do no wrong as your front man. You just feel like you want to work really hard to make sure that he's safe to do whatever he wants.

In 2002, Skerik formed the Syncopated Taint Septet, consisting of Skerik on tenor and baritone saxophone; Craig Flory on baritone sax and clarinet; Hans Teuber on alto and flute; Steve Moore on trombone and Wurlitzer; Joe Doria on Hammond; Dave Carter on trumpet; and John Wicks on drums. The band's first record, Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet (Ropeadope, 2003), was a bracing set recorded live at Seattle's Owl 'n Thistle club. It was very good. But the new Syncopated Taint record, Husky, released during the summer on Hyena Records, isn't very good. It's utterly great. The music (composed by Teuber, Moore and Doria) is sharply written and brilliantly arranged septet jazz that's marked by thrilling ensembles, singing soloing and a depth of dynamics that's all but unheard-of today. When I reviewed the CD for All About Jazz, I wrote, "Unless an unexpected masterpiece appears in the months to come, this qualifies as the best album of the year. That unexpected masterpiece hasn't appeared. Husky is the year's best record. Skerik's Syncopated Taint duties share time with his work in Critters Buggin', Garage a Trois (his groove quartet with Hunter, Moore and Dillon), his new Maelstrom Trio with organist Brian Coogan and drummer Simon Lott), and with countless other bands, side gigs and guest appearances.

Skerik's the ideal interviewee, because he's so opinionated and outspoken. But he's busy; he's perpetually on the move to another gig. That's why it was so horribly unfortunate that, when I interviewed him, my recording device had secretly broken. I remember Skerik being particularly hilarious that day, as well as fiercely passionate. Those words are lost forever; you can't hear a thing on the tape but a low, sibilant muttering. He was kind enough to let me call him back and do the whole thing over. He's pretty good in this interview as well.

All About Jazz: The group you lead is Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet. You've got two CDs out and the lineup's the same for each one. I want to talk about the new CD especially—it's my favorite album of this year, so that makes it pretty easy for me. Why don't you tell me what led to the formation of this band. I know it's composed of Seattle players, some of whom aren't particularly well-known outside of the city.

Skerik: Well, I moved to New York about three-and-a-half years ago, but I still keep a place in Seattle. And I always lived and played in Seattle, but around six years ago I started touring a lot, going out of town a lot with Les Claypool, Mike Clark, Charlie Hunter—all these people, a lot of different bands. And I would just come back from the road wanting to really get into more of an acoustic-bass thing and something that emphasized a lot of harmony. And the horn players in this band used to have a horn quartet with no rhythm section, and that was really fun. So basically, when I got back to Seattle after a tour, I had a couple of months off. So I thought I'd try to start something like that with a rhythm section, and it just came together really naturally. It was just really easy, a perfect fit, and we had great gigs every week—we got a little weekly gig at this little club in Seattle and it just started growing.

By no means did I want to start a band. I just wanted to get a little weekly gig going while I was home. But it's just one of those things—you're not trying to do something and all of a sudden, it just happens. Because no one in their right mind would want to start a seven-piece band, because it's a really quick way to go broke. But it's a really great creative thing, and we've had a really good time over the last four years.

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