Be careful what you wish for, for you may get it-so the saying goes. When Alex Machacek asked drummer Marco Minnemann if he had a drum solo he could pass his way to compose around, he could never have expected a drum improvisation lasting 51 minutes. Before he could say, "Hey, 13/16 is a really odd meter," he found himself committed to composing, or recomposing as he puts it, around the entire piece.
Minnemann's drum improvisation is amazing in and of itself; the layers of rhythm, the shifting meters, the contrasting dynamics, and the sheer musicality from start to finish make it something rather special. Machacek, not unreasonably slightly daunted by the task ahead of him, elected to divide the improvisation into sections, hence the title of the album. His response to Minnemann's challenge is also something special; compositionally, 24 Tales (Abstract Logix, 2010) is as sensitive to the brilliance of Minnemann's playing as it is technically impressive. It is also adrenaline-charged and emotive, like a 51-minute amusement park ride. Machacek's compositional approach, which largely places improvisation on the back burner, yields music of a complexity and beauty which bears favorable comparison to the best composed works of Frank Zappa.
All About Jazz:24 Tales is a pretty stunning recording. How do you view it in the context of your discography?
Alex Machacek: Well, thank you first up. How do I look upon it now? I'm so glad it's done and finally finished. It took me a while. I'm actually happy the way it turned out.
AAJ: You recorded a duet for drum and guitar with Terry Bozzio some years back on Delete and Roll (Next Generation Enterprises, 2004). Would you say that the genesis of 24 Tales goes back that far or maybe even further back? Was this something you've wanted to do for a long time?
AM: I remember that when I recorded with Terry, I asked him if he could record me a drum solo just before I was going back to Europe and he said, "Yeah, sure." That became the title track of the album [sic] (Abstract Logix, 2006). So yeah, I guess that was the genesis.
The whole story with Marco [Minnemann] is that I started playing with him just after I released [sic], and I asked him if he had a drum solo recorded and he said yes. It turned out to be 50 minutes [laughs]. At first I thought I'd just take a part or a section, but after a while Marco came up with the idea of giving the same solo to different people as an experiment. So, he gave the solo to Mike Keneally, Trey Gunn, John Czajkosski, Mario Brinkmann, Phil Yan-Zeek and he'd do a version himself; that's when I decided to take on the whole solo. First, I'd thought maybe five, maybe eight minutes maximum [laughs]. After a while I thought, "Okay, let's do 50 minutes."
AAJ: On [sic] there are several tracks based around Terry Bozzio's drumming. You once said that "Don Jon" was so difficult to compose because it was so long at over nine minutes; just how daunting was it composing around 51minutes of Minnemann's drumming?
AM: Well, when you are young you think nine minutes are long, and as you get older you think 50 minutes are long-I don't know. Actually, that was one of the reasons I divided it into 24 sections. One song-or part, whatever you want to call it-of nine minutes length, I knew how intimidating that could be, so I thought, "Let's chop it up into sections and make it much more manageable." You're just fooling yourself because at the end it's still 50 minutes, right? But while you're working on it, you think this section is only 1:30 seconds, which seems doable; then the next one and the next one. Somebody asked me if I would do it again and I said, "Well, maybe not right away." [Laughs.]
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.