AAJ: Do you customize your instrument, the actual keyboard, at all?
CT: Probably what you're hearing are specific things with pedals. You don't often get your own Rhodes you can do things to. My own Rhodes, which I had in Minneapolis, I did stuff to, but not anything you've probably heard, just because they're always somebody else's instruments.
AAJ: I didn't realize you don't take it with you.
CT: Generally, when you're on the road, just like a piano, you don't take your Rhodes with you too much. I take my effects with me. I have several different things, some more vintage and some newer things. I use little things and try to get certain sounds. I try to exploit aspects of the sound of the Rhodes as much as I can to get as much out of them as I can, using a lot of different techniques. I rarely, when I'm playing the Rhodes, just sit down, plug it in and play it as a keyboard, as a piano. I do a lot of things and work with it a lot to coax more out of it.
AAJ: Are there particular pedals you use that you'd like to divulge?
CT: Well, it's not that I'm loath to tell you, but it can change from gig to gig. Things break...or whatever (laughs) and I sort of make do. I don't have that steady of a rig for financial and other reasons. I'm not a big gear guy. I'm definitely very improvisational with it. Things come into my possession and leave and I utilize them as they come. There's just so much you can do with it. Like, Jamie Saft , for example, has a lot more stuff that he actually knows what he's doing with. I kinda don't and make it up as I go and work with it and improvise with it.
AAJ: Some of the sounds are just so cool, or just so right for the tunes, it seems that you must have it worked out beforehand. On that tact, do you prefer and electronic axe over another'synth, organ or Rhodes, for instance?
CT: No. I like all...and even the nature of them being keyboard instruments is because piano is my first. A lot of the synthesized stuff, I really deal with as sound design and sound manipulation so. ..but just as often I'm playing knobs in a certain sense, manipulating the sound as I'm playing the axe, the keys of the Rhodes for example.
AAJ: Like playing the drawbars on the organ.
AAJ: You are carving out a new vocabulary on the Rhodes.
CT: I have an affinity for the Rhodes just because I've had one for so long, like I said.
AAJ: So when you moved to New York in '95 your first gigs were with'
CT: Still a lot with James Carter, because that's when his stuff really kicked off. There's little pick up things with various people, but I worked so much with James at that point it was just crazy. The hype was incredible a that time too and a ton of roadwork with that group.
AAJ: So did you sort of have to cut that off to start something new?
CT: No it just sort of went that way because he started evolving his concept. Some of his gigging started tapering off and he started doing other things and some other things picked up for me, so it was a fairly smooth transition. As he moved into the guitar/electric group and the Django thing- things changed obviously.
AAJ: Those are the two records he released on the same day, right?
CT: Yeah. And I ended up playing in the funk thing with Jef Lee and that stuff.
AAJ: I saw that unit here in Boston but it had already changed to DD Jackson (keys) and Kelvyn Bell (guitar).
CT: I couldn't do'things opened up. Besides the early years, when James thing was getting going, there was never that much stuff where I couldn't do other things. So it wasn't so much being pulled away. After you do that and you're in New York you get called to other things.
AAJ: The major other things we'd know about, like Berne and Dave Douglas?
CT: Well, Tim actually lives not too far from me and I'd run into him on the road several times and I think we just started by him inviting me over to do some sessions and he just sort of got ideas for writing some music around that thing. At that time at his house he had an electronic keyboard. I started by going over and playing with he, Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey, and I think he just liked it. The way I started playing was probably just by making weird sounds, and I think he just got some ideas to write music around that. A lot of things just started going by word of mouth. The number of different associations I had with different people really engendered different playing possibilities. I even played with sort of the younger guys from Detroit who were coming to New York, like Kareem Wiggins, Carlos McKinney and Ali Jackson. This variety of associations just sort of...people start calling you from different scenes.
AAJ: What about the aesthetic of these bands you play with? This loose, organic, freer, inside-outside kind of thing. Is that what you mean by scene?
CT: I mean as much as these things are exclusive scenes. The scene being defined by process more than anything. A lot of the musicians I play with all play in different types of configurations, whether it be a little more compositional, freer, or straight-ahead, or more electric, acoustic, whatever, inasmuch as they are exclusive.
AAJ: Were Berne and Douglas calling on you simultaneously?
CT: I played with Tim first actually, and then Dave called me. I don't know how he heard me; he probably heard several different things I was doing. I met him when I was doing this gig with Melvin Gibbs Liberation Theology thing. I met Dave on one of those. Dave called me to do a kind of improvised trumpet summit kind of thing, with Roy Campbell and Bakida Carroll, Mark Dresser and Susie Ibarra. Then he called me to do the Witness project, and I did that. I'm on a little bit of the new record as well.
AAJ: Freak In ?
CT: Yeah. That's how Dave's thing happened. I'm in Susie's band too, with Jennifer Choi who is a violinist.
AAJ: So you cover the bass with that band, as well.
CT: Yes. We go to Italy this Saturday (February 22nd) in fact. Right now I'm with Marty Ehrlich's quartet as well. We just cut a record. That's with Billy Drummond and Mike Formanek. It's acoustic, a piano group'really nice.
AAJ: Can I ask for your impression of how or who shapes the sound of Tim Berne's different ensembles? Your contribution on Hard Cell is just so exciting to my ears.
CT: It is an equal contribution between all members in the group. Now, that's not to give the impression that I am equal to Tim in terms of group conception, just that my contribution to the group sound is equal with Tim's or Tom's. I think because of the nature sonically of the instruments I play it has, you know, an obvious color..it definitely colors things in a certain way. But I think in terms of the music'making, everybody shapes it equally. That's something that's the strength of Tim's writing and his groups. It's truly an improviser's group. He writes a lot of specific material, but it's designed to create and foster improvisation. So I think that largely because of the sonic thing 'it's easy to do it, to color the music, because I'm playing electronic things in a context with people who are playing acoustic instruments. With the bands with Marc Ducret , who is playing electric guitar, my stuff still stands out that way, so it changes the whole color and sound of the group..I'd say that..but in terms of musically, I'm not putting any more information in there, in some cases I'm putting less.
AAJ: Can you help me with the differences between Big Satan, Hard Cell and Science Friction ? Can you tell me the differences, both with personnel and musically?
CT: What happens in terms of the group concept, especially in terms of the improvisation, with these personalities, is pretty different. So in terms of writing, Tim writes a certain way, so there's a certain compositional through-line through all those groups, but the way we improvise is very different. Big Satan, with Marc, Tim and Tom for instance, has a very specific sound. A whole different kind of space improvisationally is created than what I do in Hard Cell, which is me, Tom and Tim. In the same format, replacing Ducret with me and a bunch of synths, it becomes a completely different kind of thing. With Science Friction, with both of us in there, we're putting in different kinds of information. That's Hard Cell and Big Satan combined, sort of. It really does go different places and if nothing else, the synth stuff I do does takes it into a different realm. Science Friction, because of what Ducret brings in, changes the way we improvise a lot I think. Definitely, for me, I do completely different things improvisationally in the Science Friction group.
AAJ: And there's a Clownfinger as well, with a bassist.
CT: Yeah. That was ..yeah, I see what you mean. Tim basically, if he changes personnel, that's a different group largely because it's based around the identity improvisationally of the group. Clownfinger has Scott Colley on bass and Herb Robertson on cello too. A larger group that's much different sonically. Clownfinger hasn't recorded yet.
AAJ: That'd be good, if they did I mean.
CT: Yeah (laughs).
AAJ: Has he intimated to you anything that's comin' up?
CT: I don't know exactly. He's always got schemes but I don't know what the final form will be.
AAJ: I noted you guys are doing a week at the Knitting Factory in March?
CT: Then we're going to Europe for three weeks.
AAJ: I wanted to ask, in terms of US touring, why you guys stay put in New York. No US mini-tour or anything?
CT: Well, we've played other places before. It's actually just a little harder in the states. It's getting better and people are trying but it's hard to mount certain kinds of tours.
AAJ: That's kind. Everyone I talk to says it's really bad.
CT: It's challenging. And when you can do it ..it can be really fun. There are great audiences everywhere. It's just the infrastructure isn't set up the same way it is in Europe in terms of how jazz and improvising artists tour. Once the infrastructure gets set up a different way here, it'll be easier to mount different tours like that. You have to create or trail blaze in that sense. In all these towns you have to get the venues and then you have to hook it up..make sure you can get there and'the money is definitely less because it's not as subsidized, but...