AAJ: I've seen such great players come up here from New York and play bad venues and get terrible doors ,with just a short hop up to Boston.
CT: It's hard, but I think there has to be some trail blazing done to create the network. It's not just going to materialize. You have to set it up that way and keep going to certain places to even develop an audience of people who are going to come out. I say that knowing people who've done that. Like Happy Apple in their region and the regional thing they've done in the Midwest. They paid a lot of dues developing that scene but now they can mount a tour and go through a number of towns and have a massive turnout. It's not lightweight when they gig live. It just takes time to develop that, and that's something that hasn't always happened. I think Tim did a certain amount of that with Bloodcount, definitely. Tim does a lot of little tours he does. Like Paraphrase, the thing he has with Drew Gress, he's done the southwest before. With this group we just haven't done it yet. It doesn't mean that we won't do it. With me, the electronics up the ante with the travel thing. We've got to figure out what we're going to take and how.
AAJ: So, your own thing. Your debut or your second cd. In fact, a lot of people probably look at your second record as your debut record.
CT: Yeah, in certain circles I think it is. The gap's so wide between them.
AAJ: Tell us about the concept for Light Made Lighter or what brought you to that point.
CT: The biggest thing I was exploring, on that, was dealing with that trio, the piano trio concept, and trying to, while staying true to certain conventions, to discard others. It wasn't that willful in that sense. I'm just always interested in the sonic space certain ensembles create and how you can exploit that'how much the identity of a certain ensemble is built around certain instruments, and how they play their role in the space.
AAJ: I know where you found Gerald. Where'd you find Chris Lightcap?
CT: I had known him for a while. At the time, he and Gerald were playing a lot with Joe Morris , and Mat Maneri was in there with that group. They had developed a thing and I had seen them play. I just really liked what had developed with them as a rhythm section. This is between 1998 and 2000. There are a couple records with them'one is live at the Knitting Factory, which is one of the gigs I saw. Again, Matt Shipp just threw that out as a possible rhythm section both Gerald and Chris, and I said, 'You know what? You're closer than you even know.' It was very fortuitous. Little did he know I was already there, in a way.
AAJ: Chris can really change his sound up from one song to the next. He gets that denser deep plucking sound and then he'll have a singing tone, like a different guy is in there.
CT: His technical thing is very evolved that way. He has a lot of control over his sound in that form. It's from the way he's playing and he uses it, which is why I heard him in the context of that project, because that's exactly what I was going for. Y'know, I didn't even talk to anybody'that's the beauty of that'that I didn't say that to anybody...I didn't sit down and say, 'I want to try to do something this way.' I just knew it would happen. But the way I was trying to approach the piano and the way Gerald was approaching his kit, and Chris...I wanted everybody to pull out all the stops with the sonic possibilities with their instrument and then still explore the material we played. It creates different possibilities. Instead of'a lot of piano trios go for a more focused concept, with everybody honing in on specific sounds with their instrument. I wanted to do the opposite in a sense.
AAJ: It's really hard to write about what it is exactly you're doing differently. And it's even hard to explain by the people who are actually doing it. You have to hear it, and then you get it.
CT: Exactly. Like I said, I didn't have to say anything. This is not something I even wanted to talk about. I just knew it'd happen. Once you start talking about it, it kind of just doesn't work, because everybody's trying too hard.
AAJ: In terms of the inside or outside thing'. You're playing doesn't sound, like, way avant or way out, or always avant or always out. There's a lot of melody, a lot of stuff my ears can grab onto. Are you intentionally coming in, then out? Do you think of it in terms of that, or more likely, not?
CT: No. I don't. And I think maybe that's what you hear. I don't really'because of how I developed as a player..I never knew there was such a thing. I think that may be something, going back to the Minneapolis thing. I think that we all came out of something where'I remember not having any idea in a general sense that there was a divide between these kind of concepts in music until I got into Detroit. There, people were delineating what I was doing that was out and what things I was doing that were more appropriate, or in, for certain contexts. I was like, 'Oh, really? Oh!' (laughs). I think for a lot of my listening I just didn't really think of it or worried about it that much.
Of course I'm aware of stylistic conventions in a certain context, but in terms of my improvising and my own creativity I don't think of things being 'out' or 'in' or you have to do this, or if you put something lyrical or melodic in this context it makes it too in and then all of a sudden it's not hardcore anymore, or going the other way, if you play something too out you will kill all of the beauty of what's being played or the purity of the instrument. I just don't hear music that way.
AAJ: Do you ever think about the listener in that equation and what can sort of suck them into the music and then take it back out or whatever.
CT: No, I don't. And it's not that I don't think of the listener, but my role is being true to whatever I'm hearing and bringing that out. And that's the ultimate way to communicate with the listener-through an honest statement, whatever that may be. Otherwise you're not really communicating.
AAJ: Well, that's something about Gerald's record that really stood out for me, that you, Ben Monder and Mat Maneri are so adept at the inside-outside thing that it really makes the whole challenging program, for lack of a better word, 'friendly' to me. It seems intentional, but I guess it's not, on anyone's part.
CT: Speaking for myself, I think I tend to look for..the people I play with and I think of the musicians I want to call to do these projects'that's sort of something everybody has in their playing...and not against other qualities, but it's what sort of recommends them to me. And I think for Gerald it's the same thing. The people that have the 'no borders' playing conception and that have developed that way. So you don't really have that thing where they can't go here'whatever the direction is. Like, we can play free but if there's some kind of harmonic, melodic or rhythmic stuff that comes up, it can go there if it needs to'because ultimately I find that much freer, because there's not someplace I can't go. So if you want to completely jettison that stuff you can do that, if you want to explore it you can do that without thinking, 'This isn't going to work.'
AAJ: So when you're writing for the concept, are there devices in the writing that makes the concept happen, or is it more in the interpretation of what comes off the music paper by the musicians?
CT: I would say finding the right people is half of it. Then, what I try to do, without getting too technical, what I'm interested in almost everything I'm doing now, in anybody's group, I like to have a truly three-dimensional musical space. I like different layers. I like counterpoint and different strata operating at the same time, so I try to look for as deep a texture as is possible in the sense that you really create a musical space that has multidimensional possibilities, musically, so you can have all these things going on at once. You can have noise information, or things that would be purely sound, and you could have melodies and rhythm, and out of time things and arhythmic information, and multi layers of each of those operating. Not that they're all going on at once all the time, but you can work between them-jump to this layer and explore that. So in composition, I try to create these things that suggest that so that when the improvisation starts people can kind of find those things in their improvisation and explore each one. What I find is it generally opens up peoples' approach to sound. When you do that, any sound will fit the texture, to a certain extent, and then it becomes a question of compositional and improvisational ideas being applied there. If somebody feels like they just want to make a sound, say here, it won't be out of place. Or if somebody feels like they want to play a melody that's very consonant and lyrical, that can work, even though somebody is playing sonic information. There's a way I write that tries to get those things going. It's kind of subtle. It's about suggesting that stuff in the writing, really. It's not always that clear, but definitely'you just set up a number of levels of things going on all the time and it gets clearer when people start playing it that they have that going on. And that's really some old Sun Ra stuff-he was doing that in the fifties-composing and setting things up that way. To a large degree I just lifted that from him 'I mean I do it my own way, but there's definitely a big Sun Ra influence there.
AAJ: Well, saying you want to write to accommodate all that movement and possibility is one thing, but how to do it is quite another. It really comes down a lot to the people involved in the execution, I think.
CT: That's the whole point, in a way. If you get that stuff going then you have to find people who are going to think that way and respond to it which for me means finding people who listen a certain way, who have certain awareness of other things and who technically can execute certain things, and who are open to it. It quickly starts to incorporate a bunch of things.