David Binney: Underground Tremors

Ian Patterson By

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AAJ: The shortest composition on Graylen Epicenter, "Same Stare, Different Thought," is also one of the most striking, with just yourself, Akinmusire on trumpet and Parlato on vocals. Could you talk us through this song?

DB: I do a lot of writing that I haven't presented so much on record, but I've had something in the works for a couple of years, which is basically an album of string orchestra material with saxophone and piano, which doesn't have any improvisation. Sometimes I write these little pieces, almost as a classical writer would, and put them aside, and I had written this piece during the writing of Graylen Epicenter.

I think I wrote it as a through-composed piece for me, Ambrose and Gretchen. I gave it to them, and Gretchen kind of freaked out because she thought it was really difficult. But then we got to the session, we recorded all the material, and at the very end Gretchen said, "Are we going to do the through-composed piece?"

I said, "I don't know; it's hard. Maybe we shouldn't bother with it."

And she said: "Well, I spent so much time getting it together, let's at least try it."

I said I'd give it 15 minutes, and if we didn't get it in that time then forget it. So we did it, and I was kind of surprised how they had worked on it and how quickly they got it and how quickly it came together. It just worked. We did three or four takes of it, and I knew from that, I had gotten it. Thanks to Gretchen for talking me into trying that on the session because we needed every second for the other material, and I didn't want to waste time, and I thought that might. But they got it together and it worked great.

AAJ: Graylen Epicenter is a very powerful 75 minutes of music. How do you feel about it in the context of the music you've made so far in your career?

DB: It's a very important one for me. I knew in its making that it was very possibly the best record I've made. With every record that you make, you always learn something; you're always refining things. I've always done something much better on each record, in a way, and at the end there's always the feeling that next time I could really do this or that. There's always that process.

You have to understand that there's two different kinds of record I make; I make these records that are quick, like for Criss Cross, that are basically limited by time and money, that I look at as a little bit more of an old-school blowing session—which for me still involves a bunch of difficult compositions [laughs]. We go in there, we do two or three takes, and that's it. Then I do records on my own label [Mythology Records] which I think of as more produced. They come together through live playing for the most part, but then I tend to spend a lot of time producing them, adding things, editing, really refining it because I have the time to do it, unlike when I'm doing it for a small label. Graylen Epicenter falls into that category, as does Third Occasion (Mythology Records, 2009), Out of Airplanes (Mythology Records, 2006), Welcome to Life (Mythology Records, 2004). I spent a lot of time and put a lot of effort into those records.

Graylen Epicenter was probably the most effort I've ever put into anything. I think I did because I knew that it was something special, and I had a vision of it as it started unfolding. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, probably more pop music, alternative rock, electronic music than anything else. I wanted to bring those worlds together a little bit more than I have in earlier releases; that's why I ended up singing on it. If you dropped a needle on the record, at one point it would sound like a jazz record, and at another point it might sound like you're listening to a rock record. There are elements of that, and I enjoyed working on that. I think it's an important record in my discography.

AAJ: No doubt about that. You mentioned Criss Cross, and you have just released another CD—Barefooted Town—on that label, right?

DB: That's right. The Criss Cross record prior to this one, Aliso (Criss Cross, 2010), we didn't even rehearse for. I almost didn't do it because of scheduling, when I realized that none of us were in town to do a rehearsal. I almost bagged it, but Dan Weiss said, "No, let's do it. We'll go in and we'll nail the music." So, we went in and played, and it actually came out great. It was like an old- school blowing session, like Blue Note, and I kind of kept it in that spirit.

This newest one isn't exactly that; we only rehearsed the once for it, and a lot of the music is very difficult. But it's with Ambrose [Akinmusire], and [saxophonist] Mark Turner on the horns, and then David Virtelles is the young pianist—he lives in New York but he's from Cuba originally—Dan Weiss and Eivind Opsvik again. They're all great musicians, and I just wrote with them in mind. It came out great. It's a very good record.

I feel good about my playing. It's hard to play on your own records—and anybody will tell you that—because you're concerned with everything else; it's much easier to be a sideman on other people's records. I like the way I play on my records, but its nerve wracking sometimes. But on Graylen Epicenter and on Barefooted Town, I really feel great about how I play. I think that maybe started happening with Third Occasion, I started to like the way I was playing on my records. Before that, I liked the records a lot, but I always had I little bit of a problem with the way I played on them. So I think I'm getting that down—to be comfortable playing on my own records.

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