17

Franklin Kiermyer: Joy And Consequence

Ian Patterson By

Sign in to view read count
One has to identify that opening up is the goal and be clear that the purpose of convening is to allow that to happen. —Franklin Kiermyer
The tradition. It's common jazz terminology. What does it mean, though, to be "in the tradition"? The term usually confers on the musician a stamp of authenticity and infers working knowledge of the dominant idiom, as typified by the jazz cannon. It also perhaps implies a certain orthodoxy. It's strange to think, however, that a music that has always celebrated the innovative and reified its trailblazers, places so much emphasis upon allegiance to the tradition.

For drummer Franklin Kiermyer "the tradition"— his tradition—encompasses not so much a style of music as the intent behind making it and the experience of sharing it. To this end, on his extensive travels he has found common "tradition" in the most diverse music, from devotional music and the folk music of the world to the ecstatic, spiritual improvisations of (saxophonist) John Coltrane.

Coltrane's latter albums have caused something of a headache for jazz historiographers as they don't fit the mold of the tradition, but for Kiermyer, the music that Coltrane produced in the latter half of the 1960s is profoundly spiritual and connected to timeless musical traditions around the planet. For Kiermyer, spiritual music has less to do with religion, deities or worship and everything to do with tapping into the universal consciousness—the universal vibration.

Further is the latest exhilarating chapter in Kiermyer's ongoing journey into refining—and furthering—his musical language. His quartet of saxophonist Azar Lawrence, bassist Juini Booth and pianist Benito Gonzalez is well attuned to Kiermyer's language, having played in the early 1970s bands of trumpeter Miles Davis, pianists McCoy Tyner and Sun Ra, and drummer Elvin Jones—a tradition apart. Kiermyer's quartet delivers an adrenaline-pumping, inspired performance that balances form and freedom, where the musicians themselves are the compositional element of the music. For Kiermyer, music is both the message and the messenger.

All About Jazz:Where does the title Further signify?

Franklin Kiermyer When it came time to decide how to share this music—how to publish it and what to tell people about it, [co-producer] Michael Cuscuna said that, to him, this music was a furtherance and that could be a good introduction, so we decided to name the album Further.

To me, further is a good title for a few reasons. One is that my intention is certainly to go further on my path and share that. Another is that collectively, our intention is to go further into the feeling—the heart—the soul of the music. That's the whole reason for us coming together.

Further can have other meanings too. Michael felt that this music went further. Further than what, or in what ways, I'd prefer to leave to others to decide.

AAJ: What was the genesis of this album?

FK: I had been looking for the right musicians to move ahead with. I heard Benito [Gonzalez] and thought that might work very well with what I was trying to do. Benito and I admired each other's playing, we began to speak about possibilities and we were excited about the potential.

AAJ: Where did you first hear Gonzalez?

FK: I first heard him on a [saxophonist] Kenny Garrett video clip. Sometimes something catches my ear; either I hear something realized or I hear some potential in something that obviously somehow ties into what I'm trying to do and I try to pursue that when it happens. I could really feel that in Benito's playing. He also responded to my music and so we decided we should do something together.

AAJ: What led to bringing the others together?

FK:As we were speaking about who else we could perhaps do this with, Benito felt there weren't too many players who could do what was needed for this music. He seemed sure that the best choice would be Azar Lawrence, whom he had been playing with quite often. He asked me if I knew about Azar and I said: "Of course! I've been listening to Azar since I was a teenager." Those early 70's McCoy [Tyner] records are legendary, aren't they? Azar has always been one of my favorite saxophone players.

Soon after that, Azar, Benito and I had a three-way conference-call and were all excited about the potential. We discussed whether it would be a trio, quartet or quintet. We also discussed bass players, but for me it's not always so easy to find somebody who can play bass with what I'm trying to do on the drums. We all thought Juini [Booth] would be a good choice and we laughed about that too because of course the last time Azar and Juini played together was on those particular McCoy [Tyner] records. Even though, this music we play is somewhat different than that, there's a larger continuum that somehow encompasses all of it.

None of us knew what Juini was up to at that point, but I called him and he was very enthusiastic at the prospect. You know how things either fall into place or they don't and on this everything started to come together and everybody really pitched in. Even though I was bringing the band together and providing the direction musically, it was very much a collaboration in terms of making it happen.

Aside from the musicians themselves, other people made essential contributions. Most notably Michael Cuscuna, my co-producer and an amazing guy. It's beautiful that there are people believing in what I'm trying to do and wanting to help make it happen, even without financial incentive. I wish there was a lot of wealth to spread around, but this album came together because of our commitment to the music.

AAJ: You talked about a continuum and I guess each of your projects doesn't exist in a vacuum. How do you see Further in relation to the music you've made before, particularly the album Solomon's Daughter (Evidence Music, 1994), which you made with saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders?

FK: I'm spending my life trying to evolve, so each album is at least a document of where I've gotten to at that point in time. My understanding of continuum is two-part. Ultimately, there is no past, present or future. Simply put, the more you let go of that conception/misconception/fabrication the more present you are. That presence is where all this music comes from, no matter what we call it.

But at the same time—in terms of how phenomenon appear to us—there is a relative past, present and future—things happened, things are happening and things will happen. So I think that if you can be honest about these two ways 'continuum' exists, the closer you will get to the essential experience that is what music is for.

We're all influenced and somehow shaped by our experiences growing up. What we've heard and what has moved us the most is a big part of our development. In the middle of the last century, the potential for a wide-spread transformation of consciousness began to erupt—kind of like a volcano. Many people thought it was going to burn away a lot of confusion and it would be the dawning of a more conscious global society. You know, the proverbial Age of Aquarius.

For young people now, that might sound like just a particular cultural fashion at a particular point in time, but for most people then, it was a real vibe and many people really believed in that transformation. Those are the roots of the musical continuum we're talking about here. It wasn't a fashion. This was the revolution and it was happening then. People might have mixed it with different political agendas, different tribal agendas and different spiritual agendas, but for me at least, the core of it transcended all of those artificial delineations.

I was a boy growing up during the '60s, not a teenager, so the effect on me was less a result of choosing an ideology and more of just growing up with that as the dominant force of my milieu. I was blown away by some of the music that came forth and so I naturally wanted to find my own way to feel that.

What people were trying to share—what they were channeling—was this experience of transcending the bondage of concept. The paradox is that to reach that level of performance, normally one has to master concepts and systems and techniques and that requires a very strong devotion to development—a very strong work-ethic. You'd have to devote a great deal of your time to developing as a musician and as a conscious human being. That's what the music came to in the late '60s and what it required to get there.

The bar got raised so high in terms of commitment, mastery, honesty and integrity that—and this is just my opinion—most people did not know what to do from then on. The result—this incredible music and the people who made it—existed as examples of what could be achieved, but continuing on from there required too much from most people. It required too much in terms of mastery of one's instrument, spiritual development, putting the artistic agenda before the desires for normal success, vulnerability, etc.

I was so moved by a desire to experience what I heard—not play what I heard others play, but have that profound experience and share it—that I said "That's what's I'm going to do. That's what's worth doing, no matter what." Then the next question one asks oneself is "Yeah, but am I the person who can do it?" For whatever reason I said "I must" and whether I can or can't is not as important as the need to do it.

It's not that I have been trying to take what somebody else did or take what was done in a certain period and go further with it. I've been trying to be honest about what I feel is the essential vibe and get deeper into that and go further into that. That's the continuum I'm speaking of.

For me and my way of looking at things I ask myself: "What is the purpose of music?" I try to give myself over to that with whatever resources I have to do the best I can, experiencing the answer to that question and sharing that experience. That's the continuum; it's a personal relationship with the creator—emptiness [laughs].

You have to give yourself over to the continuum but I don't think the continuum we're speaking about, musically or spiritually or even socially has a beginning middle or end. It is essentially primordial—it is the basis—and I think that's why certain music is so powerful. It comes from there and goes there.

AAJ: On the EPK video for Further you all use the word "spiritual" to talk about this music, in fact Gonzalez says "It goes beyond music." A lot of the music you've made in your life has been driven by or inspired by this concept, so what does the term "spiritual" mean for you?

FK: Well, the concept—concepts are words. Spiritual is just a word, but I believe Benito is speaking of the same phenomenon—the same experience. The more we relax our habit of grabbing onto concepts or thoughts, the more the heart flows. The essential nature of that heart is spiritual. I think that what we call love is what happens when you really relax. I think love is spiritual.

You have to hone and develop your ability to let go because we are so used to describing things to ourselves instead of experiencing them. That holds us back from being present. It's something we have to work with honestly and with awareness. I need to confront the things that hold me back and open myself to it and learn to let the barriers fall so I can share it. That to me is what spirituality is. It's love and it deepens and grows by sharing it.
About Franklin Kiermyer
Articles | Calendar | Discography | Photos | More...

Tags

Listen

Watch

Jazz Near New York City
Events Guide | Venue Guide | Get App | More...

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Related