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Franklin Kiermyer: Joy And Consequence

Ian Patterson By

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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.

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