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Franklin Kiermyer: Joy And Consequence

Ian Patterson By

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AAJ: Do you find this same element in other musics around the world...?

FK: Absolutely. All over. Not only that, but what I find even more remarkable is that I find it in jazz music that pre-dates the 1960s. When I was first in a position where I was asked to talk about this I thought, "Well, what are the precedents for me? There's obviously John Coltrane and there's some of the themes and directions and orchestrations of Béla Bartók music I loved and the music of the Bayaka people of the rainforest and South-Indian nadaswaram music, etc. etc., but are these isolated pockets? No. It's everywhere.

There have always been individuals and groups of musicians practicing this tradition in some form or another." I grew up listening to my Dad's record collection, mostly traditional New Orleans stuff and older big-band music and the songs that moved me the most were the ones that were exposing some of that vibe—that on-the- spot, soulful, spiritual and reaching-for-it feeling. I feel it in [Coltrane's posthumous album]Sun Ship, and I feel it in Korean ritual music. I hear it in Pontic (Greek) bagpipes and I hear it in [pianist] Fats Waller! It's the same vibe. I really believe that.

It's funny, when I was a teenager I remember reading an interview with Elvin Jones where he said "I was very influenced by parade music. I've always loved marching bands. That's what I wanted to do." I thought, "No, how does that relate to [Coltrane's] Transition (Impulse, 1965) Now it's obvious to me. It's the same thing—that vibe.

How you hear it or how Elvin may have heard it or how I hear it might be different and how that comes out in someone's music will be different but the feeling is what's inside of us individuals and that's what we learn to tap into. You can only do that in your own way. People devoting themselves to this quest—well, that's been happening from the dawn of mankind, maybe before [laughs].

AAJ: How significant was the Jewish devotional music you heard growing up in Montreal in shaping your musical journey?

FK: Very significant. The Ashkenazi tradition in Montreal that I was born into and grew up in was quite undiluted. I grew up in a very—the Yiddish word is haimisha—down- home environment and that felt really good to me. It was warm and passionate and direct and inquisitive. That's the way the synagogue felt to me too. That said, I always felt that I could have been born into any tribe and that would have been equally significant one way or another. It's my good fortune that I didn't feel "Oh, this tribe is the tribe."

Growing up during the time of the Vietnam war and around my elders that were alive during the Second World War and even—in the case of my grandparents—the pogroms, there was a healthy mistrust of nationalism and a lot of the things that separate people, including organized religion. I think that helped a lot of my generation look beyond their boundaries.

AAJ: Zoning in on Further, there seem to be two main aspects to the music: firstly, anchors in the form, such as the mantra-like motifs, and on the other hand an obvious freedom; is that how you see it, as a kind of yin and yang?

FK: I think that's very well put. It's a white elixir and red elixir meeting and mixing [laughs]. It's what we spoke about earlier. There's form and there's emptiness. In my understanding "emptiness" is a simple description of what really is and "form" is a simple description of what appears. I think the mastery we seek is in the relationship between these two elements, the yin and the yang. As we develop more faith in the emptiness and become more adept at the forms, the music gets deeper.

Bringing it down to a musical technique, there's [clicks fingers rhythmically] One-two-three-four, Two-two-three-four, Three- two-three-four-Four-two-three-four; these cycles are part of bigger cycles and there's a beginning and an end. That's all system, that's all superimposition and it's important because the way that we experience time is relative, but essentially what's happening is open and free—[claps hands once] I mean, what's that? That's the other half.

So there's this linear thing—the pulse or groove—and many people become very expert with these forms and these metrics. But I've tried to focus equally on the other, vertical element—on the presence. What I mean is that there's a horizontal (linear), which is the past, present and future, but there's also the vertical, the expansive quality of the presence and when you combine these two qualities, that's how this music works. It's the feeling of groundedness—the groove—combined with the feeling of freedom—the presence. As the songs says: [sings] "You can't have one without the oth—er."

AAJ: Can you describe the creative process of Further?

FK: I'm always coming up with themes. I like to come up with just a few notes that speak the most to me and make me want to play. That's all that I come in with as well as some ideas about arrangement. This album is a case in point. There are some themes and some ideas of direction but not more than that. The musicians are the main compositional element. You can try to write a lot of music but for me that's a different thing. You need some sort of platform—because you've got to start somewhere—but then I rely on the musicians. I've tried to learn what I can about how great leaders like [trumpeter] Miles Davis did it and it seems that the best approach is to find the best musicians you can and let them do what they do. The best musicians are the ones who know what to do all by themselves.

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