Gary Husband has long cemented his reputation as one of fusion's premier drummershell, even Billy Cobham thought two was better than one and hired him as a second drummer. Husband's flexibility has seen him drum in the NDR Big Band, with jazz-funk outfit Level 42, and in a trio format with guitarist Robin Trower and bassist Jack Bruce.
Since the early '90s he has built an impressive discography as a leader which underlines his status as a composer of note. Two solo-piano albums, bold and personal interpretations of the music of guitarists and fellow Yorkshiremen, Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin, are a reminder of Husband's equally impressive skills as a classically trained pianistone with a unique vision.
Husband has collaborated with Holdsworth for nigh on thirty years, and has in recent times recorded and toured with McLaughlin; the inspiration drawn from these two giants of modern jazz-fusion guitar, both of whom speak of Husband with mutual reverence, has pushed Husband to make some pretty stunning musical statements of his own. Husband's story to date is, in a way, a tale of three Yorkshiremen.
Hotwired sees Husband at the head of a vibrant, pulsing acoustic quartet which recalls the best of Tony Williams' combos. It also reveals another side of Husband's drumming which has the snap and crackle of Elvin Jones no less.
Big BandsAll About Jazz:
- Big Bands
- The Musicians And The Songs
- On Drums
- Three Yorkshiremen
- On Composing And Allan Holdsworth
- On Piano
- Other Projects And Collaborations
- Coming Soon
You're in Germany with [composer] Colin Towns and the NDR Big band. What's the program of music you're playing?
Gary Husband: It's a suite of music that Colin Towns wrote some time ago, some of which I played on a recording, and it's always nice working for composersthere's quite a lot of reach in Colin's music. It's a pleasure, it's very creative, and of course this band is one of the greatest big bands in the world.
AAJ: You're very familiar with the NDR Big Band and Colin Towns, aren't you?
GH: Yeah, I come over a lot for lots of different programs, writers from Europe and America. Last year also we were on tour with the singer Al Jarreau and that was a very nice tour. It's always very varied when I go thereabstract sometimes, other times more traditional. And I never know what is going to be placed in front of me in the way of charts or style or anything beforehand.
AAJ: Your professional career, I guess, began in a big band, in the [trumpeter/band leader] Syd Lawrence Orchestra when you were a teenager. What did you learn from that experience, from playing in a big band at the age of sixteen?
GH: On a couple of different levels really. In England they used to have national service and you had to do your three years, and in a way this was a kind of equivalent of thatand not just the music and the performance of a particular kind of music, but also in life too. There was no band bus, so I had to arrange who I was going to meet at a particular point to take me where I would end up sleeping and who I would connect with the following day to get to another placeto have to get all that together at sixteen when your head is full of the Mahavishnu Orchestra was something. But it was a really great experience and grounding, really. I can really recommend it! (laughs)
AAJ: Your head was full of Mahavishnu Orchestra, but the Syd Lawrence Orchestra was Glenn Miller and Count Basie. Is that right?
GH: It was the whole gamut of big band material from the '30s to around the '70s, reallyfundamentally the music of Glenn Miller, who Syd rose to fame highlighting, but also the Dorsey brothers' bands, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Basie, plus a lot of Sinatra hits and things.
I always had a passion for big bands anyway, but this just required a different discipline and me going back and trying to familiarize myself accurately with what the original big band drummers did there. I learnt the importance of doing research and fully preparing myself for the task in hand. Once that's done, it's always a special, exciting pleasure to play in a big band, and it's always very nice to return to it.
AAJ: Let's talk about your new album, Hotwired. To me the music sounds rooted in tradition yet utterly modern and progressive at the same time. Is that a fair comment?
GH: I appreciate that comment; that's a reaction I really like, thanks. I guess the fundamental inspiration behind this particular band stretches back to when I used to go to Ronnie Scott's years and years ago and see groups like [trumpeter] Freddie Hubbardtraditional kind of frontline trumpet/tenor kinds of things because I have always admired a nice, spirited, forceful, much more American approach to the ones I heard back home.
Subsequently, groups like the ones Ralph Peterson Jr. brings, a real drummer-led band, and of course Elvin Jones groups were always an inspiration, and I wanted to get something that really captured that spirit, but with the notable difference being no mainstay keyboard player or guitarist to create plenty of harmonic space, because everybody improvises in a very strong way and there's a really good blend with the people I've chosen for this band.
I always choose my musicians really carefully. Then there's the music, and I've been digging deep to find some nice ways that I feel work for this kind of unit. And as usual, it's got a bit of reach to it as well. I chase wider dimensions.
AAJ: The band, if I understand well, was originally a trio, but you talk about abandoning the trio and the original music compositions before you added Richard Turner on trumpet. Can you talk us through the birth and rebirth of this band?
GH: Originally I had the idea for a saxophone, acoustic bass and drums trio, where I'd contribute a little bit on piano. I came up with a series of compositions which I thought were going to work out well, but there was something in it that I just couldn't get away from, and that was that sonically it was just a trio blend. The palette wasn't wide enough, even though I wanted to do something with a lot of space. We did one gig and I ditched all the music.
You know, you dip your toe in the water and try out stuff, and it's always interesting to try out things on stage rather than in a little rehearsal room. But as I say, I basically just wasn't happy enough, and so I then abandoned it. A short time later I was checking out a MySpace friend request, and I found a trumpet player named Richard Turner that I really responded to on a few different levels. And I suddenly started really thinking about the addition of trumpet. This way, it would all go from being a trio to suddenly being a band, just with the addition of one guy.
It was a mammoth difference, and immediately I had the opportunity to write nice angular things between the sax and trumpet. And of course you have the rhythm taken care of too, so automatically it's a much more stimulating compositional and conceptual task.
The Musicians And The Songs
AAJ: The song "Heaven In My Hand" is an old Level 42 number. You've had a very long association with Level 42, and bassist Mark King in particular. Do you know if that old story about King learning to play slap bass in two weeks is true?
GH: Probably. He's a pretty able sort of guy. He's the kind of guy who can fix your car without necessarily knowing anything about cars. I hate this kind of guy! (laughs) It wouldn't surprise me if he learnt to play bass in two weeks, put it that way. With this gig though, well, I sort of considered the original Level 42 the real band in all honesty, and in what I do, I work very much in the capacity of a session musician in a sense, playing old music, most of which somebody else played on.
It's my challenge to make it work and feel as good as I can though, and I just concentrate on making sure I'm a strong, reliable and dependable drummer in order to make the show go right. I don't want to play it down at all, but I do see my role for what it isit's fulfilling and always challenging because I'm not by nature a jazz-funk player, so I have to really work at that. And I do, always, whenever I play and tour with the band. I got a little better at it over the years, slowly but surely.
Gary Husband's Drive l:r: Julian Siegel, Gary Husband, Michael Janisch, Richard Turner
AAJ: This song, "Heaven In My Hands" on your album has a kind of Miles Davis-like feel to it, and I hear Miles in quite a lot of what you do. You've cited him as a major influence before, and I hear a bit of Miles in your trumpet player Richard Turner. Is that one of the reasons that you liked his playing, because he's somehow reminiscent of Miles?
GH: Actually I didn't hear it, but you know I was taken with Richard Turner on a few different levels. The first I heard of him was on a track where he was effortlessly improvising in 5/4and very fluently too. I do particularly love people who can feel easy in different time signatures.
I like to be able to play with the time and get into sophisticated rhythmic ideas in music like this, and Richard has a natural flair and a real good handle on rhythm. He doesn't panic and flounderactually he's too cool to panic and flounder!
Another thing is that he doesn't sound like by-the-book bebop, you know, and there's so much proficiency in a lot of players these days, seemingly being able to easily turn out a lot of bop-type phrases which sound kind of "learned" to me. But that really isn't the deal with Richard; he's kind of got his own approach and I can tell him apart from everybody else already. That was an element immediately attractive to me.
Actually, in the studio, he was really dissatisfied with some of the solos he was playingyou know, little cracked notes here and there, little tuning things or little things where he didn't make the phrase. And I said, "Listen man, I want you to leave those, all those kind of things are full of expression to me. I like hearing that pain. It's an edge that I really heard and loved in Miles."
AAJ: That resonates with methere are a couple of tracks, "Deux Deux's Blues" and "Take the Coltrane," with trumpet intervention where it sounds at times like there's something on his lips or on the end of his trumpet, which gives a slightly rasping, fragile sound, an unclear sound, and I liked it a lot; it sounds a little original.
GH: I like it too. And back to this little conversation we had, Richard just went home one night and he came back the next day, and on the Ellington-inspired "Take the Coltrane Around," he played a really different kind of solo. And I was really pleased that we'd had that conversation because he'd felt a confidence as a result of it to produce something that wasn't like a full-on, red hot jazz-blues solo, and that was really what I wanted out of him. He found a piece of himself he didn't really know, and I like it that he did.
AAJ: I was speaking recently to the drummer Eddie Locke who was Coleman Hawkins drummer for years right up until Hawkins died. And Eddie, who's pushing 80, now still had things to say, and he was saying that jazz has kind of got lost because a lot of musicians in his opinion are technically very proficient, but there's little feeling, no swing, the original voice is not there. And that maybe echoes a little of what you are saying.
GH: Yeah, I look for that in musicians and when it's not there, I miss it. When somebody plays, I want to hear and sense the musician's life in what they dowhat they've been through, what they reach for. I want to hear a bit about their inner complexities as a person. I love to hear a good strong, strong character and distinctive personality in musicians.
AAJ: What's Richard Turner's background?
GH: He's newtoo young to have a background! Well, he's from Leeds, from the same shire as me, Yorkshire, and he's making a name for himself in Londonnot only with his excellent playing but also out of what he's doing getting involved in running jazz clubs and things too. My conviction is we'll all be hearing a lot more about Richard within a few years.
AAJ: Another track on the album, "!0/4," which is a Julian Siegel tune, has a kind of [trumpeter] Don Cherry/Art Ensemble of Chicago vibe to it. He's another very talented musician. What can you tell us about Julian Siegel?
GH: Julian I've know quite a few years now, and we've played together in different contexts. He's a good friend, a sweet, sweet man, and a jewel of a musician. In fact, he started a quartet a few years ago that I was involved in, and I also got to play on his first album.
He's a very soulful musician; he plays just like he is as a man. He has a very kind of quirky thing about him, and again there's no heavy bebop format. He speaks more than he deals in lines sometimesyou know, a little bit like a Wayne Shorter-thing, but in his own way. I love that. He's beautiful on this record.
AAJ: Wayne Shorter I hear a fair amount in your music, and on this album I hear it in two songs in particular: "The Agony of Ambiguity" and the beautiful "One Prayer" which I like a lot. Is this Wayne Shorter's influence in these tunes?
GH: Actually, there's a little development in "The Agony of Ambiguity" piece that, when I finished it I thought, wow, there's a little bit of Weather Report in that. It's funny, it's never by intention, but I see it afterwards. It's got a little lost feeling to it, a kind of searching, innocent quality to that melody, and I wanted him to play it really childlike.
I remember in a lot of the instructions that I gave him regarding the mood for the pieceeverything I was saying, I seemed to be getting nearer and nearer to blurting out, "Oh look, just play it like Wayne Shorter!" (laughs) But I wouldn't have ever done that. Not really.
I must say that each piece is straight out of the Duke Ellington methodology. I love writing for people, and when I choose musicians this carefully... once I've got them, I love writing for them out of a wish to highlight them as the individuals they are. I wanted to write something for all the guys in this band that corresponds with their make-up and personalities, and to try and make them feel at homeand from there give them a hard time. (laughs)
AAJ: The partnership you have with Michael Janisch is absolutely smoking. He gets such great sounds from his bass. What can you tell me about Michael Janisch?
GH: Well, Michael is also a new acquaintance of mine. I met him only a couple of years ago. The first time I heard him I was aware right away of this really robust, in-your-face approach of his. My type of bassist, and he has great time and a great spirit. He just possesses exactly what the bass should be about, particularly in this kind of group. I couldn't wish for a better participation than the one I instantly found with him.
AAJ: The pair of you sounds just great on this album. You strike up a wonderful partnership. Did you guys connect musically from the get-go, or is there a lot of hard graft involved to sound so tight but loose?
GH: Well, that connection was really important to me, and I'm glad you hear it, I'm glad you felt it. In any groupand this group is no exceptionthe bass and drums have to really be tight. I need a strong bassist, someone confident and who has great conviction. I don't really believe you can teach those qualities, really. I think you basically have it or you don't.
Also, it's just about the chemistry too, and how compatible someone's feeling of pulse is with your own. As long as someone's strong in these areas though, I'm always going to be able to play with them. Michael's got it all in abundance, and in him I got the guy I was looking for in this group. It's just a great feeling of instinctive trust, assurance and solidity between us, in spite of the fact we've still only played a handful of times.