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Guillermo E. Brown: Freedom of Music


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I was Humpty Dumpty and Peter Pan, and all these crazy things. And the Tin Man, which definitely has connections to what I'm doing now. The Tin Man—the man-machine kind of thing—kind of resonates.
From the 1995-2003 archive: This article first appeared at All About Jazz in April 2002.

When it comes to music, Guillermo E. Brown is something of an omnivore. Whether it be calypso, out jazz, hip hop, or electronica, Brown is all ears. That makes the 25 year-old New Yorker something of an exception to the rule among the City's free jazz set. And, for what it's worth, it has defined his place in the music.

But first, a bit of background: Brown initially gained broad recognition as the drummer for David S. Ware's quartet, first on Ware's Columbia swan song Surrendered (2000), and then last year's Corridors & Parallels, on AUM Fidelity. Out jazz fans who have followed the Ware quartet through their long series of recordings noted a distinct change of pace and poise when Brown stepped in. He seems to have a unique ability to recognize the needs of the group and fulfill them without drawing attention to himself. And unlike previous esteemed musicians who have occupied the drum chair in that group, he's not at all afraid to keep time, or (dare we mention?) groove. All of this, of course, without engaging in showmanship. Needless to say, he's had an impact on the Ware Quartet's sound and momentum.

This fount of energy comes from a soft-spoken man whose only real goal is "to make my way, and be a positive influence..." Growing up in a tight family with primary influences from the Episcopal church and his mother's ethnomusicology studies, Brown branched out once he got his first drum kit. (Amazingly, with pride and nostalgia) he recalls the first time he could drum all the way through a record: Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet. From there it was on to Roach and Blakey, De La Soul, and Super_Collider. Not content to dwell strictly in the realm of music, Brown acts as music director for a dance company, and he regularly engages in singing, poetry, and various forms of musical theater. It was, in fact, at one of these performances that he was nudged by pianist Cooper-Moore into meeting with David S. Ware for an audition. The rest is history (and future).

Brown launches his solo career this April with Soul at the Hands of the Machine, on Thirsty Ear's Blue Series. The project brings together a full dozen musicians to join him on an unapologetically eclectic adventure which draws from a huge variety of influences—featuring a heavy dose of electronica. (See review elsewhere.) Soul sounds like nothing else—and if it's a harbinger of things to come, we are in for a long and twisted ride.

For a player who got his start in a group led by one of free jazz's biggest icons, Brown's new effort is anything but expected. But if you listen to what he has to say on the matter, the whole idea makes sense. As Brown puts it, "It's a new conception of free—or my conception of free."

See what you think.

Roots & Influences

All About Jazz: Let's get some of the facts out up front. When were you born? Where did you grow up? What kind of music did you listen to?

Guillermo E. Brown: I was born in New Haven, Connecticut. My dad was in divinity school. My mom was on the faculty doing some associate professor work in musicology, ethnomusicology studies.

AAJ: When were you born?

GEB: 1976.

Dwight Andrews and Jay Hoggard and Pheeroan Aklaff were all there. And I guess Henry Louis Gates was active around that time. They were all kind of getting their start with that kind of strong education—education as the basis for improving various situations—based around an Ivy League institution. Which is kind of interesting. The whole Connecticut-New Haven-Yale-Middletown-Wesleyan thing was happening. I'm not really clear on how everything went down. My mom was into ethnomusicology at Wesleyan, and it was one of the first times that jazz was being taught. So you had jazz musicians, and...

AAJ: Was that when Braxton was there?

GEB: No, much later. That's when I was there [at Wesleyan].

So yeah. And then my dad had various posts in Connecticut, and we were in Stamford for a while. I went to this magnet school called Westover Elementary School, which is where I had some of my first experiences in musical theater. It was a performing arts-based magnet elementary school. So it was a very mixed, ethnically and culturally, and it was very specialized for that age group, in terms of identifying skill bases in the students. So I guess I kind of was able to...

I was Humpty Dumpty and Peter Pan, and all these crazy things. And the Tin Man, which definitely has connections to what I'm doing now. The Tin Man—the man-machine kind of thing—kind of resonates. Doing the robot and the Tin Man. And I started studying the drums with a teacher in third grade. But before that, I was always visiting my grandfather, who was a local drummer in DC. I think the story goes that when my mother was born, he had to sell the drums, because that wasn't appropriate in my grandmother's eyes. Additionally, she always wanted me to play the piano. (My mother grew up as a pianist.) And then my mother was kind of running the Ethnic Music Department at Howard, so we would go weekends (or whatever) and I could borrow these West African drums. She would bring these West African drums home. And my grandfather's experience was: "a drum, something with skins on it... we need to apply an American jazz concept to it, and use brushes!" His whole thing was brushes, brushes, brushes. He just loved that. And when I started to come into my own, getting better at drumming, he was always going back to the brushes. And the brushes aren't one of my strongest points. It's a sound that I love, but you know...

AAJ: So he was a jazz musician?

GEB: Yeah, a local DC jazz person.

AAJ: You were really surrounded by this stuff growing up.

GEB: Yeah, and then growing up in the church—not your traditional sort of Baptist thing. It was very different. I grew up in an Episcopal church, which is more...

George Bush is an Episcopalian. As well as Desmond Tutu, as well as Henry Louis Gates and Lionel Ritchie. So it's a wide world.

So I grew up with all these European hymns as well. And then we moved to Portchester, NY in fourth grade. Now really playing the drums. Still doing the musical theater thing, but the drums are coming more and more into play. That's when I started on the drum set, and learned my first street beats, and that kind of stuff. I think I got my first drum set around the time.

From the First Drum set Right Into the Beats

AAJ: What were the street beats around that time? I guess, the mid-'80s?

GEB: Yeah, 1985.

AAJ: Right before hip hop came out in a major way.

GEB: At that time I could play all the way through the Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet album. That was hittin,' man! I was on it! But for me one of the first memories I have of hip hop was WBLS, and also KISS-FM. Those were the two major stations in New York, which pumped their way up to Connecticut. I remember Rappin' Duke, Da-ha Da-ha, and other kinds of hybridy stuff. Chaka Khan And those movies that turned break dancing into this weird thing... like Beat Street, Krush Groove, and all that stuff. But I think Run DMC was the first record that I bought. "I'm the king of rock, there ain't nothing higher, sucka MC's should call me sire." So that's the one, with "King of Rock" on it. I think that was all around the same time. Michael Jackson was a little bit before, and then Bon Jovi. And my grandfather's brushes, and Slippery When Wet and Run-DMC and the Tin Man.

AAJ: That's quite a mix.

GEB: Yeah, and then the church stuff as well.

AAJ: Did your mom bring music or music people home?

GEB: She's always had her different field recordings, from Haitian voodoo rituals, to whatever... and her old [Smithsonian] Folkways recordings, which she picked up from her own graduate study. So I just made my own radio shows and stuff, that kind of thing. I had this old Fisher Price tape recorder. I would play a record and pretend I was Red Alert or something. And then do that, and make all these tapes. And do interviews with my dad, do stories, that kind of stuff. We were in Portchester from fourth up until I was in college. And then I changed schools. I went to a private school called Hackley School. Around eighth grade I started writing my own songs with people from school. Ninth grade is when the jazz started becoming really more and more of a thing to look at. Just having a little bit more control over the instrument.

Jay Hoggard—he's a vibraphonist... he was a freshman when my mom was a graduate student at Wesleyan. She had him do a gig for one of her functions that she had. And we met, and that was just great. And he sent me some tapes of Max Roach. That was also around the time when Living Colour Vivid came out, and I was getting Rolling Stone at the same time. I think there was a review in there with Vivid alongside Fishbone's Truth and Soul. So I was just, "Oh!... that's it!" Because it was from seeing the video that I knew about Living Colour. And the funny thing was that Vernon Reid used to play in Jay Hoggard's band. So when I went to this function and talked to Jay Hoggard, he asked what I was listening to. I said, "I love Living Colour." He was like, "That guitarist used to play in my band!" And that just blew my mind. "My God! That guy in the video played in your band??" I was absolutely... it was unbelievable. I couldn't even fathom how that could be.

And that was around the same time that [De La Soul's] Three Feet High And Rising came out. When "Potholes in my Lawn" came out (just the single was out, maybe they weren't even finished with the record yet)... there was a record store right near church, and every Sunday... the first time I heard De La Soul, I asked, "Do you have this De La Soul record?" Every Sunday, every Sunday. And they finally had it. And that was just a whole 'nother thing as well. So there was all this Max Roach/Art Blakey/Living Color/Fishbone/De La/Tribe Called Quest. And that's what's reflected in my music now. And later on, deeper into the turntable thing, in college. Around '96, being at a place in drumming where I was looking for some other influences, or being in a place where... "I don't know if this is exactly it, but I like it... but this thing over here is amazingly cool and exciting!" Because I was doing an internship with this organization called Creative Time. And that was right around the time when [DJ] Spooky's album came out. Jungle in the States, especially in New York, was just coming into prominence. So I was like, "I need to get a credit card, and go crazy, and buy records every week. And buy turntables, and jump into this. Because I understand what's going on here."

AAJ: They're speaking your language.

GEB: Yeah! The drums are moving in an improvisational way, but it's totally new sounds. Huge-sounding, and the bass is reverberating your chest. You know that feeling? So that worked for me on a purely moving level. And on a musical level. Then I was at a point in college after getting to a place with turntabling, and I was like, "OK, I need to get back to the drums again. Play the drums and the turntable together." Working through that, and struggling to find a space where it was still improvisational but not, where I could access the electronic sounds as well as the acoustic sounds, and I could kind of highlight those mistakes that are apparent in the jazz world as well as in the electronic world.

Like the glitch. This whole thing about fetishizing the glitch in techno... there's this glitch, you keep on highlighting it, and you keep on exposing it. And jazz is about that as well, like finding that mistake. It's like you know your instrument so well that you almost try to un-learn it, in a way. I'm working with musicians on doing a live version of this record [Soul at the Hands of the Machine]. And I'm trying to tell them, "Play like you don't know all that you know about your instrument." Because that's what you hear in hip hop, in a way. There's things that producers know, and you may know viscerally know what's going on, but you may or may not know in terms of traditional music theory. But you know viscerally what's happening, and you're accessing a glitch or a tempo or a feeling, like a feeling tone. You're just exposing it. It's this visceral quality that you can't really explain.

AAJ: That's something that Cecil Taylor told Sunny Murray: "Just play."

GEB: Right. There's a lot of different styles of drumming in this music. I don't know what people say, but it's like the styles of drumming can be as broken off as the styles of drum-n-bass. You get into tech-step, you get into dark-step. This is more ragga, this is more this, this is more that. The same way that "Oh, he's an avant-garde drummer." Or: "he's not an avant-garde drummer," or: "he's only a groove drummer," or: "he's a swing drummer, latin drummer, funk drummer, rock drummer, or whatever." But my whole point is that this is a new instrument! This is not some old-school, established part of the Western canon. This has been made in the last century. And, additionally, it's an amalgamation that reflects our own American situation. The bass and snare, from Europe. The toms from Africa. Cymbals from Turkey and Asia. It's this hodge-podge of things.

If you look at old drum sets, you're not playing that! You're kickin' it! Because there's no bass pedal made yet. That's why they call it a kick drum. You know what I mean? You're stepping on a cymbal to make whatever sound you need to make. It's like this continuing development of technology.

AAJ: Break down for me the electronic music that was happening early on for you.

GEB: In addition to Prince Paul? There's the Prince Paul, whole Native Tongues... Prince Paul, DJ Premier...

AAJ: How about the British stuff?

GEB: The more dancehall-oriented, some of the Arkon stuff, Metalheadz, reggae...

AAJ: Squarepusher?

GEB: Squarepusher is a little later on for me. I was more dancehall-oriented. It totally works for me, but that's a different shard of it. For me, it was the hard core singles. Some of them would only go by a name like brown, or yellow, or red. That's what they'd have on the label. There was this Hot Stepper series, a remix of this TLC record, I dunno, "Don't go too fast, don't go too slow." It was one of their slow songs. But the way that they flipped it! And there's this whole vocal thing in there that I totally appreciate, and I guess that comes from my musical theater background as well. And then looking at people like Squarepusher, and now like Cristian Vogel and 4Hero and Jamie Lidell and the group that Jamie Lidell and Cristian Vogel had together: Super_Collider. That's very much "now" for me.

AAJ: So you're getting into samples and remixes...

GEB: That whole Hot Stepper series, yeah. But then Roni Size, and some of his other aka's. Definitely his first record, as an album, worked for me. And then Stereolab came in for me as well. That started to come in, but all the while I'm dealing with Ron Kuivila, Alvin Lucier, and Braxton, Jay Hoggard, and a theater thing. A theater/performance plus all this music stuff. I've begun to see that... I'm still struggling and still working through the whole thing about the Tin Man/ performance/ drumming/ samples/ interethnic understanding. It's all mish-moshed in there.

And so, you also have this kind of free jazz hip hop R&B thing, Nicole Willis. I'm kind of working through that kind of theatricality/samples. Defining free jazz, definitely the way I've read about it, differs... obviously everyone's perception of it differs.

AAJ: And that's a good thing.

GEB: And so it's exciting to see that in operation.

Jazz Drumming: Old School, New School, and the African Helix

AAJ: So get back to me on the jazz angle.

GEB: On the jazz angle, from the drumming standpoint, it's been Art Blakey and Max Roach.

AAJ: But that's old school.

GEB: Yeah. That is old school.

AAJ: How about new school?

GEB: Blackwell. [laughs] Yeah, he's kinda old school too.

AAJ: I hear new school in your playing. You're not just tangled up in swing and bop. You've got other things going on.

GEB: Well I've definitely checked out Other Dimensions in Music, and I've checked out what Susie [Ibarra] was doing, even previous to David S. Ware. I did gigs with her, like Context Studio. I was singing and doing poetry (totally different). Pheeroan Aklaff really introduced me to opening out a little and running free, cutting it. But then when I cut, I conceptualize it as samples.

I think to myself, "Well, OK, I have all these particular drumming styles or drumming periods to access." So I'm going to cut to 1920, or 1967, or Rashied Ali; or I'm going to cut to Tony Williams (Miles) or Tony Williams (Lifetime). I'm going to cut to Joe Zawinul from Weather Report. I'm going to reference that, because those two worlds were totally ignoring each other in the '70s. And I think we're just coming to terms with that now, in a lot of ways. A lot of people were turned off to the music because of various political structure, or various economic structure. Because of the way the distribution system was set up, that particular music didn't get to particular outlets.

AAJ: It was sort of the dawn of serious commercialization in the music. It's amazing that an iconoclast like Jimi Hendrix could make it big. Hard to make that happen now when your competition is Britney Spears, you know. She's got a navel.

We don't need to talk about that, though. I hear this cut thing. What's interesting is when you choose to do it... the context. Because when you're playing with other people, you're juxtaposing personalities. You're layering them. And you want to layer them in a way that's coherent. That's hard.

GEB: Sometimes you can hear old R&B from the '50s in some of his [David S. Ware's] growls. To me it's kind of obvious. If you're going to go there, go there. Some free jazz drummers don't even know... either they don't know how to groove, or they don't want to ("that's not free jazz drumming!"), or whatever. To me, "free" is not limited. "Free" means I have all this information about the history of whatever's gone through my instrument, and I can access it at any time and play it free. Or freely access it. It's not just, "I'm going to do my thing." For some people it is, but for me it means that I am free to groove here, not groove there...

AAJ: Do a little calypso there.

GEB: Exactly. I'm not taking it back. If there's a groove, you know, some other people are going to hear it. Some people who might not check it are going to check it now.

AAJ: It's funny, because when I talked to David [Ware] he said essentially the same thing. That some of these "free jazz drummers" don't play time. They refuse to play time.

GEB: You ask them to play time, they look at you like, "What are you talking about?" They look offended, or scared. One of the two.

AAJ: At their roots, drums are all about time. That's the core of it, really.

GEB: Don Moye, also.

AAJ: Let's talk about that African thing, especially West Africa. They do a lot of hand drumming to get different textures, and there's an ensemble thing...

GEB: A fabric. Just kind of weaves. It's like a matrix, almost. A matrix, a wave of information. It's like bits. It's just going to swirl, almost in a hive, and then spread out, then flatten. It's like some kind of helix, almost, that continuously rolls and flattens.

Yeah, that's the other thing in this drumming tradition and it has that that in it as well, and there's only one drummer now. And a lot of my lessons also come from West African drumming, and also samba (a New World, diaspora concept). But the same concepts are apparent there. The bell, call and response. Bass, snare sounds.

AAJ: So what's your experience or desire to play with other drummers? Are you doing that with electronics?

GEB: The drummers for me, right now who I'm playing with ... Yorel [Lashley], a percussionist I'm playing with right now. And the machine... the sequencer. That's expanding for me. Right now I'm getting into programming a bit. Just live processing, and taking that to another level where the computer is free to react to what the performer's doing. So that's my goal, to get that kind of exchange. I'm not really stuck on playing with the sequencer, but it works.

AAJ: So how about the Old World drums? Tunable drums?

GEB: I don't play with those. I think that there's so much inside the drum set. I studied a bit of West African music. Listened to a lot of things. But I haven't... something about tradition that I'm not necessarily that fond of. That might just be the "free" in me, the ability to do anything I want.

AAJ: But when you're talked about shifting or sampling in Ware's group, you're applying the tradition. You're just fragmenting it.

GEB: Right. It's fragmented. It's like, "yeah, I'm an American drummer, but I can try to trace my roots to Africa." But it's going to be fragmented. It just is. I can go, and try to do whatever I can do.

AAJ: You'll never be the total drummer.

GEB: Yeah. I can go to West Africa, but I can also go to my great grandmother's roots as a Catawba Indian. It's that... I have yet to even uncover that drumming tradition. There's this whole world of... You know, America was doing fine for a long time. And now it's doing fine in a lot of ways, too. Yeah, there's negative consequences of colonialism, but there's also positive consequences of colonialism.

The concept that I go back to is that the drums, the music that we have... jungle, drum-n-bass is a perfect example of the beauty of our connected culture and our connected economic system. It's a cross-pollination, a cross-fertilization. The New York hip-hop scene getting constantly stuffed down the throats of people in the UK and Europe. Being sold... also the history of and the connection between the United Kingdom and the Caribbean and Jamaica, and Europe's own techno and dance music. That whole continually cycling cross-pollination of ideas, the exchange of culture (and money).

AAJ: Which are becoming equivalent.

GEB: Right, really. And we're having this constant conversation about "Who stole the soul?" It just keeps coming, and it's not something that we can get away from.

AAJ: So how do you view your place in that? You're just a little speck of dust in the big picture, economically.

GEB: I'm just trying to make my way, and be a positive influence in my own small way. I work at a settlement house in the Lower East Side. Mostly it's my dance company. My girlfriend runs a dance company called Silver Brown Dance, and I'm the music director for it. So we use the space. But there's also community based space. You know, it's been there since 1886. It's been there through all the changes the Lower East Side has gone through, from Eastern European immigrants to Latin American and Chinese immigrants. And now to chic hipsters, Euro and non-Euro. So I'm trying to put my statement out to the world. I'm doing this series of performances called Soul at the Settlement. I'm taking my little steps, and trying to just work it out. Live it out in my life as much as possible. I'm working through multi-identities, and understanding what it means to be a citizen of this world. And there's no denying that we're in a mix and we're going to be continuing the mix. And I'm all for it. And that's how I grew up.

AAJ: It's all consistent.

GEB: It's not just a coincidence that Bon Jovi was the first record that I could play through all the way, you know. And I love that. It's all connected, and it's all in there.

On the David S. Ware Quartet, Proximity, and Intimacy

AAJ: Let's focus on these two records you did with David S. Ware. You definitely did break through some styles. He has his vision, and he's pretty focused about it. There's a lot of influences there that sort of mingle, but he speaks with a pretty strong voice. You've had to assimilate within that. How did you join up with him?

GEB: I joined up with them... let's see, I did this piece with this choreographer of Rent, Marlies Yearby, and this was totally not as a drummer, but as a musician, as a singer, as a dancer... the musical theater piece came in again. And she has her own company called Movin' Spirits Dance Theater. Cooper-Moore was the music director of that piece. He opened the door and suggested that I connect with David [Ware]. He said I should check it out: Can I play fast? Can I play hard? And I said, "Yeah!" (That was after seeing what I could do with this other group, and how serious I was, just as a performer.)

So I checked it out. I knew of William [Parker] and Matthew [Shipp]. I knew of all of them. I didn't necessarily know of it in this kind of unit. So I checked it, and I said "I can do that. I can get with that." And so I called them, and we had an audition, and that was that. He [Ware] said, "I can work with this."

AAJ: So it clicked from the first time you played together.

GEB: Yeah. You know, he heard what he needed to hear. And I kind of tried to give my best impression of how I saw myself in that chair. We just went from there.

AAJ: How have you had to adapt to fit into that context? How's it different from the other stuff you do?

GEB: I think it just calls for different feeling tones, different spaces, at different times. And that's just my job as a drummer, in terms of supporting the traditional feel of the classic jazz quartet. It's me claiming my position in that concept as it's gone on over time. Playing that role, and playing that character all the way through.

AAJ: Surrendered struck me as kind of an old-school record. There's a lot of roots in there. You hit that. I hear that. I guess it sort of makes sense. But then this new one [Corridors & Parallels]—I have no idea how that worked with the electronics and getting everybody to fit together.

GEB: I think David's just trying to get to some new spaces, and there's some beautiful spaces on that record.

AAJ: What does that mean for you?

GEB: Again, whatever spaces he needs to access, I'm totally game. Because this is a new experience, a new place. That's what I'm there for. I might not like some of the canned beats... "Let me program it for you!" or whatever. But he has his own way of accessing it. I helped him to access the technology. My friend sold it to him. And I've consulted with him about his computer and getting into technology, with him running ideas by me.

I gave William [Parker] some little software drum machines on his iMac and stuff: "Check this out, you'll really like this." And he has his own feelings about hip hop and Wu Tang. I guess someone from their crew kind of hangs around, like Killa Priest. His daughter or his son played Wu for him. It's amazing, amazing stuff, you know. Those RZA produced albums like Ol' Dirty Bastard, Ghostface's Raekwon. I'm like, "those are great records." And then he's like, "oh, it just sounds like they opened up a dictionary and da-da-da-da-da."

Yet, and still, if they did go and open up a dictionary, they're doing the same thing that he's doing, or that I'm doing. They're accessing "free." It's abstract yet it's communicating with the rhythm, there's something about it that resonates. You might not understand everything, but there's something about it... whether it's the tone, the juxtaposition of the track and the soloist or MC on top of the track. Whether they're ignoring the beat, or paying attention to it... they're inside of it, or they're outside of it. It's the same thing. For me, at least.

AAJ: So it didn't work for him [Parker].

GEB: No, not right now. But he likes Bjork. [laughs]

AAJ: What's not to like?

GEB: Right, exactly. Her dad was a jazz musician, and she's amazing. So, at least he [Parker] can get some of this stuff... and I gave him Bebel Gilberto, Tanto Tempo Remixes, which is cool, you know.

AAJ: It's funny. You talk about all this different music, and you try to keep up on what's new & happening out there. But when I talked to David [Ware], he's very emphatic: he doesn't listen to anyone else. He listens to himself.

GEB: Some things I might not listen to because they're too close. Like maybe I've bought Amon Tobin's first record, but I didn't listen to it too much. I bought Squarepusher's Music is Rotted One Note. But now, as I'm in it, some stuff that I read about I might not check out. It depends on the feeling. Some times it can be detrimental, other times not. You know what I'm saying?

AAJ: You want to retain your own voice.

GEB: Yeah.

AAJ: But we're on to something here which reveals something about you. Who's too close?

GEB: Around '96, when Spooky came out, I bought that. But I couldn't go on to Riddim Warfare or any of that later stuff. I have this amazing Lunar Crush record from Fiuczynski and Medeski, and maybe one of the other MMW records from around there, but none of the Blue Note stuff. I don't have DJ Logic. This guy Kirk DiGiorgio, who blew my mind with his Mo'Wax record from somewhere around '97. That was it for me. His new one, on Ubiquity... and Roni Size is too close for me in the midst of putting together my own stuff...

I'm working with this twelve piece, kind of electro, but with conducted improvisations. But I went to see Butch Morris and Threadgill. I saw this Butch Morris conducted improvisation, this huge piece, at Aaron Davis Hall. I thought, "That's it! He's sampling the orchestra." But I can't yet really listen to it. I might buy it but I can't yet really listen to it, because I'm right in the midst of trying to figure it out. Maybe if he had a book, "this is how I access the orchestra or the improvisers to do certain something-or-others"?? I might get that. Or I might research that. Threadgill's record—I haven't checked.

AAJ: Keep a safe distance from that one. It's good.

GEB: See, that's what I'm saying. I know those Columbia records that Threadgill did. That's what's informing what I'm doing right now. You know, Marcus Rojas is going to be playing with us. I hear the bass in drum-n-bass has tuba and trombone in it. That bit in there growls and that horn's sub quality. That's in there. And, you know, marching music is in there as well. So that's what I mean by "too close." I might love it, I might enjoy listening to it, but... I don't ignore it. I know what's going on and I'll check it. And I also want to support music in general. I might buy the 4Hero record, New Sector Movements, IG Culture's album... kind of fusion, jazzy, fusiony stuff, but danceable—all groove and it's really phat, and I love it. This guy Vikter Duplaix, this new K7 record, I'm still checking stuff. The Archie Shepp Blasé record, and definitely Communion with Don Cherry. A Sonny Rollins record, Freedom Suite, that I am working on with the David S. Ware Quartet for the SF Jazz Festival this spring. Yeah... you know what, some times I try to check the things that are not too close, and then they end up being too close. Like Le Tigre. And Ex-Girl. I end up hearing things. The first Def Jux compilation from last year. RJD2 and that Cannibal OX record is incredible. El P is an amazing producer. But I'm hearing it, and going, "damn! that's good!" And it makes me want to go to that place more in my own music. So sometimes it can be detrimental, sometimes it can be helpful, it all depends on the day and my feelings.

AAJ: How about the jazz guys? I'm thinking not necessarily drummers, but someone with a rhythm-oriented sound. Don Moye would be an example from a different period. Do you follow that? You're listening a lot of electronic music, hip hop, and urban. Are the jazz strains falling out?

GEB: The jazz strains? Naw, they're not falling out. They're there. They're just there. They just are.

AAJ: But what are they? In 2002?

GEB: You know, all the cats I play with. In addition to Yusef Lateef. That really spoke to me. And I saw the duo with Cecil [Taylor] and Tony Oxley. And the record from when I was born, Dark Unto Themselves, with David on it, 1976. Twenty five years later we went back to the festival where he recorded that record. Last year, we did that in Slovenia. And that kind of stuff. Just to hear that, and to hear him in that place.

AAJ: Context, again.

GEB: Yeah. But Tony Oxley/Cecil [Taylor] duo, that was amazing. Daniel Carter is amazing. Roy [Campbell] is amazing. William [Parker] is amazing. It goes without saying! Hamid [Drake] is amazing.

AAJ: You ever get together with him and play?

GEB: No, but he's definitely a friend.

AAJ: He's got the same point of view as you. There's no little nook or cranny where he wants to tuck himself away.

GEB: Yeah, and you seem him doing all these other projects. Like the one with Bill Laswell's wife, the Ethiopian singer. Hamid's on that. And Tabla Beat Science. And Operazone.

AAJ: Sorry, that one was detestable.

GEB: Yeah, I didn't check it. But he's doing something else with Prefuse 73's crew. I just heard about that, and I'm psyched to hear it. I'm kind of giggly about it. It's great.

AAJ: Black Cherry?

GEB: No, not yet. But there was an Organic Grooves record out a year or two ago that was really eye-opening.

Getting Personal, and Ending Up Musical

AAJ: Let's get personal for a minute if you don't mind. I'm curious how you relate to these people you play with. William Parker, for one. He's pretty open-minded, and he has a sense of theater going. And he has a sort of deep vision in terms of the soul of the instrument. Obviously you guys have to work together. What's the chemistry there?

GEB: Yeah. I feel positive about our chemistry. In the quartet, it's very strong personalities. I think that everyone has a very loop-y kind of rhythmic quality about their playing, and I think it connects well.

Next >
In Congruence



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