All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Profiles

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

736

Jim Black: Alas, Not Exactly a "Houseplant"

By

Sign in to view read count
The only thing I think I must do is play; no, I know that's the only thing I have to do really, is play
A day off is something drummer Jim Black rarely takes. At Skirl Party V in April, he played two sets with different bands, recorded with one the next day and left the day after that to tour Europe with another group. Next, it was Australia for several shows during the Melbourne Jazz Festival with a new trio and a concert and recording with local musicians. Black then flew straight back to Europe and picked up a last-minute gig before hitting the road with still another band, leaving himself one day off in six weeks.

"I'm just pushing the limits of what I can do, maybe physically," says Black—not that he's complaining. "On any of the stuff we do, there's no taking it easy."





Black has embodied this attitude since emerging in New York during the early '90s in saxophonist Tim Berne's Bloodcount, trumpeter Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio, the trios of saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and pianist Satoko Fujii and the collectives Human Feel and Pachora. He earned a reputation as a fearlessly energetic improviser drawing from a swath of influences—jazz, indie-rock, Balkan, Brazilian, minimalism and pop.

An inquisitive and kinetic drummer, Black shifts and colors his grooves with inverted rhythms and displaced beats and, as a soloist, adeptly implies a song's movement while embellishing with extended fills. He's forged a personal sound using a loosely- tensioned bass drum for booming resonance, a highly-tuned tom-tom for crisp attack, smaller hi-hat cymbals for bell-like responses and a trashed crash cymbal for curt punctuations. He augments the kit with laptop electronics and found objects like a steel bowl, metal chains, strings of shells—not as a gimmick, but to extend his textural range.

"The only thing I think I must do is play; no, I know that's the only thing I have to do really, is play," says Black. This has been true since he was a kid banging on a plastic toy tub 'drum set' and strumming the cardboard-and-rubber-band 'guitar' his dad made. Born in California in 1967, Black received his first drum set when he was 11, after his family settled in the Seattle suburbs. Throughout his youth, he played in garage rock, wedding and concert bands, soaking up a variety of styles. In 1985 he enrolled at the Berklee College of Music, then relocated to Brooklyn in 1991 after graduating.

He came to New York with the band Human Feel —guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and saxophonists Andrew D'Angelo and Chris Speed—exploring the interstices of composition and improvisation. Black has played with both saxophonists since the ninth grade. Shortly after arriving, he started working with Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio, combining East European folk music with jazz improvisation, a theme tested further with Speed in Pachora.

Around 1993 he joined Berne's Bloodcount, with Speed and bassist Michael Formanek. Black garnered notice for deftly navigating the labyrinthine pieces. A year later he got together with Eskelin, whose music had a different density than Berne's. With accordion and keys player Andrea Parkins completing the trio, Black had room to expand as a percussive colorist. After 15 years together, Eskelin considers him a consistently resourceful drummer. "No matter what I throw at him he usually throws it right back, in five different flavors at once," Eskelin jokes.

Despite his scheduling demands, Black maintains long associations with other artists, like Fujii and bassist Carlos Bica. Human Feel, Bloodcount and Pachora also resurfaced the last few years after long hiatuses. "Somehow if the bands really dig each other, even if they cease to work for a period of time—for a year or ten years—you know that these groups don't really break up," Black says.

Since 2000, Black has composed for his band AlasNoAxis, with Speed and longtime associates, guitarist Hilmar Jensson and bassist Skuli Sverrisson. Writing is an intensely personal experience for him and he's been fortunate to compose on his own schedule. Formulating tunes with guitar and voice, he fleshes out arrangements with the band. Their debut CD was a sprawling 15 songs that touched many musical styles and gave the impression of a hip mix-tape. The music has become more song-oriented and the group's fifth CD, Houseplant (Winter & Winter), was recently released. "I think it's a definite jump for me and my band, as far as overall quality control and me as a composer, making sure that what I was hearing was coming across on the loud speakers, musical intention-wise," Black says. He wanted to simplify things rhythmically, focusing on harmonic clarity and richness, imbuing depth with layered and doubled sax and guitar tracks.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

CD/LP/Track Review
Live Reviews
CD/LP/Track Review
Multiple Reviews
Read more articles
Malamute

Malamute

Intakt Records
2017

buy
The Constant

The Constant

Intakt Records
2017

buy
 

Endangered Blood

NuBOP RADIO-iTunes(internet radio)
2011

buy
Houseplant

Houseplant

Winter & Winter
2009

buy
Dogs Of Great Indifference

Dogs Of Great...

Winter & Winter
2006

buy

Related Articles

Read A Vintage Year For Jessica Felix And The Healdsburg Jazz Festival Profiles
A Vintage Year For Jessica Felix And The Healdsburg Jazz...
by Arthur R George
Published: April 19, 2018
Read Cecil Taylor: 1929-2018 Profiles
Cecil Taylor: 1929-2018
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 7, 2018
Read Boston Celebration: The Legacy of Bob Brookmeyer Profiles
Boston Celebration: The Legacy of Bob Brookmeyer
by Doug Hall
Published: March 13, 2018
Read The Jazz Corner's Lois Masteller Makes It Happen Profiles
The Jazz Corner's Lois Masteller Makes It Happen
by Gloria Krolak
Published: February 21, 2018
Read Savoy Records: From Newark To The World Profiles
Savoy Records: From Newark To The World
by Jordan Levy
Published: February 6, 2018
Read Ranky Tanky: African Rhythms Preserved Profiles
Ranky Tanky: African Rhythms Preserved
by Martin McFie
Published: January 18, 2018
Read "The Jazz Corner's Lois Masteller Makes It Happen" Profiles The Jazz Corner's Lois Masteller Makes It Happen
by Gloria Krolak
Published: February 21, 2018
Read "Gilly’s Remembered" Profiles Gilly’s Remembered
by Michael J. Williams
Published: November 30, 2017
Read "Jon Hendricks: Vocal Ease" Profiles Jon Hendricks: Vocal Ease
by Greg Thomas
Published: November 23, 2017
Read "Martin Speake: The Thinking Fan's Saxophonist" Profiles Martin Speake: The Thinking Fan's Saxophonist
by Duncan Heining
Published: April 28, 2017