Katt Hernandez: Spiral Passes

Gordon Marshall By

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Katt Hernandez plays violin with a hand and eye versed in the vagaries of natural sound. A student of microtonal music, she is also steeped in European folk traditions, and skilled in classical forms of improvisation. While her work goes in many directions, it stays sharp and swift and supple.

She is equally adept in all modes of musical reasoning. Whether alone or in ensemble, she wraps her mind around her improvised, atonal melodies and anti-melodies, on the fly, always keeping course throughout performance, never failing to set wheels down before she lands.

All About Jazz: You've lived in many places, Katt.

Katt Hernandez: I lived in Philadelphia for the last three years. I went to Baltimore a lot when I lived there...Philly's like an hour or two south of New York and an hour or two north of Baltimore, so living there might continue the illusion that I'm living everywhere at once...I really love Baltimore's music situation. There's a really amazing scene there of people doing really interesting, iconoclastic things.

AAJ: When I first saw you, you were playing with Audrey Chen, at the Frantasia festival (Livermore Falls, Maine), in 2008.

KH: Oh, yeah. That's right. We did the duo.

AAJ: Now had you played with her before?

KH: Yes. I met her in 2003, at the High Zero festival in Baltimore. We started working together more when I moved to Philadelphia, because we were in close proximity. I love working with her. She's great. Very imaginative.

AAJ: I got the sense she was in her own world when she was performing with you that night.

KH: I think there are a lot of improvisers who kind of create their own sonic universe, and then if you play with them you sort of go to that place. One of the interesting things about improvised music is that there are people who are using a more agreed upon musical language, and then there are people who are creating a musical language that they wish or hope will lock up with other kinds of things without changing too much. I suppose I try to do both depending on who I'm playing with and what the situation is, but some people really tend towards one or the other.

AAJ: That brings me to another point. In The Long Awaited Etcetera (High Zero, 2001), you sort of let the other musicians circle around you like you said, let them go—even though you're the feature—you hand off the ball (to use a football metaphor), you're like a quarterback who hands off the ball instead of running the play yourself. It worked very well. It's very democratic, egalitarian.

KH: Well, I suppose I have egalitarian ideals and a lot of the reason I play improvised music has to do with that. It's interesting it comes across in that particular way!

AAJ: And then at XFest 2010 (Lowell, Mass.) you did sort of the converse of that in your performance with Max Lord, and the dancer Teresa Czepial. And you sort of went into a direction, and Max saw you going there and he let you take the show. That worked, too.

KH: When I was really young I was hanging out at the Zeitgeist Gallery (Cambridge, Mass.) a lot, and I saw literally hundreds of concerts during that time. I remember there was one concert I saw and it was David Maxwell, and a young saxophonist, and a bassist. They were playing, and I noticed that when David and the bassist would go in a particular direction this saxophonist, who was in his early 20s, would always follow them. But the other two would not follow each other. And this was a huge revelation for me. Because I was like, "Oh! You can have a situation where you're following each other but..." A lot of the early jazz recordings you have people who are doing things that are in different universes and completely coexisting, and they're totally listening to each other.

This really fascinates me as a way to make—changing those elements in different pieces, or within one piece, is a way to effect a very clear, spontaneous way to make form. You can make pieces that have very stark structures to them by playing with that. And if only one person in a group decides to play with that, it can affect the structure of a piece and give it a lot of depth, a kind of variety that only staying one way wouldn't give.

AAJ: What if everyone's doing it. Would that be too much of a mess?

KH: No. I think that's the highest—if everyone is thinking about that when they play, as a structural way of thinking, I think that that is the best situation to play in in a lot of ways. It's a very kinesthetic thing.

AAJ: In your Modern Antique (Means of Production, 2010) performance at Third Life Studios (Somerville, Mass.) with Steve Norton you were playing in tandem but it also seemed that what you were doing was very—you were both going in your own directions. So you were playing together and apart at the same time. You were doing some chromatics...Can you improvise on a tone row?

KH: I've certainly worked at it! I worked on that a lot a while ago. I started thinking about that because of Mat Maneri. When I was younger I took a couple lessons with him when I moved here (he's a few years older than me). And he was working on that a lot. Joe Maneri's microtonal stuff was also often presented in the context of making some kind of—not a twelve row—but making some kind of serial process out of it.

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