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Kent Carter and the Continental Continuum

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AAJ: How did you get involved with some of the British improvisers in the '70s?

KC: I met them by going over to do a concert in London; John Stevens was involved, and he liked my playing and asked me to join him in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. That's how I met everybody there, and I could say that John Stevens was the influence in my English career. We did some stuff with Keith Tippett, John and Trevor Watts, working in the theatre and doing The Connection with an American director, and that ran for about three or four weeks.

AAJ: As in the Jack Gelber play, The Connection [done with music by Freddie Redd and Jackie McLean in 1960]?

KC: That's it; we did it at the Hampstead Theatre in London.

AAJ: Wow. I'm just thinking that the musical context is very different from how it was done in the '60s with Freddie Redd.

KC: I wish you could hear this version; it was burning! That quartet was fantastic. There are some tapes around of that; if you're into archiving, the guy to talk to is Martin Davidson [Emanem guru]. Martin is taking care of business; for this period and that kind of stuff, he's the man.

AAJ: Coming off of the Steve Lacy ensemble, how did you view John Stevens' music? How did that differ for you?

KC: That was a very interesting experience, because he was working on a 'chamber music' conception, with Derek Bailey and the soprano saxophonist Evan Parker, and he had a weekly thing going on at the Little Theatre Club in London, and whoever felt like playing that week would come out and do it. He was involved in a number of different things, but his conception was no conception. His thing was to sit down and make music with no clichés, just through interaction and listening. So this sound developed which was quite exciting once it got going. It wasn't so easy at first because you didn't have anything to hold onto.

AAJ: Right, because even with the Lacy group, when no tunes were used there was still a sort of vibe or feeling.

KC: There was an inner roar happening, there was a fire burning. And with John it was different; that fire was there but it came out in another way. The ensemble was the total thing, and it moved through space in such an incredible way. Have you heard it?

AAJ: Oh, sure.

KC: Isn't it amazing?

AAJ: It certainly is; it's very difficult music, and a lot of what I've heard has been a growth into something from a low burble, which is very hard to latch onto instantly when you first start listening to it, but after twenty minutes, you realize that you're just surrounded and it's amazing.

KC: And you start smiling, 'oh for Chrisssakes, this is incredible!' You don't take it off, but you leave it on...

AAJ: Even with the duo recordings, a lot of them sound sort of similar, but you notice these little things popping out - especially in the drumming.

KC: These events happen all of a sudden, and you don't know where they're coming from. He and Derek and these guys really developed that into something. I played with John in a more straight-ahead situation in Detail; it was more Ornette Coleman-oriented. I took Johnny Dyani's place in that group; Froede Gjerstad was the tenor player, and we used to work in Scandinavia. [trumpeter] Bobby Bradford was in the group when he could make it, and occasionally [violinist] Billy Bang. That was fun!

AAJ: Wasn't John living in Scandinavia for a while?

KC: He was teaching there; I don't know if he lived there, maybe for a while in Stavanga. He was quite involved in workshops and stuff [in Scandinavia].

AAJ: Coming from New York to Europe, how did you view the respective 'scenes'? Were they rather different?

KC: I don't particularly know what to say about that; if you're around people who have another way of appreciating something, it seems like the European audience knew something was happening before the American people knew what was going on. It comes from America, but when you come to Europe the people are sitting in an audience and listening to the stuff seriously, it's a much more cultivated situation in a way.

AAJ: There wasn't really a galvanizing thing like the October Revolution in Europe, though.

KC: No, but the '70s in Paris were quite strong because we had the Art Ensemble here and some other groups. It was moving, and everybody knew each other - it was a big family in a way, a scene.

AAJ: When you were in New York during the '60s, do you think there was as much community between players as you found when you got to Europe?

KC: Yes, but it was stronger [in the States]. I mean, this was a cultural revolution going on in creative music - a very serious matter, really. Europe has an older story and it has a history of diffusion in art. There, media institutions support real work as much as they can. That period was a struggle to free the creative musicians from the shackles of the music industry and to control their own destiny. The industry [in the States] never wanted to deal with 'Serious' music. That was a strong move.

AAJ: In Europe, there was even support from some of the major labels.

KC: Yes, and they were even coming over to New York and copping the stuff [Fontana, Polydor, etc.], putting it out. But we had Blue Note and Bernard Stollman who were very important in documenting the music. That's a long story with a sort of shaggy undertail, but at least it was out there. That supports what we're talking about though: 'come to the studio and we'll buy you breakfast,' you know. It was much more serious than that, but the American [public] didn't understand.

AAJ: As far as the financial stability with you and your bandmates in the Steve Lacy group, was that a major change when you went to Europe?

KC: It was a breath of fresh air because we had a job; we went to the studio and had something to do. Lacy put this incredible thing together and it was great. It was a paying gig; it wasn't disaster because you meet people and you moved around. We had Dutch, German, Belgian, French and Swiss radio, which was damn good. These were live concert broadcasts, and they were all documented - certain producers bought the stuff and put it out. Joachim Berendt, people like that.

AAJ: How do you view the bass differently in solo and group roles? I know you've done solo recordings and concerts and stuff, so how does one inform the other for you?

KC: Well, the bass chair in an ensemble is working for the collective so that you make other people sound good, and you sound good yourself. But the most important thing is to make everything around you as beautiful as possible. Out of that, you find your voice. Soloing - I'm not a great soloist. Lacy developed that beautifully, but I've done some solos and I find it very difficult. Just to go up and do an evening of soloing, I usually split the bill with somebody else. I've done it a few times, but it's not that much fun. For me, it's not my objective to become a virtuoso that could interest you for an hour and a half spellbound.

AAJ: It's hard to create music in that context that will grab and keep grabbing for that long.

KC: Well, there are some people doing it well; Peter Kowald was great at that stuff. I'm good for about a half an hour and then forget it [laughing]! It's something I never developed, because I wanted to do something else, you know?

AAJ: If your mettle is to playing in an ensemble, that's a totally different context.

KC: I've recorded solos, though, and there is some fascination in that too.

AAJ: Right, you've done some stuff with overdubs, like a one-man string orchestra.

KC: Yes, and this was a very important period for me. It was like homework, a big homework session that went on for about ten years, in the 70s. When I wasn't working out on the road, I was building up the string conception, which I'd wanted to do. Have you heard these recordings?

AAJ: Yes, I have the Beauvais Cathedral record [Emanem, 1974].

KC: With the technology that we have today it's just debris, but can you imagine playing around with a Revox or two?

AAJ: Well, it's a very interesting record. It has a quality to it that's hard to describe, a very private quality. It's a window on the process of making something, investigating these sounds.

KC: That's it, right.

AAJ: But you were also teaching during this period, am I right?

KC: Well, my only student at that time was Jean-Jacques Avenel, who is also a good friend of mine. He was with the Lacy group, but then I did some teaching later when I moved to the Southwest of France. This was a different period, around '83, when we were asked to teach in Angouleme and work with a group of artists, painters and poets. We were given a year to interact with these people and diffuse it. Then we were asked to teach at the Beaux-arts, so my wife and I went there for almost eight years. It was very flexible, so I did what I wanted to do, traveling and playing of course, but I would have that [gig] when I came back. This was around '83-'84. To be around art students, that's another beautiful environment.

AAJ: So at this point you'd left the Steve Lacy group, right?

KC: I left him in '82, I think. My last gig with Steve was in Japan; we went over to do a trio recording with Masahiko Togashi, Spiritual Moments [Sony Japan]. We had discussed that I was going to leave; I had to leave because I wanted to do my own work, and it was necessary to move over. I spent some fantastic years with Steve.

AAJ: And it obviously informed your work quite a bit. As far as your own writing, what would you say you draw the most from?

KC: Steve had an artistic integrity that moved me very much, and it's that spirit that helped me the most. My string writing is basically coming from the Eastern European tradition, and the emotional weight comes from that Eastern way of doing things. I'm putting a new string trio together with [violinist] Albrecht Maurer from Cologne and Katrin Mickiewicz, the Polish viola player. I think this will be interesting; they're coming down to record here in August - I have a recording studio here. It isn't state-of-the-art, but it's beautiful and that's sometimes just enough. The main room is about 100 square meters, and it's also used for dancing, but it's interfaced for recording. I have two more recording rooms in the back; you can just look out and see cows.

AAJ: As for the string trio, wasn't [violinist] Carlos Zingaro in it at one point?

KC: Yeah, he was in the first one. He's a fantastic player; I could not have done this without him. He played so great in this group, just incredible. Also Francois Dreno, the viola player. Their work with me I will never forget. It's going to be re-released on Emanem shortly; I did some work on the tracks and added some other stuff, so it's going to be a nice record.

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