Mara Rosenbloom, Darius Jones, Brian Drye: Brooklyn Artist Snapshot

Seton Hawkins By

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Moving here, it was very open. You can pick something up, try it for a while, put it back down, then walk over here and try a bit of this, and so on. You do it because you're just trying to get better and ultimately figure out what it is that you're trying to do inside your head. What happens sometimes is that a lot of the musicians, due to proximity, end up hanging out together. IBeam is a good example: there's one space, and so we all come in and hear one another's stuff and learn. And I think that's awesome, and very indicative of how New York is. I remember when I did a show with Andrew D'Angelo, we spent the night at his place then came back to the space so he could open it up for Steve Coleman to rehearse. I just stayed there and listened to Steve rehearse. That's music to me; that's how I look to being a musician and being about the music.

MR: I agree with Brian and Darius. I think it's informal, and based on proximity and mutual respect. There's just so much happening and while so many groups of people know each other and play together, the artists will also try new approaches and music. You continue to figure your own work out even as you get inspired by what's happening around you.

Something I love about here is how many different things happen at any given time. If I go left down my street, I'll hear one type of music; if I go right it'll be something completely different. At this point, I'm in a ten or fifteen-block radius of more venues than I can even count. So yes, there's something about "scene" that implies a singular style, which isn't accurate.

AAJ: Given the diversity of style in the creative music scene, do you consider your work to be jazz? Are you thinking along those lines in terms of stylistic considerations?

BD: I would say it's definitely jazz, most of what I do. It's still applicable, even though the term might get flack. I've come back to the realization that we're still improvising, we're still searching, and we're still reaching for something new, and that's what jazz has always done. The music might also fall into other categories at points—there are certainly those elements of say classical music or world music—but I think jazz contains those elements too, even from the beginning. Right from Scott Joplin, there's classical influence and there's jazz influence. So for my purposes, I call what I do jazz, even if it doesn't fall cleanly into what most people might call jazz.

MR: I'd call my music jazz, too, and I have a belief in where that's coming from and a connection to it. It's certainly hard to use that word, because what jazz is presently is something so vast. In the same way, what some might be tempted to call The Brooklyn jazz scene is hardly one scene at all. There are so many styles and influences, and just like Brian said, jazz has always had many influences feeding into it. But my music is often improvised, it's searching, and it's honest.

DJ: jazz...I think I do play jazz, though I really think I just play Good Music, and sometimes it's called jazz. I feel that because it has elements of improvisation; however, I've also played other styles that have that, too, things like gospel music and R&B. For me, I just try not to play bad music.

MR: I'd add that it's not something I expressly think about when I write music. When I'm writing or playing, I'm not thinking directly about style, and it's not something that dictates what I do. The music I make is simply the music that I hear and create. In my opinion, it happens fit under the large umbrella of jazz, but I generally am not thinking in those terms.

BD: You know, it's actually something I think about a lot. I really love jazz, in the context of what we'd call straight-headmaster jazz. I really love it. I felt this backlash against jazz or against calling it jazz, and I realized as I got older that I really loved the music and felt ok to say it. Because of that, I felt free to write music, expressly say "this piece is jazz," and be ok with it without worrying about whether the music I made before was jazz.

I do believe that there's a concept of what jazz sounds like that is accepted around the world. And I think it's ok to be sensitive and understanding towards that—I'm much more comfortable these days writing music that falls into that category. Darius mentioned many artists that were also my heroes—guys like Tim Berne and Chris Speed—and I found out that they really love jazz too! I thought, "Oh wow, they listen to Charlie Parker, too? So do I!" So I embraced it and felt ok saying that certain tunes I wrote fell into a "jazz style," and others fell into something else. But I think all of it still fits into some sense of jazz: it still has improvisation and is coming from the spirit of jazz. These labels are there, and for me it's been helpful to accept them to a degree, as long as what I'm creating is still good music. If we want to call it jazz, and it helps us understand what we're doing, great.

AAJ: All of you touched on community, collaboration, and respective orbits of collaboration. Some of them include Mara and Darius' work together on Mara's album, Brian and Kirk Knuffke's collaboration, and Darius' duo work with Matthew Shipp. Can you talk about some of these projects?

MR: The quartet I lead, which features Darius, Sean Conly, and Nick Anderson, is one I've had for quite a few years. Our most recent record, Songs from the Ground (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2013), came out this past April. It's all my original compositions, and each is really an attempt to connect to my roots—to really explore personally and in sound the most vital parts of myself. It's about reaching inside myself for something so strong, as an improviser, I won't be afraid to let go of everything else. For me, on the record, I hear those connections taking root; in the group's recent live performances, I feel more of the letting go. At this point the group has had a few years to stretch through these tunes, so I think we've all developed a kind of intimacy with the music that allows each of us to be ourselves inside of it (which is always what I hope for). Given that, the tunes become something we break open and recreate together each time we play. Everyone in the group really brings something personal.

I've also been exploring the tunes, along with some new ones in a piano trio context with Sean Conly and, most recently, Chad Taylor on drums. They are both really amazing improvisers, and play so well together in general. What they add to the music is so unique and personal; at the same time, they both allow the music to be open in a way that I'm really learning from. These shows have really held a sense of discovery for me each time.

DJ: The collaboration with Matt Shipp was was one of those dream moments. We've done more gigs since our first record, Cosmic Lieder (AUM Fidelity, 2011), and we're going to release some live stuff. I feel so connected to the language we're bringing forth in that duo. It's so beautiful, and while it's improvised, it sounds compositional. In some ways, playing with Matt has made me realize how the improviser is the greatest composer. It's all so connected, and doing that project with Matt has made me go deeper and made me want to become more of an improviser who can literally compose and weave these themes into music spontaneously. I really love that feeling.

Currently, what I've been working on is a complete compositional work, and I've been working with four vocalists—Sarah Dyson, Amirtha Kidambi, Jean Carla Rodea, and Kristin Slipp—in a group called E/C-Unit. I'm composing the music and I've been getting so much out of the experience. We've been rehearsing at IBeam, so I don't know if Brian's heard any tidbits out of it...

BD: I have!

DJ: This project will definitely be my next album, and it's something I really want people to check out. I'm learning a lot from this. My foundation is from the voice having grown up in the church, and that really influenced my approach to vocal manipulation and generating sounds. So working with these vocalists from many musical traditions is helping me get even closer and closer to what it is I'm hearing inside my head. It's also helped my relationship with the horn, in finding a balance between voice and instrument. So that's really been my focus lately, working very directly with the voice.

BD: My duo with Kirk grew out of my playing in his quartet, and he also plays in my group, Bizingas. We're actually about to make a new record for Bizingas, of a lot of older, song-oriented pieces that go beyond the standard head-solo-head format. I'm trying to push myself to go further into arrangements instead of only opening up a tune for blowing. We're going to put a few more restrictions on ourselves to make it more of a production. With Kirk, we have a great connection musically and complement each other well, and we enjoy playing together. Additionally, given the nature of my being a trombone player, I play a lot of other types of music: world music, Brazilian music, and lately I've gotten into gospel trombone music. Darius brings up a good point with his vocal project, and that's a great example of the types of things that my friends and colleagues are doing, that are pushing out and trying new things. My friend Jacob Garchik is working in gospel trombone music and he put a group together to perform that music. That's been fascinating for me, and I'm letting that come into the music I'm writing myself. I'm also in a chamber music group called the The Four Bags, and we're currently working on a project of all waltzes, which I'm excited about.

I feel like I'm going in the direction of more compositional music, and I'm thinking about the entertainment value of the music, for both the audience and for myself. I'm working hard to create music I'd like to hear again.

Selected Discography

Mara Rosenbloom Quartet, Songs from the Ground (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2013)
Darius Jones & Matthew Shipp, Cosmic Lieder (AUM Fidelity, 2011)
Bizingas, Bizingas (NCM EAST, 2010)

Photo Credits

Page 1 (Darius Jones): Peter Gannushkin

Page 2 (Mara Rosenbloom): Marc Weisman

Page 4 (Brian Dye): Peter Gannushkin
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