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Marco Eneidi: Pallettes of Color & Sound


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This is my improvisation, putting together groups of likeminded players, not likeminded players and combinations of instruments.
Marco Eneidi seems to become a forgotten artist. Which is odd, at the very least, because his improvisation workshops are attended by the first seat of the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich, and because, in just the past few years, the saxophonist has played with artists including pianist Cecil Taylor, guitarist Joe Morris, reed multi-instrumentalists Roscoe Mitchell, Peter Brötzmann and Ken Vandermark, cornetist Butch Morris, and drummers/percussionists Andrew Cyrille, Michael Zerang, Paul Lovens, and Han Bennink.

Yet, despite his rare musical skills, his vast musical knowledge, his enviable verve and his multiple recordings and performances, this musician sometimes barely makes ends meet. He never made a career out of music because it wasn't his priority, and perhaps he didn't have good luck. Now, at age 57, he claims that it's only his music that he cares about. He'll be playing in June, 2013, at the Aural Merco Festival in Mexico City with his group, The Cosmic Brujo Mutafuka Trio, and during the spring and summer he'll be involved with special events at Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music in Austria.

All About Jazz: Your visit to Poland, this past March, was your first time, right? How did your collaboration with Polish musicians start?

Marco Eneidi: Yes, it was my very first visit to Poland, although in the late eighties, in New York City, I spent a lot of time in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, working and living with only Polish men and women doing asbestos removal.

This all [my visit to Poland] came about because drummer Michal Trela contacted me and asked if I would be interested in coming for some performances in Poland. The two concerts we did, and the recording sessions, were really great. These guys are fantastic musicians. We had never met or played before; I really didn't know what to expect or what kind of musical background they were coming from and we hit it off right from the beginning. We all were speaking the same language and the communication through sound was unbelievable, how well we got on together.

Hopefully we will be doing concerts again in the near future. My Mexican trio, Cosmic Brujo Mutafuka Trio will be coming to Europe in mid-July, and I want to propose to [tenor saxophonist] Marek Pospieszalski, Michal and [double bassist] Ksawery Wojcinski about doing some concerts as a double trio, performing some of my compositions. Two basses, two drummers, two saxophones.

AAJ: Living in Vienna, how did you get to know musicians from ... Mexico?

ME: The Cosmic Brujo Mutafuka trio came about a few years ago when I was invited to perform at a weeklong festival in Mexico City. This group was put together for me and we also hit it off right from the start. I was also in Mexico City this past October [2012], when we did several concerts and will be back again in mid-May, performing at the Aural Festival, opening the evening's concert, followed by the Sun Ra Arkestra.

The drummer, Gabriel Lauber, is half Swiss and Mexican. He spent the first twenty years of his life in Switzerland, studied drums with the great Swiss drummer Pierre Favre, and has been living in Mexico for the past twenty years. Bassist Itzam Cano is a full Mexican of Aztec descent. He currently teaches at the conservatory. Both of these guys will fit together incredibly well with Michal and Ksawery.

AAJ: It's eight years now since you moved to Austria. What was the reason for leaving the US and what do you do in Vienna?

ME: I had wanted to come to Europe for a long time, but never really knew where or what was possible. My living situation in Oakland, California, at the time, was deteriorating, and I had to make a change. A few things all of a sudden became available, so I decided to come to Vienna, and just see what happened. I came prepared to be able to stay for one year and things worked out. It has now be just over eight years that I have been here. The biggest change for me has been that I am able to just barely support myself playing music. I am not allowed to work in Austria, so I have to make the music work. The rent here is cheap enough that I can just barely survive, although 2012 was a very difficult year, and I really didn't have money for food other than potatoes much of the time. Probably the best thing for me here in Austria is that for the first time in my adult life I have health insurance. It actually saved my life as six years ago, just after turning 50, I became very ill and had to go through a two-year treatment which wouldn't have been possible if had I still been in America, without insurance.

AAJ: What you're saying is a bit sad...

ME: I am at an age where I do not bother anymore. Now I have time to just play music.

AAJ: How does your regular week look like?

ME: My days usually are spent practicing and working on music. Depending on what I might have coming up, if anything, I might spend anywhere from four to eight hours on the saxophone. I also play piano one to two hours a day. That is the ideal. But, of course, there are many other things that take away from that quite often, just dealing with all the bureaucracy of living in a foreign country.

AAJ: Do you still teach music?

ME: I am really not doing any teaching at the moment. I've not done any teaching since since I left the States in November, 2004 and moved to Vienna. I first came to Austria in the summer of 1992 to play at the Nickelsdorf Konfrontationen Festival, with the [trumpeter] Raphe Malik Quintet. I then came back, one month later, with Cecil Taylor, to perform at the Saalfelden Festival. In the summer of 2004, I returned to Nickelsdorf for the festival, where I played a duo concert with the great Dutch drummer Han Bennik, as well as an orchestra conduction piece by Butch Morris. After the festival I stayed for a couple of weeks and saw how things were in Austria and Vienna.

AAJ: You work at The Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music. What exactly do you do in the Institute?

ME: In Vienna, I am Artistic Director of the Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music, an idea/organization which I founded. It is basically a "jam" session/workshop, meeting every Monday night since September 26, 2005. We are at somewhere around 375 consecutive Monday nights now. On many nights, there can be up to twenty musicians present, and an audience between of fifty and eighty. I put together groups on the spot to go up and play, mixing and matching whoever is available. This is my improvisation, putting together groups of likeminded players, not likeminded players and combinations of instruments.

There is a very wide variety of players who come, from complete beginners to very advanced—classical players from the symphony, electronic musicians, post-noise rock players...everything. Also dancers, poets and theater people come on occasion.

AAJ: By saying "putting together groups of likeminded players, not like minded players, combinations of instruments," do you mean you focus more on people than on instruments and sound?

ME: Yes, I put together different groups of people based upon who they are, what they play, and how they play. And then comes the next grouping of players, so that the entire evening of maybe ten different groups out of maybe ten different players becomes, in a way, the composition.

AAJ: Do you know in person any of the musicians who come to the workshops?

ME: The one main person who comes is Alexander Gheorghiu. He is the first chair concert meister violinist with the Niederoesterreich Tonkuenstler Orchestra. There are also several others from the Radio Symphonie Orchestra, as well as students and faculty from the University of Music and Performing Arts.

ME: It's rather uncommon for classical musicians to improvise ...

ME: Yes, it is rare for the classical players, who are only interpreters of other people music, to improvise. They are not composers/improvisers, and cannot or do not want to create their own music. When I first started this in 2005, there were also many musicians coming from North and West Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

AAJ: Who is your greatest music mentor?

ME: My two main musical mentors have been [trumpeter] Bill Dixon, who I worked with in 1984-85, and Cecil Taylor, who I first worked with in 1992 and still do to this day, on occasion. The last time I was with Cecil was when I spent two days in New York City in October, 2011. I was at his house in Brooklyn every day working on new compositions he had put together for us as a duo. My composition style/technique is very much Cecil-influenced. I use the alphabet notation system and think in terms of cells and unit structures, I have also studied European composers and have a Masters degree in composition, with Olivier Messiaen being one of my main influences. And of course, Messiaen takes from Stravinski , who takes from Debussy.

In my early days, I also studied North Indian classical music at the Ali Akbar Khan School of Music in California where I studied voice and table; spent two years taking African music and dance classes with Tunji Vidal and C.K. Ladzekpo; Balinese music with I. Wayan Suweca; and played in the New York City Loisaida Scuola de Samba, whose members included Nana Vasconcelos.

AAJ: Please explain the nature of the alphabet system and unit structures.

ME: The alphabet system uses the alphabet to designate the notes. The direction is visual up or down. No rhythm is given; it is done aurally. As opposed to a "song," with a long melody and harmony, etc. that is memorized and repeated over and over in some type of form, this new music is more about the "devouring of grid." Small cells of notes—maybe just a few—would be played and extrapolated upon before moving to the next group. The cell is the seed, the kernel, the grundgestalt, upon which one can imply many things from which to expand. They are the template, the smallest portion of which is as important as the larger portion. They are distinct objects that stand alone, and are manipulated and expanded upon through a menu of processes, and worked out until another cell/unit structure emerges or is given within the composition.

AAJ: How does your music change? After the Kosmos-Kosmos club concert, you said that your music is calmer now—more poetic, less "furious." Did you take a new direction or does music depend on circumstances and the people with whom you play?

ME: My approach to music has been always to try and become a musician—not just a saxophonist, but learning and taking from anything and everything that I can. This has also included working in theater and dance, writing poetry, painting, driving a New York City taxi, working in restaurants washing dishes, digging ditches. Just doing what it takes to try and somehow survive as a creative artist in America.

AAJ: What inspires you?

ME: I take my inspiration from everything. I believe one has to create one's own inspiration and find it in everything. I could go on and write a book but that would take up too much space.

AAJ: What is the most important thing to know, when it comes to improvising? What would you advise to a young musician who wants to play improvised music with other people?

ME: For young players—and to older, as well—I say: learn anything and everything you can. When you find/hear something you like, figure it out, transcribe it and imitate it. Write it down and analyze it to better understand it. It's like a painter with a pallet of colors. In the beginning you have only black and white, and then you add colors. But if you want red for example, first off you have to know that the color red even exists. And after you discover this new color you need to learn about it and how to use it. Slowly one builds up a palette of colors/sounds.

Another important thing is: listen, listen, listen and imitate. When playing with another person, one can try and play exactly the same thing and way, or one can play something that compliments and supports what the other person is playing, or you can play something that is the opposite.

When playing alone, play one note that you like, and then find another note that you like after that, and then again. In playing one note well, to quote Cecil Taylor: "How many ways are there to play one note? Timeless in the glare of a blade of obsidian traveling through the infinity of space."

Selected Discography

Vinny Golia/Marco Eneidi/Lisa Mezzacappa/Vijay Anderson, Hell-Bent In The Pacific (No Business, 2012)

Lisle Ellis/Marco Eneidi/Peter Valsamis, American Roadwork (CIMP, 2004)

Sound on Survival, Liverk (Henceforth, 2004)

Marco Eneidi/William Parker/Donald Robinson, Cherry Box (Eremite, 2001)

Photo Credit

Alphabet Notation System, Page 3: Marco Eneidi

All Other Photos: Krzysztof Machowina

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