Matthew Garrison: Core Matter

Ian Patterson By

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Bassist/composer Matthew Garrison is, without a doubt, one of the most technically gifted musicians of his generation. Over the last two decades he has been employed by such high-caliber leaders as [pianist-keyboardists] Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock and Geri Allen; [saxophonists] Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker and Steve Coleman; [guitarists] John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, John Scofield; [drummers] Jack DeJohnette, Gary Husband and Terri Lyne Carrington. This impressive list tells only a part of the story, for Garrison is equally feted by pop icons such as Paul Simon, Whitney Houston and Pino Daniele.

Perhaps because he is in such high demand by an A-list of jazz and pop names, Garrison's own output as a leader has been less than prolific, with two studio releases and one live recording up to 2004. The music in Garrison's short but scintillating discography is a cocktail of melody, stirring improvisation and cutting-edge sounds. One of the shining lights of New York's underground scene, Garrison has countered the indifference of mainstream labels and venues by forging his own path; GarrisonJazz Productions was founded in 1998 to produce the bassist's music and to help promote artists with a similarly singular musical vision. This vision of an independent, creative musical hotbed will take another exciting step forward with the forthcoming Brooklyn opening of Garrison's own music venue, which will host both live performances and music production.

Shapeshifter Live 2010 Part 1 (GJP, 2010) captures Garrison solo, armed only with his bass and pre-programmed music. It is an exceptional sonic blast, which flows organically over 50 glorious minutes, blending a host of contemporary rhythms and sci-fi sounds through which Garrison's customary lithe bass improvisations purr and roar. For Garrison, the only category that truly matters is that of creativity and the desire to push the borders of his musical possibilities.

All About Jazz Six or seven years ago, on Shapeshifter (GJP, 2004), you recorded with a bunch of great musicians like keyboardists Scott Kinsey and Jim Beard, drummer Jojo Mayer, percussionist Arto Tuncboyacian and harmonica player Gregoire Maret, but there was one track, "Changing Paths," which featured just you and programming. Do the seeds of Shapeshifter Live 2010 go back to then? Was this a project you'd had in mind a long time?

Matthew Garrison Yeah. There are a lot of things you can do with a band and a lot of things you cannot do. I've been trying to get a bit closer to what it means to use my computer in real time. To be honest, there are really only a few segments in this latest project that indicate that. There's a part in "Exchanges" where I take my hands of the instrument—and that's kind of the motif of this project: trying to step away from the instrument yet still deal with it—because a lot of the samples that are being manipulated on that particular tune is my bass and it's the same song, but it's being messed with in real time.

Obviously, the improvisation and the exchange between musicians can never be replaced, and that's definitely not my goal or my desire. There are a lot of details in this performance that can uniquely be worked at by myself. Essentially, what I'm doing is taking what I do in the studio and putting it onto a stage. It's almost an exact duplication of what happens in my studio, and that was the main point. A lot of people have come over to my studio, and when they hear what I'm doing they just flip out.

The performance was presented in surround sound, and that in itself was a change in my performance concept. I try to do that with the band sometimes—who's going to be in the surround environment and how that's going to work, how we shift from one musician to the other and the changes in the quadrophonic field or the surround field. These are all elements I'm going to be experiment with in the coming months. It's like going to a movie theater and you hear sounds moving in and around, behind, in front and on top of you. What we're doing is that we're taking all of those elements and we're improvising with that. My bass can be in any part of the room as I move my hands around certain parts of the instrument. There are so many other details that can be covered just operating by myself, and it probably gets the message across clearer because people understand that there are tracks being played behind me while I'm improvising. It doesn't take the focus away from the person in the center, which is myself, obviously, but this is not an ego trip, it's about trying to get to where I want to go.

AAJ: How important a role did your sound engineer play on this recording?

MG: My sound engineer, Warren Brown, is critical. When we work together, sparks fly, man, in the same way that sparks can fly when musicians performing bounce off each other. If you know how to use the new technology, you can create situations which are breathtaking. Warren is tremendous; I'm a bit of a control freak in terms of how hands-on I can be in changing sounds and changing directions of sounds, tempos and so on. I'll tell Warren I need a pedal that can do this or that, and this guy will start building one. The next thing I know, a few months later he comes back with a pedal that will enable me to move my sound in surround sound. He does it not to satisfy my request so much but because he enjoys doing it.

We also use iPhones and iPads to control situations, and we use different types of software. It's a 50-50 situation with Warren; he'll come up with ideas which are just perfectly in balance with what I'm trying to do. He also helps with the recording; once we get to the mixing and mastering, he's there. We make an interesting team, and it's so much fun. There's so much going on that sometimes you don't know if you're doing something different until you're out on stage and people are like: "What the fuck just happened?" [Laughs.] At that point, we know we're going in the right direction because the idea is to do something that has not been done before.

MG: We're doing that; we've started some forays into the Asian market, which has been fantastic. We're getting a really good reception and some very good fees for what we're presenting. We have Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Macau, Australia. I want to make this a regular thing. They're also asking me if I can contact this person or that person, so we're going to turn this into a small booking agency, so that we don't just help ourselves but we help the people who we think deserve proper exposure. The agents want the bigger names to fill their venues, but they're also willing to take the risk to see what's going on. In Europe they don't have time for that, which I just don't get.

I feel that the enthusiasm is here too, but there has to be an exchange between the business, the artist and the person that wants to go and enjoy the music. We're really trying to achieve that, where there's a true exchange. We're going to experiment in as many ways as we can with this venue, and we'll do whatever works. I agree with you about the excitement. Jazz, when it's done right, man, there's no rock 'n' roll concert that can top that shit!

One thing I've noticed over the years is that jazz has got this strange rap for there not being much money in it, but that's one of the biggest crocks of shit I've ever heard of in my life, because I've made a very good living off this thing as have a lot of other people. I was recently on tour with Whitney Houston and there are several occasions where I've made more money playing improvisational music. Maybe festivals like the one you mentioned in Korea will start seeing that and understanding that it's financially viable if you do it in the right way.

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