Michele Rosewoman: Wearing Her Passion With The In Side Out

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AAJ: That would be "Eshu Laroye" and "The ER."

MR: Brad Jones is on the bass. He's a great acoustic and electric player, who opens everything up or locks it in, whatever the moment calls for. Brad is solid, collaborative, supportive and fun to play with. He enjoys the magic of the moment and the interplay.

Derrek Phillips is on the drums. Brad and Derrek have been partners for a long time and they have a good lock. Derrek is very solid, supportive and versatile.

AAJ: What is the significance of the album's title?

MR: Well, I thought of the title from a number of different angles, and it seems to be a fully reversible statement. It speaks of that which I have taken in [influences] which is outwardly manifested [through recording].

What I have internalized doesn't add up to a middle-of-the road thing, and is somewhat "out" conceptually. Also, the more subtle grooves and underlying structures of the more stretched out tracks are the inside aspect of those tracks, and so the outside stuff has some inside aspects. And the inside stuff like "The Fineness Of," which is kind of straight-up funk, has an "out" quality because of David's approach on guitar.

In terms of production, Mark Shim's use of electronic sounds and some of his drum programming add some "out" or unexpected elements to the hard groove tracks, like "The Fineness Of," "Life is for Learning" and "Guapo Remix." I have always loved pocket and groove [funk]. So with this CD, it's out [to the public] that I love the inside stuff too. I know that's taking a risk, because the jazz setting is not always accepting of that element, however, a lot of jazz musicians first played R&B and funk, including myself. It is a part of what we love and do. Since The In Side Out is an independent production, I took the liberty of doing all the things that I love and tried my best to do justice to each idiom.

AAJ: Let's begin with "Cuerpolarity." It sounds like a taste of things to come.

MR: There is a certain suspense to that excerpt. By opening with this excerpt, the intention was to set up a feeling of anticipation and adventure. An adventure in the sense that each track to come is so different, as well as the unpredictable course that each track takes within itself.

AAJ: Yes, the repertoire is very diverse. What prompted you write, "Don't get mad at us, we love the funk ?

MR: I have encountered resistance in the past. I know that this is such a different idiom to put on the same recording, but where am I supposed to do it? Another reason that I wanted to do it is that Mark Shim has been working with me for six years and he knows my music inside out. He has some skills and creative abilities that no one is aware of. I liked the idea of offering him a context to further apply and develop his talents. I enjoyed collaborating with him. It's my music and sometimes I feel like it's always about me, me, me! So this gave Mark an opportunity to produce. Through his efforts I was able to strongly present another side of the music that I have always been into. Oops, guess it was about me after all! [laughter].

AAJ: In recordings such as Spirit (Blue Note, 1996) you included material by groups such as Earth, Wind & Fire. Who are some of the others that you admire?

MR: Vocal groups—I love the voice: Marvin [Gaye], of course. Curtis Mayfield, The Temptations, The Delfonics, The Stylistics, Al Green, Sam Cook, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder. There are so many. It's natural for me to want to do more of the music I love. As for the R&B of today, I like Prince, D'Angelo, Maxwell and Floetry. I appreciate it when the musical setting is unique and it doesn't fall into a mold,

AAJ: Please define the term, "angular funk.

MR: For example, "Warm —referring to the parts of it that are not in 4/4. And the horn lines—which are poppin' and groovin'—are lopsided because they are super-syncopated and in seven.

AAJ: "Link sounds like a conversation between the old and new Quintessence. In fact, the concept of something old vs. something is the common thread. Your version of Marvin Gaye's "Life is for Learning is a good example of that.

MR: There are certain cuts that clearly reflect the fact that this is an evolution and extension of the ensemble—the next chapter. Link is one of them.

AAJ: Which tracks are you referring to?

MR: I keep thinking about an earlier period of Quintessence, when I wrote what I was hearing without worrying about how hard it was going to be to get it played. I did that with the recording, Contrast High (Enja, 1988 ). There is some complicated and extremely challenging material on that recording that I don't pull out too readily because I have to relearn it myself!

The tracks on The In Side Out that are an evolution of the previous Quintessence sound would be "Link, "Advance Dance, "Guapo and "The ER. "Link has a rhythmic impetus that is the basis for our interplay. We are exploring 6/4, which is a really mysterious meter because it's like a slow 6/8, and you can subdivide it many ways. Something about if feels really natural and I just sort of fell on it. I rarely come to stuff in a calculated way, there's a groove in there that feels good.

In the beginning it was mysterious and we all had to get to it and learn how to play on it, but then it got so comfortable that it sounds like we are playing completely free. But there is an underlying rhythmic and harmonic structure. That's a concept I like for Quintessence and that's why I need players that can flex. "Advance Dance is a based on a three-and-a-half meter, but I found a place where this meter could dance. I wrote this piece initially as a means of challenging myself to get to some odd-meter stuff that comes easy to a lot of younger musicians.

AAJ: Tell me about "Guapo [which means handsome in Spanish] and "Guapo Remix. You describe it as a day in the life of... Just curious, a day in the life of?

MR: Any of us who wear five to ten different hats and think on multiple planes. Don't laugh but "Guapo was my cat. He was with me for eighteen years and he was an interesting personality on many levels and dimensions. I named this composition "Guapo, not because it totally matched his personality musically, but based somewhat on the range of his movement throughout the day was varied, complex, and like different episodes. He was intriguing.

So the tune is like a suite. It messes with compositional techniques such as the morphing and mutating of a melody, and a bass line used a lot of different ways at different times, and a groove that is based on a cycling bass line. There was a lot of rhythmic impetus for aspects of this piece. .The re-mix is the groove section, which we thought would translate well to an electronic sound.

AAJ: "Eshu Laroye is essentially a series of cantos [songs] that are dedicated to the deity known as Eleggua.

MR: Eleggua represents the crossroads, he sits at the door. All ceremonies are opened and closed to Eleggua. This deity is from the Yoruban pantheon of Orishas. The Orishas are messengers that govern areas of life. They personify nature and life principles. So Eleggua is very important and has accompanied me in a wonderful way throughout my life.

The thing that it is unique about "Eshu Laroye is the fact that it is a medley of cantos for Eleggua. Usually the songs are done in sequence, and within that sequence, you either have to rob two beats to have the canto fall on the right side of the clave, or delay it (for two beats). Here, all of the folkloric elements are intact and I have made every effort to not sacrifice either aspect.

Through the years, I have worked with youth choirs, and I created vocal arrangements of everything from R&B and jazz to folkloric traditions. So I feel very comfortable arranging vocals, although this arrangement took some doing! We (myself, Pedro and Olu) are singing several parts that overlap with one another, which is accomplished through over dubbing. At times, you are hearing six to eight vocal tracks at one time. Given the fact that it is a medley, you don't want to hear the same voice hitting you in the same place in the mix, so the panning was vital to making the vocal arrangement work. Arranging the medley involved finding an effective and correct placement of the cantos against each other plus using harmonies that would achieve maximum warmth.

Years ago, I had recorded this piece in the studio with [saxophonist] David Sanchez's group, but it was never released.. I was frustrated about that, however, there is always a reason why things happen. Now the tune has evolved and I ended up recording it with my own ensemble. Interestingly, it's getting a lot of air play, in spite of the fact that it's long for commercial radio. But that's Eshu! [Eleggua]

AAJ: It will be interesting to see how the traditionalists react to your arrangement. I like the way the composition segues between folkloric rhythms and jazz.

MR: I'm fairly sure that it will be appreciated on all fronts. The folklore is in tact, the spirituality is conveyed. Pedro, Olu and myself are all involved in the religion and have worked with and learned from the greatest bataleros and folklorists in the country. We have all been shaped profoundly by our teacher and friend, Orlando "Puntilla Rios.

Both Olu and Pedro have worked with New Yor-Uba over the years. Pedro has been working with me since he arrived from Cuba. I brought Olu into the studio after Pedro and I had completed all the vocal parts. But it is unnatural to hear the lead voice [agbon] singing the same part as melody in the chorus, With Olu the texture of our three voices has a clarity and warmth that I really like and I could assign the parts to our voices in a way that makes more sense and sounds more realistic.

AAJ: Let's return to Marvin Gaye's "Life is for Learning. In the liner notes for Guardians of the Light, you quoted Marvin. Here, you pay homage ...

MR: When I acknowledged him there, I used the lyrics from "Life is for Learning. Besides my arrangement, which is super-different from the original, Mark Shim put his stamp on it as a producer. I sang just enough lyrics to convey the message of the song.

AAJ: Before we wrap things up, what's happening with New Yor-Uba?

MR:We still have not recorded, but It's possible that this manifestation of Quintessence might open some doors. Pun or implication intended! Because that's what Eleggua does.

AAJ: In my opinion, what makes New Yor-Uba so special is your ability to merge jazz and folkloric music without losing anything in the translation.

MR: That has always been my goal. That's why I continue to study everything in great depth. I could spend my whole life studying the folklore and feel fulfilled. The knowledge and the subtlety are on another plane.

In the early '70s I started seriously playing congas and percussion and absorbing Cuban folkloric drumming and vocal traditions. These drumming and vocal traditions are uncanny and otherworldly. They obviously come from God! The congas are hard on "piano hands, so I don't play as much, but my involvement with this realm remains as important to me as the jazz idiom and its impact on me is beyond words.

It was a parallel realm of musical interest for me for years, and then it all began to mesh in my dreams and in my ears. That's how New Yor-Uba came to be. I began hearing the folkloric music in this larger setting and even though one is tradition and one is more expandable, there is a place where they come together. They can work together through careful consideration of each tradition. Also, understanding that there are commonalities is what can make it work. There is a statement that I read, from the book, Flash of the Spirit...

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