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Peter Gordon: Innovation At All Costs


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AAJ: This became a pet project for you. I sense this relief that it's done.

PG: It's a hard thing. It was retrofitting a concept that we came to later with a performance that didn't have that in mind. It was a painstaking restoration project you might say. But the key is that in order to do that correctly it has to sound natural. If it doesn't sound natural you've butchered the performance. It was a matter of doing a certain amount of rearranging. But because of the nature of this music, it's all about fluidity and you can't afford for it to sound like you've hacked away at this thing. You have to make it sound very, very natural. So you spend a lot of time making it sound natural even though you're mechanically going in there and putting the jigsaw puzzle together.

AAJ: It seems like this record was pieced together in much the same fashion that other Thirsty Records have been pieced together only this time the intended outcome was very, very different.

PG: That's a great way of putting it—the whole mindset was very different going in to this. The whole gestalt was very different. We didn't really have experience in this area so we had to really get enveloped in it. I would know after a session when I'd play it down if I could listen to a song and really be transported somewhere, then the song succeed and if I couldn't then there was irritant in there that didn't allow the mind to escape. So that was sort of the barometer—if you could lose sight of the day at the end of the song. It's a pretty tough thing to do.

In one way it has to be very, very simple but in another way there are many layers of complexity in there that achieve that simplicity.

AAJ: The "Thirsty Ear Method has always been that style of post-production. Do you see that as being a part of the jazz tradition in much the same way that a lot of the fusion records that Miles Davis did involved the splicing of tapes together from sessions? Do you conceptualize Thirsty Ear as being part of this tradition?

PG: We look at it on a project by project basis. If it calls for that [post-production] then absolutely you do it. If you want to be an evolving and growing label you have to look at each project and say, "In order to give birth to this project, what is the best way to do it.

You don't want to force fit every technique the same way because every musician is different and every recording session is different. I think this has been a good technique for us with certain artists and in certain situations but I think in other situations it would have been a complete and absolute disaster. Sometimes you do want to go for the organic and get the right guys to get in [the studio] and get out having had a magical experience.

What it does is it speaks loudly to the inability of musicians who are very busy and always running around the world to really be able to sit down together and just jam and just come up with concepts and ideas—to do all night sessions and just work through various new roads to take. You just don't have that anymore. You don't have the late night jam sessions where all the cool cats come down and create breakthroughs. In many ways we have to replicate that in post-production—the innovation that would have happened if time had been on a much slower and grander pace. I think it's a function of the times we live in as much as anything else.

AAJ: Totally—I'm a musician myself and there are plenty of times I will walk into rehearsal and say, "Look, can we just jam? Cause you don't want to work on those pre-rehearsed pieces all the time. Do you think that Thirsty Ear is lucky in that you have a loyal cadre of artists, particularly Matt Shipp and William Parker, who are so well rehearsed together and who are so familial?

PG: Yes, we're very fortunate to have a dedicated crew of musicians and those guys [Shipp and Parker] are almost telepathic. I think the larger issue is one: you have to have them and two: you have to have the willingness to just take what you throw at them and the willingness to get outside themselves and respond to a whole new situation. If there's a problem with music and jazz in particular today, it's that [jazz] is caught up in form and structure. And that should come later, after you've done the innovation. If we start with form and structure then you can't ever get beyond that—it becomes your prison. What we encourage at Thirsty Ear is to just let it go.

That's why we give artists different soundscapes and things to respond to because we're looking for them to push out. We're not looking to disorient them per se but to push out an unfamiliar form but within familiar territory so that you get an expression out of them that isn't automatic. It becomes more than, "Oh I've heard that chord progression before and I know how to get out of it. Here are transitions you haven't heard, here are rhythms you haven't heard. We trust your instincts, we ultimately believe in improvisation, we're giving you a way to open that up by giving you the unfamiliar so that we can tap into a place you haven't been to before.


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