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Peter Gordon: Innovation At All Costs


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AAJ: I sense that you could care less but do you sometimes feel that Thirsty Ear is the bastard child of the jazz scene—that there is some sort of jazz "establishment that frowns upon Thirsty Ear and Matthew Shipp and William Parker. I've always sensed that those guys don't get their due.

PG: We always consider ourselves the Antichrist of jazz. I don't know if that is a calling card or a badge of honor. We just didn't come out of the institution of jazz—we came out of the spirit of jazz. And that's a very different place to come from. We don't think what we're doing is very unusual—but then again David Lynch doesn't think he's an unusual filmmaker.

We always felt the mandate of jazz was to be a chameleon and to change with the times. Maybe we're taking things to literally and we're the only ones doing it but we don't feel we should be the only ones doing it. We feel everyone else should be on board with us. It's about going to a place that no one's been to before. It speaks more loudly to that, if we're alone in that vision—are we wrong and everyone else is right or are we right, and everyone else is wrong.

AAJ: You mentioned punk rock a number of times. Do feel an affinity towards, or do you watch what other independent labels are doing? Do you applaud the innovation that's going on in those scenes just as much as what you guys are doing at Thirsty Ear?

PG: Well I don't look at music on a genre basis. I just look at music as music. One of the problems today is that we've sliced music into little cubicles, which becomes a deterrent to people listening to music. It also means that you now all of a sudden have opinions you didn't know you had—whether you like punk or not, whether you like hip-hop or not. And anytime you generalize something like that you're going to paint with such a wide brush you're going to miss all the nuances.

Punk rock—you know I was introduced to free jazz by Henry Rollins, who is certainly a great punk rockers, when we ran his label 2.13.61. So I kind of owe it to Henry for opening my ears to it. The musician on a punk rock level is actually very different than what it is on a jazz level. They're actually two ends of the spectrum. One is attitude with barely an ability to play and the other is virtuoso playing based on deconstructionist attitudes.

So it's from beginner with attitude on one end to completely off the scale in technical ability on the other. But what they share is the excitement and the energy level and playing from the guts and just playing with wild abandon—playing devoid of institutional convention. And that is what makes music exciting—when people are fired up and burning and not self-conscious about it. That's what turns people on when you can feel that transference of energy.

You have to be careful to know what you're good at, be true to your vision and to push yourself and not relax.

AAJ: When I interviewed William Parker when Luc's Lantern (2005) came out he spoke about searching for the center where the music comes from and as long as your path to that center is pure then what you develop once you've reached that center cannot be judged.

PG: That's well-put and his company is called Centering Music and what he's saying not just generally but specifically, is that it is then uniquely William Parker. Just as we all have unique finger prints and unique DNA he's found his musical DNA and brought it forward. You almost have to take all you know and then throw it away and then start over and be pure with it, knowing that your technique will help you speak in a unique voice.

I remember I had teacher who said to me, "Practice like a dog and then when you perform, just forget everything. And that's how you get to you. The more you think when you play, the more you're just doing a performance of written material. The more you let go, the more it becomes you as an individual just speaking to the world.

AAJ: Tell me about your relationship with Matthew Shipp.

PG: When Matthew was on 2.13.61 and Thirsty Ear was running that label while Henry Rollins was pursing other things, I remember saying to him, "You know, any time you want to record on Thirsty Ear you let me know. And that was in the '90s. Then one day he said, "Okay let's go do but then that's it—it's my last record and I'm retiring. I don't want to do this anymore. And it's a well-known story. This was his goodbye record—DNA (1999), a duet record with William Parker. The two of them are just very intuitive players with each other. They really come from different places but as a union they create a whole that is just very special.

I was always interested in jazz, studied it and played it, but Thirsty Ear as a label was always involved in rock and alternative music. I never felt there was a reason to get involved in jazz unless we could come up with something new and something special because there's already a lot going on out there, plenty of jazz documented and the world certainly doesn't need another slab of plastic out there just doing the same thing. So I said to [Shipp], "Would you consider working with me on this new concept. We could really just take a whole different approach to jazz.

Free jazz is a very difficult term because it means everything and it means nothing. If anything else it pushes people away and really isn't a very good term. Let's say "new jazz and it's all about that. We started thinking about ways to create ensembles and create an emotional and intellectual space that was very different than the normal recording attitude. Every record would have to have an aesthetic; every record would have to have a purpose. We have to be able to hear it in our mind before we even open up a note and it would all have an approach that was totally unique. But because each record would have aesthetic of its own they ended up having a common aesthetic that the artists were reaching towards something.

That's why The Blue Series has maybe sixty, sixty-five releases, and their all different but you kind of know they belong in the family. That's because we've really tried to allow every record to breathe on its own, to be its own person. But it's brought along with an aesthetic that is common but unique on its own. A curiosity that is common in all the records.

Matthew is very deep and rich in his thinking. He's a student of the industry. Together we could really get in there and say "How can we take this all apart and then put it together again. So we use all our knowledge and then throw it away and come up with something special. You know you have your body of knowledge but you find yourself saying, "I've done that before therefore I can't do that anymore. You put all these road blocks in your thinking in order to create something fresh and new. That's what the Blue Series is about.

Selected Discography

Gang Font featuring Interloper (Thirsty Ear, 2007)

The Free Zen Society, The Free Zen Society (Thirsty Ear, 2007)

Sex Mob, Sexotica (Thirsty Ear, 2006)

Carl Hancock Rux, Good Bread Alley (Thirsty Ear, 2006)

Beans, Only (Thirsty Ear, 2006)

William Parker, Luc's Lantern (Thirsty Ear, 2005)

David S. Ware, Live in the World (Thirsty Ear, 2005)

Mike Ladd, Negrophilia—The Album (Thirsty Ear, 2005)

Yohimbe Brothers, Tao of Yo (Thirsty Ear, 2005)

Charlie Hunter & Bobby Previte as Groundtruther, Longitude (Thirsty Ear, 2005)

Charlie Hunter & Bobby Previte as Groundtruther, Latitude (Thirsty Ear, 2004)

Big Satan, Souls Saved Hear (Thirsty Ear, 2004)

David S. Ware, Threads (Thirsty Ear, 2003)

Antipop Consortium, Antipop vs. Matthew Shipp (Thirsty Ear, 2003)

William Parker Violin Trio, Scrapbook (Thirsty Ear, 2003)

Roy Campbell, It's Krunch Time (Thirsty Ear, 2001)


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