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Rob Reddy: The Fine Line Between Composition and Comfort


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A lot of times when I go to mix a record, an engineer will pull some of those ensemble things, those ensemble ideas, way down beneath a soloist. And I'll almost always say, 'No, no, bring that up--I want the clash. I want it to be in the same sonic space
Rob Reddy's one of the prominent soprano saxophonists working today, but his reputation has been built upon his work as bandleader and, especially, as a composer. He's been a presence in New York for 20 years now, having studied with soprano player Dave Liebman and reedsman Makanda Ken McIntyre before graduating from the first-ever jazz program at Greenwich Village's New School.

Reddy played as a sideman with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson (Jackson encouraging him to pick up the alto saxophone, an instrument he hadn't played in years) before starting his first group, a trio with Workman and drummer Pheeroan Aklaff. His first recording, Post-War Euphoria (Songlines, 1996) was a sextet set by his group Rob Reddy's Honor System, and was marked by all the elements that mark his music to this day: tight ensemble playing, fierce improvisation that's never indifferent to the character of the composition, and the sextet format itself, which—personnel and instrumentation varying—has been the lineup for all but one of Reddy's recordings. Reddy's surrounded himself with some of improvisational music's least generic musicians—players like Aklaff, drummer Guillermo Brown, guitarist Jef Lee Parker, bassist Dom Richards and violinist Charles Burnham—but the group performances on his CDs are, paradoxically, among the most unified and composition-centered in jazz music.

In addition to a healthy and ever-increasing number of commissions coming in for his compositions, Reddy released A Hundred Jumping Devils in late 2006, a release by his group Gift Horse. This is his first CD in five years and the first-ever release on his own Reddy Music imprint. It's worth the wait. I spoke with Reddy about the new recording, his thoughts on composition and improvisation, the players in Gift Horse, the soprano saxophone, and much more.

Chapter Index

A Hundred Jumping Devils: Why Five Years In the Making?
Gift Horse: "Chamberness and Mino Cinelu
Musicians' Personalities and the Line Between Composition and Comfort
Influences and "Eclecticism
More About Mino
Charles Burnham
Mark Taylor: Why French Horn?
"The Unnamable
"One (For Jef)
"A Hundred Jumping Devils
Supporting and Competing with the Soloist
"Mark of Sincerity
"A Soprano Saxophonist Who Doubles on Alto
Interest in Smaller Groups and Thoughts on Composing
What's Coming Up?

A Hundred Jumping Devils: Why Five Years In the Making?

All About Jazz: You have a new CD released, the wonderful A Hundred Jumping Devils, the first with your sextet Gift Horse, and the first on your own Reddy Music label.

This is your first CD in five years—your first since the Seeing by the Light of My Own Candle album from 2001, which was the third record of yours to come out in three years. What produced such a long interval between recordings?

Rob Reddy: Good question. I don't think it was by choice, or by too much of a choice that there was that much of a gap between these recordings. I suppose it was a mixture of always having more than one ensemble on my plate that I compose for—up until releasing this last record, anyway—and trying to find a label to put these recordings out on where it made sense and where I was able to scrape up a tiny little budget to be able to make the record and pay people as much as I want to. So those things were factors.

And that has a lot do do with why I finally threw in the towel and decided to put this last one out myself. I had been hemming and hawing about doing it for a while, because I knew how much more work it would be to put one out myself and actually get it out there correctly and actually sell more than five copies of it. So I sat on A Hundred Jumping Devils for about a year; it was pretty much done and ready to go. Finally, I decided to just start a label and put it out. And I'm really glad I did—it's been really great to sort of get a feeling for the inner workings of how to get a record out there and get people to listen to it and write about it. And buy it! class="f-right"> Return to Index...

Gift Horse: "Chamberness and Mino Cinelu

AAJ:This new CD is yet another sextet set, like the majority of your records—you don't seem interested in very small group presentations of your work—and it's yet another unique configuration, although like the last several, it includes Charlie Burnham on violin and Dom Richards on bass. Like all your records, it's got a richness of tone produced by that distinctive blend of voices and harmonized written melody lines that, like the rest of the music, bring to mind a great host of musical influences without really being overly indebted to any one of them. It's full of great improvising, but that improvising is always glued to the compositional material as opposed to the written work just being a structure for solos.

That said, I think this one might be the most compositional of all your recordings, and I also think the music is a little less about polyphony than Seeing by the Light of My Own Candle was. The presence of Mino Cinelu on percussion is really distinctive here and pushes the material into some especially grooving areas. Tell me what you wanted to accomplish with this recording and how it might differ from your previous work.

RR: I didn't sit down and make any sort of conscious decisions to try and make a different record. But I had scored a short film that was clarinet, French horn, violin and cello. So this record had something to do with that music that I wrote for that short film. I thought of having French horn, saxophone—instead of clarinet—and violin as a, so to speak, front line. There was something about it that I wanted to emphasize sonically—the chamber-ness, if that's a word, of that instrumentation. And I didn't think drum kit, which really takes up a lot more space sonically, with the high-end cymbals and low-end bass drum, would work. Especially the drummers that I prefer, really hard hitting drummers like Pheeroan Aklaff and Guillermo Brown. I think what they do takes up a lot more space sonically than what a percussionist might play.

I first met Mino when I was at the New School. He taught a class there, so I met him then, and we live very close to each other here in Brooklyn, so I'd run into him a few times. So it had been in the back of my mind that he might be great for this music, so I gave him some of the music and it just worked out really well. And yes, his choices of instruments were great—he really studied this music a lot, took the time to think about it and really work with it. So it just worked out perfectly. class="f-right"> Return to Index...


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