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Skerik: Concept is All Anyone Cares About

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AAJ: The record couldn't sound better. And there's a really high level of quality to the songwriting—[alto player/flutist] Hans Teuber, [Wurlitzer player/trombonist] Steve Moore and [Hammond organist] Joe Doria all contribute terrific compositions. But beyond that, and beyond the greatness of the playing, I'm struck by just how big everything sounds when you want it to. That's not to say that the group is always loud; it isn't. But the arrangements and voicings made me think, the first time I heard the record, that there had to be more musicians playing than the ones I saw listed. How'd you pull that off?

S: I think it's just the instrumentation and the way the arrangements are written. You know, when you're harmonizing horns, there's a lot of information going on there. You're not just getting, say, two instruments. There are a lot of mysterious things going on with overtones and harmonic relationships with instruments that create different sounds. It's as much an aural experience as an arranging experience.

But we hear that a lot on the road. We usually end the set with this medley that I put together; it starts with "Pure Imagination, from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, then it goes into "Moanin', then into this Carpenters song, "Close to You, and then it ends with Count Basie's "Shiny Stockings. And whenever we play that, I think I'm playing in a big band. And people come up to us and say, "Hey, it sounds so much bigger than what's on stage! It just blows the roof off the place. And when you look at the history of horn bands, it's always that way. Look at Tower of Power—when the arrangement calls for all the horns to dig in and really blow, it just sounds huge. Check out the big horn section of any band when they're featured. It's a thing to be reckoned with. So your saying that doesn't surprise me at all.

AAJ: Does each composer write the arrangements?

S: The composer voices everything out for the whole band. They're extremely talented people. We just show up at rehearsal, and it's like, "Here's this thing. Check it out. Boom. Done. People do take liberties with interpretation, especially the rhythm section. They can play things different ways, depending on the night; there's a lot of freedom there. But the horn parts are played as the composer envisioned them.

AAJ: I think you told me before that you do want things to change from night to night. You want the performance to reflect what the room is like, what happened that day.

S: Oh, yeah. Those are just some basic improvisation rules. Like with Wayne Shorter and his brother Alan—they had this band when they were growing up in Jersey, and they were entered in a battle-of-the-bands contest. So they set up in front of the stage, and instead of having music on the music stand, they had that day's paper. And they faced it towards the audience. Sort of saying, "Our shit is so fresh—it only came out today. Pretty funny. I guess they were always pulling shit like that. But every night we're trying to make it different. That's a main priority.

AAJ: The other thing that strikes me about Husky is that its level of dynamics is so strong. I didn't even think people were allowed to master CDs with that variety of dynamic levels nowadays.

S: Well, dynamics are definitely a big priority for the composers and arrangers in the band. I think everyone in the band is equally influenced by different forms of music from all over the world, and classical music, symphonic music, definitely has such a huge variety of dynamic markings. That's something we used to talk about a lot. So I'm not surprised that you hear that. And Husky also is very sympathetic to that. Even though he uses a lot of compression—he uses compression as a sort of effect sometimes, to distort the drums or horns. He loves helping create sections of the music dynamically as much as the musicians. He's listening. Dynamics are essential for this kind of music— especially since there are no guitars or vocals. You have to play on every aspect of music- making to try to make it as strong as possible.

AAJ: One thing about this group is that it is a group. You told me before that you won't play a gig if one member can't make it. You won't substitute.

S: Yeah, it's more like a rock band in that sense.

AAJ: Do you think this band is doing something unique—something that isn't being done nowadays?

S: I don't know. I hope not. There might be other stuff out there. I think it might just be a question of taste. Like if you like this kind of thing, this is what we're doing. Someone else might be doing a different version of it. I know that music schools are generating certain things that don't have too much to do with what we're doing. But I think that more and more younger musicians are being exposed to more eclectic influences. I'm as much into Arabic symphonic music as Duke Ellington. Or punk rock, or doom rock, as classical music. It's all the same to me. I'm looking for innovation and beauty. So I think everyone in our band is really open to that. Whereas a lot of people in the jazz world might not be. A lot of jazz musicians I meet are more conservative than the most right-wing Republican or NRA guy. And the results are plain to see.

AAJ: Yes. Jazz isn't dead, but some of them are embalming it anyway.

SkerikS: Yeah, there's definitely some grave-robbing going on. Especially when people don't have ideas. A lot of people spend so much time working on the technical facility of their instrument that they're not investing any time on life, discovering life. Go traveling! Go get into trouble! Go do something different; do something you wouldn't normally do. So many jazzers for the last 30 years come out of this scholastic environment where they have this syllabus. And they live by the syllabus. They don't have drivers' licenses—they just practice eight hours a day. But they don't sound like anything. They just sound like what they've been practicing. They sound like who they've been mimicking. And it's really sad, because a lot of them are so talented, with so much incredible, natural ability. But there's no concept attached to it. And concept is all anyone really cares about. No one cares how well I play the saxophone; it's more like, "what are you playing this night? Are you playing for me, or are you just practicing today? What are your opinions? What do you care about? That's what I want to hear when I hear a band—I want to feel that. I don't know; instrumental music and jazz just seem particularly to fall victim to certain circumstances—more so than other music, I think.

AAJ: So what are you going to do in the next few months?

S: Well, Garage A Trois is going to Brazil in the fall. I'm going to do a Bobby Previte tour with Charlie Hunter in November. Then I have a little trio with some guys from New Orleans called Maelstrom Trio; we're going to do some gigs. Critters Buggin' are doing some gigs in December. And I'm just looking forward to going back to New York and practicing and studying with as many people as I can. And, of course, the Syncopated Taint Septet is going out on tour in October.


Selected Discography

Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet, Husky (Hyena Records, 2006)
Les Claypool, Of Whales and Woe (Prawn Song, 2006)
Bobby Previte, The Coalition of the Willing (Ropeadope, 2006)
Stanton Moore, III (Telarc, 2006)
Garage a Trois, Outre Mer (Telarc, 2005)
Benevento/Russo Duo, Best Reason to Buy the Sun (Ropeadope, 2005)
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Symbiosis Osmosis (Kufala, 2005)
Critters Buggin', Stampede (Ropeadope, 2004)
Barrett Martin, The Painted Desert (Fast Horse, 2004)
Mylab, Mylab (Terminus, 2004)
Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet, Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet (Ropeadope, 2003)
Garage a Trois, Emphasizer (Tone Cool, 2003)
Skerik, Left for Dead in Seattle (Vivid Sound, 2003)
Jacek Kochan, New Expensive Head (Gowi, 2003)
Stanton Moore, Flyin' the Koop (Blue Thumb, 2002)
Les Claypool Frog Brigade, Purple Onion (Prawn Song, 2002)
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, The Bridge (Relaxed Records, 2002)
Critters Buggin', Amoeba (Loosegroove, 1999)
Ponga, Ponga (Loosegroove, 1999)
Stanton Moore, All Kooked Out! Fog City, 1998)
Critters Buggin', Bumpa (Loosegroove, 1998)
Critters Buggin', Monkeypot Merganser (1997)
Critters Buggin', Host (Loosegroove, 1997)
Critters Buggin', Guest (Loosegroove/Sony, 1994)

Photo Credits:
Top Photo: Josh Miller
Bottom Photo: Courtest of
Skerik

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