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Steve Korn: Third Time's a Charm

Jason West By

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I think my compositions have probably evolved more to suit my drumming. I
Good things come in threes, the saying goes, and so it is with the third release from Seattle drummer Steve Korn. While his first and second CD projects contained a total of six original compositions, Points in Time features seven Korn originals, providing us with the clearest glimpse into his musical psyche.

Recorded at Studio X in June of this year, Points in Time features an all-city cast with Korn on drums, Paul Gabrielson on double bass, Marc Seales on piano and the coupling of Mark Taylor and Rob Davis on saxophones. The CD is due out in December, with a CD release party scheduled for Dec.11 at the Triple Door.

All About Jazz: “Hymn,” the spacious opening track, provides an attractive contrast to the second-hand-ticking, syncopated urgency of the next tune “Helio.” The former ends – pitch for pitch in the horns – where the latter begins. Is this grouping a coincidence or by design?

Steve Korn: The horn pitches at the beginning of “Helio” are actually different than those which end the “Hymn,” but the vibe is very similar. You’re right, this is by design. When performing these pieces live, they are always grouped together and were composed with this in mind.

AAJ: “Tangents” is a modal piece with a large solo passage which offers an intriguing in-stereo comparison: saxophonist Mark Taylor, recorded on the left channel, and saxophonist Rob Davis, on the right. What qualities do Mark and Rob bring to your music? Did you write any of the tunes on the record with them in mind?

SK: Mark and Rob are like a team. They’re best friends, for a period of time they lived together, and they have played together for years. They’re both extremely gifted, disciplined musicians who have a genuine appreciation of the differences in one another’s playing. They both came up studying with Don Lanphere and attended the University of Washington. So, they know how to play together. This can’t be overstated. Whether playing written passages or improvising together, there is an immediate connection between them that would not be the same had I paired either of them with a less familiar partner.

There are many great examples on the CD of how well these guys listen to and compliment one another. They both have so much range, from great melodicism to all-out, “eat the horn alive” type aggressiveness. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from both of them over the years. They’ve both turned me on to a lot of different music as well as forced me to raise the level of my playing just to try and keep up! They’ve both exemplified for me what it means to be a disciplined practitioner of this music. As for writing with them in mind, I did know I wanted them for the recording when I was composing the music, however I don’t think I write for specific players. I just try to write the music I’m hearing in my head. When it came time to record, I let everyone in the group pick which tunes they would like to solo on.

AAJ: Your first and second recording projects, Here and Now (Origin, 1999) and Pride and Joy (Origin, 2000), each featured three original compositions. Points in Time more than doubles that number with seven originals out of nine total tracks. As you continue to mature as a composer, in what ways does this growth affect your perspective as a drummer?

SK: I haven’t really noticed an affect on my drumming. I have always tried to approach the drums from a compositional perspective, always trying to react to a composition by playing what it makes me hear in my head and trying to make choices that I think will best enhance it in relation to what the other players in the group are doing. This is a hit or miss proposition and is at the essence of improvisation, as I don’t want to determine one way of playing a piece and try to recreate it again and again. I think my compositions have probably evolved more to suit my drumming. I’m trying to strike a balance between interesting writing and arranging with a lot of room for the group to interact via the improvisations. Some people write tunes that have very complex melodies and harmonies followed by solo sections that are very difficult to navigate or lock the group into having to play certain figures or with a certain vibe.

To me the soloists sound like they are just trying to make it through the tune and don’t have the opportunity to really play and say something and interact with the group. I think it’s a real challenge to write material that has depth and is interesting yet is accessible enough for the soloists to bring their depth. I’m also trying to write tunes without an agenda. That is, I don’t feel the need to follow standard forms or rely on jazz-like harmonies, rhythms or phrasing. That stuff goes into my tunes if it’s honestly what I’m hearing but I try not to force anything, just like my drumming.


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