Take Five With Barry Cleveland

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Meet Barry Cleveland: Barry Cleveland's guitar playing is rooted in progressive and psychedelic rock, branching into ambient, experimental, funk, and various ethnic styles—enhanced by cutting-edge electronics and unorthodox playing techniques. He's also a deft engineer and producer with an iconoclastic approach to recording and mixing.

Cleveland released his first commercial album—Mythos—on Larry Fast's Audion Recording Company label in 1986, followed by the more electronic Voluntary Dreaming in 1989. Most of the material on these two albums was reissued in 2003 on the 2-CD set Memory and Imagination, which also includes previously unreleased music recorded in the early '90s. On 2004's Volcano, Cleveland ventured away from the more ambient and impressionistic sound of his previous work to explore instrumental world-fusion based on African and Afro-Haitian percussion.

The guitarist's latest release, Hologramatron, may be viewed as a modern-day "protest album" that draws inspiration from a musical continuum spanning art rock, psychedelia, avant-metal, ambient, global fusion, trance, and funk—with two early-'60s pop covers tossed in for kicks. Hologramatron has received rave reviews worldwide, and was submitted for a Grammy.

Cleveland is also the author of Joe Meeks Bold Techniques, and has served as an associate editor at Guitar Player magazine since 2002.


Electric and acoustic guitar, Moog Guitar, GuitarViol.

Teachers and/or influences? My early influences include Les Paul, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Terje Rypdal, King Crimson, Spirit, Weather Report, John McLaughlin, and Pink Floyd.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I heard my parents' Les Paul & Mary Ford albums.

Your sound and approach to music: Sound is quite important to me, and I use effects devices and some unusual playing techniques to coax atypical sounds from guitars, in addition to playing them in more conventional ways. My approach to music is largely intuitive, which is convenient given that I have relatively little formal training. I'm essentially a musical dilettante with a curious yet consistent capacity to pull decent ideas out of thin air.

Your dream band:

I'm already playing in my dream band: Robert Powell on pedal steel guitar, Michael Manring on bass, Celso Alberti on drums, and vocalist Amy X Neuburg.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: I lived in the South many years ago, and on one occasion the mostly black funk and soul group I was playing in at the time was mistakenly booked as a country & western band for a big dance at a military base. We somehow managed to pull it off without incident—but initially the tension was so thick that you could have sliced it with a knife.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? My favorite recording is my current release, Hologramatron, because it is the most fully realized.

The first Jazz album I bought was: Terje Rypdal, Whenever I Seem to Be Far Away (ECM).

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? Important is a relative term. My music has its own identity and I do some interesting things with sound—but whether anything that I do is important to anyone other than me is questionable.

Did you know...

I originally planned to be an astronomer.

CDs you are listening to now:

Thelonious Monk, Straight, No Chaser (Sony);

Eivind Aarset & The Sonic Codex Orchestra, Live Extracts (Jazzland);

The Ben Monder Trio, Flux (Songlines);

Joe Zawinul & the Zawinul Syndicate, World Tour (Zebra);

Richard Pinhas, Metal/Crystal (Cuneiform).

Desert Island picks: If you were limited to listening to the same five albums over and over again indefinitely you would probably wind up hating them all no matter what they were. That said, here are the first five that sprang to mind: Talking Heads, Remain in Light (Sire);

Brian Eno, Another Green World (Virgin);

Orlando Cachaito Lopez, Orlando Cachaito Lopez (World Circuit);

Reinhard Flatischler, Layers of Time (Ellipsis Arts);

Ralph Towner, Batik (ECM).

How would you describe the state of jazz today? The word jazz has become so diffuse as to be nearly useless as a descriptor, which may say as much about the music's current state as anything. Dixieland, swing, Gypsy, bop, post-bop, cool, Afro-Cuban, European, trad, fusion, free, acid, modal, Brazilian, avant-garde, smooth, nu, jazzcore—all of these styles and more are at various stages of development, from nascent to senescent, each with their own trajectory.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Fans need to attend performances on a regular basis and purchase CDs or legitimate downloads if they expect the musicians—and by extension the music—to survive.

What is in the near future? I am currently recording an ambient album called The History of Light, with bowhammer cymbalom maestro Michael Masley, and hope to begin recording an album with French guitarist and synthesist Richard Pinhas in 2011. I am also preparing a second edition of my book, Joe Meek's Bold Techniques, for publication as an eBook, hopefully in time for Christmas.

By Day:

I'm an associate editor at Guitar Player magazine.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: I would be either a brain surgeon or a double-ought spy.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Barry Cleveland
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