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Todd Neufeld: Transcending the Limits of Sound

Jakob Baekgaard By

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In a direct way I think literature hasn't had much influence on my music. But, in an indirect way, I think there is a large influence. I'm not so much interested in the meaning of words as I am the sound of words. But, my approach as a musician is a largely metaphorical one. I've felt very connected to certain literature, to certain filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami and Carl Dreyer, to artists, to the asymmetrical shapes of the natural world. I'm quite constantly trying to somehow play those shapes, those films, those stories. Not consciously, but on some level of intent and direction in my mind. Of course I never will be able to, my guitar playing will never sound like an Abbas Kiarostami film. But, somehow in that attempt, that metaphor, a very healthy process occurs. I think that's a big part of my approach to the guitar.

AAJ: When did you first appear as a sideman on a record and how did it come about?

TN: The first commercially available album I appeared on was Samuel Blaser's Pieces of Old Sky. We recorded that in June 2008 after a 26 concert tour that spring. That was a quartet with Thomas Morgan and Tyshawn Sorey. Thomas and I already longstanding relationship by that point, but that tour was my first meeting with Tyshawn. We immediately connected, in terms of the such varied musical references we were fascinated with, the way we were trying to bring that into the directions of our improvisations, and a personal feeling we shared. That relationship went on to many things. Samuel was very open, though he barely had a choice!, and he admirably let the music go where it naturally seemed to be headed. It was a somewhat idealistic way to begin my recording career.

AAJ: By now, you have played in many different constellations and with many different people. Could you highlight some of the groups and records that have been important in terms of your musical development?

TN: Constellations is a good word for it.. Yes, I feel very fortunate in that matter. I hope, and plan, to connect with more in the future. I think I recognized very early on that this was a main source of education that I needed, those challenges that come with dealing with the music as a sideman. Experience is always the best form of learning, seeing what works, and what doesn't and on what timelines, but when it interfaces with other creative artists, it's almost untouchable.

Besides Thomas (Morgan) and Masabumi "Poo" Kikuchi, working in the bands of Tyshawn (Sorey) leaves a very strong impression on me. Playing with him always is something remarkable, but watching the way he conducts the energy of his bands, of his recordings, has been really something. I've done three records of his now : Koan, Oblique -I, and Koan -II, which was just recorded and will be released sometime 2018 I believe. It's easy to recognize Tyshawn's virtuosity and tremendous skills, but what I've watched carefully over the years is his extreme courage. He may have his doubts inside, but when it's time to act, it's all conviction and pursuing to such an extreme his vision and his music. In those ways I think he's a lot like Richard Pryor, in who I feel some similar dynamic. Even with the most abstract content and directions, Tyshawn takes us some place only he could. What a feat that is! My music is different than his, but I've learned a lot about pushing the extremes, and what a certain level can be for the music.

Todd Neufeld with Tyshawn Sorey


AAJ: You have played with bassist Thomas Morgan for a long time. Could you tell about your musical history together?

TN: Thomas and I met when we were 18, out in California, but didn't really start playing until we were 21 (we're the same age, born just a few days apart.) I've played with Thomas in many many configurations over the years. Too many to recall. We've played together in various of Tyshawn's bands over the years, in Samuel Blaser's band for a couple years, we've made records together for Rema Hasumi, Vitor Gonçalves and Alexandra Grimal, we've done countless one-off gigs with groups led by Christian Wolff, Joey Baron, Aaron Parks, Lee Konitz, Flin VanHemmen. And we spent 5 important years together connected to Masabumi Kikuchi, and playing in his TPT trio together.

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