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Todd Neufeld: Transcending the Limits of Sound

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Over all those years we've maintained a quite close relationship, experimenting, discussing and playing the music throughout it all. One of the most beautiful of the projects that we've embarked on over the years, and what seems as a bit of a touchstone for us, is the playing of older show songs. I don't quite say "Standards," though it may have started out that way. We began researching the original cast recordings of many older songs, most notably by Richard Rogers, finding the exact changes and melodies most close to the source of intention by the composer. What's emerged is a very personal entrance into a unique repertoire of that music. We're both going very deep into the song, and simultaneously on some level letting it dissolve. I'm not sure if Thomas would agree with that description. But, somehow the balancing of energies, between us, and the songs, and the instruments and beyond, creates a real opening.

Over the past few years we've performed this material in duo, and in trio with Billy Mintz and R.J. Miller. The performances seem to connect with audiences in a way that's different than the other material I'm working on. It feels like we've found something, even if it's simple in a way. I think we'll record it soon.

AAJ: It was also Morgan who brought you together with the seminal pianist Masabumi "Poo" Kikuchi. You played together in the TPT trio and in his liner notes to the wonderful album, Sunrise (ECM, 2012), he refers to your trio, saying:

"together we're trying to find new possibilities in ensemble improvisation. These guys (you and Morgan) are young and smart and they catch on incredibly quickly, and we already share a kind of method whenever we play together. But I'm reluctant to use that term, because what we are trying to destroy is a method too—one that's brought us up to this point in time."

Could you elaborate on the "method" that Kikuchi refers to and the experience of playing with him in the trio?

TN: The experience of playing with Poo, and knowing him very deeply, is beyond description. Playing in trio, so many times at Poo's loft, with him and Thomas was as thrilling and challenging an experience as a musician could ask for. His approach, to the music, and the whole playing situation, was so intense, and his playing was so fantastically rich, that it really pushed you. There were many obstacles, and contradictions, and everything was very detailed. I can't say what we did felt like "free improvisation," although nothing was ever written. More it felt as we were discovering, and forming, and following a new creation in real time. It felt very specific as opposed to a kind of openness you often feel with other improv situations.

I can't say exactly what Poo meant in that quote. But, the basic philosophy he taught Thomas and I, was to measure the dynamics. The dynamics between notes, between musicians, between the overtones, between the environment. They all had a type of energy relationship, or counterpoint, that you needed to be tuned to. And if you were measuring them and in touch with their balance, than finding what to play next was very easy, and very much fun. You could just constantly be playing with those dynamics, you didn't need to think about harmony, or pitch names or whatever. In a way he created his own brand of "intuitive music," like Stockhausen did his, though it could be difficult to isolate exactly which ingredients created it. His approach completely encompassed his life and interactions.

The TPT Trio: Masabumi Kikuchi, Thomas Morgan, Todd Neufeld

AAJ: You have a very distinctive style. One thing I've noticed is the use of clipped phrases. Whereas many guitarists play with long, elaborate lines and many, sophisticated "jazz chord" progressions, there seems to be a focus on the possibility of the single tone and it is transformation in relation to silence. Could you elaborate on your approach to the guitar, and how you arrived at it?

TN: Of course as we all know silence is the great ingredient in music. So, if we can deal with it as something alive, to be touched, and alternatively buried and played with, it's very exciting. I have worked on being conscious of the duration of my notes. A typical guitar playing tends to have a kind of lazy approach to duration, it seems to me. But, when I was playing with Poo he would give me a really hard time about the duration of my notes, saying they were taking up all the space of the music. But, more than that, I noticed the way he played with durations really activated the music, it gave it another dimension to the instrumental expression. He must have grew his sensitivity to that a lot over many years of work. So, I've tried to heighten my consciousness about it, then just let my body find how to achieve it.


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