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Uri Caine: Transformation, Improvisation and Context


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Keyboardist/composer Uri Caine was born and raised in Philadelphia. He began playing piano at an early age, and, while still a Philadephian, played with jazz leaders like drummer "Phillie Joe Jones, bassist Jymie Merritt and trumpeter Johnny Coles. While attending the University of Pennsylvania, he studied composition with George Crumb and George Rochberg. Caine soon moved to New York City, and while he describes his early period there as "scuffling, he quickly gravitated towards the city's burgeoning downtown improvisational scenes—most significantly, the one occurring at the Knitting Factory. Soon Caine was playing as a sideman with the likes of clarinetist Don Byron and trumpeter Dave Douglas.

Caine's an extremely well-rounded player with an effortlessly quick improvising wit, and his multi-stylistic musical sensibility and his mastery of both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes makes him a desirable addition to just about any group. But he's also a composer and arranger of tremendous imagination, with a work ethic to match—which is why his 1993 JMT recording debut Sphere Music has been followed by 15 other CDs (the vast majority on the Winter & Winter imprint, with which he's had a long association) that cover an enormous stylistic range, from the jazz-octet audacity of Toys (JMT, 1996) to the Mahler-rearranging Urlicht/Primal Light (Winter & Winter, 1997) to the solo piano of Solitaire (Winter & Winter, 2002) to the electric-groove genre-mixing Shelf-Life (Winter & Winter, 2005).

Caine's work is marked by a desire to re-contextualize and re-approach musical genres, and often, to introduce—or reintroduce—improvisation where it is not ordinarily found, as in his many so-called "remixes of classical composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Mahler, and in his group Bedrock's rethinking of electric groove styles. Caine's work as a leader—as a composer, as an arranger, as a bandleader—has considerably reduced his time to play in other musicians' bands (as you read this, he's probably on a plane flying from one project to another), although he is still a working member of Dave Douglas' Quintet. It was at a Chicago gig by Douglas' quintet that I met Caine; he was extremely warm and hilariously anecdotal—he was, and is, a pretty likable guy. When I phoned him in New York a few months later, he was thoughtful, expansive, and, above all, patient, as I queried him about the seemingly endless number of projects he's worked on lately.

All About Jazz: You've got several different ongoing bands and projects that coexist in your career. Let's talk about some of your recent records and groups and make sure we have a lot of time at the end for what you've been doing lately.

Your newest CD is Shelf-Life, the sophomore record by your group Bedrock, which consists of you, drummer Zach Danziger and bassist/guitarist Tim Lefebvre. You play Fender Rhodes and a host of other keyboards in this band, and the group explores a lot of different groove styles—there's all kinds of electronica in there, R&B, deep funk and outright four-to-the-floor disco. The pieces are composed collectively, and this is an ongoing band; you were gigging in Europe last month.

Uri Caine: Right. We just came back from a tour this summer.

AAJ: Tell me how this group came about, and tell me about Tim and Zach—what they add to the whole.

UC: I'm trying to remember exactly when it was we met—probably in the late nineties. There were several clubs in New York City where musicians were getting together to improvise using a lot of electronic grooves. The Knitting Factory Tap Bar had these open jams. There were some other clubs too, but I think that's where we really met and started playing. Actually, the first CD that we really worked together on was The Goldberg Variations, which was in 2000—I worked with Zach and Tim on some of the Bach arrangements. The first Bedrock record we did in 2001 was sort of the culmination of us playing together; we decided to go in the studio and try to sort of put it down on tape and see what we could do with that. And since then, we've been playing pretty steadily, either touring in Europe or playing in New York. Mostly playing in New York.

I think that the vibe in the group has to do with not only how we're playing together, but how we're using our laptop computers. Because not only do we play together, improvise and compose stuff together, and then manipulate and change it through computers—but we also, like many other musicians today, create this music in our bedroom studios and then try to take it to another level by combining the aspect of live playing, live improvisation, with those tools in the electronic computer studio. The studio can change it, transform it, etc., etc. Zach and Tim play together a lot; they have a group called Boomish.

I guess the thing that makes it really interesting to play is that we are able to go back and forth between a sort of spontaneous improvisation and things that we've all worked out in our computers using programs like Logic and Ableton Live. These programs allow you to sample many sounds, and change sounds, and—even in a live performance—to cue different sequences and improvise with that. I'm really interested in the whole idea of combining structure with improvisation; the structure of the group has a lot to do with the type of samples that we all have in our computers that we cue to try to make structures out of the songs. Actually, a lot of the stuff that we do we can't even record, because it uses copyrighted material. But if we're sampling things like Blood, Sweat & Tears, or French chanson singers, or parts of dialogue from politicians, or folk musicians from around the world—it gives a wide sonic palate to combine with playing. And, as you said, a lot of it has to do with dealing with different grooves, and that's sort of the other underlying structure. Especially on Shelf-Life—more so than on Bedrock (Winter & Winter, 2002). There are a lot of references to other types of grooves that we grew up with—everything from television game shows to particular types of soundtrack music. It's sort of a combination of older music with a more improvisatory way of dealing with it.

Again, I think this is something that many musicians today are doing, where you have this ability to sort of combine all these sonic worlds together. I would also say that it's really a fun group to play with, because in a way, we can combine a lot of enthusiasms that we have for different types of music. But when we play together, a lot of time it's pretty unpredictable. The groove element is very strong, and that sort of allows us to act as a basic rhythm section for other people that we invite in to play, if we want to do that. Last week we did a gig at the 55 Bar. So the first set we played was our stuff as a trio, but then, it's interesting—a lot of musicians came, be they saxophone players or vocalists or other electronic laptop musicians, and joined us in the second set. So we're functioning both as a rhythm section for that sort of thing and also doing our own thing as a trio. So that also fits comfortably with the type of experiences we've all had as people that play as parts of functioning rhythm sections in larger groups, but also as our own group. So hopefully, it will continue; we have some other concerts and tours coming up and hopefully we'll be able to record another record. We have a lot of material, some of which—as I said before—is sort of hard to put out there because we'd have to spend a fortune trying to clear some of these samples. When we play live, we're not as worried about that.

On the other hand, we're all working with all these programs that really allow a lot of flexibility, and even approximate a lot of those sort of retro-sounding instruments—I mean, I used to play Minimoog for real and a lot of the other keyboards that came out in the seventies and eighties, but now you have software synthesizers that really approximate those instruments. So we're able to combine the newer forms of those instruments with the actual vintage instruments. The studio where we recorded Shelf-Life had many of those instruments: Wurlitzer electric pianos, Mellotrons, Oberheim synthesizers before MIDI came out. They all have a certain sound which is very evocative of that era—but also, in a certain way, they have a lot of character to them. And when you combine that with newer, software instruments where you can do everything on your laptop, it gives us a lot of flexibility.

AAJ: When you're performing live, I assume you don't have a huge bank of keyboards. Are you just working with, say, Rhodes and laptop? Or do you have any real synths or anything else?

UC: Well, on the last tour, for instance, I played a Rhodes that's usually supplied. You know, especially on the road, we don't carry that around. Then I play a little Edirol miniature keyboard that's hooked up to my laptop—a Macintosh. Then I have all those software synthesizers—some from Korg, some of the Native Instruments ones are really good, some from Logic itself. I also have some of the Arturia instruments; they're making software versions of Minimoog, Prophet-V and ARP 2600. So that's pretty much my arsenal. You can really get a variety of sounds out of all that stuff.

AAJ: I was struck by the ways that different people have responded to this music—meaning the ways writers have chosen to interpret the Bedrock material. I was taken aback by how much some people have seized upon the seventies disco side of the music. It's not as it that element isn't there—it is—but the drum sounds and ambiences seem just as rooted in '90s and current electronica, with some house music bridging the gap, as they are in disco.

UC: I agree. I think that functions all the time when you read critiques of your work—that people seize on certain elements or think that you're implying certain things because you've chosen to play with certain people, or use certain different sounds, or somehow refer to different things. You know, I would say generally that sometimes people might read more into it than is there, and sometimes they sort of pass over the variety of what we're trying to do. They go for the more easily identifiable things. Not to mention that there's also, in this particular case, a sensitivity to whether or not the music is parodying fusion and that type of sound that came out of that era—or whether it's actually embracing it.

A lot seems to depend on whether they think that we're sort of making fun of it as we're playing it or actually taking it seriously. There is a lot of humor in it, or an attempt at humor—whether people find it funny or not. But to me, it's more about the variety of all those things, of being able to move within, and in and out, of those things. And that's also true with some of the other musical projects that I've done, and also, I would say in general, with music that I enjoy. There's an element of transforming things and moving in and out of different feelings, and that's certainly a part of this project.

But how people judge that—it's sort of out of your control. It says more about the people that are making the judgments. And, you know, I'm a believer in the First Amendment, so everybody has the right to comment on it and say what they want to say. I think that as musicians, you try your best to do your thing and you leave those commentaries to other people. I'm not saying that I don't take those comments seriously, but there's not much you can do once you put the record out. I think there are certain criticisms that people make that I might even agree with, because you feel some things when you're working on something, when you're in the heat of it and trying to deal with it. Then, over time, you change your opinion—and again, that would go for many of the projects that I've done. Things change, and your opinion of things change.

But I'm not sure that you can really do very much about somebody seizing on it and saying something. Like, for instance, a certain article said that it sounded like the music for a porn soundtrack. It's not we set out do that that necessarily, but, in another way, that sound—or the sound of music from certain movies, or television shows, or certain aspects of [trumpeter] Miles Davis or Weather Report—it would be natural that that would creep in to any music that's dealing with electronic music, because of the association that people make with it. But I think that in certain cases, people are being a little simplistic about how they're judging it—because for the purpose of their review or their analysis, they're seizing on things that seem to me to be much more on the surface. I think for musicians, it's a little bit more complex than that.

AAJ: I think it's hard for some people to understand that one can approach a style, or many styles, playfully but affectionately. I think some people are confused when a musician has the ability to approach a music that has cheesy elements and play the hell out of it. And no one would bother to play music that they had no respect for at all.

UC: Right. Part of me totally agrees with that, in the sense that there are certain artists that I would think of that, when I was growing up, people around me would say, "Oh, that is so corny, so cheesy. How can you be into it? But then, if you really start to investigate and somehow get past that, you see that there's a lot of not just technical skill, but imagination going on. It's one of those things where you want to say, "Don't knock it until you've tried to get into the inner workings of it. And again, that goes for so many different types of music. There are always going to be certain people who are saying, "We want the hard stuff —the thing that seems to be the most uncompromising. But that also changes over time; things that seemed that way to one generation quickly become cheesy for the next. That, to me, seems less important than the actual building blocks of the music. It becomes really fascinating, if you're a musician, to see how things are made. It doesn't mean that everything in that world needs to be praised, or that everything's equal, because I certainly don't think that way. And part of me is also into the hard, uncompromising music. But I think it all comes down to that thing that's sort of indefinable—you like it or you hate it, and then you have to find the words and the emotions to explain it.

Again, different critics have different constructs for what they believe to be good and bad music, and, again, I think it says a lot more to do with where they're coming from. Which is all valid; I'm not saying their criticisms aren't valid. It just has a lot more to do with their own personal agenda than it necessarily does with the intrinsic value of the music. That doesn't make it pleasant to read those things sometimes; when you feel that you've been misjudged or even dismissed. And certainly with some of the classical music things I've done, I've endured the same thing. Especially if you think of yourself as a musician playing with other musicians. You're on your road; you're trying to figure something out in your own way through playing—not through talking or writing, but through actual music-making. And the process is interesting, and fascinating, and wonderful on those terms, so that fact that other people comment on it is interesting. But it's not essential.

AAJ: One thing that I love about Bedrock and the Shelf-Life record is that the tunes have quite a few different parts in them. The songs change; different things happen, and it's interesting and fun. For example, "Wolfowitz in Sheep's Clothing has a sparse, stuttering, almost dubby vibe, with a crunching funk groove, but switches into a more driving double-time electronic drum section farther on. How is something like this written? Does the group write collectively? Does it come out of improvising?

UC: It depends. A lot of the time, one person will bring something in that, when we start to play, becomes transformed. Other times, the pieces are sort of constructed out of improvisations and then fixed—so we find ourselves playing things that were originally improvised, or at least the feeling was improvised and we try to fix it into a different thing. But I think that that's an important thing—that this transformation, or progression, or moving into something else, just to give the feeling of momentum or direction, is important. Of course, a lot of times when you're dealing with groove music, it tends to stay in the same place. That is the structure of the piece, and it might have different sections, but, fundamentally, that's the unity in the piece.

But for us—I don't think that we're necessarily doing that all the time. We like to make a cleaner type of song form, but other times we want them to reflect that it started here and went there. For the whole authorship thing, we just decided from the beginning that we would always say that all three of us wrote it. Because of, in a way, the fluidity of how we're dealing with it in the first place. But some of those songs were really written by one person and then became transformed by the group. Other songs really have to do with us getting together and adding on to what other people have started, let's say. That would be one process. Or we just get together and start working on something together, adding different parts, and as time goes on, we think, "Okay, this part we don't need anymore. We should add this—we need this line here, we need another bass line here, we need another sound there. And it just grows by listening to what we've done and adding to it or changing it—and then, pretty soon, you have some type of form and then you think about whether or not that's going to be the way it is.

In a way, it can be so open-ended that making the CD becomes this thing of us having to decide. Whereas when we play live, we don't really have to decide. Things just sort of flow, and we want that to be that way. But on the other hand, because we've played together a lot, you get something that's very cue-based. It's a very cue-based music in the sense that if I press this sound, we know to play this song now. That doesn't mean we'll play the whole song; someone else can interrupt that with their sample, and then, boom—we're off into that song, and then we return to the first song, or we never return to the first song, or we take a long solo because we just feel like doing that, and then it never really goes back to the form. So I think that that type of flexibility is a good thing. Sometimes it doesn't always work! Sometimes we say to ourselves, "Wow, last night we were so free-form—let's try to come back more inside tonight. Then we'll say, "No, that was too organized; we don't want that, either. We're still always going back and forth between those two things.

AAJ: Do people dance to this music when you're playing?

UC: Well, we've had some really nice concerts. When we played the San Sebastian Jazz Festival on the beach, we had thousands of people dancing. Sometimes we're sort of playing in these environments where it seems more like a concert, or more like a jazz club, and chairs are set up. On this last tour in Europe, I saw a lot of people who were dancing. That depends on more than just the music sometimes. But if we say to people, "You can dance, I'm not sure that people in a certain jazz club who are there to hear the music wouldn't be confused. But some of the most memorable concerts that we've done have been in those types of situations where people were just going crazy. I mean, it's not necessarily dance music, but people in certain clubs definitely do respond to it in that way. And when we're booked in those types of situations, I do think that actually the concerts are better.

AAJ: Well, there is a physical quality to the music. But these are very delicate conditions—to dance or not to dance, to sit or to stand.

UC: Exactly. That's a thing that's different with the club and the situation. And it actually changes night by night. It's kind of similar to me to some of the classical situations that I've done—if you're being presented in an avant-garde festival, people are relating to what you're doing in a different way than if you're being presented, let's say, in a Bach festival where you're playing your Bach thing. The context has lot to do with the way you're being perceived.

AAJ: Yes, the presentation—and what something is expected to be—is enormous.

UC: Also, how the people are behaving within their own thing. I mean, if you come into a club where something is seen as normal, and not strange, and people get up, then it's okay. If you're sitting in a very formalized club, and everybody is sitting down and paying for their drinks, that's a very different situation. Again, it's another one of those things where, as a musician, you're thinking, "I just want to play. But how people react to it, and decide whether it's good or bad, is up to them.

AAJ: Shelf-Life is a fantastic-sounding record. It's great on speakers or headphones. Who mixed it?

UC: I would say it was mixed mostly by Zach. All of us were sort of deciding how we wanted to do it, and some of the tunes were also mixed in Europe with [Winter & Winter label head/producer] Stefan Winter and his engineer, Adrian von Ripka, who recorded it at the Magic Shop, which is a studio in New York City. So it was sort of a joint effort—but Zach really deserves most of the credit for mixing.

AAJ: Let's talk about your jazz trio. This group consists of yourself, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Ben Perowsky. Live at the Village Vanguard is the only one from this version of your trio; it came out in 2004. This is your acoustic jazz group, another band that's still working together. I think you played out last month.

UC: Right. We played at the Village Vanguard again, and other places in New York City. I guess the last long tour we did was in Europe last year. And we played at Yoshi's; we've played some on the West Coast, and at other festivals around the United States and Europe. It's still an active group.

AAJ: I think it's increasingly challenging to find something new with an acoustic piano trio, because there are an awful lot of them. On the other hand, it's a perfect format for jazz music, and I really like this group. Tell me about this band—about Drew and Ben and what, if any, your intentions for the group might be.

UC: Well, we have been playing together for a while, not as a trio, but in other people's groups. I think that's how we met; I know that I met Ben, and Drew also, probably in the early nineties, just functioning as rhythm sections for other people. And then playing a lot in each other's groups as well. Since I've started playing music, I've been into playing straight-ahead acoustic jazz. I grew up playing that; that was one of the foundations of my music. It's something that I've always been interested in, so I guess I've just continued to develop that. We've been playing together as a group, even before that record, for the last five or six years. I like the freedom that we have. Even though we also play compositions and standards sometimes, we're just sort of using that as a springboard to play in a very loose and free improvisatory way. I think that this is, again, a really cue-based music, where we might be playing in a certain area and then somebody will signal, and then off we go into this other type of section or this other feeling. So it changes up.

I guess, similarly to Bedrock, there's this idea of trying to transform things, to change grooves, and not to stay in the same place—but also, using the structures that are implied by playing standards or even original places that go into certain grooves, certain time signatures, or a certain feel. Especially since playing with musicians like Ben and Drew, who are very flexible and can play in a lot of styles, allows a certain freedom. We don't really plan out what we're going to do before we play. We have a certain repertoire and certain pieces that we know that we've been playing, and then we just go for it. Again, it's one of those things that sometimes sounds tighter, and other times sounds pretty loose. And even though I know that it's a form that many people, many musicians, many great pianists have done, it's still something that is really fun to play.

And I'm still trying to develop in that area, you know—I keep on practicing the piano and writing music for the group. I think that we enjoy swinging in that group. That, to me, is the joy of playing in that group: that we're trying to somehow keep that spontaneity going. And also refer to a lot of the music that is coming out of the jazz tradition. Not just standards, but the feeling of the blues, the feeling of swing, and also maybe a freer type of playing. A playing that's not so harmonic, that's not staying in the same time signature all the time. It feels like something that's growing, and I'm still interested in investigating it. So hopefully, that will continue. I've definitely tried to continue playing in that form. Maybe I would add more horn players in the future; I've made some records in the past that had larger groups. But the thing I like about the trio setting is that it's very open, especially if you're playing with other musicians that are really sensitive to that. It can be a very spontaneous thing.

AAJ: I like the originals that are on that record. Do you write specifically for this band? Were those songs composed for the trio?

UC: Yeah. A lot of times, when I'm just writing, I can imagine it being played by bigger groups with horn players. I'm not necessarily thinking of the trio when I'm first thinking about writing pieces and working them out. I guess, since it's the group that I'm playing with the most, a lot of the things that I'm writing end up being played by that group. You know, if I'm dealing with other projects where people are saying, "We're getting together a group and we need some music, or if I'm writing for a very specific concert or occasion, where I have a different instrumentation, then I write in that situation too. And then I later transform it back for the trio—just playing it on the piano, trying to approximate what that would sound like. But I think a lot of times what happens is that when you're on the road, that music you're playing there is in your ears. That group is in your ears. So naturally what ends up coming up when you're composing is for the group that you're thinking about at that point.

AAJ: I think we're going to be moving into a rather large area now, because the recording that came out before the trio set is your Gustav Mahler exploration Dark Flame, from 2003. This continues your creative interaction with Mahler that began with 1997's Urlicht/Primal Light, and your overall engagement with various classical composers that include Wagner, Beethoven, Schumann, and Bach. I get the impression Mahler's your greatest love, however—and Dark Flame is really too remarkable, too dense, to sum up in a few lines. Let's just say you've composed pieces that utilize Mahler compositions and that include lyrics, both sung and spoken by a variety of sources—Mahler and his frequent librettist Friedrich Rückert, of course, but also from some contemporary poets and some ancient ones as well. The arrangements cover a variety of styles and instrumentation—it's pretty fearless and very good. Your approach to these composers isn't always the same, but there is always a willingness to use the materials to create something new. Any insight into this area of your career, and into this work in particular?

UC: Well, as you said, the first Mahler record that I made was back in '97. Since that record came out, I've had the opportunity to play that music a lot on the road and to sort of develop it with a core group of players. And because Mahler's forms, especially his symphonies, are so long and complex, in the beginning I was gravitating towards his songs, which are shorter forms, but which really encompass a lot of different types of emotions and feelings. So I think that Dark Flame was an attempt to make a CD that was really derived from Mahler's songs, which, in a way, have certain forms and certain references which I used as a jumping-off point to make my arrangements. So all of the pieces—almost all of them—include some form of lyric and some form of either singer or poet who's being supported by this group. Certainly, there are many strands of thought in Mahler's songs, as well as his symphonies. You've got some of the Kindertotenlieder that have a very folk-based feeling referring to Bohemian folk music, maybe klezmer music. There's the "Song of the Earth ["Lied von der Erde ], which was the big song cycle which he wrote at the end of his life based on Chinese poetry—which is interesting because a lot of Mahler's chinoiserie, based on that idea that he was going to capture Chinese music, ends up sounding very much like another type of folk music. So I just thought it would be interesting to take the songs that had the most, I guess, stereotypical Chinese sound, the pentatonic scale, etc., etc., and actually have Chinese musicians play that music as if it were folk music.

AAJ: Like on "The Lonely One in Autumn.

UC: Right. And it was very interesting to work with musicians who didn't necessarily know who Mahler was, but who, by the end of the session when we listened back, said it sounded like Chinese folk music. Then, when I played them the original Mahler, they were shocked. That's something that happens a lot to the musicians that play in my group. I mean, some of them know Mahler very well, but some of them don't—and I think if you present it as a certain form and let the improvisations give it a life of its own, and then when they go back to the original Mahler, they see what transformations have taken place. I guess I met Sepp Bierbichler about five years ago when I did a concert at the Munich Opera. He's an actor who's sort of a singer, but also he declaims the poetry, and working with him was really interesting, so I included him. In a way, some of the arrangements for his songs are straighter, but it's the idea of, instead of having this operatic singer singing them, to have this German actor declaiming them—sometimes in a kind of cynical manner. Because the lyrics reflect that. So he's talking as if he's a soldier going off to war; he's a drummer boy that's going to be killed. Or he's a prisoner in the tower, and doing this sort of duet with the poet Julie Patton. It gives him a chance to declaim, but the music has been transformed to reflect his distress. Other things, like taking a Kindertotenlieder—this is a well-known part of Mahler's mythology, he wrote these songs on the deaths of children, and then one of his children died and he felt that he'd jinxed the situation and even caused his child's death.

AAJ: Yes, invoked it.

UC: Exactly. Then to think about the implications of that, and then have a poet who's, in a way, making up poetry against the music, but dealing with other ways in contemporary American society of children being killed—like the four little girls in Alabama during the Civil Rights struggle, or just the general situation in American society where so many young people are killed at Columbine or in gang-related warfare. I also wanted to play with singers. I've played with Barbara Walker; she's a gospel singer from Philadelphia that I've known for a long time.

AAJ: Oh, yes, she sings "Sweat on the Shelf-Life record.

UC: Right, and she's also on The Goldberg Variations (Winter & Winter, 2000), singing some of the gospel songs. But in this case, when we were doing concerts in Germany, I got together with a German choir. I arranged the song "Only Love Beauty for them singing their part in German, the original Mahler, and she improvises. And the effect in a live performance was really emotional, so I wanted to include that on the CD. Actually, I think that song was recorded live; it was taken from a live performance, because when we did it, the crowd went so crazy—they just kept asking for an encore again, and again, and again. It really became a tearful thing, really. It was just a very emotional experience for the musicians and also for the audience. So a lot of those pieces are ones that we've played a lot. Some of them, not so much.

But the underlying aspect of that record is the idea of his songs. Since then, I've also done arrangements for—well, I haven't recorded these, but a couple of months ago, we played a version of Mahler's Sixth Symphony in the same hall in Essen, Germany where he premiered it exactly 100 years before. They'd asked us to do a version of the Sixth Symphony to sort of celebrate the 100-year anniversary. And that's a different type of challenge, to take a really long form and try to break that down and somehow integrate it into a group—so you can have improvisation and give the musicians a chance to play their stuff, but also somehow approximate the form that Mahler himself is having. Because one aspect of his music, especially in the longer pieces, is that there's a constant transformation. He'll take very simple elements that he introduces and then he's constantly developing them, repeating them in different forms and then repeating those for repetitions, and transforming them more. It's an aspect that some might find kind of exhausting, I suppose.

That challenge of having to deal with those longer forms is a different one from dealing with the song forms. And each sort of implies a different way that we can play them. As you were saying, it's sort of an ongoing thing that I've had the opportunity to play. And I think that also the group that I'm playing with, which is usually the septet on that record—we're all fundamentally playing as improvisers on some level, but the type of improvisations, and the feeling that we're getting from playing in that group is different from playing straight-ahead jazz. And that was really the thing that started me on it in the beginning—just to try to find different contexts for that type of improvisation to see if it could illuminate the music, and also give us a chance, as many jazz musicians do, of taking a text, a song, a structure, and then transforming it through improvisation.

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