Thanks for having me, brother Diggy – always a pleasure. I look at composition a lot like I think about being an improviser – that it's a reactive process. When you improvise in a jazz setting – and that's where I come from as a musician – you usually play a lot better when you spend more time listening to what the other musicians are doing and then react to that. Instead of it being proactive – about what you play - “Look at me play this killer lick” - it's much better to sort of ask yourself, “If I was listening at home right now, what would I like to hear somebody else do?” Good playing (and by extension good composition) is an act of listening. I learned that from Art Farmer some years ago and it was a lesson I never forgot. Make it less about you and make it more about where your sensibilities take you. If you stay true to that, you really can't go wrong. I try to do the same thing when composing in a studio environment. I like a lot of different music and I usually have a pretty good idea about the sorts of things I want to hear. Once I set up the mood that I want, everything sort of follows from there. I rarely write standard song material because I think it's kind of simple and played out – to me that makes things easier because I don't feel restrained by a fixed form. Also, there are many ways to compose and I try to write using different organizing principles from piece to piece. That also keeps things fresh. Inspiration usually comes from the music itself – virtually any combination of notes has an emotional connotation and the more complex the chord often the more subtle the emotion being communicated. I like delicate moments and stasis – a feeling that you're holding your breath, but I also like strength and the juxtaposition of all of it in ways that work for me. My biggest inspiration comes from music that takes you away from your normal thought processes – the more it distracts the more successful I feel.
Any Songs You Have Written That Hold An Extra Place In Your Heart? And If So, Why?
There are two that I feel pretty strongly about. The last piece on the record, “Up Number Indigo III” is composed for a large brass choir – that sound and that instrumentation, by itself, is deeply meaningful and personal to me. It also reminds me of a piece by Roger Eno called “Through The Blue” – at least emotionally. There's a shimmer there that reminds me of a very quiet, still, cold and peaceful place. It's very simple melodically, but the chords and the voicings are modern and I think really work. It's the best piece of writing I've ever done and I think it communicates. The other is “Passage To Nain”, but for more technical reasons. There are three bell parts that go on through the piece (which sound to the listener like one), but they're a fugue and the choice of the notes are based on Fibonacci numbers. I don't think a lot of people are writing fugues much these days and I thought my counterpoint teachers would have been proud that I picked up a thing or two. So there's an internal logic to what otherwise would seem a very spacey and ethereal piece. From a technical perspective, I was proud that there were some interesting techniques going on that held everything together without being truly discernible.
What Are Your Thoughts On The Recording Sessions?
Well, I record mostly alone and I think it's a lot of work – it's nothing like gigging and I think you have to realize, if you haven't already, just how incredibly different the studio environment is to anything else you've experienced. It's more like film making than it is like playing music. When you record with others, they need to understand that this can't simply be like any live situation. I deal with jazz musicians and they have a tough time changing gears to that reality. Everything about their training tells them that “laying down tracks” etc is just plain wrong, so it can be challenging to record anything that may lean towards jazz. You either “get what you get” or you offend sensibilities. On my next project I'd like to do some live stuff with a full band, but I recognize they may not dig the things I'll do as a producer to get it all to go where I want.
What About The First Show You Played, Any Memories?
Not really, as I am older than most rocks, fire etc. My guess would be that I was comfortable. If I'm playing stuff I like to play, I feel very much at home - like at last I've finally found a place where I'm supposed to be. It's a good feeling.
So Far, What Has Been Your Best Live Experience?
I had a quartet and we played at a club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for quite a stretch in the mid 90's and there were some very good moments there. Four hours flew by. No music anywhere. We all knew the tunes and we really stretched out. Club was always packed. I think we got off on the vibe of the crowd which was young and hipster-esque and they liked what they were hearing. Serious cats would show up with their instruments and would sit in (which was a great compliment to us). I had wonderful collaborators in that band – there was great interplay.
I like dark blues – like cobalt blue, but it's probably actually a form of purple. You can't really be sure, but it feels like a deep, inviting, comfortable place. I want to live there.
I'm not a “foodie”, but... Really good sushi, with superior saki? Yes. I am content.
Any Memories Of The First Concert You Attended?
Yes, I was seven and my dad took me and my elder bother to see the Stan Kenton Orchestra. This would have been in the 70's. I was blown away by the sound and particularly by the trumpet section. It was like I was shot through the forehead by a diamond bullet. Kenton's band was very adventurous – Kenton coined the phrase “progressive jazz” to apply it to his big band and it had a life changing impact on me. I couldn't stop moving when I heard them play – feeling I could guess where they were going and what they were going to do next. It was incredible.
Any Bands/Artists You Enjoy Listening To That People Might Find Surprising?
I'm an enormous classical head and I think that might surprise people. I love Ravel, Hovhannes, Steve Reich, Saint-Saens, Faure... And I like a lot of electronic stuff – Pantha Du Prince, Loscil, Apparat... I also like to hear my own instrument played perfectly and to get that I listen to Alison Balsom play classical trumpet and am simply amazed at her effortless technique.
So What Do You Have Planned For Next Year?
I hope to finish project number two which I expect to be an even more eclectic affair than the first record. I really want to fight any form of parochialism – which I feel is frighteningly rife in our culture - through the music. There are musical styles that lead to a more open perspective just as there are philosophies that do the same and I am on the side of those sorts of ideas. I want to combat narrow points of view by playing many different styles – I want to confront the listener with the reality that there are many ways to arrive at the same place. The key is to stay open and inquiring and to not limit curiosity. Perhaps that seems overly lofty, but I don't think we should ever apologize for reaching – I don't claim to succeed in my ambitions, but to stop trying is a far greater sin.
What Do You Want To Say To The Fans?
Thanks. To the degree that I have any, I very much appreciate that people have been open to the concept which I think is a bit challenging. And to get in touch. Feedback is extremely helpful – even if I disagree with it! Fresh perspective is, by itself, helpful. So, thanks for checking out what I'm about. I'm looking forward to throwing more stuff at you and perhaps down the line there will be a chance to perform this music out live and it can morph and take on a new life and we can all share in that together.