Untitled Medley made a mail interview with Aaron Parks and Franky Rousseau before joining the Keio Light Music Society Japan tour.
Q: Since you are a guest of the Keio Light Music Society concert this time, I’d like to ask you questions about you as featured soloist and accompanist. First of all, I want to know some of your favorite pianist in terms of accompaniment, and tell me the reasons.
AP: I think I’d have to say that my favorite accompanist is probably Herbie Hancock. He has a way of gracefully supporting what the soloist is doing with space and subtlety, while at the same time bringing unexpected colors and shapes into play. Such a vast and fearless harmonic palette, such a nuanced and vital rhythmic syntax.
Q: Then, please name a few of your favorite recordings you played as a sideman.
AP: Hmmm, the first which comes to mind is Terence Blanchard’s album “Flow.” Herbie himself was on that recording session in the role of producer, as well as guesting on a few tracks. Being in his presence and hearing his approach in the studio take after take was so inspiring.Gretchen Parlato’s self-titled album from around that time is another which still feels good to me.
Some of my more recent favorite recordings as a sideman include “Reminiscent” by Dayna Stephens, “Dreaming In Apartments” by Nancy Harms, “Diwan of Beauty and Odd” by Dhafer Youssef,” and “Unspoken” by Matt Brewer.
Q: Recent jazz composer such as James Farm, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Maria Schneider writes considerably in detail. Therefore I think that you need to do a different approach from songs that are less arranged in terms of solo performance and accompaniment. When playing that complicated songs, what kind of things do you play with in mind?
AP: I’d say that for me it’s actually close to the same process. Regardless of how open/flexible or how detailed/structured a piece of music is, my aim is to get to the center of it somehow and play music from there.Sometimes that involves more improvisation and taking bigger chances, sometimes that involves understanding the role that the piece requires of me and maybe sticking a little closer to home. But either way I try to let the song lead me rather than necessarily imposing my will.
Q: Please tell me about James Farm’s latest work “City Folk.” The first work “James Farm” had a dark and introspective sound in common with your “Invisible Cinema” and Radiohead’s “OK Computer.” In contrast, however, the second work “City Folk” turns into a simple and open sound, and there is also a part reminiscent of recent indie rock or singer songwriters piece. Is this due to conscious reasons?
AP: That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms precisely. It’s true that there’s more optimistic-sounding harmonies on City Folk, even on the pieces which are rhythmically heavier or brooding. I would say that that’s something which happened more by happenstance than necessarily by design.
Q: I’d like to know about Franky Rousseau. How did you feel about playing your songs he arranged?
AP: Franky is brilliant. I first heard his large ensemble music earlier last year at ShapeShifter Lab, and was immediately taken by his unique approach to rhythm and orchestration. It’s going to be an adventure getting inside of the arrangements he’s made.
Some of them feel like they’ve taken the basic song and dreamt it into technicolor, others feel like they’ve exploded into a whole new universe, and others do both. I’m getting a totally new perspective on my own music, which is pretty cool.
Q: You have been to Japan with your own trio, Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet or James Farm, but this time it is a collaboration with the Keio Light Music Society. What kind of performance can we expect from the live show?
AP: I’m really excited to discover how it feels playing with the Keio Light Music Society. I’ve heard the recording “Hope” and was really impressed with how the band sounded.I can’t wait to get there later this month and meet everyone!
Q: I’d like to know how you learned songwriting and orchestration. Did you study mainly composing through analysis of jazz or classical?
FR: I learned to write through a mixture of formal and informal training – my school training was in jazz, but I always studied with teachers that were somewhat in the classical world. I think I draw from both of them equally, though these days I spend more time looking through classical scores (Especially John Adams, Thomas Adès, and Schumann). It’s been a few years since I’ve looked through someone else’s jazz scores, and I think my most recent music is a reflection of that. I should get back into it…
Q: In addition to your colorful orchestration of wind instruments, your work has a huge feature of sound effects and electronic elements. What are you careful about when matching human performances and such elements?
FR: I’ve always been drawn to writing pieces that combine acoustic and non-acoustic instruments. When done properly, I love the effect, though I feel it rarely works out the way I’d envisioned. I’m still developing that. I often work with a composer named Dominic Mekky – he’s contributed a lot to the electronic elements of my music. There’s always a risk that the two elements won’t blend in live situations, and that’s something I’ve come to accept and embrace. Dominic is a master of making it work.
Q: In your “Hope” Austin Peralta was largely featured. Also on your blog you mentioned not only Brahms or John Coltrane but also Louis Cole and Daedelus as reference. How do Brainfeeder or LA musicians inspire you?
FR: Austin is the one that introduced me to the LA beat musicians – I always felt that what was going on in LA with the electronic and jazz musicians was something I’d been striving for, but I hadn’t found the right people to merge these styles. Austin definitely opened that up for me, though in a different way – he had his own way of combining seemingly disparate styles.
It’s become clear that a bunch of the Brainfeeder crew have a lot to do with the sound of contemporary American music – the latest Kendrick Lamar record is a great example of that. Louis Cole is doing something different, he’s on another planet. He’s making incredible music.
Q: On the other hand, I’d like to know about your generation in New York scene. I like Ben Van Gelder and Levon Henry in a musician who worked with you.
FR: Ben and Levon are both amazing musicians. I always have an easier time writing music when I have the players in mind.
I wrote a piece that featured Ben as a soloist (as well as Allison Philips on trumpet) – it was way too hard.I have this page from the solo alto saxophone part that Ben marked up – it has notes that he wrote on how to deal with the unidiomatic lines I put in there, and one line that’s just crossed out, with the word “impossible” above it.
I love that, even if it means I failed as a writer for that moment – the reason being that the piece was written that way because I had Ben’s sound in my head while writing it. I don’t think the music would have come out that way if I didn’t think I could take the risk – Ben’s sound made the effort totally worth it, even if it had issues.
That’s largely how I feel about the musicians I’m surrounded by in NY. They afford me the chance to write music in ways I wouldn’t dream up if they didn’t exist. I feel fortunate to know these men and women – they’re my muses.
Q: Please tell me about Aaron Parks and Arthur Hnatek. What kind of musicians do you think they are ?
FR: They are both major influences. I’ve been working with Arthur for about 7 years now – I try to get him involved on everything that I do. He’s living in Berlin now, so we only see each other a few times a year. When I think “drums”, I think Arthur. His sound informs the way that I structure rhythm section parts in my big band music. In many ways, he’s responsible for bridging the gap between styles that I attempt in a lot of my pieces.Even though he’s a close friend, I still pay attention to what he’s up to as a player as if I didn’t know him. I have a lot to learn from him, still.
I’ve been listening to Aaron for almost ten years now – he’s in a league of his own. Orchestrating his music has been a total treat. Our aesthetics work well together because I’ve been listening to him for such a long time; there’s definitely a lot of “Aaron” in my own music – the new charts should come across as being very much “Aaron”, but with a sort of manic and frenzied approach (that comes from me). I took his pieces and sort of threw the materials all over the place. I felt comfortable doing that because I know Aaron’s playing well – I’m curious to hear how he responds to it as an improviser.
Q: You and the Keio Light Music Society collaboration is the third time. Please tell me the charm of this band.
FR: KLMS is a wonder of this world. They are SO devoted to contemporary large ensemble music – I’ve never come any band quite like them! I was introduced to them by Jun Umegaki, who I met in NY in 2009. Jun was a member of KLMS for a few years, but continues to be a part of their circle. He’s also the reason that KLMS has commissioned Remy LeBoeuf, Arthur Hnatek, and a bunch of other young musicians to write for them. We had the good fortune to host them in NY last year for a series of concerts. All thanks to Jun and his curious mind. The man has great taste, and not just in music – just ask him for some food recommendations, he’ll always know where to go.
I’m looking forward to working with KLMS again – aside from the music, the members are always a blast to spend time with. I’m honoured that they’re hosting us.