talks latest album “Code Girl” and her Collaborators
Photograph by Peter Gannushkin / Cuneiform Records
Cooperate: Other Side Artists Cooperative
1. You collaborated withand Amirtha Kidambi in your latest album ”Code Girl” and it is the first time for you to perform with them. Please tell me why you chose them as a trumpeter and a vocalist, respectively.
I met Amirtha through mutual friends shortly after she moved to New York around ten years ago. I have been a fan of her singing ever since I first heard her perform, in Charlie Looker’s band Seaven Teares. In 2016, when I decided to form a band with a vocalist, Amirtha came to mind right away. She is an incredibly powerful and unique singer who really has the ability to get inside the emotion of a song. She is also a great improviser and seamlessly integrates her diverse influences into a style that is totally her own.
Ambrose I have been friends with for at least ten years now. He is a truly unique voice and one of my favorite trumpet players of all time. I had been looking for an excuse to collaborate with him for a while, and this instinctively felt like the right project. Although he had never performed with Amirtha, Michael Formanek or Tomas Fujiwara before Code Girl, I imagined this group of people working well together. This is often how I make decisions about bands: just going on instinct.
2. You mainly play as a guitarist. However, in the duo project with Jessica Pavone, you played as a vocalist as well as a guitarist. When you use vocal part in your project, what are you conscious of?
I definitely don’t consider myself a singer, and my abilities in that department are fairly limited. In the case of the duo with Jessica, and also in the band People, we were looking for a rough, unpolished, folky quality and therefore singing the songs myself felt right, in terms of the aesthetics of those projects. For Code Girl, I was looking for something different— a singer who would be able to fluidly interpret a multitude of songs with a wide range of expression, to improvise, execute difficult parts, and bring a perspective I couldn’t have anticipated.
3. You chose Robert Wyatt as a musical influence to ”Code Girl” in the past interview. From the sound of “Code Girl”, I felt something about Wyatt, of course, and also Art Bear and Slapp Happy who are under his influence. Do you often listen to the music of such a band?”
Robert Wyatt has been an enormous influence on me, from his days with Soft Machine through his long solo career. The album Rock Bottom is still one of my favorite albums of all time, and helped me through a difficult period in my life. Wyatt is such a distinctive singer and songwriter… in my opinion, unparalleled. His unique and personal approach to everything that he does, and the passion which which he goes about it, is a continued inspiration. I am also a fan of the Art Bears… Slapp Happy I have not listened to, but I will!!
4. You expanded band formation gradually by mainly increasing the number of wind instruments in leader albums before ”Code Girl”. What are you particular about as for sound or arrangement by wind instruments?
I love wind instruments; I even played some alto saxophone myself in High School. In terms of the horn players in my bands, I was looking for musicians with unique voices and a fluid range of expression: musicians who can play free, play changes, read difficult music, take risks and experiment, and everything in between. As far as the arrangements, I wasn’t arranging in any kind of traditional way– just experimenting with timbres and harmonies and the layering of voices.
5. Could you tell me what has changed as for your recent guitar style? I think you use less distortion pedal but use more time-based effects such as delay pedal than before.
You might be right. But it also changes depending on which project I’m doing. I’ve basically had the same effects pedal setup for about 18 years. But every few years, my Line Six Delay pedal breaks, and I have to reprogram the settings. For a long time I never wrote the settings down, so every time I re-programmed I tried to remember what I’d done before, but inevitably came up with something slightly different. And recently I’ve been working more with looping.
I am also practicing guitar as much as possible, trying to expand my knowledge of theory and harmony and develop my technique and my ear. So ultimately the practice regimen changes my guitar sound over time, and I consider it a lifelong process of learning, evolving, and getting better at the instrument.
Photograph by Peter Gannushkin / Cuneiform Records
6. Thumbscrew Trio is the same formation with your long-term trio with John Hebert and Ches Smith. What are differences as for musical orientation or the role you play between the two units?
I have always loved playing in guitar-bass-drum trios. My trio with John and Ches plays all my original compositions, whereas Thumbscrew is a collective trio which Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara and I all write music for. Both groups have worked together a lot, and have developed a band sound and concept over time. Although Thumbscrew and my trio have very different approaches and personalities, to me the similarity lies in the trust, rapport and ease that comes with a longstanding band.
7. In ”Theirs”, you perform songs of composers of not only jazz but also choro and tango. How did you choose the pieces?
Each member of Thumbscrew individually chose several compositions that we thought might work well, and brought them to band. We did a two week artist residency in Pittsburgh, PA last year, so we had plenty of time to play through lots of compositions to see which worked best. The songs I chose included Scarlet Ribbons and Weer is een dag voorbij. (The tango and choro were chosen by Michael). Basically, the goal was to take compositions written by composers we love from any period or genre and interpret them, Thumbscrew style. Some we played in a more traditional manner and others we really opened up in terms of form and style. In the end, it actually wasn’t that different from how we approach our original music.
8. You have been quite active also as a sideman or a collaborator. Could you name a few of your favorite recordings you played except your albums?
Hmm, it’s hard to mention specific recordings because I really only do projects I love, with band leaders I believe in and respect. So there are many I feel strongly about. However I’ll mention one going back fourteen years which was particularly important to me: Trevor Dunn’s Trio Convulsant- Sister Phantom Owl Fish (another guitar trio)! Also Anthony Braxton Quintet- Live at the Royal Festival Hall, from the same year (2004).
9. Could you tell me some pieces of Anthony Braxton that you recommend to your listeners and the reasons for that ?
With Anthony Braxton it isn’t easy, because his discography is massive and it’s really an entire universe in itself. People often tell me they are interested in Braxton’s music but they aren’t sure where to start. And I’m not sure I have a good answer, because no single recording will give you the entire picture of who he is. The first Braxton record I heard was his duo with Derek Bailey, Live at Victoriaville. That’s a great record to simply appreciate what an incredible improviser Anthony is. And of course For Alto, his solo saxophone record. I also love all the records of his classic quartet with Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway. His large ensemble work is very important, and I was also inspired by his most recent opera which was performed at Roulette in Brooklyn a few years back. He has several records where he plays standards which are also incredible. A great resource is the website of his Tri-Centric Foundation there you can find scores, music, information, and other resources to help delve into the world of Anthony, including a “Braxton primer”.
10. You cited movies of David Lynch or novels of Haruki Murakami as your favorites. Is there any other influence from movies, novels, paintings, poetry other than music?
Definitely. One of my biggest non-musical influences, going back to when I was a kid, is architecture. My father is a landscape architect and a painter, and I also spent my early to mid twenties working in an architecture office doing administration and bookkeeping. So I’ve always been very interested in structure, balance and symmetry as it relates to architecture and design, and I see a lot of similarities between architecture and music. I also read a lot of fiction. In addition to Murakami, recently I’ve been devouring novels by Lionel Shriver and Hanya Yanagihara. I love both those writers for their uncompromising qualities. It’s funny you mention David Lynch because I am now in the the middle of the new Twin Peaks series which is incredibly out there, in the best way possible.