Urban Guitar 2007
1- Your new album, Untold Stories, is described as "nine chapters in a
novel." Can you tell me a little about it?
This music was developed over the past several years and features a great
group of musicians: Mark Ferber, Carlo DeRosa and Seamus Blake. Even though
these are not songs with lyrics, I think there is a story to be told with
each piece. I guess it would be more accurate to call it a book of short
stories rather than a novel.
2- How is this album different from things you've done in the past?
I think it is a more cohesive project than things I've done in the past.
These musicians do such a great job of interpreting the pieces and I think
there is a strong group sound to the record. It's not easy to achieve that
these days when players have to take on so many different projects. It's
difficult to keep the same group actively playing together. Also, I think
some of the music is more intricate and complex than things I've done
before. Pieces like "In Some Human City" and "Paradigm Shift" are more
technically challenging than anything I've previously written, both from a
improvisational standpoint and just physically challenging on our
instruments. The meter is constantly shifting and, at the same time, the
chord changes are dense and unusual. At times, everyone is playing
something counter to the others. Then there are some pieces that are more
straightforward, like songs without lyrics, and I hope that balances things
out a bit.
3- You were noticed by Guitar Player magazine when you were only 16-
Looking back, how has that affected or helped your career?
My career didn't really begin until I moved to New York a few years after
the Guitar Player magazine article had come out. During that time I had
gone from being a rock player to being a jazz player. I felt as if I was
starting over. I received many letters from other guitarists around the
world in response to that article. But I was already making the transition
4 How has you musicality changed since you were a teenager.
I had to change my technique in various ways to become rhythmically fluent
in jazz, which meant learning a new way of articulating phrases. In rock,
and many other kinds of music, you might get away with playing a quick,
intricate phrase in a flat or cold sort of way. Hopefully, that's not the
case and the music breathes no matter what the style. But playing within
the jazz idiom, and I mean that in the largest sense of the term, the
rhythmic feel of each phrase becomes extremely important. You want to try
to be as expressive as possible, and have the notes be as big and warm as
possible. I always wanted to get as close as I could to playing like Keith
Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, just in terms of the way their
lines flow, their touch on their instruments, and the warmth of their time
5- You've mentioned that you are influenced by poets, filmmakers and
painters. How do the other arts reflect themselves in your music?
I'm very interested in exploring the commanalities and differences between
the arts, finding ideas and inspiration in the grammer and forms of
literature, cinema, and painting, and looking for ways to use them in music.
In poetry there are the elements of rhythm, line, the timbre of the voice,
melody and form. In film there is the rhythm of the editing and of each
shot. In painting there is also rhythm, texture and line The music has
to stand by itself, and in the end, no matter what may have inspired it, it
is all about the music being performed in the moment. I've never written
anything programmatic. Much of the story, or meaning, of a piece occurs
after it's been composed, or while it's being performed. The influence of
these other art forms comes mainly out of my love and enthusiasm for them.
6- Can you give some specific examples?
6 . Ornette Coleman developed his music at the same time as the great
abstract expressionist painters like Dekooning and Pollack were developing
their work. They knew and appreciated each other's work and I think they
had a similar aesthetic, as if there was a sort of cross-pollination taking
place, or perhaps it was just the spirit of the times. It's difficult to
articulate how poetry or cinema might influence music, but art has an
intellectual and spiritual effect on any person who spends time with it. So
if that person is then creating something, all that they've absorbed will
naturally be a part of that new work. The process is a little mysterious,
and that's part of the pleasure of it.
7- You've also taken on some multi-media projects. Can you tell us about
I'm hoping to develop two projects. The first is with the great poet,
Adrienne Rich (who was just recently awarded the National Book Awards
lifetime achievement award), She has been a tremendous influence on me ever
since I began reading her work in the mid-nineties. I've been in touch with
her about composing some music to her work. It's a huge challenge because
her poems, and the sound of her voice when reading them, are utterly
compelling and complete as they are. There is no "need" for music. My idea
is to somehow develop the music out of her voice, as naturally and
unobtrusively as possible, but at the same time not allowing the music to
become merely backround for the poem. The goal is to present the integrity
and clarity of her voice and words without obscuring them. I'm actually not
sure if it is possible, yet, and so I'm taking my time with this project.
The other project is to compose and improvise music based on the short films
of Stan Brakhage. Brakhage was a true visionary who, I think, took abstract
expressionism and experimental film to their furthest reaches. The rhythmic
density of his work is as intense as anything I've ever seen or "heard". A
musical equivalent of his images might be the player piano work of composer
Conlon Nancarrow. I've run into a potentially fatal flaw in this idea,
however, in that Brakhage was clear in expressing that his films not only
need no music or sound, but that sound would actually be disruptive to the
viewer's visual comprehension of the images. What I'm interested in is
trying to capture some of rhythmic and textural complexity of his images
within the context of a jazz trio or quartet. This may be a sort of
super-human task, just as Nancarrow's Player piano pieces are beyond the
range of what humans can play. My hope is to absorb some of the aesthetic
grammar of Brakhage's work and apply it to compositions and improvisations,
either with or without showing his actual films. I will have to talk with
his family and Brakhage scholars about the possibility of actually doing
8 - Your bio mentions moving into collaborations with other artists-
what directions are you interested in exploring?
I would love to find a visual artist and/or poet interested in collaborating
on a project. I'd also very much like to collaborate with a choreographer
on a dance piece. I recently saw the Mark Morris dance company perform
works set to Bartok and Stravinsky which was very inspiring. I'd also love
to do some film-scoring, but I'm not interested in that as a career. I'd be
most interested in working on an independent film or experimental film. The
issue with all of these kinds of projects, which are not commercial, is how
to pay the bills while they are in development.
9 - You've been playing with the Dave Allen Quartet for 16 years- has
your group changed personnel at all? How long have you been working
with the current lineup? How do you enjoy working with your
Over the years I've been lucky enough to have worked with a great circle of
musicians. Here in New York, the depth of the talent is astounding. I'm
now working with a few groups. The line-up tends to change here and there
depending on who is available for particular dates. Recently, I've been
very happy to have had groups which included bassists Drew Gress, Matt
Clohesy, Carlo DeRosa, and Dave Ambrosio; drummers Gerald Cleaver, Ted Poor,
Mark Ferber, Take Toriyama; and saxophonists Seamus Blake, Ravi Coltrane,
Bill McHenry, Loren Stillman. and John O'Gallagher.
10 Artistically, how have you grown as a group?
I know that my playing grows from playing with musicians of this caliber.
And each of them brings so much to the compositions. I think we have all
matured as players. I'm often surprised at where things go….and that's a
good thing. I don't like playing it safe, I like to be thrown off a little.
Like Willem DeKooning said "When I'm falling, I'm doing alright; when I'm
slipping, I say, hey, this is interesting! It's when I'm standing upright
that bothers me; I'm not doing so good; I'm stiff... I'm really slipping,
most of the time, into that glimpse. I'm like a slipping glimpser."
11 - What projects and concerts do you have coming up?
I'll be recording a new CD soon for Fresh Sound records which should be
released this Summer. I'm also scheduling tours and workshops for the
Spring and Summer which will include concerts in California, Portugal,
Spain, and Ireland. Then there are upcoming dates in New York as well.