Ken Vandermark is an outstanding musician and composer from Chicago. He plays saxophones and clarinetes. Among his projects are „The Vandermark 5“, „The Resonanсe Ensemble“, „Made to Break“, DKV Trio, duo with Paal Nilssen-Love, Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet and much much more. Ken released more than 250 records. He was awarded a 1999 MacArthur Fellowship and that helped him to run a transatlantic „Territory Band“. Ken curates exeprimental and improvised concerts in Chicago.
You play mostly three instruments: baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone and clarinet.
Yeah. I also play bass clarinet but it’s hard for me to travel with it because there are limitations with flying. So in Europe it’s usually those three. I usually choose the tenor instead of the bass clarinet because the tenor has more flexibility if you’re playing with a loud group. The bass clarinet’s a bit difficult to deal with regarding this. There are people like Rudi Mahall that are very, very loud on that instrument. That’s got to be the only thing you play and you just build and build and build the sound in it to get it to be loud enough. So it’s a bit of a choice, but when I’m home, I play it — on my recent duo with Nate Wooley, „All Directions Home“, for example.
But do they have their own characters or features? Your own musical portraits of those instruments, maybe.
I’m more interested in figuring out what’s different about each instrument and then finding a way to develop those things instead of having a skill set that I apply to all the horns, like play the clarinet like I play the tenor even though they have a different register and timbre. The things I do on clarinet, many of them, I don’t do on the tenor at all. And it’s a little difficult to describe easily what’s different about each.
But really the aspects of the clarinet, like I just can’t do certain things technically on that instrument. If you are a real clarinet player, like Ab Baars, he can do things on the clarinet that I could not dream of doing. But I found things, I’d like to think personal things, on the instrument that interest me in terms of sound and pushing the thing around, idiosyncratic on my own terms.
And the same thing with the tenor. There’s things about the overtones, things you can do with the volume, that are totally different than the clarinet or the baritone. Technically I could go into them in the same way, but it’s too specific from that standpoint to really convey. They do have different personalities and my interest is to find out what those things mean to me and go deeper into those.
The 2016 began with your residency in Stone in New York.
Well, for me it was definitely one of the more important things that I’ve done, and for my personal development as a player. Getting invited by John Zorn to do the residency was really an honor that I took seriously. If you look at the people that have done those weeklong series — it’s an incredible list of musicians. And to be part of that meant a lot to me.
And when Zorn got in touch he indicated that the idea behind it was to really present a different group every set, that I was supposed to play in every set and that it was supposed to illustrate what my music is about now. What I’m really doing. And I took that very seriously.
So I contacted a lot of musicians from Europe, which is completely insane because the concerts are door gigs. There’s no fee, so all the money to pay for travel, to help the musicians with accommodations in some cases, to pay them a fee, all that stuff had to come out of how many people came to the shows. And it’s not a very big room, about eighty seats. It was like 25 musicians or something and all these people traveling in and the fact that I left New York with the same amount of money I had in my pocket than when I arrived — that was a pretty good gamble.
But the creative part is really the joy, obviously, and the real payment. It was one of the best experiences that I have ever had playing, it was kind of like a festival that I was programming, let’s say, because every set people came to really play. When you have six nights in a row and twelve concerts in that six days and most of it completely improvised, just statistically there’s going to be a set that doesn’t work.
And of course there were a lot of the sets where people had never played together before. That was the first time Paal Nilssen-Love played with William Parker, for example. You don’t know if it’s going to work. I mean they’re great players. There’s no question everybody who was on that program was among my favourite players. That wasn’t the thing. But then there’s chemistry and you never know how people are going to work together. And the success rate of the music, I credit the musicians involved: everybody was listening. everybody was cooperating and playing full on. It was really inspiring for me.
All the sets except two are recorded, and the music was very successful so what I’d like to do, if I can get permission from the musicians, is put out a box set of that material and do like a real, yeah, a nice thing with like a book.
You played 12 concerts in six days and for all the different people and how is it possible to change context so quickly?
Well, to be honest that made it easier for me in a way because every night was so different. Each night was different from each night but even the night itself, the sets themselves were so different. A great example is the one with Marina Rosenfeld, Christof Kurzmann, Okkyung Lee and myself and then with William Parker, Paal Nilssen-Love, Steve Swell and myself in the same night — you couldn’t asked for more different music.
And I was wondering about that going into the series, how that would be. But it ended up being easier to do because you’d play a set and you’d go deep into what that was about, the aesthetics in that particular 45 or 50 minutes, whatever, and then you were done with that and then you’d have a break and you’d kind of have to erase the slate, clear your head and then you’d go into the next thing and it was like starting from zero. The things that you did in the first set many times didn’t apply to the second one. You were in a completely different universe so the things you had to pull from were from a different part of your brain.
But there was no solo performance.
I toyed with the idea, but that was the other thing that happened which was very, very flattering and I am going to be really honest — I was honored that I was invited at all. I thought, who do I know in New York. I invited everybody I could think of because I figured everybody I know is very, very busy. And I figured half the people I asked would say no because they were doing something. Then almost everybody said yes and I was like: „Oh shit!“ Now I have to figure out how to fit all these people on the program because I didn’t want to say then, „Oh thanks for saying yes, but you can’t come..“ That would be really embarrassing. So it was great on one hand but on the other hand I was like oh, man, how am I going to do this. Originally, before I heard back from people, I thought, „Okay, why don’t I do a solo thing?“ Then I heard back from people and it was like: „Man, I’ve got to work with all of these people“, which was super exciting. So I’ll do a solo thing some other time.
Zorn asked me to do another residency in 2018. It’s already booked. Two thousand eighteen is already booked. I couldn’t believe it. And it’s going to be in January again. That was the other gamble. I got lucky on the weather. It was cold but you usually can have an ice storm, snow storm in January, people can’t land in a plane...
There’s so many things that happened that week that were special. I got to play with John Zorn for the first time at the benefit gig he organized that he asked me to be a part of. To hang out with Nate Wooley for a few days at his house, to spend a few days with Sylvie Courvoisier and Mark Feldman and just see these great musicians in their working environment, their living environment and how they approach everything. That was really inspiring. I mean the discipline, the work ethic these guys had was really motivating for me. I left New York feeling very inspired and very intimidated. I thought like okay, I have to work harder than I am, I have to do more. And that was a fantastic part of it too.
We are in Sant’Anna Arresi jazz festival and at first I want to ask you about the reason you’re here. You played here with Mats Gustafsson NU Ensemble. It’s a large ensemble, 14 musicians and a conductor. You prepared one long piece, composed by Mats, had several rehearsals and played it just once. It has been recorded, but no tours and so on. Could you please describe your experience with this format?
Working with a large group takes so many resources that it’s becomes almost impossible for a large ensemble to go out on the road and do multiple concerts. But at the same time it’s a really unique situation to get an offer for such a project. And people like Mats, who are extremely creative and don’t want to be limited by economic parameters if they’re offered to do a project like this, they jump into it. I would do the same. A bunch of people would, because it’s rare.
So, he worked a very long on the compositional part. And the group of people together were incredible. I would say that’s a part of a composition process, like deciding who’s involved, their musical personalities, not just the instrumentation. I think there’s a misunderstanding about that, when it comes to working with improvisors, it’s different kinds of musical types. It’s not like just the fact it would be two trumpets and two saxophones, you know, two keyboards, two drums. It’s kind a thing that is much broader than that. It’s the fact that Andreas and Nate played trumpets, me and Mette played saxophones in this ensemble. It alters what the music would be about if different people would play trumpets and saxophones. The musicians were all outstanding with different musical skills. We had two days of rehearsals to work out the 70 minute piece.
And I want to point out the key factor of the success of it, aside from the work Mats put into it ahead of time. For a piece like this it is very difficult to be a performer in the group and also be the conductor. This piece needed someone to conduct it to make sure that flow of everything was working. There’s a lot of things in the piece that have specific tempos that come out of note, pulse situations that are totally open, textures and certainly very strong rhythmically articulated things and a certain time sheet — so, someone has to conduct that, especially when you have only two days for rehearsals. If we had weeks of rehearsal, many many performances, some of those factors people would integrate into and understanding, but under this kind of time constraint it made the whole process much more efficient. And Bas Wiegers is really a key part of the performance. I mean, he was a performer, he was interacting with the group and organising things, determining certain kinds of aspects of the improvising. He wasn’t just there counting. He was a central figure on a lot of levels.
Even though some people would say it’s really impractical to put this much money into a project that maybe will only perform one time there are things that are learned from that activity, the positive repercussions — those you can’t really put a price on. Half the musicians in that band I don’t think I’ve ever played with before. And now I have a kind of relationship with them, people in that group that I would really love to work with again that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. So it’s like throwing a big stone in a lake and the ripples that follow. It’s a cliché but it’s true. All these people now have had a contact that was created from Mats assembling an ensemble.
The piece was based on Frank Zappa’s music. Does it mean something to you?
I should say it’s appropriate question. That’s a funny, but I’m not very interested in Frank Zappa’s music. I don’t like it. I respect him very much as a musician. He was very serious about what he was doing. He was extremely creative. He’s a great spokesman for music in the United States and about the freedom of speech. He was amazing talking to Congress back in the 80’s when they were clamping down on what was permissible, and the censorship of music. He was fantastic at that. But his music doesn’t connect with me. It’s kind of a cliché like either some people are into Zappa and some people are into Captain Beefheart. And I’m in the Captain Beefheart camp.
So, and I don’t speak for Mats, but knowing Mats for a long time, his relationship to Zappa, I think, is a bit like mine. Respect, but also we don’t have a bunch of his records at home that we listen to and things like that. So when he said he was going to do this project and he wanted me to be involved I was kind of, this is strange that he would work so hard on a project involving Zappa’s music and would invite me knowing I was not a huge follower of Zappa’s music. And he said that he was going to deconstruct it and change it around and then he also indicated the people in the group. And I thought well, this band is amazing and I want to be in it. And I was sure Mats would do something unusual with the material and OK, I’d do it. I knew it wasn’t going to be a repertoire band. I knew I would be intrigued by what Mats would do, but I really was impressed by what he did because he worked extremely hard trying to find a way to work with material that he didn’t, in my understanding, fully, what’s the right word — admire. I mean respect and being passionate about something are sometimes two different things. And he found a way to use this material in a creatively charged way that also was him. It’s very much a piece by Mats but using these resources that weren’t his... he talked a little bit about using the Burroughs and Brion Gysin cut-up techniques with language, applying it to both the lyrics of Zappa and also the written material of Zappa and then kind of disengaging it from the exact Zappa methodology and coming up with a whole new thing. He worked really hard on it and so the whole thing added a lot of rigor to the material which then, I think, pushed the musicians to take the whole thing very seriously. It wasn’t just like oh it’s just Zappa and we play a melody of his and then we do what we want. It was like no, this is respect to this guy. We’re going to take his stuff and we’re going to find a way to make something unique out of it and Mats pulled that off. I was very impressed.
During your career you led at least four long lasting large ensembles: „The Vandermark 5“, „Territory Band“, „The Resonance Ensemble“ and „Audio One“. What are their key features and meanings to you. What’s the difference?
Well, first I’d like say that for me „The Vandermark 5“ was a smaller group. The idea behind the band was to make a small group sound as big as possible. I was very inspired by the West Coast groups from the 1950s, the writing out there was amazing. A small septet sounded like a big band and I was fascinated about how do you do that?
But we should also include the early years of the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, because that was really the first large ensemble with a certain personnel that I wrote for a number of times and it helped me develop my ideas for writing that way.
„The Territory Band“ hardened the approach to that. It was based on my interest in American classic free jazz from the 1960s and the European free improvisation scene that came out of the 1970s and 1980s. And the personnel of that group, I mean you really can see why it was that way. There was a bunch of Chicagoans and then those I’d been working with in a bunch of capacities, adding the electronics of Kevin Drum and Lasse Marhaug, and then having followed Axel Dörner and guys like that. So it was like really trying to see what happens when these two esthetics that came from totally different continents... I mean that was part of the drive behind that.
„The Resonance Ensemble“ was also a part of that research. It was really motivated by Marek Winiarski, from the Not Two label, who organised so much music in Krakow for me and many other people. And after having gone back to Poland many times, a lot with „The Vandermark 5“ and other groups, I talked to him about wanting to work with some musicians from that area. And he suggested trying to put a large band together. That’s how Mikołaj Trzaska and Mark Tokar and Wacław Zimpel ended up in the band. In the first group there was also Yuri Yaremchuk. And then bringing in people I hadn’t worked with before like Steve Swell, and then some people from Europe I knew like Magnus Broo and Per Åke Holmlander, and Tim Daisy and Dave Rempis and Michael Zerang from Chicago.
That was a different thing for me because with „The Territory Band“ and with The Chicago Tentet I was writing for people I knew and with „The Resonance Ensemble“ it was the first time I was writing for people I didn’t know, which is very different. And it was also the only time I’ve ever had a the week before the band got together whe. I could just sit and compose. I didn’t have anything else to do and I just stayed in that room in Krakow and composed music all day. Collected ideas beforehand and that was a luxury I’d never had before. That was incredible. So there’s a bunch of things special about that time.
And with „The Audio One“ project... There’s always a problem with large groups, that you have such little time for rehearsals. But if you’re composing material, you need time to work on stuff, especially if the ideas are unusual, unconventional. You’re not just reading a chart but you have to explain, like okay, „the goal is like this“ and this is getting people to do things that are unconventional.
And I thought if I put a group together based in Chicago I could circumvent that problem, because we could get together and rehearse even if we didn’t have a concert. But it didn’t work. The problem was that everybody involved in the band, they’re all great players, and they’re so busy that it ended up being just the same as like getting people together from another country, because you’d have to plan six months in advance just to get a rehearsal, and in the end you rehearse for a few days before the concert anyway. So it was too frustrating.
I want to find another large group and I’m trying to figure out how to do that in a way that will allow me to write the music I want to write, and not limit things due to time, and have the people that I wanted to work with and not have to deal with economics. You have to figure out that you need the money somehow, and how do you deal with that. I haven’t solved that problem and writing for large ensembles is one of my favourite things to do. It’s really, I love it. And I want to find a group that I can work with for many years to really develop it because I hear a bunch of things that aren’t happening right now that for me would be really exciting to explore with a really great collective and those are really big problems to solve. Time for rehearsal, money to make the thing work, and that’s what I got to figure out next time.
Let’s talk about cultural and social context. Very often you dedicate pieces on your records to some director or painter or poet. And maybe you may tell now how some art that you put into you in museums and listen and read or something, how is it connected to your music? Maybe by some organisation or some ideas. Is there a connection between what you see and what you produce?
Yeah. Definitely there is a very strong connection for me between all the different arts, and my main creative outlet is music. And I spend a lot of time working on music, listening to music, collaborating with musicians. But I’m thankful that I have an interest in the other arts, because I found — especially in the last decade and definitely in the last five years or so — that other art forms have given me examples for ways I want to work forward. Examples of how to do things, to get out of my own limitations as a thinker, or my own, say, conventions and a lot of things about structure and organization. Years ago I started „The Vandermark 5“ and that was the beginning of my investigation of structure in composition and improvisation. I thought that it’s very strange that this music, which has been going for like a hundred years or more now, when there are written pieces, even now, with the convention to have what we call a „head“ or theme and then improvising and then the theme again at the end. Like a circle, a cycled thing. I just thought, well — why?
It’s not the only option.
It’s not the only option, exactly. And that sounds super obvious, but on the same hand it’s clearly not that obvious. There are examples of stuff by Charles Mingus or Duke Ellington, there’s definitely people, Gil Evans stuff with Miles Davis, where there is like a longer form, so the stuff exists. It’s not like I invented something. I’m not that egocentric. But I thought, „Well you see a movie, it starts in one place, ends in another place, you read a novel, it starts in one place“. I mean, we think in a linear way. Time is linear. The feeling of time is linear, whether it is or it’s not. That’s a whole other idea. I just started with „The Vandermark 5“ really thinking, „Okay, well let’s make music that starts at point A and then moves narratively in a line to some other place and doesn’t come back“.
The thing about the head form, head-solos-head form, is that it really works. It’s very satisfying. People go through this form and even if there’s an arrangement behind the improvisations and stuff like that, you come back and it has an „Oh.. It’s the satisfaction“. It really is a beautiful, very straight forward way of making things that’s very effective. And the great players, whether it’s someone like Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker or Ornette Coleman, that music... It’s not like you’re going to make something better than that. The thing to me is, can I make something different. And so I spent a lot of time exploring this idea of narrative form, the way I would call it with „The Vandermark 5“, and then that’s basically the start of my asking questions about form. And I’ve just continued to do that since then. So all the groups after „The Vandermark 5“ really have been about going forward.
But I’ll try to answer your question which is about the other art forms. Once I started looking at music as investigation of form, I went along with it, and in the last five years I was finding less examples I could take from music to find new things to try. I was finding less things to trigger new ideas. And I ended up looking more specifically at film and, because it’s a different medium, the impact it has on me is less subjective than music. So I can kind of observe form and structure in a different kind of framework, with a different point of view. Particularly in Godard’s early films. Later ones became really complex but in the early ones it’s easier to isolate ideas about formal relationships, and he’s had a huge impact on the way I think about organizing things, about creating references. It’s a big thing for me because music is a time art form. You can’t escape time. A thing for me is playing with the issue of time and a big part of that is the idea of memory. If you introduce something to a listener at one point of a piece and bring it back in another point, what does it mean?
And like in Godard’s films, particularly „Vivre sa vie“. There’s so many relationships that happen in that film that constantly make you question what you’re seeing and what you think you’re seeing and what’s happening. Right from the beginning of that film, there’s a key experience for me. The film opens up and it’s just shot straight on Anna Karina’s face where there’s this lovely, Michel Legrand motif on piano and then it just stops like they took the needle off a record and then it cuts to the side of her face and it’s like she’s looking the same way. And you go, „Okay, that’s nice“. And then it cuts — same thing, music stops, cuts to the other side and you’re, „Okay“. But then, if you look, you realize it’s actually not the same shot. She does something a bit different and the whole thing looks a bit different. When I realized that, it totally changed the way I looked at everything in the film. In the first scene she’s at a table talking at a café, the waiter or the bartender is in front of her and she’s talking, talking and by convention you think she’s talking to him. But he walks away and then you realize that — she’s not facing the camera — that she’s talking to the person next to her. And so, over and over again, there are these repercussions and I was like, „That’s what I want to do with the music!“. That is like creating relationships between the improvisers, and between the composition and that means that it’s a formal pursuit. And so for me... that’s something I’m very passionate about. And that’s an example of where another art really triggered my thoughts. Definitely.
When you see a sculpture you may walk around and get some different details, some different points of view. And when you see a film, you will go to a cinema next time, second time and see it at home several times. But free jazz is mostly improvised and you can’t repeat your piece again with the same notes. And mostly it’s concerts and I know sometimes they are recorded, but we all know what concert is more emotional and if you attend to a concert it emerges more feelings than a record. But how do you think, does record have any advantages, comparing to concerts?
I completely agree with you that the most significant thing is the concerts. To understand anything about this music (and music in general frankly, but definitely music that’s based around improvisation), hearing the groups play live as often as possible is going to tell you what it’s about. I think it’s a thing that a lot of people do not fully understand. By the current nature of touring it’s very rare for a band to play several nights in one city so seeing a group again and again as often as you can will inform you about what they’re really doing and that’s a problem with the music now. It’s so rare to have these chances to see the music develop and why it’s different every night and how it’s different every night. But that’s the point of it to me, to take these chances and risks and find something. And otherwise I wouldn’t play this music to be honest. Paul Lytton made the statement that improvising is an attitude. And I totally agree, that’s a great way to say it. It’s about how you approach it from the top to the bottom, from the bottom to the top.
The thing with the records... it’s probably multiple things for me. One, I think it’s important to document the work to give an indicator what a group’s about. I never got to see John Coltrane play, and if I see a film of him playing, okay, it’s nice and everything but I know for a fact that’s not like what it was like to be there. And when someone like John McPhee, who did see Coltrane play, talks about it you can see in his face that it was a life changing thing. And as important as John Coltrane’s music has been to me I never had that experience. I was never there hearing the sound in front of me, seeing the man play and it’s clear that was extraordinary on every level. So his records are really important to me as a musician as a reference point to know something about his music. So I’m very happy they exist.
And early on, back to „The Vandermark Quartet“, when we started making records, I thought a lot about someone like Herbie Nichols who’s this incredible piano player, incredible composer and there’s like three or four albums of material, and that’s it. And they’re all trio records. He played a lot with quintets and other sized groups. There’s no example of him comping behind a horn player. It doesn’t exist. And I thought that’s a tragedy. I never got to see him play and there’s just a very slight indication of what his music’s about, yet it’s clear. It’s amazing.
So I always thought it’s important, that you have to try and document this stuff. And I get a lot of criticism, and I wouldn’t say it’s unfounded criticism maybe, for doing lots of recordings. But I think if you look at it, not as just, „Okay, I put out X amount of records in 2015 and X amount of records in 2014 and however many come out in 2016“, or whatever. If you look at what’s actually being recorded there’s, I think, a very big misunderstanding in the way the music works now as opposed to let’s say Miles Davis’s time or whatever. Miles Davis, and he’s one of my favorite artists, worked from his time with Charlie Parker up until like the mid ‘70s when he retired for the first time, for me that’s like an amazing arc, a creative arc. It’s incredible in 25 years or whatever. But he progressed in a line. It’s a development from the bebop to the cool school, to his group and different things on Prestige and etc. etc. And the band with Coltrane is different than the band with Wayne Shorter and then the electric period.
To understand what I’m trying to do and what certain people that I collaborate with, we all do that at the same time. We’re pursuing a wide variety of materials and just trying to explore them all at the same time. To use an example like „The Vandermark 5“, that band made a record once a year, but we were together for a very long time. If you listen to the first record and the fourth record and the last record and every one in between, you’re going to hear a development in a line like Miles Davis, that strategy or that approach.
During those years I did a lot of other things. And some of those went on like „The Territory Band“ and then this band and that band. And I think it’s hard for people to believe that all of those groups are simultaneous, and that they had equal weight for me in terms of the way that I need to work. I need to work by doing something and discovering in the actual activity what I need to do next. So in a year there would be six records because six different projects have been doing things for a year, a year and a half and it was time to say oh, here we are now, and document that.
And part of the reason I stopped „The Vandermark 5“ was that, especially in the United States that likes the branding of things, „The Vandermark 5“ was my „brand“ and then I „just did these other projects“, and that was completely not true. „The Vandermark 5“ was a central band to my development, one of the most important bands that I have in my history. No question about that. But if you look at the other things I was doing at that time like „Spaceways Inc.“, „The Territory Bands“, etc. etc., all the improvising groups, the duo with Paal, they were also equally important to me and I got tired of „everything else, oh those are just projects“.
It’s about „The Vandermark 5“. And for a variety of reasons, also that I felt like I had fully developed this narrative approach to composition. I was discovering things still, sure, but I thought okay, I understand what I can do with this. I need to do things I don’t understand. I need to experiment with things I don’t completely follow. I need to have new investigations. So those combinations led me to say I should stop the group now. It’s playing great. I don’t want to end it on a low note. I think we phased out on a high note.
And a few months after doing that, when the word got around that I’d stopped the group, a really great musician that I play with still said to me, „I can’t believe you discontinued The Five. It was such a great brand“.. And I thought, „I am so happy I stopped it“.. Because that’s not what music is, what art is to me. It’s not the thing you do. I want to do the thing no one expects. That’s my job, to surprise and to challenge expectations. And if people expect this particular thing should continue, that’s the time to stop doing it. And it’s not the best career move but it’s the important one to choose because I’m not in this as a career. I’m in this to investigate as much as I can while I’m here. So that’s kind of the backstory to all that stuff.
You play different kinds of music improvisations and sometimes the compositions by you or others. How can you describe common properties of a music that you play. What is free jazz for you and what is your music for you?
Well, the common feature for me is collaborating with people that really challenge me. That pushes me and I always try to work with people who have more experience and expertise in an aesthetic. An easy example of what I am trying to say is the chances that I’ve had to work with John Tilbury and Eddie Prévost of AMM. And then also the opportunities that I’ve had through Terrie Hessels of „The Ex“ to work with Gétachèw Mékurya and other the Ethiopian musicians. To me that’s very different music. In both cases I was in way over my head. They have spent decades of their life investigating areas of great creativity that I was just touching upon. That’s a good way to put it. And I learned so much by doing that and they were gracious to me by allowing me to do that. And that’s for me my best way to learn, to put myself in those situations where I’m really pushed as far as I can go.
And in some cases, like with Paal Nilssen-Love, that relationship goes on and on because Paal is always challenging me. He is always discovering new things that he brings back to the duo and demanding me to come up with stuff. Those kinds of situations are where I want to be.
And the commonality is challenge and risk. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen. Otherwise I’d play a different kind of music. I want to be in a situation where we’re discovering something and that discovery can be in the compositional process beforehand, like these things I was talking about in terms of structure and the discovery with that. Or it can happen in the moment with the improvising. And I love the combination, the meeting of those two things, the dialectic between those two things is like one of my favorite pursuits. In either case I want to be in areas that I don’t fully understand. It’s like that John Cage statement which I think is beautiful, „You can’t be an expert about what you don’t know“. And that’s kind of where I want to be. I want to be out of my comfort zone because that’s what it’s supposed to be about for the kind of work I’m supposed to do. The job I’m supposed to do as an improvising musician. And it’s somewhere we’re supposed to be innovating things or trying to. So that’s the commonality.
I think that if you look at all the different things, the range, just to use again AMM and Gétachèw Mékurya, you know, that’s like different planets. And everything between those things also have their relative distances so you can’t say esthetically, „Will Gétachèw Mékurya sounds like AMM or vice versa?“ but the depth with which they worked and the depth of the detail, the rigor, the discipline, all of those things was common. The passion with which they play is common and what they bring to performances and everything is common and that exhilaration I had playing with them is common. The aesthetics are diverse.
And I wouldn’t be able to isolate that, but it’s like the attitude, like Paul Lyton says — it’s an attitude. The attitude is what I get excited by. I learned a lot from playing with Paul Lytton. He asked me: „Hey, we loved the music of John Coltrane’s quartet and we realized we wouldn’t be able to do that, but how could we really do what he did. We have to find our own thing and do it at that level.. So“, — looking at me — „what are you going to do?“ And that’s the thing. That’s it right there in a nutshell. That’s the whole game — to have the attitude. So, the attitude I see in Paal, in Paul Lytton, in Mats Gustafsson, Gétachèw Mékurya, John Tilbury. It’s that attitude that I like, that’s, „What are we gonna do, where are we gonna go, what are we gonna make now?“ That’s where I want to be and that’s the commonality. The other things are just details.