AMN Interviews: Brian Drye – Part 1

imagesIn a follow up to our interview with Brian Drye last year, Monique Avakian digs into more detail with Brian, regarding his music, musical path, and viewpoints. Currently, Brian is the founder of the Ibeam Brooklyn.

Part One – Music and the Man

By Monique Avakian

I read in All About Jazz that you are a teaching artist for Carnegie Hall as well as a coach and mentor for music educators throughout the city. How do teaching and mentoring influence your artistic trajectory and vice-versa?

Yes, I have been a teaching artist with Carnegie Hall for about seven years, and currently I’m working with music educators in NYC giving them feedback and assistance with their strengths as educators and finding out where they can use some help. Teaching allows me to constantly explore new music and approaches to learning music that I would not be able to explore on my own. Being open as a teacher has helped me become more open as an artist. Additionally, Carnegie Hall employs amazing musicians and artists and it’s inspiring to be a part of the work they do there. I’ve had the opportunity to work in struggling communities, homeless shelters and with up and coming high school musicians. One of the most important residencies I participated in was the American Roots program which was focused on African American spirituals. I feel that working in that program ignited a passion for song and connecting to community that has been influential in my own work.

I read in Cisco Bradley’s, Jazz Right Now, that you moved to New York in 1997 – where were you before that and how did your earlier musical and personal experiences build a foundation for you to make that leap?

I grew up in Rhode Island with a musician father who didn’t push me too hard, but was extremely supportive of my efforts to become a musician. I made my way to Miami for music school and then immediately landed in NYC basically because I was obsessed with the music that was happening in NYC at that time in the “downtown” scene at the knitting factory. I grew up in a small town in Rhode Island and was always hungry for Jazz music. In Miami we played all the time but outside the school at that time there wasn’t much going on. I spent 3 months in the Lower East Side in 1997, and I knew there was absolutely no other place to be. I heard music every single night for 3 months, blew all of my savings, and I still to this day don’t regret it. It was my “backpack across Europe” moment.

Bizingas* new (and second) album, Eggs Up High, is coming out with a CD release show at Threes Brewing on November 3, 2015. Biziangas is a group with no bass player and a heavy infusion of electronic experimentation. How did that set-up come about, and musically what does that mean for the group?

I had just met Kirk and we started doing some sessions. I met Ches Smith and invited him to play with myself, Kirk and Jonathan Goldberger at an East Village rehearsal space, and I knew that was the right band. I’d been already playing with Jonathan and we had a chemistry, and I knew that this was the next version of the band. I had an original version of the Bizingas band with a different drummer and Jon as the guitarist. It was supposed to be a trio and then I realized with Kirk in the mix, it would possibly free me up to play keyboard which is something I’d been wanting to incorporate into a band for a long time.

Is Bizingas some sort of punk band?

We’re not a punk band. We are an art-rock, free-prog, jazz quartet.

The threading arc between Bizingas albums seems at once recursive and expansive – as leader and composer, do you spend a lot of time working on creating links between albums, or does long-term compositional threading happen more organically for you?

It’s more organic I guess. I know that there is definitely an element that makes a particular composition more of a Bizingas tune. I feel that this record actually comes the closest to that aesthetic. I purposely did not write a whole bunch of new music, but rather tried to focus on those Bizingas type tunes I already had and supplement with a couple new ones. The first track on this new Bizingas record is Hawaii and I wrote that in 1999. Probably one of my first compositions that I wrote in NY and it was never recorded.

What is poetic about sonic exploration? I see that you recently played live at The Stone with avant sonic composer Annie Gosfield

Annie is amazing BTW….

Do you ever feel that you might get trapped inside of the spectacle and gadgetry of electronics?

No, I love electronics and electronic sounds. I don’t always feel like it’s so easy to blend with electronics, but I like the challenge as a horn player to make it work.

You also play in several other configurations regularly: with your dad, Howard Drye in Drye & Drye, with Mike McGinnis and Sean Moran in The Four Bags, with Kirk Knuffke, and with fellow trombonists, Jacob Garchik and Curtis Hasselbring…How do these situations cross-pollinate and inform your musical development?

Jacob and Curtis are two of my favorite trombone players, and I am super lucky to be in their company. They are both my heroes on trombone and everything else. Mike and Sean I’ve been playing with since I moved to NY, and Kirk is a brother–we have a connection and sympatico that is very unique.

How does your work with Slavic Soul Party, Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars and Banda de los Muertos influence your projects and artistic trajectory?

All of these bands you mention are first of all huge influences for me. Slavic Soul Party was an immense resource for meeting so many great musicians and cutting my teeth playing music for dancing. Plus getting to study music outside of jazz has been really helpful in opening me up to so much music from around the word. Frank London is a very special musician, a great showman and an inspiring leader to follow on the bandstand. And again, Banda is all about dancing, digging deep into cultures beyond my own, getting to experience that first hand through the music and playing with all my close friends. I am very lucky to be a part of all of those bands.

Technically, I’ve always been struck by your speed and accuracy on the trombone, especially when playing with other trombonists and horn players super rapidly in unison, with a stellar example being Track 4, “Along,” on Eggs Up High. What kind of techniques allow you to play at such an accomplished level? Is it a matter of practice hours or more of an overall mindset? And when you compose, do you push pieces to include room for such maneuvers?

Well – first of all – thank you. I don’t think of myself as a technically impressive player, but I do believe that anything is playable on the trombone. I don’t limit myself to what the trombone is supposed to do. In fact it took me a long time as a younger musician to accept all the great things a trombone can do so well naturally and the lineage of all the amazing trombonists. I do think it’s mostly a mindset in addition to some practice hours. I still put a couple hours a day into the horn, and I feel like I practice so much better these days than I ever did before. I still feel like I get a little better every day at the trombone. The trombone is a lifetime commitment just to improve slightly each day.

I notice that you also play piano and that you have a fondness for the organ. Do you think there’s enough funk in jazz these days?

I love the piano, and in my next life I’m pretty sure I come back as a jazz organist and that’s it. And no – I think jazz needs to still be more dirty, funky and gross. As Roswell Rudd says, it’s the “Fuzz” (the mystery) that makes it sound good!

As a musician and as a teacher, do you consider yourself a traditionalist or a radical?

Neither – I love traditional and radical and everything in between. There is a time and place for all of it–A time to rebel and a time to join. Without that balance it’s all pretty boring to me.

How do you encourage your students to develop a firm sense of fearlessness when improvising?

Well – I don’t prep them. We act first, and then we think later. I think that’s the first step. Later on you learn to think first and act and that’s much harder. I feel like I’m always struggling to act first more.

Is it important for rising young jazz musicians to gain command of complex meters in composition and improvisation? What do you advise in terms of study and approach here?

Yes, of course – learn all of it – but don’t worry if you can’t do everything that you want to be able to do. I’ve been playing this mixed meter flamenco tune for two years and even recorded it already with my chamber group, The Four Bags. And today I discovered that I could finally play it effortlessly. The struggle is great if we can appreciate that it will pay off in ways that we may not be able to quantify for many years.

How can a young person prepare for success in the jazz world today?

Move to NY, meet as many people as you can, play hard, work hard, practice well and don’t beat yourself up. Stay positive. That’s the hardest thing to do as a jazz musician.

And last, but not least: Can you speak about the evolution of beards in Brooklyn? You and Kirk Knuffke are really trend-setters in that regard, aren’t you? I’m not sure you guys get enough credit for that…

Hell, yes! I’ve had a solid beard since I was about 22, and when I met Kirk, I knew we were going to be friends based on his beard. I shaved it once since then, and it was traumatic for me – so I think it’s here to stay!

 {Part Two continues the discussion with a focus on Drye’s music venue, Ibeam Brooklyn}

Bizingas: Brian Drye – trombone / keys / compositions, Ches Smith – drums / electronics, Kirk Knuffke – cornet, Jonathan Goldberger – guitar

“Once” video, Bizingas: https://youtu.be/pkFo7ZDpEas

Eggs Up High: http://ncmeast.com/projects/eggs-up-high/

Bizingas 2010 album review by Troy Collins at All About Jazz: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/bizingas-brian-drye-ncm-east-review-by-troy-collins.php

 

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AMN Reviews: Chris Dingman – The Subliminal and The Sublime (2015)

600x533xcover_wo_border-e1428805281293.jpg.pagespeed.ic.Jz53Jxf-kMMusic composed by Chris Dingman

responsive review and poem by Monique Avakian

(CD artwork and design by Shoko Tagaya)

I was lucky enough to attend the CD Release Party for, The Subliminal and The Sublime, held June 26, 2015 at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at 44 Charlton Street, NYC. The evening began with bassist Garth Stevenson performing his own compositions during an opening set. In keeping with the tone of the evening, Mr. Stevenson shared stories involving his creative process, heavily influenced by interactions with the natural world, scientists and artists. Mr. Stevenson’s involving sound~poem creations were enhanced by narrative details that included his movingly successful search for ways to get his bass to sound like layered whale songs, wild wind and frozen ice flows.

Following Mr. Stevenson’s meditative grounding appeared the sextet of: Chris Dingman on vibraphone; Loren Stillman on alto sax; Fabian Almazan on piano; Ryan Ferreira on guitar; Linda Oh on bass; and Justin Brown on drums. The work entitled, The Subliminal and the Sublime, was composed by Mr. Dingman, sponsored by the Inner Arts initiative and commissioned by Chamber Music America with funding from the Doris Duke Foundation.

Audience members (seated in the theatre that is also home to radio station WNYC) were treated to the five-part suite in its entirety with a continuous flow and no breaks, followed by a short Q&A session with the composer.

The Subliminal and the Sublime aims at cross-genre pollination. The combination of jazz, electronica, contemporary chamber music, minimalism and layers of pattern inspired by the natural world all blended to create a feeling of meditative incubation.

Highlights of June 26th:

* Seamless sound transitions between piano and vibraphone, all very difficult to achieve live! In juxtaposition there were moments of Almazon soloing at the piano where he took small, well-timed risky excursions out and then further out. This adventurousness resulted in a kind of underpinning that simultaneously felt like an unraveling that somehow was not…

* Masterful dynamics and nuanced voicings at the vibraphone showed a deep ease and grace on the part of Mr. Dingman. Demonstration of complex technique was equally matched by a superior integrity during improvisation. Considering that the album employs a significant degree of electronics, this live version was especially satisfying.

* Ferreira’s ethereal guitar filled with a hefty degree of appropriate space generated a beautiful and simultaneous ground full of lilt that truly felt magical at times.

* An engaging and lengthy bass solo by Linda Oh underscored how an original voice could pull the flow of the structure to bend considerably without ever breaking the unifying thread(s)…

* Stillman’s characteristic harmonic adventurousness and warm tone shone through without dominating. His thoughtful push and pull of restraint also served as an anchor for the group flow.

* A highly restrained and pivotal anchoring was offered from the drum throne, particularly in the cymbal work. Justin Brown’s approach carried a haiku-like sensibility, with plenty of space and close choices—all of which echoed the deeper philosophical underpinnings of the work as a whole with clarity and charm.

Enticingly, and endearingly, one can not only buy the CD, but also receive various individualized packages of “inside information” via regular mail as well as through free downloads and pdfs. My particular treasure-trove included a lengthy hand-written note filled with interesting details about the recording process as well as stunning photos taken by the composer on the nature-based excursions that inspired his creative process. Interacting with these thoughtful and fun material augments results in a deeper multi-modal relationship with the music.

Many satisfying listens can begin here (and further down):

“Tectonic Plates” by Chris Dingman: https://soundcloud.com/fullyaltered/sets/chris-dingman-the-sublimal-and

Bandcamp: ‪https://chrisdingman.bandcamp.com/alb…

Chris Dingman: ‪http://www.chrisdingman.com

Chamber Music America: http://www.chamber-music.org

WNYC/The Greene Space: http://www.thegreenespace.org/events/thegreenespace/2015/jun/26/subliminal-and-sublime-album-release-party/

Garth Stevenson: http://garthstevenson.com

Linda Oh: http://lindaohmusic.com

Fabian Almazan: http://www.fabianalmazan.com

Loren Stillman: http://lorenstillman.com

Justin Brown (Jazz Gallery conversational interview with Ben Wolf): http://www.jazzspeaks.org/all-about-love-a-conversation-with-justin-brown/

Ryan Ferreira & Chris Dingman @ SEEDS March 6, 2013

https://youtu.be/LUPf40kzEF8?t=1m20s

Inner Arts: ‪http://www.inner-arts.org/the-sublimi…

The Inner Arts Initiative is “a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding the role of music and art in our society, and promoting a greater understanding of ourselves and our world through the arts.”

AMN Reviews: Choi / Sacks Duo – First Set, First Poem, First Response

Choi/Sacks Duo

March 25, 2015 Carnegie Hall
First Set, First Poem, First Response
                                                              by Monique Avakian

Foreward ~ Clouds Parting

photo-42On March 25, 2015, in the Weill Room of Carnegie Hall, the avant-garde jazz musical duo known as Choi/Sacks, offered to us in the first set of the evening, their unique, improvisatory zeitgeist. The set list ranged from composers such as Hank Williams (I’m So Lonesome) to Thelonious Monk (In Walked Bud) to Randy Newman (In Germany Before the War) to Duke Ellington (In a Mellow Tone). Expressions of poems by Ogden Nash and Emily Dickinson as well as various arrangements and rearrangements of folk and children’s songs (by Ives, Copland and the duo themselves) were also offered generously to us in that magical hour.

In Dickinson’s short, four-line poem, the nature of the moon’s wax and wane becomes a metaphor to explore deeply. The reality of perception, the healing nature of natural wisdom, magical facts obscured, yet revealed…even the poets among us are challenged to rise to the call, as many of us are out of practice with the life-affirming dance of ambiguity, having created a culture so mired in the literal.

Talented and bold musicians such as Jacob Sacks and Yoon Sun Choi enjoy taking chances in order to go beyond. This is lucky for the rest of us, as their openness in so doing extends to the listener a path and a way IN.

And such is the singular path that this writer has chosen to take. Keeping in mind that the micro houses the nature of the macro, I am encouraged by forces unseen and familiar to hone in on one selection for this entire write up — namely, the duo’s interpretation of the Dickinson poem, “Each That We Lose Takes a Part of Us.”

in·voke

inˈvōk/

verb

Cupped hands bellow subtle acoustics. Intuitive dials spin. A mysterious and intangible radio warms to distilled frequencies sparked by paradox. The human transistor buried inside, opens, and floods with the crimson tide of emotion…

As encouraged by the artistic processes of a poet (Emily Dickinson) and two musicians (Jacob Sacks and Yoon Sun Choi), it strikes me that enlightenment hinges upon a kind of cultivated intuition. Philosophically, I am referring to the evolved faculty of being able to hold the unity inherent in duality. Musically, this translates into the purity of artistic process held within collective jazz improvisation. Poetically, metaphor telescopes into Zen Koan into haiku into an ancient understanding of WiseChildReallyElder.

For the listener in the Weill Room at Carnegie Hall on March 25th, it was easy to inhabit the soundworld of the Choi/Sacks version of Dickinson’s poem. Jacob Sacks’ fluid up-ended gestures on piano allowed the ear to engage with the sound of wind and, thereby, mesh deeply with the very nature of changeability.

 Not really arpeggiated, not really random, not really unstructured, not really un-free, the pitches somehow became almost irrelevant. Even the rhythm slyly hid beneath the soundfield he created. In telegraphing the essence of change in this elongated, soft and sustained manner, Sacks eventually transformed himself into the grounding anchor of the piece (!). This poetic housing of pairs of opposites allowed not only the music, but even the musician himself, to become a living metaphor, mirroring the layers of meaning held in this short and powerful poem.

Within, upon, around and through this contextual sonic field, Choi’s ever-pliable voice became a lyrical and conceptual conduit, moving between worlds held still at top speed in an ever-shifting stable universe. Her unique and spontaneous phrasing of the poem’s four lines embodied a sort of uber~rhythmic understanding that provided a sharp and pleasing contrast held within Sacks’ streaming feel. Choi’s percussive command of impromptu syncopated phrasing served as a powerful magnet, driving the ear into a deeper understanding of the many secrets held inside complex musical concepts such as rhythmic consonance and dissonance. And mirroring her partner’s illuminatory stance, even the words themselves became subsumed to the primal nature of vocal utterance. Twining further, this abstraction then became it’s opposite, returning us to that familiar, tangible~yet~intangible place of early childhood, where we expressed to others clearly our thoughts and desires, without the need of any kind of formal language.

But, then again, any description of Yoon Sun Choi’s interpretive command is, perhaps, best left to the discerning powers of benevolent ghosts. Every time I hear her, I think about ancestors and Shamans. Reading up, I learn that the ancient Korean shamanistic lineage travels through the female power line. And unlike in many other cultures, the Korean shaman is not going on a soul journey on behalf of the patient, but is holding the healing space of the trance.

Invoking.

The onus is, therefore, on the listener to become an active agent in the moment. Given the level of passivity encouraged by our machine-driven culture, this call to be completely present is as terrifying as it is transformative.

Choi/Sacks Here:

https://yeahyeahrecords.bandcamp.com/merch/imagination-compact-disc-editionhttps://yeahyeahrecords.bandcamp.com/album/soulmateshttp://yoonsunchoi.comhttp://www.jacobsacks.com

Dickinson Poem Here:

https://books.google.com/books?id=_FUbAgAAQBAJ&pg=PT1961&lpg=PT1961&dq=each+that+we+lose+dickinson&source=bl&ots=ElYMgj4Qbj&sig=vgXxf_-gd0XX1LJRmJ4e-pDVPN0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=z-coVZ6LIYPZggSRi4CAAw&ved=0CE4Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=each%20that%20we%20lose%20dickinson&f=false

Monique Avakian Here:

http://rivertownsjazzblogmonava9.blogspot.com/2015/03/about.html

Shaman Studies Here:

http://www.amazon.com/Shamanism-Piers-Vitebsky/dp/book-citations/0806133287

 PS Here:

Of course, the entire evening, both sets, was equally deep, engaging and meaningful. However, I am out of time (for now, anyway).

AMN Interviews: Eivind Opsvik – Part II: The Artist Beyond

EIVIND OPSVIK     OVERSEAS

Interview with Monique Avakian

Read Part I of this interview

Part II: More

The Artist Beyond

opsvik 2
Jacob Sacks, Tony Malaby, Brandon Seabrook, Kenny Wollesen, Eivind Opsvik.  Fresh off a European tour to Italy, France, and Slovenia (photo by Tiziano Ghidorsi)

Interaction with the natural world seems to be a big part of your being – can you speak of nature’s role in your life and work? You seem to be an oarsman of some kind…

Growing up in Norway, it is such a sparsely populated country with a lot of open nature that even without really trying it will somehow affect you. I can’t claim to be a big outdoorsy type, but I do enjoy nature, like everybody else. In my family, we have a wooden rowboat modeled after the old Viking rowboats. There’s something very calming about rowing this “historic” wooden boat, even when sometimes motorboats zip past. I think where one grows up definitely affects one’s creativity and artistic output.

Machines also play a big role in your creative life – you have a lot of interesting equipment, both new and old. Can you reveal for us your relationship with a few of these contraptions and what a particular machine or two might bring to your creative trajectory as a musician, and also as the head of Loyal Label Records and Greenwood Underground Music Studio?

To me having an instrument collection and various recording equipment is like having more colors available as a painter, especially for my duo, Opsvik & Jennings.

We record all instruments ourselves and are always looking for the right instrument / sound for any particular tune. [This kind of palette is also relevant] for the, ‘ A Thousand Ancestors’ box set. Even though it was centered around the bass, I still experimented with lots of different ways of recording the bass and overdubbing and also orchestrated the tracks with subtle use of other instruments.

Other and Current Projects

Your composition Twelve Days (Overseas I) was picked up and expanded upon in another context with Paul Motian, Mat Maneri and Jacob Sacks— a CD entitled, Two Miles A Day. How did this come about and what was it like for you to hear that song evolve?

That song I came up with on the bass right around the recording of the first Overseas album. That little song always was special to me so when it came time to do the ‘Two Miles A Day’ album a few years later. Jacob Sacks and I agreed on bringing in five tunes each, and I soon realized ‘Twelve Days’ would sound beautiful in this context, so I added a third harmony part to fill it out a bit, and brought it in to the recording. Motian, Maneri and Sacks knocked it out of the park. I’m very happy with that version and proud of that record as a whole.

Sound Cloud Taste: Twelve Days

https://soundcloud.com/loyallabel/sets/jacob-sacks-eivind-opsvik-mat

I know you have an exciting project upcoming with photographer, Michelle Arcila

Yes, this is the project I’ve been working on for the past few years, and it is finally ready for release on December 2nd this year. The idea for the project goes pretty far back: I got asked to contribute to this Norwegian art and music festival at the now defunct Monkey Town in Williamsburg in 2008. That was a place that was really laid out for having visuals (big screens on all four walls for projections, etc.).

So, photographer Michelle Arcila (who is also my wife), and I decided to put something together. We’d always been mutually inspired by each other’s work, so doing something together was very natural. After that first show, we continued brewing on the idea, and we did some more shows with solo bass and photo projections, so we decided we wanted to release it in physical form. Quite a few years later, “A Thousand Ancestors” is finally here. The project is a limited edition box set (numbered edition of 500), designed by Espen Friberg. The set contains a ten-track vinyl LP (plus a CD and download card), ten photographic prints, each of which correspond to a track on the record, and a poster. “A Thousand Ancestors” is released by Brooklyn based record label, Loyal Label.

I first started recording the music in my basement studio in 2011. The starting point and framework [came from] my solo double bass performances, which, as I mentioned, sometimes had projections of Michelle’s photographs. But when it came time to record this music, I intentionally did not put any limits on myself. I decided to orchestrate the bass-centric pieces with subtle overdubbing and other studio techniques. [I also used] light touches of other instruments, like lap steel guitar, a 1950’s Hammond Solovox organ and some percussion and drum machine. The process sometimes included having specific photo prints with me in the studio, and sometimes I just let the general theme and mood of the project serve as a guideline and inspiration.

In this day and age where less and less value is put on a physical product (CDs in particular) and on music, it became a very gratifying experience to work on something that really takes the album experience to a different space entirely. I also like how it crosses and blends art genres (or maybe erases genres) and kind of exists in a space of it’s own. We are currently working on fine-tuning the live presentation of it.

Video Taste, A Thousand Ancestors:

A Strange Gratitude (from A Thousand Ancestors)

http://youtu.be/Yu3N8u-hxD0?list=UUBCEmRDAKAp9zooWX8hUzMA

Sound Cloud Taste, A Thousand Ancestors:

https://soundcloud.com/loyallabel/eivind-opsvik-arise

Are there other current projects you’d like to share with us?

I am happy to say that Opsvik & Jennings, my instrumental odd pop collaboration with guitarist/ tunesmith Aaron Jennings is still going on. We are currently in the middle of releasing a new 10-track album called: Lune. One song is being released digitally on the first of every month. The first song was released on July 1st so there are still a few more to come. Check out opsvikandjennings.com to stream and download, where you can name your own price. This project is also recorded and produced by me in my basement studio–a fun process where anything is worth trying out.

Sound Cloud Taste, Opsvik & Jennings:

https://soundcloud.com/loyallabel/opsvik-jennings-io

The Artist – History and Future

What do hope for at age 88?

I hope to still be sharp enough to be able to read some of the books I can’t seem to find the time to read now.

Are there other artists in your family, and, if so, how have they impacted your life’s work?

My father, Peter Opsvik, is a furniture designer, artist and musician and one of the most creative people I know. Obviously, he is a huge inspiration. And my wife, Michelle, is an amazing photographer and artist. She also has a very good sense when it comes to music and is my best and hardest critic.

Who are the people who have influenced your creative development the most and in what ways?

Like earlier mentioned, my father. Also, a very good friend and unique bassist in Norway, Bjørnar Andresen, who is a contemporary with Jan Garbarek and Jon Christensen on the Oslo scene. I got to know him well in the late 90’s. I learned so much about music and life just from hanging out with him–such a spirit. He sadly passed away ten years ago. Latley, my wife and daughter inspire and influence me. And I still learn a lot from my peers.

 

Upcoming Shows:

check @LoyalLabelNY

Overseas at the 2015 NYC Winter Jazz Festival – venue, date, time tba

A Thousand Ancestors

Event: December 13th

New Revolution Arts

7 Stanhope Street, Bushwick

Opsvik @ Nublu Jazz Fest, December, 2015 – tba

Selection of other fine writings about Eivind:

http://musicians.allaboutjazz.com/eivindopsvik

http://jazztimes.com/articles/14098-eivind-opsvik

http://www.mic.no/mic.nsf/doc/art2007111514185142499427

http://www.mic.no/nmi.nsf/doc/art2006051212110965760585

AMN Interviews: Eivind Opsvik – Part I: Overseas

EIVIND OPSVIK OVERSEAS

                                                        An Interview with Monique Avakian

Part I: THE OVERSEAS SERIES

            * beginnings

            * relationships

            * music

Part II: MORE

            * the artist beyond

            * current and other projects

            * the artist — history and future

 

 

 

Part I: THE OVERSEAS SERIES

 

Youth Hopeth All Things, Believeth All Things (live at La Poisson Rouge)

http://youtu.be/o4_oQUJdrYo

 

OVERSEAS: Katmania Duskmann (live at Nublu)

http://youtu.be/hepnRBydRiU?list=UUBCEmRDAKAp9zooWX8hUzMA

 

Beginnings….

 

opsvik 1Did you know that the Overseas series would continue when you released the first CD in 2003? What was going on in your life at that time, and when did you first start working on the songs?

            I did not know then that the Overseas name would be the name of the band or the series of records. It was early 2002 when I first decided I was ready. I wanted to make a record of my own, and I had been in NYC for about four years, finding my way and playing with a lot of different musicians. I had definitely found a group of musician friends I felt I was on the same page with. I had also been writing more music, so I started to work out the direction, the instrumentation, who plays on what tunes, etc., etc.

            The first record kind of had two different bands on it, one that was made with my buddies from the Manhattan School of Music (like Loren Stillman, Jeff Davis, etc.) and another band where I sought out some musicians I really dug, but didn’t really know that well, like Gerald Cleaver, Tony Malaby and Craig Taborn.  Jacob Sacks and Dan Weiss were also on those sessions.  The songs were mostly from the last few years leading up to this, plus a few older things that I reworked. 

            As far as the name, “Overseas,” it was the name of one of the songs. I also liked it as an album name. I really like the word, as it describes a place, but not a specific place…and, it is always another place than where one is at the moment. The term fits my reality: when in Norway, NYC becomes “overseas,” and then this goes other way around when I am in NYC.

            When I started doing shows after the first record came out, I also started to call the band, “Overseas.” When I was about to release the second record, I had trouble finding an album name I liked, so I decided to build on the brand name, (ha-ha), and just call it: “Overseas II.” I think in this age with such an unbelievable amount of music and information, it can sometimes be smart to keep it simple and build on something.

At this point, as you compose for the next in the series (Overseas V), do you go back and listen to the entire set and purposefully gather various musical ideas, sounds or concepts in order to connect motifs, concepts or themes? If so, can you give a specific example of this?

            No, I don’t really do that. I believe that connection and continuity come naturally since it’s all coming from my head. And by the time I’m done with a record, it is something I put behind me in some ways. Then it’s time to look for new ideas and inspiration, and in a way start fresh.

When you examine the parts in terms of the whole, are you ever surprised by what you discover? Do you ever come across sounds or musical thoughts that perhaps function as foreshadowing in some way?

            Yes, there are definitely elements in the compositions or orchestrations or whatever that I evolve and mature. I would say the first two records are coming out of similar concepts, while on Overseas III, and also Overseas IV, there is more of an abrupt change. You can tell it’s from the same aesthetic, but, for example, on the third record, I was kind of done with “jazz solos” and wanted to do more of a concept record where it was more about the mood and timbre of the music–a lot of more ambient and static stuff, but with color…. I was at the time deep into Brian Eno, Morton Feldman and stuff like that, but also into more basic rock stuff, like Neil Young and Pink Floyd.

Does it get easier or more difficult to avoid the traps of cliché and predictability as you continue on with this series? Overseas IV is quite fresh and surprising in many ways….

            Hmm, I can’t say I’ve met the wall yet, but I also allow my self time between records. I’m not stressing anything and can go and brood about it for a long time, and then one day I feel like I have it ready in my mind. For Overseas V I ‘m still not quite sure what direction to take. I have a few different options floating around in my head. We’ll see. I have been focusing on some other record projects recently…but #5 will definitely come one day, be it in two years or ten. I also want to play more with the band live and do some more touring–get the music out there. I feel like our last record still can be heard and enjoyed by more people. As I release on a label without much publicity, touring helps with that.

Relationships…

You have a lot of long term relationships living inside of this music. Jacob Sacks and Tony Malaby have been with you on each album, and you’ve been playing for years with Dan Weiss on Overseas and in other contexts (*) as well. How do these relationships impact your compositional and improvisational processes for Overseas?

            Jacob and I met in my second year at the Manhattan School of Music. We clicked musically right away, and we have kind of come up together. Jacob is an amazing musician on all levels: I’ve learned a lot playing and hanging out with him. The same goes for Tony Malaby–we’re all on the same page when it come to improvising. We love the unexpected and have an aversion for the formulaic and “perfect.” And I also know that they’re always playing for the music. It’s not about getting to play long solos on top of a rhythm section, it’s about the collective creation of sound and music. When it comes to composing, I have their sounds and approaches in my head. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. The same goes for Kenny Wollesen and Brandon Seabrook, such distinct and unique players: I know that they will bring the music to life.

Kenny Wollesen has brought in several of his constructed percussion inventions for the project — can you talk about how his Marching Machine and Spinning Contraption came about for Overseas IV?

            Kenny has been making his own instruments for a good while now–really creative and unique sounding inventions. The Marching Machine was Kenny’s idea to bring in. It was on this tune called, “Youth Hopeth All Things, Believeth All Things.” I had written on the drum chart: “play like a hundred timber men chopping wood,” so Kenny said his Marching Machine would be the perfect sound for that, and it was! As far as the spinning contraption, he calls it, The Angelic Grinder. I think I just told him to bring in a bunch of stuff to the recording session, and we decided to use it for the track, “Silkweavers’ Song.” It has a great ethereal and mysterious sound.

How do you collaborate with Jacob Sacks on the choice of instrumentation? What goes into the choice of a celeste, harpsichord, Farfisa organ, piano, Wurlitzer or Fender Rhodes for a particular song or album?

            It’s become a thing now — so much so that people ask, “What keyboard is the next record going to feature?” I admit it, I have a thing for keyboards, especially old, weird ones, and I have a growing collection in my studio. 

            It has kind of just worked out so that a specific keyboard has been the sound for each album. The first one had Hammond Organ and Fender Rhodes, the second one, a celeste. Overseas III had the Farfisa Organ (which I had bought just a couple of months before the recording session). And, for #4, I rented a harpsichord. 

            I have to give Jacob credit for turning me onto the idea of the harpsichord. He had been talking about it for a few years–that it would be cool to record on that instrument. I was brewing on it for a while and then started to realize how a lot of the material I was writing was perfect for it. The harpsichord definitely dictated much of the direction for the last album, much more so than any of the other keys, which in some ways worked more as coloring.  

            The harpsichord also fit right in with other things that had inspired me for Overseas IV, like the Marie Antoinette movie by Sofia Coppola. I loved the way the visuals and the music came together in that. I had also been [getting deeper] into 18th century European history, so it all created a nice framework and mood for the album and the music: a concept album of sorts. 

            For the next record I might go back to having Jacob play only piano, ha-ha.

And what’s it like working with Tony Malaby?

            Tony is amazing. He’s one of those musicians who always gives one hundred percent and is emotionally involved in the music, no matter if he’s just warming up or playing a small club gig or a big festival.

How does the recent addition of Brandon Seabrook affect the trajectory and scope of the project? How did this alliance come about?

            It happened very naturally.  Malaby was out on the road a lot, and we were playing Nublu in the East Village frequently…this was in 2009 – 2010. I couldn’t really picture any other saxophonists, so I asked Brandon, and it was amazing. He’s so free with the music, and I never know what to expect, which I love. It took a while before I had both Tony and Brandon on a gig, but that was fireworks, too. Now we can do a full band or a four-man version with either Malaby or Seabrook–it’s all swell! Brandon is my favorite guitar player now, no question, and I’m really happy he’s in the band—he’s a busy man.

Overseas and the Music…

You have a lot of in-the-pocket, embedded, overt and subliminal funk in Overseas: Quickstep (Overseas I), Tilt of Timber (Overseas II), Michelle Marie and Youth Hopeth (Overseas IV). How do funk and jazz connect for you?

            I’m not sure I would call it funk, but that being said, I love real funk, the old stuff. But I think lately some of the rhythmic inspiration has come from bands like Joy Division, Fugazi, the B-52’s…New Wave stuff. For the early records, I was deep into Miles’ late 60’s /70’s so-called “electric period.”

The Overseas series also has a hard rock sensibility, even before the addition of Brandon Seabrook. Yet, I would never use a term like “fusion” to describe your music. Can you elaborate on the rock facet in Overseas?

            Again, I guess it’s how I hear my music. I was never able to write a good “jazz” tune anyway, so I just went with what I was hearing. I’ve never really been a huge fan of the direction a lot of contemporary jazz composing has taken. I find a lot of it boring and unimaginative: formulaic.  There are, of course, exceptions but…I guess my point is: that’s not where my head is when I compose. I know some people call jazz, “creative music.”  I think that’s an insult to all other music–all music is creative, and I have to say, lately I find so much more creativity in other genres. But it’s all just good or bad music, I guess.

What is the relationship between jazz and classical music on Overseas?

            I love a lot of classical and contemporary-classical music. I studied classical bass for four years at the music academy in Norway, (the Norwegian State Academy of Music), and I got really into it then. I was never that good or comfortable playing the music, though — too many rules and no freedom, but I have so much respect and admiration for composers like Richard Strauss, Olivier Messiaen, Gustav Mahler, Alban Berg, Ligeti… and many more. But I’ve never really studied their compositional techniques in depth, I just let myself be inspired by the impact [that music has] on me. 

            I have a soft spot for orchestral music. There is nothing like the sound of a great symphony orchestra, or string section! Love that sound. I have a dream of writing for Overseas and strings–I really want to make it happen, but for that to happen I need to do some serious studying and focusing — it’s a whole different animal [and one] that I have a lot of respect for.

You also have a high degree of sound-play on these Overseas albums. Redford (Overseas I) carries sounds suggestive of the pop and crack of vinyl and on Jacob Plays Celeste (Overseas II) we hear the typewriter in accompaniment. And, of course, there’s Kenny Wollesen’s inventive sound work. Additionally, both you and Tony Malaby bring out the “non-note/beyond notes” from your respective instruments. How do you come up with these sound-based ideas? Are you engaged in a willful juxtaposition of opposites or is it more loose and organic?

            It’s mostly improvisational: whatever we hear at that particular point in time. To me, it’s all just sound. I don’t really differentiate between, let’s say, a beautifully played C# and the sound of the bow hairs hissing against the strings, for example. Whatever makes musical sense at that point in time–and I believe that goes for the whole band–without it being a topic of conversation. We all have experience with multiple directions: like, for example, noise improv, electronic music and contemporary classical, so it’s all part of our palette. To take this sound thing one step further–I think this is probably why I’ve always been so involved in the whole process: orchestration, producing, recording, mixing, mastering…to me the sound, the mix, the ambiance of a track can make it or break it. It is really fascinating to me, and I love that there are no rules: only one’s imagination and aesthetic sense lead the way.

Your work conjures such a high degree of imagery and narrative for me — I can’t help but think of film and film scores. I also notice a lot of movie references in your song titles and you mentioned the influence of the film, Marie Antoinette. Would you elaborate some more on how film inspires your music? And, are you actively involved with film-score composition at this point? Is Overseas, in essence, the basis for a film?

            I’m glad to hear that you get visual impulses from the music. A lot of people say that. It’s not something I’m conscious about when making this music, but I guess my thing just has that quality about it. I do like movies (who doesn’t) and can often be very touched by good film scoring–the same goes for cinematography. I haven’t actively pursued film scoring, but would be down to try should the opportunity present itself. I hear it can be a very long, drawn-out and particularly (at times) frustrating work, though.

I notice you had a lot of inventive promotional ideas with Overseas IV: you had a download card to pass on to a friend, a really cool poster insert and a crisp vinyl short as an insert. This was all very engaging. What inspired these treasure~chest elements?

            Just the realization that in this day and age the CD has become a disposable object of very low value. I put a lot of emphasis on packaging and design–I’ve always been interested in Graphic Design and art, so adding a poster to the CD and little things like that just adds to the experience and “value” somehow, at least to me…. Vinyl is more of a collector object, and it’s fun to do. For Overseas IV, I made a 7” (single) with two songs, but also [inserted] a download card for the complete album.

Based on the pattern of release dates so far (2003, 2005, 2008, 2012), can we expect 2017 to be the year of Overseas V? Any plans of playing the entire series of five albums in one or two long performances?

            No plans as of now to play all the records in a live setting like that, but it’s a cool idea, if the right occasion presents itself.  Yes, maybe 2017 is a realistic goal for the next one.

If the Eivind of the first Overseas met the Eivind of today, what would each recognize in the other and what might you make for dinner?

            [Both of us] would recognize a deep love of music of all kinds, an aversion to doing things the same way as everybody else, and for dinner I would maybe set off a day and make some real Mexican food. (I never tried—I believe it’s hard).

 

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(*) Note: Eivind Opsvik plays with David Binney, Jacob Sacks and Dan Weiss every other Tuesday at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, 10:15pm

http://www.55bar.com

http://www.davidbinney.com

Other Links:

http://eivindopsvik.com

http://www.loyallabel.com/index.html

http://tonymalaby.net

http://www.jacobsacks.com

http://www.seabrookpowerplant.com/wp/bio/

http://www.wollesonic.com/?p=FILM&ms=m4&l=en&

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 Part II — coming next!