You have had many collaboration with versatile reedmen. What do they bring to music?
Well, at the time, what it means is that it provides a variety of colors, a palette of colors, sound colors. That's why I like the ability, like with John [Surman] for instance, John plays the baritone, the soprano and the bass clarinet, but each one of them has a different personality when he plays them. So you get a variety of shapes and colors and moods with the shifting of the instrument.
Do you change you playing?
Maybe, sometimes, dynamically. If you play the bass clarinet, it might be a little softer because of the nature of the timbre of the instrument. But otherwise, it depends on what we're playing and how the dynamics of the music are produced."
Can you talk about your relationship with Surman?
I first met John in London, and I actually met him again during some touring in Europe when he was playing with the collaborative trio with Barre Phillips and Stu Martin. And we jammed a bit and actually came here [Woodstock, NY], and stayed a bit sometime in the '70's I guess at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, Karl Berger's place. And he actually stayed in Woodstock for a while and we got the chance to hang out and play together on and off and then I think we did [Mike] Goodrick's In Passing and then Simon Simon came out after that. So then we decided to a duet and then after that, subsequently, we would do some dates in England, a few dates, Arts Council tours, doing the duets. We had an instant rapport. We bring out the best in each other. We sort of just know each other real well but at the same time we know each other so well in the sense that we can't take each other for granted. We always have to be on our toes. So that the music is stimulating and rewarding at the same time. So we've done back and forth occasionally over the years duet concert dates. A couple of years ago we decided we should do it again but do a tour and record what we do live, get that feeling so we did a two week tour and the results are the Invisible Nature CD. Some of the compositions, the improvisational compositions developed over the time of that 2 week period. And we also, the way we work, its such a full thing that we have, the two of us by the use of sequencers and prerecorded CD's for ambient sound which John's son Ben who does sound for us, he's sort of the 3rd engineer, created this full, sometimes orchestral effect we get when we're playing, and we bring these things in and out so it really feels very complete, it feels like band even though its only two of us.
You always had the intention to record the tour?
Well, we hoped it would. You're taking a risk when you record live, these two concerts that we use were at the end of the tour, we were pretty tight by then.
All the pieces were improvised?
Well, they are improvised, in other words, the first piece, that happened just like that. Most of it is. It is exactly what John says on it. What I'm saying is that one developed over the course of the tour, "Song for World Forgiveness", that we had been doing and that has chord changes but we approach it differently every time. But all the rest of it happened right there on the spot.
Was it based on discussion? Sketches?
For the most part, yes. Put it this way, we do a concert, well we do have a CD out so we have developed some pieces from that, even with that, we just did a concert in Italy and John will come in with a sequence. Or maybe I'll come in with something on my electronic drum. And for sound check we'll come with ideas and say that sounds good, we'll work with that. And then we'll develop them that night out of performance.
So it is a fully cooperative situation?
There's room for John bringing in a piece, like my piece "Song for World Forgiveness, that was a sketched, written recorded melody. And John may bring in a piece too. So there's room for that too, for fixed compositions. But mostly we're spontaneous composers, in other words, we understand the discipline of form, so when we are playing without a roadmap we can create one in realtime while we're doing it."
Has your approach to improvisation changed over years?
I think I'm growing older and wiser, more grounded in one sense and freer in another. You would describe it that way.
You have two very different projects in your duo with John and the Standards Trio with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock. Do you prefer to work with peers rather than younger musicians?
Its just a different adjustment basically. With younger players, you have to spend time with them, get to know them and you develop a rapport out of that and the same thing happens with the peers, knowing each other all the many years, you know where you can go with certain players, with younger players it depends on how developed they are, where you can go with the younger players. There's a freedom in that as well, getting to know one another, challenging one a another, working with younger ideas, for me its just, its just a matter a making different adjustments to both situations, I mean I have a lot of fun both playing with the younger players as well as the older players. Because younger players bring some different things, their youth into it and their energy and enthusiasm, and I like to work off that energy as well. The older players like Keith and John just to name a few, let's say for instance Sonny Rollins, they're older players but they still have a youthful energy to what they do. They're not, to me anyway, old. They're still challenging envigorating and stimulating and fun to play with and I look for that same thing in the younger players as well as the older players. I look for both of those attributes.
Spending time together helps the fluidity?
Yeah, that's true. It also means if you've done enough improvising in enough different situations, you come to someone like John or Keith, just from the experience of doing that so much, there's a sort of trust there that allows you a certain freedom within the way you play, play together, play off of one another.
Does John's international background affect his playing or is jazz a music irrespective of borders?
More that. Because John is also an accomplished composer, you'll get a chance to hear that on his next release which is John Surman, and I'm on that too, with the London Brass, which he's a written a nine-piece suite called "That's Right" based on a few of the articles of the charter of the UN. John is quite well-versed in European classical music and folk music. He likes a lot of folk music, in fact you hear a lot of that in a lot of his melodies. But he's composed for chorus, for orchestra and ballet and film so he wears a few hats. And of course he's really broad in his musical thing so I don't think where he comes from, I guess some of that English and Scottish stuff comes in as an asset into his world view of his music sensibilties. But I don't think being in America or Europe makes any difference because most players now listen so much to everything from around the world. Its definitely really global now. Musicians seek that out now. They like the diversity. The challenge comes in how to put that diversity together into a woven fabric and communicate it to your listeners.
What are your thoughts on the duet format?
You know its more intimate. You can have that with three you can have it with four, it depends how the energy flows between the participants. But then the one-on-one thing, you're reall y quite naked, you're even more naked when you do solo, but duos is close to that. It has to be interesting. There's a a challeng to that. There's also a freedom with that exposure also. You're free to do quite a few things. For instance, the pattern on the begininng [of Invisible Nature], I played that manually, spontaneously,. Now we do it, I program that bass pattern, a variation of that pattern into my Roland HPD15, I have both hands free so I can color the music more. So, people say what about bass, well we have a keyboard, if we want bass things, we can have that, technology helped us, sequencers and things like that and sampling make it possible to add these things if we need them.
You use alot of electronics on the album and in concert.
Well, that other person is just an extension of us because those are the things that we set up. So it more in a way kind of orchestrating and arranging for ourselves.
Some of the pieces are done without electronics.
When there are just two of us playing, there's melodic and harmonic ideas going on between both us and we're working with that at that point. We're working with melody, rhythm, sound, color and I think it can be more intense or can it become very delicate. There's enough going on between the two of us but even when it gets dense you can still hear enough separation in everything to pick out exactly what's happening. I think also in the duet format, the drums, the way I play them, the drums particularly are more exposed so you can actually hear the melodic and orchestral approach, the way I approach the drums, you can hear that pretty clear because its exposed in a way that maybe you wouldn't hear it in maybe other circumstances, Depending on how busy the music and how many other instruments are involved. But with the drum and horn, there is an exchange going on that's really pretty easy to detect. There's a harmonic and rhythmic thing going on with us so that John is free to change keys or go in any directions he wants to go in, if he changes a key or if I change rhythm or play a certain tone color it will set him off harminically into something elese. And it goes back and forth like that. Its a continaul revolving exchange of ideas.
You've done many ECM records as a leader. What are the changes from each? Each project is a little different. At the moment, I'm not leading any bands, I'm more interested in these collaborative things at the moments. They just seem to have a strong call on me at the moment. That's where I am now at this moment. That's not to say I wouldn't put together a group of people, put some music together and do something in the future when the spirit hits me. But right now I'm in the place where I'm enjoying doing this thing with Keith and also the project with John and myself, and actually getting John over here and exposed to American audiences. I think that will change hopefully. When he comes over and does this, I think we're planning on doing some more dates in the fall over here.
In the same format as Invisble Nature?
It will be some of that. But John and I never do the same thing twice. Its not a pop record. What's documented there is two evenings, so what we do live there will some of the Invisible Nature but there will also be fresh things. We're coming up with new ideas all the time.
In Montreal, you be playing at the Salle de Gesu.
Its a nice intimate room. The sound is really excellent there.
How do you compare Montreal against the JVC Jazz Festival where you'll be appearing with Jarrett and Peacock?
I like the atmosphere of Montreal, definitely has quite a vast of program with a variety of artists from around the world. I think the Montreal festival is one of the best in the world.
Do you like festivals?
Well , I mean the difference is you have to adjust to different places when you play concerts, festivals, when you play in a club its more intimate because you get adjusted to the room and the sound. Its a little smaller space, its a little more intimate in that sense.
The people more open?
The other advantage you can also reach more people, its a practical side, you play the music for the people so thats also an important aspect, to communicate with the people, with as many people as you can.
Are American audiences different?
I don't think so. If people like something, they like it. There have been great American audience that I've played for and great Euorpean audiences. Maybe there is a slight difference, maybe that European or Montreal audience are more eclectic in their tastes but I think that Americans are coming along to some degree but its definitely a little slower. The festivals will bring out certain things, differences that you mentioned before, will get people to listen to things, music that they won't normally listen to if they were in a club.
Please send comments or questions to Andrey Henkin at email@example.com .