Monday, December 29, 2008

David Winogrond Interview

It's clear now that cool music has always been produced somewhere, even if the prevailing wisdom runs contrary to that statement. Pre-internet, people just had to look a bit more diligently in order to find underground sounds to their liking. For me, Homestead records provided all kinds of cool sounds in the later half of the 1980's. Live Skull, Naked Raygun, and most of all To Damascus were Homestead bands that I loved to listen to. They were all bands that expanded my listening post Metal, Punk, and Hardcore. The thing that I love most about To Damascus is their singularity. Their records are always challenging, and I admire the "take us at our own terms" vibe that Syliva Juncosa and her band mates produced. Of particular interest to me, aside from Sylvia's mind-boggling guitar ripping, was David Winogrond's drumming. Rock based, and Jazz inflected, David's drumming stood apart from the standardized, stock room playing of so many of his counterparts in Rock at that time. Towards the end of the 1990's I was pleasantly surprised to find that he'd become the drummer of choice for the great Davie Allan, who was at that time making a comeback. While David's playing was much more straight ahead within the context of the Arrows' music, it was still kick ass and exciting to me. At some point during 2008, I friended David on myspace. In keeping with the Disaster Amnesiac tendency of interviewing drummers, I asked Mr. Winogrond if he'd do and interview. He graciously consented, and then some. The man has some resume! Dig in and be astounded by a life making cool, underground sounds.

First off, some background questions. What part of the country did you grow up in?

The North Shore area, outside Chicago, till age 6. New Jersey at age 7. Moved to La Canada, California at age 8. Started playing drums at age 11. Stayed in La Canada till age 17, where I was in many bands, but nothing was released. I moved back to the Chicago area suburbs, and finally Chicago. Played in a few bands out there, Graced Lightning, and Athanor. Graced Lightning put out one single, which didn’t really represent us. We gigged a lot for over two years but none of that material was ever released. The single was with vocal, but we were primarily an all instrumental prog rock band. Athanor was a Beatles/Lennon influenced band and we put out one single. Finally moved back to L.A. and been here ever since.

I associate your playing with the L.A. area.
Has that area been your home for most of your life?
Most of the music I’ve done that’s been released is from here. Yes. Time-wise, I’ve lived here the longest.

How did you get into music? Was there music in your house growing up?

My dad bought me a record player, a lot of records, and a radio when I was around 5. I was immediately hooked! I remember going to my first day of school at age 6 and freaking out until I was put in a room with a radio, tuned to my favorite station! I had a cousin, Blanche Winogron (she dropped the “d” at the end), who was known in classical music circles for her harpsichord playing. I didn’t know her that well, but she’s probably the reason I love the instrument. I also have a cousin, Mark Winogrond, who’s exposed me to a lot of great music over the years, especially when I was younger. Both rock and jazz. His son is a rapper. Good stuff. He goes by the name of Grip Grand. I’ve only briefly met him once.

What made you get into the drums?
Was this something you did in school (i.e. band class, etc.?)
I knew I wanted to play an instrument. Tried a few things, but drums felt natural to me from the beginning. The two events that really did it for me was seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and seeing Sal Mineo in The Gene Krupa Story. I loved how Gene Krupa didn’t care about the traditional role of drums and brought them up front and did his own thing with them. I met him at some equipment show a few years before he died. Very nice guy. I briefly took one semester of band in school, but didn’t really relate to it and didn’t do well. That was for reading drum music and playing one snare drum in the orchestra. I knew I wanted to play a full set and play rock music, so I quit after the first semester. I think I got a D in the class. Outside of this, I’m completely self-taught.

How about other instruments?
Tried clarinet, piano, guitar, and violin. Was in one band briefly playing rhythm guitar shortly after starting drums. It didn’t stick and I went back to drums

What was your first drum kit?

I bought everything a few items at a time. A Sears snare drum with crappy 10” cymbal. Then I bought a much better Ludwig snare drum but turned that into a rack tom. Bought a crummy high hat. Then a 36” marching bass drum that was really loud and literally made pictures fall off the hall wall of our next door neighbors. Their hall was facing my bedroom. Some friends who also played drums would sometimes bring their sets over and I’d combine them, so I could play with a lot of toms and two kick drums. I was maybe 12 then, and had no clue what I was doing. I wasn’t sure how to set up a drum set, so I looked at pictures in Sears catalogs, which were very unhelpful, and the front cover of “Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds” for clues of how to set things up.

Did you take lessons?
Were there any teachers or experiences that inspired you greatly?
Just the one semester of band in school, which I had no interest in. No. I just listened to a lot of music. Those were my teachers, basically.

How about early listening experiences, the kind that you can still remember as being greatly inspirational?
As mentioned, I was glued to my record player since age 6. Kids would come over to ask if I wanted to go out and play baseball with them. Zero interest. I remember when stereo was a new thing and the family just got one. Prior to that, I had a mono turntable hooked up to my television. I remember getting the first Hendrix album when it first came out, before he was known in the States, and planting myself between the two stereo speakers and listening to that album. It blew me away and I called a drummer friend to tell him I had just bought the best album ever made!

Presumably, you came of age in the 1970's. What are your memories of this time in music?
That’s a big question! There were many phases in the 70’s! I liked the stuff that still vaguely sounded 60’s, some prog rock like Soft Machine and Van Der Graaf Generator, and various punk, but preferred the more melodic pop influenced punk, like The Buzzcocks, The Undertones, Ramones, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Magazine, etc.

Were you involved in Punk at all?
I was the 2nd drummer for The Germs, but never did any gigs or recordings. Pat Smear and I were on a couple of singles: The Tidalwaves, and The Martyrs. I was asked to play the last Germs gig but I was busy that night. I seem to remember it was a short notice kinda thing. I also was working on a Pat Smear solo project, but that didn’t go anywhere because he was asked to join Nirvana. I wasn’t a big fan of The Germs, which was why I quit. My only regret is that I didn’t get to play with Pat more. Pat’s a great guitar player and very cool guy.

Please give some account of your earlier musical history. What kind of bands did you play in? Any that you remember with particular fondness?
So many! (I was) always putting something together. My first gig was pretty funny! I was 12 and only had the Sears snare drum, 10” cymbal, and high hat. No kick drum yet. 7th grade talent show. Singer and lead guitar player was playing through his record player. Bass player was playing guitar, tuned down. Rhythm guitar player… well… we hadn’t decided which song to play until we were actually walking on stage! The singer said, “I’m a Man” by The Yardbirds. Unfortunately, the rhythm guitar player only heard him say “Byrds”, so he was actually playing “Mr. Tambourine Man”! Oops! And the band before us was an instrumental surf band, so the sound guy assumed we were too, and turned off the vocal mic! We kinda sucked.

My first experiences of hearing your playing came from the great band To Damascus. This band was so unique, especially in the context of 1980's music. What was it like playing in To Damascus?
Fantastic! Sylvia and Tyra were both way cool people to work with.

Was the band aware of just how different you were?

We were ALL different.

Sylvia Juncosa is, in my opinion, one of the best guitar players ever. What was your experience playing with her like? Can you give any insights into her amazing story?
Back then, she was just on fire! Writing tons of songs, which we’d learn and work out only to have her come in the next week with a new batch. But I also remember that our non-rehearsal chit chat was rarely about music. They had really well rounded interests, so they were really interesting to hang out with.

Your drumming in To Damascus has always seemed to me to be a sort of Jazz/Rock hybrid. Can you describe your approach to drumming at that time? What were some of the effects that you were after?
Jazz has always influenced me from an early age but it wasn’t really a conscious thing. I guess my approach to drumming back then isn’t that different from how it’s ever been. My approach has always been very conversational, as opposed to being the anchor. I like to “talk” to whatever the melody is. That may be in part because the kick drum was the last piece I got in my first drum set. I’m guessing on that, though. But doing the “in the pocket” thing with the bass player was something I got into later. I was always more interested in conversing with the melody, whether it be a vocal or guitar or a bunch of feedback.

It seems that To Damascus ended when Sylvia joined SWA. Is this the case?
No, she was playing in both at the same time.

Did To Damascus play with a lot of the SST/South Bay bands in live shows?
Not really. Sylvia did with SWA.

After To Damascus ended, what bands did you play in?
The band broke up after we did a U.S. and Canadian tour. I, especially, found the tour to be very disappointing. It was my first, so I didn’t know what to expect. I came back and intended to take a break from music altogether, but was immediately asked to do a Davie Allan session, which produced the song, ”Missing Link”. I was then in a band called Screaming Flesh Machine, with Tom Hofer on bass and vocal, and Bret Gutierrez (who was later the singer in Sylvia’s band for a little while) on guitar and vocal. We did some recordings, around four songs if I remember. One of those songs, one that Tom sang, ended up on an album by Tom, called “Clearing House”. Tom was in the first line up of Leaving Trains and played bass for To Damascus on much of the first album and the tour. He’s doing these really cool collages now. Not so much music. He’s getting art shows and selling his collages. Lots of stuff inspired by old match books. He also did the collage on the inside of my new album, “In The Ether”. Also, after To Damascus broke up, I bought a drum machine and started doing drum machine programming for some local rappers and other people. I did some drum machine programming for a rap version of “Surfer Joe” by Mike Love, but he ended up not releasing the album it was planned for. But mostly, the few years after To Damascus broke up, I got more seriously into photography, which I had actually been doing longer than drumming. I discovered photography around the same time I discovered music but was doing photography before I decided on an instrument. I was more focused on photography than music during this time period.

Please talk a bit more about your start with Davie Allan. What has it been like to play with someone so talented?
It started with “Missing Link”, which I mentioned earlier. It was just a session. He didn’t have a regular “Arrows” at that point. But in 1994, with the release of “Loud, Loose and Savage”, he decided to put a working Arrows together for the first time since the 60’s and I was asked to join, through Chris Ashford. Chris thought my improvisational approach would be good for Davie. The guy is an amazing talent! And what I’ve never understood is why he isn’t better known for his writing. He’s obviously a great guitar player, but he’s also a great song writer, as well.

The clips of the Arrows that are posted on YouTube are incredible.

Thanks! Have you checked Jake’s Wild Trip on YouTube? It’s in three parts. Kurt Max filmed and edited the whole thing in his back room. Very talented guy!

Are you still with the Arrows? If so, are there any new recordings in the works?

No. Basically, I got a day job that enables me to finance my psychedelic jazz recordings. The problem is, I can’t get away to do out-of-area gigs or tours. So I realized my choice would be to keep the job and work on my own thing, or quit the job and not have the money for my recording, so I can continue working with Davie. I’ve been an Arrow longer than any other Arrow, roughly 13 years, so I decided it was time to move on and work on my own thing. “Moving Right Along” finally came out this year, but it was finished in 2004, right after we finished “Restless In L.A.” (that same year) and before we did the two Christmas albums. So, at this point, everything’s been released that I played on.

The tunes on your CD “Pictures at an Existentialism” have a great, post Free, almost ECM-ish vibe.
Clearly you have a great Jazz influence and approach there. Is the group from this CD playing shows?
Interesting. The Blue Note and Impulse labels were more where I was coming from. And the look and feel of the Columbia gate fold Miles albums in the 70’s, that had an almost concept album vibe. That wasn’t really a group. Jack Chandler is the one consistent person on my CDs. He plays sax, flute, and occasional keyboards. The guy’s a freakin genius! I feel very lucky to be working with him! I have a 2nd album, “In The Ether”, coming out Feb 17. This album is also not a consistent personnel, except for Jack and myself. I didn’t see this as a drawback or compromise. I wanted the albums to be fairly eclectic, and not necessarily have the same sound or approach throughout. More like solo albums than band albums. On “Pictures at an Existentialism”, there’s one song where I had DJ Bonebrake (the drummer from X) play vibes, and Davie Allan on guitar. DJ just put out a new jazz album on the same label, Wondercap Records. “In The Ether” (which) is even more eclectic. Both (of my) albums were specifically studio projects and not intended to be representative of a live band. After finishing the two albums, I decided I needed to start doing shows and needed to put an actual band together. It’s called The David Winogrond Spacetet. As of now, it’s a fairly new band. We’ve only played three gigs so far, all at The Industrial CafĂ© and Jazz, in Culver City. It’s a very cool Ethiopian restaurant and jazz club. This band consists of Jack Chandler, Larry Rott on bass (who I worked with in the 80’s with Michael Penn in a band called Doll Congress), and Bruce Wagner on guitar and trumpet. Bruce and I have worked on many bands together, including Davie Allan and The Arrows, Skooshny, and SS-20. SS-20 was sort of a psychedelic art damage band on Greg Shaw’s Vox Records label. We started out with just Bruce on extreme fuzz bass (or occasional guitar), me on snare, floor tom and high hat, and Madeline Ridley on vocals. No other instrumentation. Very minimalist. Played gigs at punk shows or poetry readings or Greg Shaw’s Cavern club. When Greg Shaw found us, he turned us into a more conventional line-up, (guitar, bass and full drum set), but we remained very psychedelic. Bruce also appears on a few cuts on “Pictures at an Existentialism”. Skooshny, which Bruce was also in, was a band I started with Mark Breyer in 1975. We released singles on a label I started in the 70’s called Alien Records. The DIY approach of 70’s punk was influencing me, but the Graced Lightning and Athanor singles were also independently released as well, in the early 70’s. Eventually, Greg Shaw contacted us (Skooshny) to tell us our singles were collector’s items in England. He hooked us up with Bill Forsyth in London, who released our first album, which was made up of the singles and recordings I had sitting in my closet, collecting dust. Bill also released two more Skooshny albums after we decided to reform. Several years ago, the label for Jigsaw Seen, Vibro-Phonic Records, released a “best of” Skooshny album called “Zoloto”. Skooshny finally broke up, though we have one more song that’ll be released on Vibro-Phonic eventually, for a Bee Gees Tribute album. More info on Skooshny here:
Also on the site is my discography and another interview:
The David Winogrond Spacetet is my focus for now. I usually juggle several projects at once, but this is what I’m concentrating my energy on right now. That, and trying to get “Pictures at an Existentialism” and “In The Ether” some exposure.

You're an accomplished photographer. Can you talk a bit about this aspect in your life?
I mostly do people photography. Models, album covers, portfolio work, etc. Examples can be found here:
I’ve also done journalistic photography, which is completely different. (I've) worked as a staff photographer for The Palisadian Post for four years. I’ve been working with film cameras for decades, but once the quality of digital got really good, I finally moved into digital and haven’t used my film cameras in years.

What projects are you involved in as we move into 2009?
I’m excited about my new album, “In The Ether”, which is a continuation of the psychedelic jazz explorations that I started with on “Pictures at an Existentialism”, though each album is actually very different from the other. I’m also looking forward to getting The David Winogrond Spacetet more gigs and recording an album. I’d like to eventually move to Ethiopia and put a jazz band together there and occasionally tour Europe while living in Ethiopia, but that’s down the road a bit.

Post Script: David emailed me to remind me that To Damascus was on Restless, not Homestead. Totally my mistake. I seemed to recall them on Homestead, but I checked my copy of Come to Your Senses, and it is on Restless. I guess I'll blame that one on old age related memory loss. Thanks, David. He also wanted me to ad a link for the Spacetet's bass player, Larry Rott:

Ok, thanks to David for putting up with me and me gaffs!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

In Heaven Everything is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and the Lost History of New Wave Theatre, by Josh Frank and Charlie Buckholtz

For years Peter Ivers has been a blurb in the RE/Search Incredibly Strange Music II mag for me, and a bit more to boot. The excellent Jello Biafra interview/rant therein includes a brief description of him, and I've always been intrigued, despite the description's mere paragraph length. I found this unexpected gem of a book about Ivers at the always astounding Oakland Public Library (Main Branch), and blazed though it during a short trip to the island of Hawaii.
Peter Iver's story is one of brilliance and tragedy. The authors use biographical writing, verbal testimonials/interviews from his numerous friends, and interviews with the LAPD Homicide Division to tell his story. It's a great way to format a biographical book, as each section never outwears it's welcome. The transitions from pure biography to interview make for compelling reading throughout. Obviously it doesn't hurt that Peter Iver's life was one of great interest: he surrounded himself with creative people, and was involved in diverse projects. If you've laughed at the folk tune scene in Airplane! or tripped out on the woman singing from within the radiator in Erasherhead, you've been exposed to Iver's work. The man decided to take the stage as the Nicks/Buckingham Fleetwood Macs' opener clad only in a diaper. He put up with Lee Ving's tough guy act as the host of New Wave Theatre. He got kudos from Muddy Waters for his harmonica playing. Frank and Buckholtz do a fine job of describing all these aspects of his life, along with his vexing inability to realize the Star Power he was so clearly deserving of. They also do an admirable job of attempting to shed light onto the tragic murder of Ivers. Although they point no fingers, they do allow those close to him and to his homicide case to give their opinions as to "whodunnit".
In Heaven Everything is Fine was a great read. If you're at all interested in the hidden aspects of Hollywood, or the charismatic and/or quirky historical figures found there, you'll surely enjoy reading it. I bet you'll also be saddened by the senseless death of such a great character. I wonder if the truth will ever be told.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cometbus #51-The Loneliness of the Electric Menorah

If there is one thing that I can say with certainty, it is that I love the San Francisco Bay Area. This place is my home, and I hope to stay here for as long as possible. To whit, I've lived in Newark, Fremont, San Francisco, Union City, and Oakland. I've driven trucks all over this area, and am familiar with many of the smaller towns and neighborhoods here.
The depth of my knowledge of the Bay Area pales in comparison to that of Aaron Cometbus. Aaron grew up in Berkeley, and has been putting out the amazing zine Cometbus for years. Cometbus routinely focuses on the East Bay region, and I consider Aaron's writing pretty essential to an understanding of the East Bay. Aaron doesn't pay too much heed to the surface aspects, but instead hones in on the "smaller" aspects, the environments and people that make up the landscape at street level.
Issue #51 of Cometbus focuses on the lives and exploits of Morris "Moe" Moskowitz and various other men and women who made up a small community of book sellers on Telegraph Avenue, near the UC Berkeley campus. Told in his signature conversational style, #51 recounts the amazing history of this small group of cranks, oddballs and business men. Aaron spoke with a lot of the key players that made up the odd mixture of Telegraph during it's height, say 1956 to 1997 or so. The story is spiced with the intrigue of their power struggles, leavened by the truly odd personalities involved, and given heart by Aaron's often melancholic musings upon the passage of time and life. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time hanging out in that area, I was fascinated to read the stories of the men and women who ran the shops, owned the buildings that the shops were in, and just generally helped to shape the tensions that ran through that area like a live wire. It certainly helped me to understand that strange corridor a bit more. Next time I'm there I know there will be a much richer humus from which to draw insight.
Beautifully illustrated with stencils by Caroline Paquita, and sold for a bargain price of $3.00, Cometbus #51 is highly recommendable reading. Seek it out, as you will not be disappointed, even if you've never been to Berkeley. The story transcends mere setting, as all great stories do.

Monday, December 8, 2008

David Hurley Interview

It started with an advertisement for Porter Records in an issue of Waxpoetics. Along with recordings by older greats like Byard Lancaster and Rashid Ali, Porter advertised a CD by drummer David Hurley. I was intrigued and ordered a copy. I'm glad I did, as Outer Nebula Inner Nebula is a really cool CD, full of great, percussive improvised group music and spacey solo pieces by Hurley. It's a fun listen. I really enjoy the way Hurley plays within an improvising group, and wanted to ask him a few questions about his influences, his processes, and what his plans for the near future are. Thankfully, he agreed to do a short interview. Read on and be inspired!

You are based in San Diego. Is this the area that you grew up in?

Yes! Born and raised and at the moment based in SD.

What were some of your formative musical experiences?

Having the chance to see Ornette Coleman still bring it at age 78… He really impressed me.
As a musician I’d have to say playing (sax and traps) on the streets or “busking” if you will… I can honestly say this has made me a stronger and more conscious musician. Playing down town on the busy street corner, I find myself in a position where I’m able to freely bounce ideas off an unsuspecting audience, which naturally reflects consistent honest (sometimes too honest) feedback. After doing this for a few years I’ve found it has greatly helped me as a creative improviser to be comfortable and confident improvising freely while keeping the ball rolling and thus keeping things interesting. You start to be aware of things like attention spans as you play off of your audience… When you have one. The club situation offers this but not nearly as raw and intense as the streets. It’s much easier to consciously or subconsciously disconnect yourself from the audience on stage and in the comfort of a venue.
I get formative musical experiences off youtube all the time.
Most recently I had the opportunity to record and play music with Elliott Levin. It was an amazing experience thanks to Luke at Porter Records. To be connected by some thin branch in the same jazz family tree as Cecil Taylor and so many other great players is an indescribable feeling.

On Outer Nebula Inner Nebula you play horns, flutes, and keys along with percussion. Did you play in school bands, church bands, etc? How
about teenage years? Did you play in Punk or garage bands?

Never played in school “band” bands. I started playing drums in a punk band at age 16 in high school. Punk is and always will be at my roots. The interest in other instruments came partially natural. I try to think in melody and colors with rhythms. I do remember someone explaining to me early on that if I wanted to be a great drummer I should learn other instruments. I took that to heart.

You also play a lot of percussion from various parts of the world. Have you played in any kind of ensembles, e.g. a Gamelan or Taiko group?

I wish!!! The closest Gamelan ensemble I know of is at UCLA. I’ve always wanted look into it. My Gamelan instrumentation came about with a good run on ebay with some pot-gongs and hours of youtubing/listening to Balinese Gamelan and Ketjak. I obsessively listen to world music for inspiration. Just recently I spent some time in Cuba studying conga drums.

Did you take trap lessons? Any teachers/elders that had a great effect on you in your personal life?

I didn’t take lessons for the traps. I often wish I did… About the time I discovered Elvin Jones’s magical drumming I was really into Fugazi’s drummer Brendan Canty and music of that genre. Elvin stumped me. I knew if I just listened hard enough I’d understand. That’s how Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, and Christian Vander worked their way into my head. Not to mention a huge appreciation for all of their music.

You dedicate Outer Nebula Inner Nebula to Elvin Jones. Clearly you have a high amount of reverence for him and his music. Can you talk about this, or any other great musicians from history that
inspire you?

Well, Elvin has this enormous heart and soul that emanates from his drumming. He is one of the most honest drummers I have ever heard. You can actually hear him feel the music and lift it up on his shoulders. He was a reflection of Coltrane and vice versa which made him even stronger during the time of that synergy. He completely absorbed the moment! Other great drummers are takers of the moment like Tony (who I love). Tony was a lot of flash and talent. But I always come back to Elvin. Christian Vander is just straight up entertaining… Elvin on acid and steroids . I love the way Christian looks with his iced over eyes rolled up in his head behind his Gretsch bebop spaceship… A huge inspiration!

Were improvised music or Jazz styles that you heard in your house as a child?

No! My mom did listen to Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson when she was my age. Sadly her LPs were long gone by the time she had me. Jazz and Improvised music came much later.

The ensembles on Outer Nebula Inner Nebula feature a lot of percussion and not too much of the more traditional instrumentation. What were some of the factors that lead you to organize groups like this?

I wanted a sense of balance between the sounds and instrumentation. Percussion is a given, however, I specifically chose the djimbe and djun djun to provide the high highs and low lows so the alto and the drums (two mid range instruments) could weave in and out freely and comfortably. It takes a lot of consideration to make a group or ensemble really work. Also I’m fortunate to make music with such talented musicians.

Can you talk a bit about the members of the ensembles on Outer Nebula Inner Nebula? Are these men all part of and improvised music scene in the San Diego area? Do you play in any of their groups?

Leonard Mack and I are cousins and grew up together. The funny thing is we both found the drums independently of each other. He is a member of a folkloric African drum and dance ensemble with Ousmane Toure. The Nebula sessions are only the second time we had played together. I felt an intense visceral/familial connection to his drumming, which I feel came across nicely on the album. Preston Swirnoff is a close friend and multi-talented producer of dub, psych and experimental music. We have worked on several projects together over the years. Most notably Seesaw Ensemble and Habitat Sound System. Brian Ellis is one of my musical heroes. He makes anything he picks up sound good. I don’t think he had that violin more than a week before he recorded solar wind drone. He is the lead guitarist in ASTRA, a psychedelic neo-prog group I am honored to be a part of. Google or youtube him… He’s making an impressive mark. Zuri Waters is foremost an artist and was my faithful street companion and horn player in Seesaw Ensemble. Needless to say we know how to listen to each other very well in an improvised situation. He’s now studying art at RISD.

One of the things that I love about the CD is the way in which you leave lots of space in your playing. Can you talk a bit about your approach to percussion/trap set playing within an improvising group?

If you can listen harder than you are playing you can count on being in a good place to make music interesting.
Studying congas has given me a new sensitivity to the traps. Sometimes I’d rather be playing them with my hands (sometimes I do). On the album the drums almost gel like some sort of swinging language at the best moments, which created a more African vibe than a jazz vibe. I kept from riding the cymbals too much which also helped the drum set become more African.

Outer Nebula Inner Nebula features four tracks that are solo pieces. How do you go about with this process?

Hard to say… Cosmic Moon March was actually the first song I recorded for the album and coincidentally the first thing I ever recorded with my computer in my living room all by lonesome. Funny how it’s also one of my favorite songs on the album. When I was researching mics and preamps I wanted to have just enough to make a “Van Gelder” style recording using dynamic mic and focusing on placement to absorb the room sounds. I haven’t quite mastered this yet!!! With the tracked songs I approached the music as if it were improvised. Making a simple rhythm or bass line, which inspired the next rhythm or sound and eventually it would take shape and I’d know where it was going and how I wanted it to get there. I have a house full of collected musical instruments from all over at my disposal. Sometimes I just set them all up and try to find the best combinations of sounds and rhythm.

The track Solar Wind Drone is quite intriguing to me. It's under a minute long, but there sounds like so much is going on within it. If you'd like to, please describe the process of composing/recording this amazing piece.

Ha, it actually was part (the very end) of a much longer piece, which I liked very much. My computer farted and most of the songs tracks were lost in a spit second. When the album was nearly finished I had this thought of using some of Ellis’s violin and my moog from the remaining tracks and thus Solar Wind Drone was reincarnated… This time as a forty second vamp. It works in so many ways in contrast with the rest of the album and with the order of the songs as a bridge from one style of recording to another. I’m glad you like it.

What kind of drum set did you use on Outer Nebula Inner Nebula? How about cymbals?

It was custom made for me by Hard Bop Drums out of Arizona. My graduation present to myself. I use Zildjan K Constantinople hi-hat and ride cymbals and a Meinl Jazz ride.

Do you have a favorite non-trap set instrument?

Congas are my first love lately. I’ve also been giving the cuica and flute a lot of attention.

Do you have any plans to tour in the near future? It would be great to hear you at the Elbow Room in S.F. or 21 Grand in Oakland!

I don’t have any solid dates at the moment; however, sometime in May I’ll be in SF with Khan Jamal and Byard Lancaster and members of Seesaw Ensemble for a Porter Records tour. I should be headed your way with ASTRA soon as well. It would likely be in February or March. My most recent project is an all percussion ensemble. It’s taking shape quite nicely at the moment. We ought to make something happen in SF soon. Until then, Cheers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

David Hurley-Outer Nebula Inner Nebula

avant-garde- n. A group active in the invention and application of
new techniques...esp. in the arts

Using the given definition, it would be really hard, almost impossible, to consider any music currently produced as avant-garde. I'm not trying to by cynical here, just trying to come to some sort of definition of the music played on David Hurley's great CD, Outer Nebula Inner Nebula. Let's go with Creative Improvised Music.
Hurley is a San Diego based drummer/composer whom I found about in the great Waxpoetics magazine. On this CD, which seems to be dedicated to Elvin Jones, Hurley leads quartets, trios, and duo's through six tunes, augmented by four more solo multi-tracked ones. The former for the most part sound improvised, and are characterized by their heavy emphasis on percussion. Hurley generally augments his drumming with djembe and junjun, played by Leonard Mack II and Ousmane Traore. This percussion heavy approach gives the ensemble tunes a great AACM or Sun Ra Arkestra feel, with lots of clicking, chirping, chiming and bubbling sounds surrounding the alto saxophone soloing of Zuri Waters. Waters takes good advantage of his often lone melodic role within the ensembles, soloing in free form interaction with the percussive bed around his sounds. His solo on Inner Nebula is particularly great; at one point I swear I hear him quoting Aaron Copeland! On Deep Giant squid he takes a slower, more contemplative approach for a while before launching off into the depths of the tune, interacting with the spacey-as hell organ bleeping of Preston Swirnoff. His tone throughout the disc is raw, kind of like Sonny Simmons or Archie Shepp. Hurley's trap set drumming on the cuts with other players in pretty remarkable. Even during his most heated interactive moments, he has a great sense of space, as in leave some for everyone else. Oftentimes it seems like free drummers take all of the freedom and none of the discipline, either groove-wise or ensemble-wise. David's drumming never comes across as overbearing. One gets a sense that he's really listening to his band mates. On the solo pieces, the listener is treated to more contemplative soundscapes, often reminiscent of John Cage's percussion pieces. Hurley is particularly effective with the brushes on Shake the Noise Maker as he explores quiet sounds on his expertly tuned kit. Here is where the Elvin influence really comes across (see the track Who Does She Hope to Be? on Sonny Sharrock's Ask the Ages for comparison). Cosmic Moon March ups the tempo a bit, with groovy Moog and balaphon playing making it sound like the music in the club in which Sun Ra took up residence after leaving this planet. David drops the drums entirely for the fifty second long Solar Wind Dance, a weird duet with violinist Brian Ellis. The song's strange ambiance is disturbing, all the more effective for it's brevity.
In terms of production, Inner Nebula Outer Nebula is quite strong . Hurley wisely keeps tunes on the shorter side of the spectrum, thereby avoiding one major pitfall encountered in improvised recordings: the CD length track. This wise editing allows the listener to move through the different spaces presented by his various combos, getting the full effect and not having to put up with the inevitable filler that occurs within group improvisations at just about any level. The sound is warm, with great separation between the various instruments; even the "little sounds" of shakers and bells come across well in the mix.
Inner Nebula Outer Nebula is a great example of creative, improvised music. At this point, so many years after the initial forays of the Jazz Avant-Garde, I hesitate to give it that description. I can unhesitatingly call if cool, fun, creative, funky, spacey, and ass-kicking. If you dig any of those factors in your ears, you could do a hell of a lot worse.