Crossfire! Nima Rezai
Crossfire! Nima Rezai
SV: Thank you for doing the interview, Nima. Before we move onto your latest work “Separate Worlds” I’d like to talk about your past. Do you remember how you first got into music?
Nima: Yes. I started playing flute in band when I was 11 after being made fun of by all the guys for playing flute, I switched to the sax. You know… kids and pressure. No offense to the flute. I still love it! From there, I got mainly into electric bass and still play it today in some side projects.
SV: And how were you interested in the stick?
Nima: I saw my long time teacher Bob Culbertson playing when I was 18 and right around the same time, I got a shoulder injury which prevented me from playing upright bass. So I decided to give it a shot and it became my main instrument and compositional tool.
SV: Your style of playing stick is highly original. Nevertheless, what music or musicians have inspired you as a composer and stickist?
Nima: I always have difficulties answering this question cause I don’t think I sound like the people I listen to most. I think as far as technique, Bob was my greatest influence. But as far as music generally and where my compositions come from, a lot of it had to do with studying world music while being deep into jazz and prog rock. Listening to people from Dizzy to Pat Metheny. On the prog rock end, I’m a huge fan of yes and although I don’t think it comes through in my music, I am fascinated by them to this day. But I think what really drives my music is the middle eastern rhythms I grew up listening to. There was also a period where I was heavily into minimalism. Put that all into a blender, and sometimes it works!
SV: Can you tell us what ideas you originally had as far as your musical taste were concerned?
Nima: Probably more towards a vocal project. I think one of the things that made this project different and in a way great was that the sax is sort of the vocals while I’m still doing melodies around him.
SV: How would you describe your music?
Nima: Ah yes! The million dollar question. Give it to the jazz crowd and they call it prog fusion. Give it to the prog crowd and they see it as jazz fusion. Give it to the world music crowd and it becomes confusing!!! I actually take pride in the uniqueness of the sound and it’s been a long time in the making which has a lot to do with the unique musicians involved as well. But it still gravitates around progressive rock, jazz and world music. All those elements are there.
SV: What are some of your inspirations and influences when making music, and with “Separate Worlds”, the new CD?
Nima: The concept behind “Separate Worlds” is about a very personal journey. Being an Iranian immigrant who came to the US at the age of 11, it was first all about getting away from my Iranian identity and doing whatever I can to blend in and to be seen as another American and not get picked on. It wasn’t till my mid 20s that I had a new found sense of identity and a recapturing my pride in where I come from. Obviously the last few years of wars have tested that even more. So while the title can be seen as a sort of division, the music portrays a very unique blend of things that may not work conceptually, but they do musically. The music is who I am and who a lot of us are. The foundations are there topped with all kinds of different styles and cultures with no boundaries set.
SV: How do you manage these influences in order to create your personal and characteristic sound?
Nima: I don’t. That’s why it turns out to be what it is. I actually wish I could say it came out the way it did cause I thought it out and managed it. But I looked at this album more in terms of colors and moods. That’s why it turned out very different than the first album.
SV: Could you briefly explain the process of composing and recording of “Separate Worlds”?
Nima: On this album, I got much deeper into synthesis and various sounds which worked out well. I really wanted to be versatile in my sound as to where even if you were listening for the stick, half the time you couldn’t tell what it was actually doing. These compositions are also very close to my heart as each one has a meaning that’s hopefully portrayed through the mood of the music. I wrote some of the compositions starting with the rhythm. Using anything from Kurdish to Mongolian to Latin rhythms. The “Separate Worlds” Suite is the best example of that. But in general, I find that every one of the compositions that I write come from something different. So there’s no set formula that I work with. We’d been performing the material long before we got to record it. So it had been worked out pretty well. We did the first album conventionally and did the whole studio thing. This time around, it was a whole different ball game and it was much more about orchestration. So the three main musicians, myself, my sax player, and my drummer all laid the core of the material down. Then the album went to the outbacks of Australia where Randy Graves recorded his guitar and did jeridu parts. Then it went to San Francisco, where Masaru Koga laid down the flute parts. Then it came back to LA where we laid down the saz and bouzouki parts. This part was particularly interesting cause it was the most challenging song of the album (“To Be Free). So I had Ali Shayesteh (saz player) just jam over the songs a good 20 times. Then I took it home and after a week of cutting and pasting, came up with the melody. It was all very unconventional and experimental. This was also our first digital studio album. So I was worried about the warmth and feel. But thanks to my engineer, it came out better than expected. Much more aggressive than my first album which I like. I’m hoping to learn more towards that on the next album. Also, the focus on orchestration and the use of various instruments was great. On our first album, I wanted to make sure that everything on the album could also be played live. But on this, I totally departed from that and made it what it’s meant to be. An album! Wait, I was supposed to be brief!
SV: Do you find composing or improvising more rewarding?
Nima: I see them as one in the same. Most of the time, compositions come from improvisation.
SV: Are you working on any new material or collaborations at this time?
Nima: Yes. Producing a friend’s album and also working on a double album for us. One will be much more aggressive and digging deeper into sonic experimentation and the rock end of things. While the other will be a very organic album with just acoustic instruments and an acoustic stick which is still a prototype.
SV: Please give us a hint about your future plans…
Hopefully doing a lot more touring and getting deeper into the European jazz circuit while also getting deeper into the prog rock festivals and events. I enjoy both. 2006 should be all about performing while trying to finish the 2 albums.
SV: Thanks for taking the time out to perform this interview Nima. Hope I get a chance to talk to you again in the future. Anything you would like to add for our readers?
Nima: Thanks for taking the time to do the interview and your interest in my / our music. Hopefully we’ll make our way to Argentina soon.