Gary Husband “It’s been a real pleasure to revisit this album, open up all the multitracks and completely remix the
Gary Husband’s conception “Force Majeure” represents both a stylistic and compositional departure from the terra firma of traditional British jazz sensibilities.
Graced by the commissioning hand of the Contemporary Music Network, mainstream critics were able to identify the considerable fusion of qualities and fine musical lineage offered by each band member in the ensemble during their 2004 and 2005 performances. The septet was affectionately stretched to the full potential of their improvisational capacities, amidst a self-regulating core provided by Husband’s structured, rhythmic composition. The abstract complexity of “Force Majeure”’s performance brief is mediated with the certainty of fundamental expressive themes and narratives, which are counterpoised to complement and create a satisfying whole body of work. Burt Bacharach, Bjork, and John McLaughlin are evoked through three extended pieces to mark their influence on the development of Husband’s musical persona. The second theme of architectural forms is no less deeply rooted, or inspired, focusing upon his preoccupation since youth with exploring the ruins and orifices of derelict old buildings. The resulting score ‘Stone Souls,’ reflects considerable longevity in the maturation of these works, nurtured in solitude and composed into a five-part suite with genre defying dexterity, creating a simply new and ambitious form of music. Ultimately ‘Evocations’ and ‘Stone Souls’ gain their conviction through constructing a performance which conveys a three dimensional world, rich not only in presenting ‘layers of sound’, but also engaging with the visual realm in their ‘movie-esque’ qualities. This approach is reminiscent too of the technical, modal genius of Miles Davis, frequently interlocking the senses in his desire to communicate.
“Force Majeure” have to date fulfilled perfectly the role of a premier jazz/rock fusion unit. Below this manifest definition however, lies a little irony, because “Force Majeure” means in simple terms, a ‘greater force’. The legal connotations of this definition lead me on a paper trail toward a series of clauses in law, freeing an individual from the obligations of contract through the intervention of unforeseen circumstances, including war and natural disasters. This is quite a thought and only too prophetic of recent times. The concept in this context however is evocative not only in the compositional sense, but also suggests the odyssey of our own “Force Majeure”; or as Gary Husband expresses, the realization of a dream, “chasing everything I love..‿ The compounding elements of Jerry Goodman and Randy Brecker meeting with the raw fresh talents of Elliot Mason and Arto Tuncboyaciyan undoubtedly proved an electrifying spectacle and delightful too in their performance of some truly enigmatic arrangements. The political economy of the industry has however challenged the lifeblood of “Force Majeure” from its very inception, during these difficult and challenging times for jazz music as a modern ‘genre’. In the final analysis, the greater inner force and drive of the band has already pushed beyond contrary natural forces and impediments, toward a significance that speaks beyond the niche market. The band may yet have the benefit of playing on the live European circuit and their output will soon be augmented by a further live audio CD release, as detailed in the interview below.
Plenty of projects have come into fruition since Gary’s last interview for Abstract Logix following his album of innovative interpretations on Allan Holdsworth’s music, (The Things I See, Angel Air.) There is seemingly no end to the infinite yearning of this artist to reach from the core to the very perimeters of a multiplicity of genres in both his solo projects and collaborations, with the soulful aphorism in mind to just “move people with music‿. In fact Gary Husband’s preoccupation with serious quality music has set him apart from his peers from a young age, evolving from the roots provided by a classical piano training, educated in musical family on the wisdoms of Jobim to Erik Satie. Now his musical journey has moved full circle through incarnations with Allan Holdsworth, Level 42, Jack Bruce, John McLaughlin, to his post- Zawinul incarnation with “Force Majeure”. Recently becoming the new Patron of Drumtech, it is not only Gary’s dexterity to maneuver between his equal passion for drums and piano that makes him most remarkable, but the fact that in an otherwise crowded, male dominated profession, he has succeeded in setting an example by forging productive working relationships with fellow connoisseur sticks men including Billy Cobham and Mark Mondesir.
It was a real joy to interview Gary recently. Initially our brief was a resume of his 2004 and 2005 “Force Majeure” tour and DVD, with the addition of some chat on other recent collaborations. The privilege of writing copy for portals such as Abstract Logix however, is that they are by definition cutting edge. By this I mean that one is not restricted to the needs of mass market consumption, and it is therefore not necessary to cut away all the depth and incidental details of free flowing discussion- which with a mercurial talent like Husband’s, has lead to our composing the below content. The interview I hope reconstructs as ‘Evocations’ the key people, projects and music that capture Gary’s life, unabridged autobiographical style.
“Force Majeure” Retrospective/ Reflections. – Interview: August 11th, 2005.
Abstract Logix: Your “Force Majeure” ensemble received plenty of acclaim amongst the press and jazz fraternity. Having been commissioned to write and tour by the Contemporary Music Network in 2004, what are your overall reflections on the project? Did you achieve your original vision?
GH: In a broad sense yes, I am quite proud of the achievement in a variety of ways. For instance I was aware there wasn’t going to be a great deal of time to rehearse people even half as much as I would’ve enjoyed to, so the trick number one was not to over write if I could help it. At the same time I had to obviously meet the criterion, and satisfy myself that I would be writing something that would prove stimulating for all the musicians involved. For CMN it obviously had to be cutting edge and creative and have substance in that way, so in this respect I knew from the outset that I had a clear palette and really no restrictions on where I could take it. They wouldn’t have entertained anything bland of course anyway, they needed something far-reaching and really to be able to hear the artist have a plan and ‘go for it,’ which was fantastic – especially if you win the commission!
I had formed a pretty good idea of the kind of ensemble I wanted to put together based on what I thought would be distinctive and personally striking, stimulating and inspirational for me, and then from that point I just played with the idea of it all in my head, and let it go from there towards stretching my imagination as a writer. Once I had the instrumentation completely decided upon it really was a question, as I say, of not presenting the musicians with a page so dense they’d never get their head out of the score. I wanted to give everybody a large degree of individual and collective space be able to interact, improvise, create and be themselves, ideally, inside some interesting compositional forms provided. Another point was that I really did consider and choose each musician carefully, I guess, from having been so intimately acquainted with their styles and character in the first place. I’d heard a great deal of their older work respectively so it was really like writing for friends of mine that I had never met; probably I guess very much evoking the Duke Ellington principal of writing for the individuals he featured in his band, as he reportedly is so famous for having done. I felt as if I had a certain amount on these guys as personalities through absorbing to a considerable degree what they’d all done in music through their playing and writing.
AL: Had you worked previously with any of those musicians? I noticed on Matthew Garrison’s album “Shape Shifter” that Jim Beard, Elliot Mason and Arto Tuncboyaciyan were all credited and had played together.
GH: I had worked with Randy Brecker, but hadn’t played with anyone else. I was out to set their imagination at work and to inspire them enough to reach for something which they hadn’t necessarily had the opportunity to explore before, and be very creative with it all. I learn from band leaders all the time and one of the great lessons was looking at the little fraternities in there and wondered socially who would get on with who.. I saw a good circle between Jim, Matthew, Arto.. and Elliot actually, who had all worked together, and I knew that Randy was going to be most accommodating to Elliot and that Elliot was going to be on his knees in front of Randy in terms of being a great admirer of his. Jerry was perhaps the biggest chance, being such an individual. Jerry doesn’t come directly from jazz or anywhere really, he’s just a character, Jerry Goodman who plays happens to play violin! He’s in no box and comes from a family of classical violinists, and he has this very stirring quality, the huge deep classical element that’s so much at the source of his playing. There’s the rock & roll rebel there too at the same time, and he just wants to drive a Marshall cabinet! He needs to play loud! He doesn’t have any jazz manners, adhering to be-bop or anything, he just plays like him. I like characters who just are who they are. So in a general sense the idea to mix and put these people together really just turned me on. And y’know a lot of the band would like to see the project continue and evolve, but the logistical issues in this day and age, unless you can find some powerful people who can see the value in the thing, are just monumental to deal with … as I found out earlier on this year with my partner, it is really pretty hard to be privately putting together and staging tours; it’s tremendously hard work, really tough. Especially so in the UK which is always regrettable to have to say.
AL: Your DVD “Live at The Queen Elizabeth Hall”, 2004 was released a few months back by RSJ Groove. It’s a very good documentation of the band’s musical odyssey, extremely well produced and polished, with over four hours of footage, interviews, outtakes.. Could you talk about your release and the work that went into the content of this double DVD?
GH: I must say, for Steve Bingle (RSJ Groove), that was a hell of a goal he set himself there. We had been talking before about doing some kind of documentary on my life in music or making some kind of DVD, maybe educational, and we were throwing a few ideas around like that. It just happened that the Contemporary Music Network tour came up at this time and it was about as far away as I could ever imagine that there would be an opportunity to film this, to not have to do it around demands and of course with no budget to speak of except Steve’s retirement fund!! It was primarily Steve Bingle’s commitment and determination that saw it through, in conjunction with all the elements being right, all the energies being right, and it really became apparent that the gods really were with us this entire project. We somehow overcame all logistical difficulties even to the extent of getting permission to film in a venue such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which was really a great pleasure for me. I didn’t have a hundred percent confidence that Steve would really pull it off, but he did and he’s just a very tenacious character like that. He will stop at nothing and I am proud of him for what he achieved. In terms of the production, I left it all basically to him as it was his baby. I could see he had a pretty clear idea of what he was going to do and I trusted he’d work well and present it to a high standard though he is actually coming from being a musician too, so he has this benefit, and I believe that really is evident certainly in his superb cutting and editing work on there. I got involved a lot more on the sound, and was largely responsible for what went on in the mix. We went, of course, for a 5.1 mix, and it’s a very nice experience that really helps this sort of music along, you know like how you can go into yourself and loose yourself in an amazing film.
We have been supremely lucky with the results we got taking from all the channels straight out of the front of house desk at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and really there was no telling what we could’ve come out with. As it happened, we put every channel into solo and discovered it was all as clear as a bell, trumpet effects, trombone effects, violin, and so we were really fortunate with that. It’s always a gamble, this kind of thing. From a performance point of view, ultimately, I do really feel there is a very great spirit of participation between all who were onstage that night…musicians, cameramen and everyone actually.
AL: The DVD package is a significant body of work and could have been split in different ways. In form of an introduction to Force Majeure, you could have put together a purely audio CD?
GH: I’ve heard criticism.. and I work with the criticism, I welcome it really. I do. And you learn that you can’t please everyone at the same time! What we planned to do was give people the complete package and once they have it, it’s all there; the interviews, the audio stuff, the backstage and everything we had in the one edition box set. However I have a juicy tit bit, because we are looking into producing a slimmed down edited audio CD version of the main performance. The material won’t run the same and I’m going to have to present things in different order, so the pieces will have a different impact. Some of the movements in the suite for example will have to be presented differently to accommodate the limitations of time for the one CD. What hopefully we can achieve though will be a much less expensive, edited down a bit affair and something that plays well as a CD in it’s own right. Then, if people might feel tempted to then go on and buy the full 5.1 DVD to hear all the rest of the material they can … and I admit it is not a cheap affair, but this I left to Steve. That’s all his domain! So we were thinking that a nice CD stereo audio version would do very well, since it does seem a fact many people would just be happier with that. Steve had been attended trade shows and stuff in the beginning, and people were apparently saying there that everyone now wants DVD, 5.1 etc., but I don’t think I was ever really sure about that. I’m supremely happy the big DVD package as it is, but I think it’d be also nice to have both options available. From what I hear I think this will be a welcomed move. Hope so!
AL: Will “Force Majeure” be working together in future, or will this DVD be the key recording representing your septet?
GH: In fairness to everyone and from the somewhat character forming experience we had staging the second tour on our own, it would be nice to at least put feelers out to maybe Japan and certainly to Europe, for festivals and things. I always thought of it as a festival band, particularly as everyone I got in there is really a star and bandleader in their own right.. and what festival doesn’t like all-star line-ups? Also, there’s a fair bit of musically conceptual vision behind the big line-up too, and so we’re never going to be featuring a big massive funkout jam in E or anything! No disrespect to anyone who likes playing in E a lot … but I hear some things at festivals! We were a bit too late making approaches this year, but I have been in touch with a large company in the Netherlands called Mojo. They are huge and cover some of Europe and so I’m having a word with them and sending them some stuff. I don’t want to just ‘put it away’ and stop it without having explored as much as I can the opportunities that may be there for something like this to perform in those regions. But I need help.
AL: Despite a whole series of mitigating circumstances, it must nevertheless have been difficult to actualize your plans? In the UK we have organizations that are quite philanthropic like the Arts Council’s Contemporary Music network and a tradition of a strong jazz press, but all this doesn’t seem to help with distribution and so on? It also seems to be a difficult time for ‘jazz’ with talk in the States calling for state subsidy. Presumably any band which is ‘genre defying’ and ambitious may not be financially at a premium for a conservative market?
GH: Oh yes, it is difficult, so much so, especially now.. but you know this isn’t the discerning listeners problem and I don’t play down to the marketing people’s view that only something tinged with smooth jazz elements, nice cool easy going beats and not exploring too much on a harmonic level etc. is somehow actually what people want and the option we will go for, so what you are doing doesn’t fit the criterion‿ .. I feel audiences have a capacity for a lot more substance, something that is musically reaching, too, and I think people honestly do respond to something real, and meant, however ambitious. In spite of everyone’s somewhat crammed and hectic lifestyles these days I still feel people will take in and enjoy an experience, not just a typical one, and I think there’s still an enjoyment in discovering something, a little like when, as I say, we become very absorbed in a good film or something – something with a journey. I have witnessed too many situations, in Europe, Japan.. exceptional nights, truly inspirational, and I have firsthand experience of being on stage in the front line and being involved in something pretty intense, and the deeper things have got the more overwhelming the response has been corresponding directly! Of course, the hard bop fraternity, say, or the purists who don’t want to hear things that have moved on in the slightest from what they know on record or something, well, sure, this is not for them. “Force Majeure” is a pretty ambitious musical project, and while it can still live that won’t change.
AL: Thinking of the ‘live experience’, back in March this year when I went to Ronnie Scott’ s to see “Force Majeure”, the house was packed and indeed you have a tradition there having played with the Gary Husband New Trio. Your sound portrait Evocations received classical comparison to Satie, Miles Davis, Zawinul, all of whom didn’t play within the rules either! Your performance was so full of energy as you negotiated between roles on piano, drums, conducting and so on..
GH: Well it’s the Gemini existence, that’s all I can put it down to! First and foremost I had both the instruments going and I have always liked to involve myself in the experience of playing many kinds of music too. I like the idea of mixing contexts up for things, and when I was forming the Bacharach piece for example, looking at ways to go.. well here’s a guy who broke the rules. Every tried, tested and expected principal of form, seemingly, he turned his back on, and in this way to me had kind of the last laugh on the critics! People don’t know little bars are in 5/4 for example, or about the little strange twists and turns, but they feel it because they are fantastic songs and people respond to a very central message in music whether it happens to be in 5 or 3, or when there doesn’t seem to be an obvious chorus or whatever. They hear it for what it is and it’s how good it is as a song that gets them. I think of Bacharach as a real hero for those reasons, and I also feel that way about Bjork.. She again regularly transcends all the expectations and she’s like a real warrior in absolutely her own way, just a relentlessly creative spirit. This girl will not compromise on anything. You can hear that… and why should she! She’s got true vision and she goes for it with everything she has.. and her vocal performances regularly push my buttons. Anybody who grabs you and holds you like that is my kind of performer.
Then there’s John McLaughlin. Try to put him in a box! Something will happen, in any realm of music he chooses to want to participate in, and this center he seems to always find, this total at oneness comes through like a ray. Whatever, whoever he’s with he seems to find this, seemingly. The Gemini I am probably identifies with that. As well as this, he’s the eternal jagged edge.. things are never quite what they seem. He’s got that thing and always has had to me, and that particular quality in musicians really draws me in. So much of what he has done just speaks to me, and I love a lot of it… and so here are the three people I chose to have a look at depicting through the material in the first half of the concert.
Basically I’m chasing everything I love, everything that has affected me in the past and everything the type of experience I’d love to have if I was sitting there listening myself. I want to provoke people and affect them if I can. You know, I don’t really last long in conservative bands. I mean, even if I had a 9-5 job I would have to find a different route there everyday because you can always find something new in life however mundane what you have to do is.
AL: And I’m sure that’s what will happen in terms of the routes and directions of FM..
GH: If luck is on my side and I manage to get some opportunities I would love to present new music for it, and I am hearing some ideas that could really work very well with that thing. The band love it and I’m delighted about that. So, it has been a resounding success from many points of view, especially with the show we managed to capture on the DVD. I could have played a little bit better, but I’m always hard to please! I can always play a lot better, but you know that’s the process we all know and love!!
AL: Over time, you have played with most members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, (Jerry Goodman, Billy Cobham, Jonas Hellborg,). However, John McLaughlin is very dear to you and as fate would have it, you have missed a couple of previous chances to collaborate via touring commitments..
You recently played with John McLaughlin and Friends in April this year at La Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, (see Gary’s Abstract Logix report). What are your memories of the performance?
GH: Oh, there was a lot of joy for me to be up there with him, no other way to really describe it. I was delighted John came to me this time with two concerts he wanted to do in La Reunion, on a theme of ‘Homages’ . He took material by Miles, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and others, people whose work he originally found inspirational, and staged a bow to them on these shows. He just gave us the various pieces to brush up on, and we just went for it. We also by the way got to feature my little reading of the Miles hit ‘Jean-Pierre’ too – the one from “Aspire and the Mondesir Brothers” DVD (Gary Husband/Mondesir Brothers Collaboration, To The Power Of Three – RSJ Groove). What I remember most was the electricity of interacting with him on stage, and that was a very special experience for me and one I’ve been hoping for, for a long time now. I remember just a warm, calm feeling of being there and feeling completely at home whilst at the same time really inspired and I can’t say much more. He is just a giant. One of the true originals, and one of the very large influences on what I have been doing in music since I set out actually.
AL: Subsequently you went into the studio in May to work on John’s new ‘underground’ recording. I think you play both drums and piano? What was the feel of the recording like and what was it like in the studio with John?
GH: It was very interesting! John had decided to put myself with Mark Mondesir on drums for two pieces and I have never really conceptually felt too comfortable with the idea of two drums, so this was intriguing from the start for me. He was just encouraging us to find it between ourselves, so we just set about it. John gave us a direction to simply “think 3D‿ and then the recording light was on. It’ll be really excited to hear the results of what we did, because I really didn’t know how or where it was going to go. Not any place obvious that’s for sure! As with anything like this though, you kind of assess it in a split second and call on your instincts to make the situation work. With a good and very creative drummer like Mark of course, we did find way to get it feeling really conversational and interactive from what I remember. I hope! I am very eager to hear how it all comes out.
AL: Any idea on time frames for release?
GH: He intimated we won’t hear about a release until next year. I’ve had an insight into how John works and he will work until it is finished whether it’s how he expected it or not. I find him very interesting to be around as I do all great leaders… to watch how he presents these challenges and paints the idea of what he wants. He is a great leader, and it has been very motivating and special to be doing some things with him. Just to hear the sound of my drums and his guitar together on a track was a pretty special moment for me too, coming from being such an admirer all these years. Apart from all this he is an extremely generous man, and has helped me a great deal. Really.
AL: How is your interpretations project on John McLaughlin progressing, “A Meeting Of Spirits”, which will be a logical corollary to your Allan Holdsworth interpretations album? (“The Things I See”, Angel Air.)
GH: Well, I’m still around half way through it and the trouble with this is that I get involved in so many things at the same time, so I am being constantly interrupted. Once I come away from it, it’s daunting having this folder with all this music inside of it. I have to raise a lot of dust inside myself and take myself to task in working on these things.. The Things I See was produced very quickly, and I had this magical element, something I imagine a lot of artists cherish too… it’s called a deadline! I didn’t prepare very much with the selection of pieces or anything beforehand, and just followed my inspiration and instinct. I flicked through records and there was only one piece I attempted that got abandoned and the rest of it just fell into place like it was meant to be. It occurs to me it’s all rather mystical. Sometimes, and particularly if you get really tired sometimes, it’s as if the process is all going on and I just sit there as if I was somehow the instrument, just monitoring what’s going on so to speak. Of course, this is when it’s coming rather effortlessly, and things are flowing. The whole other side of it, the angst, the wait and all of that, is just the pits. Miserable. Just totally demoralizing. And then of course it all comes flooding into your imagination while you’ve on a three hour drive or something – impossible to capture!
With regard to the Allan album, there is a balance of interpretations that are more faithful to the original forms and others that are completely new and abstract ideas on little more sometimes than little snippets of one of his melodies. So there is a lot of fresh compositions of mine involved there. It’ll be the same again, but with John McLaughlin there’s a very different impact to his music and a lot of different fundamentals anyway. A much more structured, literal involvement and use of rhythm for instance. But I’ll be stretching again, just as I did on the first album, with some more classical approaches to certain things, pulling a lot of things around and creating new structures. I want to do the man justice. As I say though, deadlines are great. For the last album I had a company that would really prefer I had the album done and finished as soon as I could get it done. At the moment though, I don’t have the right company and would like to make sure that when it goes with someone this time it’ll be right … or as right as I can make sure it might be!. I’m sure there’s a good avenue through which to get it out somewhere, so it’s just a question of keeping on and looking. I’d like to have that finished some day soon, but it continues to be so tough for me to get interest in these projects I do, and that, as it is with many other musicians, is consistently tiring and hard going . You know, it’s not just a company releasing the product, it’s importantly how they can help bring it to the attention of people, the distribution they can put into place and so forth. This kind of stuff is what people like me hope to be able to get happening!
AL: There has been a lot of interest at the prospect of new material in the near future as more recently featured have been re-releases of old and new L42 live material, (“Live at the Apollo ‘03, The River Sessions”) I gather you recorded for the new album a few weeks back? How is the progress on this going?
GH: I think it’s going very well.. Periodically I make calls to Mark to find out how things are going, initially just to find out what my drum passes were sounding like, because I ended up completing about eleven tracks in two days and subsequently came back home with hardly any memory of what I’d done at all. No idea! All I’m told is that they sound fine and that he’s working in his studio at home and having people come down separately to do their parts, which is one way of recording an album. I think for the kind of way Mark writes and for the kind of album it is, it’s probably a good way to be making an album like that, getting detail right from everybody. It does herald a debut for the present day line-up to be recording new material, which is something I am really happy to see.
The album has a lot of elements to it as Mark’s been listening to a lot more current things. It’s not obviously a hark back to the old days which a lot of people would like to hear, it’s an album that Mark feels Level 42 should be making in 2005. Of course it should be about now, which isn’t to say there isn’t a considerable funk element to the songs, because there is. Mark listens to a huge amount of varied and interesting influences from James Brown, to Todd Rundgren and has his own interest and background in fusion and jazz of course too, so he’s drawing from a lot of areas all the time. I think I can really hear that he’s been checking out some more current things, and all in all I’m very excited about having this as a new album and new material to play live potentially. It’s been a while. The last actual new one came out in 1994 I think.
AL: Although as you say, this is an album about the new line up of the band, apparently Boon Gould and Mike Lindup have contributed too?
GH: Yes I was aware of a guitar solo that Boon had submitted, so it’s nice to have him put something on there as a performer. I also hear that Mike Lindup has been involved in some of the keyboard playing on the album too, so that’s going to go down very well with the older fans of course. I don’t think he has been involved in any vocal capacity from what I have picked up.. and I know little else really. We’ll all hear it when we hear it!
AL: So, Mark has worked on the musical side and Boon Gould wrote the lyrics?
GH: Yes that is absolutely right. All Mark’s writing and all Boon Gould’s lyrics.
AL: So hopefully this will get an airing in 2005?
GH: I very much hope so and knowing Mark, he likes to get on with things. He’s a propulsive character and I’m not sure what ideas he has in so far as who it’s going to go with, maybe the way it’s going now is to keep it independent and to find distribution offers. I’m sure he’s getting it all in hand in the way he wants to do it and with the opportunities that are open to him.
AL: Is there any possibility of a tour with the new material in 2006?
GH: I hope so yeah. If it can work out I guess it will happen, and I hope I can make it when it does. It would be ironic if another drummer had to come in and copy all my parts after I spent all these years playing Phil Gould’s! This would be the most fulfilling way to be touring with the band now, in terms of my own involvement, simply from the point of that it is new music and I always, really only want to be involved in ‘new music’. I do get tired of being a covers drummer so much. I did much of that with Jack Bruce too with the Cream catalogue…I love to play with him, but I’m not very good at being Ginger Baker anymore than I am at being Phil Gould.
AL: So there will be elements representing both the best of the old and new line-ups of the band..
GH: Yes there is a nice balance there with old and new. Through the Level 42 history of course Mark has always known what he’s all about and knows what he wants to put over and I think he’s worked very hard on these new songs, so I’m just going to hope people respond favourably to it. From what I remember there’re a lot of strong things, but as I say I was only there for two pretty manic days! I’ve heard nothing since, and I honestly can’t remember much about it.
AL: So a fast and furious recording and hopefully it will work out so the band will be able to tour on this next year?
GH: Absolutely and Mark is sounding and playing as strong as ever and as far as I am concerned, better in fact. So whilst that’s the case I’m happy he is still in there keeping his band going and not simply appealing to just an obvious market in terms of ‘retro pop’ . As we said earlier in the interview, when people are confronted by a strong, committed sounding instrumental performance on stage, I think they respond. The band as it’s been the last few years delivered a fine performance on the recent “Live At The Apollo” DVD. Actually that’s my favourite of anything I’ve done with the band from any period of my involvement. I tend to feel that the band there sounds as good if not better than it ever did, in any period quite honestly. There’s not that much I’m incredibly pleased with out there that I’ve done with the L42 guys but that one does kick butt! If I say so myself!
AL: The Forum gig caused quite a stir this year when Mike Lindup rejoined the band onstage.
GH: Of course. We have to think, what would happen if the Mahavishnu Orchestra or something would come back together and play, people would go crazy. You have this with new things even in the area I’ve been working in now; Chris Squire, the Syn and Yes are coming together again in different ways and the Yes fans seem to be buzzing about that too.
AL: Indeed, I believe you had been rehearsing with the new line-up of The Syn; Chris Squire, Steve Nardelli, plus Francis Dunnery and Gerard Johnson. The tour of North America was recently cancelled for political reasons?
GH: It was too bad, bureaucratic problems with the visa applications situation and it was getting dangerously close, and indeed did result in the cancellation of the first two gigs and the third was in LA, so… it all ended up being pulled as promoters were wanting to know what was going on! As far as I know they are working on a new record now which I’m nothing to do with, (Syndestructible). Paul and Jeremy Stacey are the official guitar player and drummer in the band as far as recording goes and touring is another thing. I think they want to look at this new line-up to go out and do some future touring… and there are some wild and crazy 60’s drumming demands there, so you know, the variety, spice of my life, I love that from time to time.
AL: Apparently there were quite a few ideas put forward for the tour including the possibility of a DVD being shot with Tony McGee directing and a book to document the reunion. So, hopefully this proposed tour will be re-organized at some stage?
GH: Well I hope so yeah, and I hope to be a part of it, but we’ll see if I am free when I’m needed to be at the time. The eternal balancing act of being a musician in this way isn’t easy.
AL: How did you get involved? I know that you were part of Esquire in the early 80’s, which was Nikki Squire’s band, (in 1986).
GH: Yes, good research. I was for five minutes, playing Alan White’s drum parts for them, but that all really wasn’t meant to be for whatever reasons. I actually appeared on the videos for two of their songs! Steve Topping had quite a lot invested there in the fact that he was responsible for a considerable part of the writing and arrangements I think. I don’t remember too much and they were crazy days, it all really wasn’t to be and never really took off although I think the album was released. As far as me getting invited to do The Syn, I had a recommendation from one of the Stacey brothers who couldn’t make the tour and recommended me and I went in. It was very nice to be playing some of the songs, particularly the couple of compositions from Chris’s old solo album “Fish Out Of Water”. I like Chris’s voice very much, and I’ve enjoyed discovering that album too. Never heard that one before. Anyway, it was a new experience and a nice prospect to go and play that stuff live. I’ll wait and see what comes of it.
Gary Husband: New Trio.
AL: As an observation, I notice that whilst you’re playing you do look remarkably happy and poised on both your instruments. Perhaps this is most notable when you are working on your solo projects/ albums, (“From The Heart” and “Aspire” – Jazzizit Records.) Looking at your bio, the output from your New Trio really land marked a personal development through exploring more thoroughly your roots on piano. Tell me about both your choices of material and the musicians on these quite remarkable albums?
GH: That’s very kind of you to think of them as remarkable, I appreciate it! Well, I suppose really the catalyst of my getting involved with keyboards as a performer live is Billy Cobham. I played an electric piano/drums duet, last minute at a drum festival with Chad Wackerman and Billy was also appearing and he witnessed that. He was the first one to say, “If youkan play like that why aren’t you doing it with people?‿ It sounded like a very good question that should have a very good answer, so I thought OK, if you want me to play, and he was very encouraging and wanted me to start working with some of his line-ups and on his recordings. I was happy to be striking up a musical relationship with him, especially as Level 42 had been quite a busy operation until that point, taking over most of my life, and that had just finished. So there were two very satisfying things that came up for me right then, one was Jack Bruce and the other was this new relationship with Billy and I was happy in the fact that they both represented different things too, (i.e.) drums with Jack and keyboards with Billy. Billy was also interested in my writing too, and regularly featured pieces of mine over the years. ‘Avatar’ for instance got recorded for his Focused record, and ‘City Nights’, the piece I did for Allan got featured a lot, as did another one called Blue Dreams. I owe a big thank you to him for inspiring me to get that happening really, and for the new profile I was achieving from doing so.
In actual fact though, even before this I had been avoiding wasting time in hotel rooms and dressing rooms etc. literally writing and recording “Diary Of A Plastic Box”, which turned out to be my first release actually. It’s an album I would like to put out again by the way, with the addition of extra material I found. This was all a private pursuit around this time though, but a very fulfilling one. I hold a tremendous amount of personal attachment actually to that music I was forming then with the one synthesizer, and I think a lot was really coming together on my keyboards side generally during those years and that album, as strange and idiosyncratic as it is, remains a very good documentation of a lot of that development. It actually really documents my soloing style coming together as it was around then. Anyway, it’ll probably be a double CD package version this time when I find a way to do it, and this time it’ll be called “The Complete Diary Of A Plastic Box”. Crazy title eh? Crazy title, crazy album! And there is a drum album too I’ve been wanting to do for years now… and I still want to do it.
AL: Your New Trio albums though were more trad. jazz with technical innovation.
Tell me the story behind the practical process of putting out your last solo album Aspire , which is ultimately very polished?
GH: I struck up relations with a company called Challenge in the Netherlands; I was looking for a company to help me get out there a bit but I seemed to achieve little more than talking at total cross purposes with them ultimately. The problem was that the company were a label with basically pretty conservative and traditional tastes, and the initial idea for them was to try to get me to New York and team up with a big name ideally like Jack DeJohnette, to do a trio and record in no more than two afternoons, direct to stereo, no featuring any electronics or anything… this kind of thing, just as a be-bop album should be made, in their eyes. But I already had this strong direction in motion with my trio which I felt was different and very fresh, and I just couldn’t go along with what they wanted and how they wanted me to do it especially. It was a futile battle in the end. I didn’t want to make a jazz album in that method. There are too many people who do it supremely well anyway, and what with hundreds of jazz records coming out made with more this kind of approach, why on earth would anybody need another one from me!
AL: On your New Trio albums you certainly drew the best out of participants, especially within the vocal realm. The first album featured Jack Bruce and Georgie Fame on vocals and Aspire had Mark King and Christine Tobin.
GH: Well I love that approach from track to track. It’s a production style I like. I like to take the listener somewhere, keep a lot of interesting variation going on and present surprises, offering an album as a bit of a journey from beginning to end. I love the whole process.. as in plotting where and how the album can end and so forth. I just like to have a bit of an adventure, but, again, you can’t please everybody with the results. There were some reviewers who kind of got it and were complimentary, but as is usually the case, they would have preferred it without the electronics, or they thought of the vocal tracks as being completely out of place.. but it was just the way I heard it in terms of how I could make a jazz record in my own ways. Charles Mingus, as my very good friend reminded me once, said that jazz is the sound of surprise. That’s one of my favourites definitions, and that’s the way I aim. Anyway, I’m happy I worked on it like I did. Pieces like ‘Trio’ I think have something quite individual, a personal sort of idea on a jazz piece form. All the tempo changes and twists leading into different sections, it’s quite a map for that piece, but one that made sense to me. Yep, still quite pleased with that, although I chose to do it of course in such a difficult way, running backwards and forwards tracking the drums and the piano parts in bits and stages. I must say I don’t think it sounds like that though. Maybe because I didn’t do it to click…. relying on my own inner click track instead, so it’s much more organic. It’s actually dedicated to Bill Evans that number.
AL: Your outlook on those albums was certainly more intuitive and emotional than purely focused on the technical and intellectual realm.
GH: Well, I just wanted to explore and to create a little environment for myself. I mean, a practical three piece, all of us getting inside one vehicle, traveling economically.. great! I thought we had the goods to come across with something really individual, and it was very special and indeed quite different. I had high hopes for it as a festival band actually. Unfortunately though, my name is kind of marginal, particularly still in jazz circles, and I wasn’t playing with a Jack DeJohnette or a Dave Holland either.. and this kind of stuff works wonders in the eyes of promoters and record label people. To my mind I couldn’t have been playing with more of a giant in the bass world than Mick Hutton of course and Gene (Calderazzo) was a perpetual inventor, totally crazy, and on occasions, magnificently captivating and inspiring, and every night was totally different to the previous night. It was a great little band, really was, particularly so when it was really on.
AL: Didn’t the New Trio go down well at Ronnie Scott’s?
GH: I was most overjoyed with the reception we received at Ronnie Scott’s. As much as I knew they would rather keep often the supporting act nice and mild, saving the fireworks for the main attraction, I was amazed a bit… because they certainly didn’t get that in us! And we managed to get in there four times, so I’ll put that down to me powers of persuasion! It’s very nice though to have those records, documenting the band as they do, although I’ve got some really hot nights in the archives here… live things we did.
AL: Your ‘New York City Suite’ sounds quite movie-esque, like a film score..
GH: I’m glad you hear it like that. Yeah cinematic. That is what I was hearing I guess. ‘Somewhere In Time’ also. Anyway, I had finished recording the thing and then 9/11 happened. I had been coming up with titles for the movements such as ‘Dawn Over Manhattan’, and I started to wonder if this was a good idea or not. Then I thought, oh come on why not, and thought about dedicating the whole piece perhaps to the people who perished there and the people who worked with such courage and spirit to survive and recover from that atrocity. I’m pleased to think of it in that way now, although it isn’t noted on the record sleeve.
The New Trio sort of ran its course eventually, and one day it occurred to me that I wasn’t feeling any music anymore since Aspire . Of course things might have been different if I’d managed to make inroads for the band and take it out in the world a bit. I was frustrated that I couldn’t really get it rolling a bit more and create a bit of a career for it, and I guess that was also one contributing factor towards me breaking it up, but like I say, I’m very glad to have done it and I’m quite proud of it in retrospect.
AL: So, at this point what aspirations do you still have in the future of your work?
GH: Actually I have plenty.. They really come to me in so many different varieties and ways and notions and feelings. Some come to me and stay, and some go back to the little mystical place they came from, to be recycled I guess! As it usually transpires with me it’s often like I don’t have too much say in the matter as I don’ t put the inspiration there, it just comes! And I hope it will continue to do so… when it’s good and ready… like an animal that decides when it’s going to suddenly jump up and sit on your lap.
GH: I have a very special musical bond and personal friendship with the guitarist Steve Topping, and am particularly proud to have worked on his solo material in recent years. He’s in the process of preparing material right now for what will be his third release under his own name. He is an original. A supremely beautiful composer and one of the most amazing musicians I have known. We’ve been soul friends for so long now. He’s been a true companion, and his music has always been of inspiration to me. Allan Holdsworth too, he heard it, and it definitely made a strong impression. Wait for a lot of the older compositions to transpire, and what I hope we’ll do together in the way of new things too. A lot of important music has come from him and will continue to do so.
AL: Well Steve is a very intelligent and formidable musician in what he is doing..
GH: Steve very much belongs to the bracket of artists whose music speaks loudest about him. He’s yet another musical national treasure in this country, and has been overlooked… for a long time, but as ever with people such as him, he doesn’t come from the jazz school specifically at all so he’s only been heard when provided with the extremely occasional luxury of being able to present what he does in his kind of context. If you want to check out What It Is, which is a special compilation of older archived trio improvisations we did long ago, you will hear a true radical there – individual and purposeful improvisation from beginning to end. Truly a voice. His more compositional work is being documented now with his recent CD releases too, ( “Time and Distance”, “Late Flower” – Quartz) and I’m very happy about it.
There’s a lot in the title of his last album “Late Flower” because he has indeed waited a good while to record, and in that time he’s been working and forming and developing towards what he’s doing now. I know, I’ve been there watching it, and hearing it! You know, perhaps he feels better too, doing it at this point in his life. I do wish he had been more active earlier on, but in actual fact he always was.. he was just not making records that’s all. When you’re close to somebody as I am to him, you know what’s been going on of course, but the rest of the world is still like, “Who’s that?‿ So, I’m just working on helping him whenever and however I can really, if I can. He really is an amazing composer and I wish for him more and more profile and exposure in the world of modern music. I mean, you know he’s very busy in a West End show to make a living, and as is the case with a lot of musicians who have to chase that kind of work it will just constantly eat into your time.. So, as anyone who will go and listen to his albums will know it’s all there, but I just wish I could help him more, or somebody else with a bit of clout and influence you know! He’ll be doing a lot from now on, I mean… he’s started and he ain’t about to finish!.. but it’s unfortunately this whole thing of constantly having to be promoting yourself and proving yourself. And this means having time! It is unfortunately a necessity to be doing this, since he, like a good many others, is on his own. You have to just get on, and you really have no choice but to be relentlessly in promo mode to generate energy and attention around what you’re doing. I mean, I like to do it myself; I like being proactive and seeing the results..
Having this conversation about Steve reminds me of going way back into the early 80’s when I was working with Allan Holdsworth and he was doing a lot of his own publicity and promo. Now, anyone who knows Allan knows how funny this prospect is! I would be sitting in a room with him and he’d be talking to promoters of gigs on the phone here in England saying, “We’d like to get a gig, we are a three piece and I’m Allan Holdsworth and I’ve done this with Bruford, Tony Williams..‿ They would ask what kind of music he’s doing now and he would say, “Oh, it’s Allan Holdsworth music!‿ or It’s improvisational music! – just a beautiful answer, correct of course, but it meant absolutely nothing to them and he didn’t really choose to want to expand in any more detail, and why should he have had to!! There is one unique individual, he is amazing and with this man I pretty much formed my drumming vocabulary as well as in more general ways of development, and I owe a big debt to ‘Uncle Allan’ for sure! He’s like a brother, yes.. and back in those days he was just about the only one who let me really loose, playing the way I really felt to play.
I place a lot of value on what I feel we achieved together, we were very much on our own with that music. I was completely left to my own devices and this was just a very creative realm for me there with him. I had always had optimum freedom to explore how I could produce my contribution as a drummer in the music and this really meant a lot to me. I was free to think of any way I wanted to punctuate inside of it, be compositional inside of it etc. He made me very comfortable in that way. He wasn’t into direction, just expected me to get on with it, and I never had too much trouble with a green light like that! In fact, I don’t remember an instance where he ever really asked me to play anything specifically. So I was like some nutty inventor, coming up with all kinds of upside down and sideways beat ideas. If you hear the stuff on Sand and Atavachron etc., it’s all documented there. I had a lot of motivation and I was just… raw, emotionally, really just trying to discover and chase this sort of primal cry I wanted to get out of the drums. That was my mission, and I was lucky enough to find a great outlet with him to go for it. I was a very intense young man… and he had no problem with that, and really just let me be. He liked the digging-in thing, although sometimes I’ve since thought he also welcomed it as he could do this thing he is prone to doing so much live – turning down and all this stuff, so that he is sort of only heard bubbling over the level of the drums in the stage mix. But I have these memories of how we used to take off together. We’d be just gone up there, biting away, creating this tornado of intensity. Steve and I got into a lot of that too. People… they didn’t know where to turn when we turned the heat up like that. It got very dramatic! But… you know that was us being us. There was a lot of deep and intense personal drive behind it… it was bloody meant, you know!!
AL: Allan had already achieved quite a career establishing himself contributing to bands like Soft Machine, Tony Williams, before launching out on to his solo career in the late 70’s and 80’s. However, you were very young when you began playing with Allan on albums like “I.O.U.”
GH: Yes, I was all of 19. In fact.. well I can hear I’m also still working through my influences on that album; Cobham, Tony Williams, Stewart Copeland, DeJohnette and Narada and these people.. but I was very there for the music too, because I really felt it and loved it, and I was really loving forming and finding myself through it, trying to make it live in a vibrant way. I was like a puppy dog, always very happy to go ahead and work with any twists and turns Allan was contemplating in terms of the music, I was just overjoyed to be involved in it all and I’m very proud of all those old records despite their considerable faults! From when we took the band to America, we were almost able to keep working non-stop, certainly in those first few years! Aaah,different times.
AL: It would be great to hear you occasionally collaborate with Allan at some stage in future?
GH: Hm, well logistics have a lot of effect on why really we didn’t work more in recent years; the fact that I have more or less always been based in London and all that. We all went to the States at the same time to take “I.O.U.” there, only he just never came back. This was for the best for him back then, there’s no doubt there.
As for the future.. well I’d like to do something very fresh and new with Allan – I mean, basically I’ll always want to play with him again, but you know, I just don’t want to continually play so much of that old catalogue in public any more. I hear he does it a lot, still, with his current trios and stuff. Actually, that is why I very much liked recently the period when he played with Gary Novak, as it sort of heralded a bit of a move on for Allan. No disrespect to anyone but with everyone else I heard play with him there was always a lot of the blueprint of what we did all those years ago. Gary had a different thing with him, something fresh. He’s a wonderful drummer that guy, I’m a big fan of his. Then.. and I have to say this, a big problem generally is that Allan himself unfortunately, is so damned hard work to deal with. Too hard. He was always hard, but I was younger and could put up with it all much more… which wasn’t to say I was any piece of candy myself in those days!! He once accused me of having the temperament of an unexploded neutron bomb! He also once said I sounded like Charlie Watt’s in his music too.. at a time when the band was a four piece and I started playing with ways to try and present the music in a more minimal way from the drums. The live shows at that point were becoming so full-on, all the time, in every piece, and I felt it was just getting too much, and he pulled me up on it big time!! Ah, we’ve had some times together, me and that crazy guy! There’ll always be a love though, a very close thing. I think it’s evident on “I.O.U.”, and the others actually. That’s what’s there on my record “The Things I See”– where my writing meets his, there’s the love.
AL: Allan is involved like yourself in clinics and the educational side of the industry too. As I gather, he is still very idealistic and will not compromise in becoming commercial in his ethos musically or in his approach towards his equipment & the technical side to his performances?
GH: Absolutely, you are hard pushed to put a spotlight on this guy. He wants one stage light and that’s for the whole band and that’s the way it’s going to be for his show and he is tremendously strong to his ideals and true to his integrity and that’s the way it always will be for him.. I can see why he doesn’t appear as great fodder for the media. I mean, I can admire that it’s important for him and that’s what he wants, but he doesn’t exactly make any effort to pull people in for his stage shows, and they can end up becoming dreadfully bland for people who aren’t naturally into pretty demanding and intense music. I’m not saying to adopt the showbiz or anything, but I happen to think it’s important to draw people in a little bit if you can possibly do it, not just cutting audiences off and leaving them out of it, because I don’t get that from Indian musicians you know!
He can be a most destructive man though, very much so.. a very complex, troubled and deep guy, with such mammoth and extraordinary talent, and you know I don’t even want to think about a time in the future when we don’t have him, because I’m just filled with this nightmare vision of all this tremendous adulation getting suddenly bestowed on him after when god forbid, he is suddenly not around any longer. We see this so often of course. I’d love to have him a little happier in his life… but then, he seems to truly need the struggle and the pain. Bottom line is this man should be able to make whatever music he wants to make for the rest of his life! There is no one like him, he’s totally unique… as opposed to all the clones of course, who don’t count, taking on a whole impersonation, making a career out of it and profiting… ah, don’t get me started on that!
Drumtech and Clinics.
AL: The final area I wanted to explore was your role as Patron of Drumtech as I know that your clinics are an important aspect of what you do. You recently did a clinic at University College Winchester I believe, and at the Wardrobe in Leeds?
GH: Yes, and also last year there was a surprising number of clinic appearances and opportunities I got to work on, and I was happy about that. I’ve begun to see a lot of value in what I can do before a crowd of young musicians particularly in this day and age, where the fundamentals get actually forgotten a lot, at least that’s the way I feel. You can buy any amount of DVD’s. There are a phenomenal amount of people making these things, but you know one personally disturbing thing about the ones I have seen is that at no point do these DVD’s say, “this is what I do by example‿ and not, “this is what I do not necessarily for a lot of relevance it may have on you particularly and don’t be frightened to take these ideas, discard them or do what the hell you want.. turn something I do upside down, sideways, whatever, but this must be something that you personally form and do for yourself as the object is really not for you to become a carbon copy of me!‿
AL: Indeed, there are a lot of DVD packages promising that you can become almost a ‘clone’ of a certain musician if you practice their techniques, as opposed to perhaps someone like John McLaughlin who is promoting more the idea of empowering tools in his “This Is The Way I Do It” tutorial video.
GH: Exactly, indeed John’s DVD I feel is carefully and very intelligently done and is something else altogether. I’m not going to mention any names but I have noted quite a few other DVD’s from people where quite honestly I see nothing more than self-promotional machines at work, and that’s it, and I really don’t see anything appropriate about that. When I look at the faces of young people who are genuinely intrigued and at the same time mystified when you talk about improvising for two bars, in something that isn’t set in stone, something that they can’t read or transcribe or directly copy and I’ve just seen this sea of mystified faces, “You mean I don’t plan this, I don’t create this and write it down before I do it?‿ – No, you play it on the moment and you play it as a result of what’s just happened, and what’s happening around you and what’s coming up inside of you and this is the way it’s going to be. People are scratching their heads, kids. This deeply concerns me and I feel an obligation, duty in fact to get involved at a very proactive level and really come to them with some realities as I see them, points whereby I can address this.. by example, and I will always use this term, of what this process is; this process of creation, discovering yourself, improvising and inspiring others and so forth, the stuff that goes on in the moment really. I actually would supremely like to get another opportunity to do another video. Having had the opportunity to do so before, what actually transpired didn’t even resemble page one!
AL: You mean Improvisation and Interplay?
GH: Yeah, I’m afraid the power was taken out of my hands and they just made an entertainment video out of it and it wasn’t supposed to be about that. The best lessons you learn sometimes are when it hurts! They didn’t see a real front-line big name in me initially and I wanted to supplement what the video had to offer by featuring also some highly notable pretty big-name musicians playing real time examples of the points I wanted to be raising. I managed to get a really nice deal and everyone agreed to work for not too much money, happy to say. Allan was in town and a lot of things just fell into our lap and I was able to give them a nice all-star roster as part of the package. I really did sincerely put this idea together for very important reasons, and out of a desire for it to be of some true value to young players and sadly it was just turned into a rather sub-standard entertainment video. I’m happy to say it’s dead and is no longer in production, not intended for the DVD realm or anything.
AL: It’s quite fun though in places!
GH: Well, fancy going around asking musicians what they think of you! How embarrassing. Some of the answers they got were unusable, of course!! Ha ha. That’s what I would have done! So, I’m in the midst of also talking to people about doing another one, maybe even to feature a keyboard angle as well which would be a rare angle I guess, with two first and foremost instruments. I already made an approach to Hudson, who are the best out there, but unfortunately they passed on me.
AL: I think what is important too is definitely the human contact you offer people when you get involved directly with clinics and discussion, not just DVD’s.
GH: Oh yes, I think so too. Even if two of the kids go home inspired I feel tremendous value and great fulfillment in that; I’d like to do it more and more. The only other ambition I have outside of playing and pursuing performance things is to write music for films, perhaps TV dramas, things of this ilk. That’s something I could’ve always got into actually. Quite naturally.
AL: Some of your compositions to date to have a definite cinematic quality.
GH: I think so, I hope so, I’m glad you hear it that way and I feel I am capable of some fine achievements in that realm you know, I really do. I’d feel very confident about it. I was always a weird kid, going and checking out ruins.. trying to break into old buildings just to be in there on my own and have the experience being inside somewhere nobody’s been for a long time. I have this thing with buildings, particularly very old ones. I always felt they were alive. That’s what the “Force Majeure” piece ‘Stone Souls’ is all about. So, writing to images I’d really love, but having said that, again it’s another very hard area of the business to get into.. As ever there has to be a thing in you to just keep going for it.
AL: You have been versatile and you have indeed been a survivor, but tremendously successful within that.
GH: Well, I’m still here! I feel lucky, I mean… plenty of hard knocks, some good breaks, some fantastic ones, and plenty of real lows – long, long periods of time regularly, with little going on. I wouldn’t mind being able to make a better living at it a little more consistently, and wish it wasn’t such a fight. I’d like for my stuff to sell a little better, and I long for an opportunity to make the albums or DVD’s I really want to make, but can’t simply as there most often isn’t enough in the way of funds I can generate for myself to make them.. It’s a continuing struggle in that respect. We’re on our own to such a greater degree these days as musicians, and money advances as such from a record company have become a thing of the past seemingly, but, this is all of the deal now. It’s a constant battle, so I rather like the survivor reference!! The versatility thing.. you know, in some ways I’m probably a victim of it, as it appears hard for people to place me in any one thing. Still, you have your thing and you do what you can do with it. You either get on with it or don’t, and it’s still a great life.
AL: Congratulations on your nomination this year for a Parliamentary Jazz Award.
GH: Thanks! That was fun to hear about! I mean, it’s not my motivating force, to be winning nominations and things. I’m a pretty simple deal, just in it for the music, that’s pretty much all I want to do. Sometimes these things can help you in the public eye, but it doesn’t matter as long as I’m growing and making better music, and if it’s reaching people I’ll be okay. A lot of us owe a lot to people like Souvik on that score. I admire his dedication and I’m very thankful to him for his help. (Souvik Dutta– Founder of Abstract Logix)
AL: Abstract Logix have certainly expanded their role since beginning as an online music store and resource. I believe Souvik was involved in helping to organise your trip to India at the start of the year with Steve Topping and Jonas Hellborg?
GH: It was a Souvik production and what a great opportunity it was to go there and play in India. I can’t wait to go back, what a wonderful and amazing place it truly is. So again, all power to Souvik. He’s been doing great work for people like me.
It is fascinating to see how the marketing and distribution of music is going now, the whole set up and process we have of making records and the way people are given access to music now. It’s changing times! It doesn’t appear obvious to me yet how we can really always be in control though, I’m sure we have to be very careful, but still what an amazing time to have the internet now. The possibilities it presents us with are really exciting, intriguing.
AL: When Olivier Feuillerat interviewed you, he ended with a quote from Jean-Luc Ponty about the marvelous resource which the net provides.
GH: I’m getting emails all the time. Only yesterday I heard from a radio station in Romania wanting my latest record to play, and I’m so happy to receive these contacts as long as they are legit! It’s the new way of communication, and it just has broken down so many of the walls. We can go straight to the source of things, do incredible research on things. Now I hear the first online library will soon be with us. Fantastic.
AL: Well it’s certainly a time of cultural change with the recent political situation in London, which indeed has impacted on the music industry as you discovered with your recent tour being cancelled..
GH: Yep, I’m afraid so. It’s an irony when stuff like this starts preventing music tours from happening though, since everyone can use some music, it unifies people.. we’re not separate inside of music, no way!!
AL: Now hopefully you will be able to get out to the States at some point, because I know you have recorded recently with the new Jason Smith Trio and there has also been the suggestion of some proposed live work. I believe that on the new CD for Alternity (“Think Like This”,) you recorded with Jason and a colleague from back in your days with Allan Holdsworth?
GH: Oh, Dave Carpenter.. Yes, that was a very nice invitation that came through and Jason is a lovely guy, writing some nice music there. Ah, you know it’s plenty rough around the edges this record… some scrappy playing from me from time to time, but there are some very pleasant moments about it too. Very nice. Of course the “Gongzilla” DVD just came out too- (Live In Concert and the East Village Studio DVD.) I was sent some rushes of that, and you know it’s nice to have all these things coming out.
AL: Well, hopefully all your projects will come together and we will hear “Force Majeure” live in Europe by next year?
GH: Well, it was interesting for me to note that when a friend of mine put a “Force Majeure” website online, he was able to determine that a good 85% of the hits were from the Netherlands, so OK.. let’s go to Holland!!.. I’m trying to get some inroads going now and see how far we can get maybe for next summer I’d be very happy. For sure, the CD package we will also be working on inside the next couple of weeks, and.. we’ll wait and see. I’d like to work with Steve on the distribution efforts if I can. You know, this was what was so great with my album “Aspire”, it was down to Brian Nott who was very taken with the album upon hearing it, and with his help and determination we managed to get it out, but you know we nearly didn’t even have an album. The true master was lost by Challenge.. even though they got their money back! I had been canny enough to get a clone dub of it though… luckily!! “Diary Of A Plastic Box”, another project that got held for ransom by a record company. My albums, they all have a tale or two behind them. Each one!
AL: Thanks Gary for your input in providing such a comprehensive interview and I’m sure that people who have followed your work for a long time will find it rewarding.
GH: Well thanks Stephanie, I really very much appreciate it. Thank you very much.
* My sincere thanks to Gary Husband for the time he has taken in not only giving this interview, but also working on the transcription of this extensive text.
For up to date information on Gary’s current projects and news please visit: www.garyhusband.com
Copyright Stephanie Thorburn and Gary Husband 2005.
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On the eve of the release of his new album Larger Than Life, we sat down with bassist, improvisor, and composer Gary Willis to discuss his collaborators on the project, his process, and the results.
Q: Given the vast geographic disparity, how did this record come together — were you all in the same room or did you take a more modular approach? What were the advantages of your chosen approach and how did it elevate and enrich the material?
Gary Willis: It did make it difficult…since it turned out to be a five-year thing. I took the opportunity to go to Los Angeles in 2010 because Gergo was going to be there, so he and I and Kinsey got things started. Then in 2011, when Gergo moved into Barcelona, I immediately booked studio time and we spent a day just jamming.
Afterwards for a lot of the songs I’d write things and send them to Kinsey in L.A. and he’d record with [saxophonist] Steve Tavaglione. Then he’d send me things he and Tav did. So there were files going back and forth all the time. So parts of it were like a collaborative improvisation in a way.
As late as last year, I had this tune “Beast Mode,” and I knew the three of us couldn’t get together. But Gergo was going to be in L.A., so I sent a version he and Kinsey could improvise over. As a duo they nailed it in one take and I added my part later…
Before Gergo and I went into the studio to record duo, we booked a rehearsal studio with the intention to prepare some things in advance. Immediately we came up with what became “Vendetta.” After that, we said, “We’re wasting our time here: Let’s do what we do here in the studio – just let it happen live.”
Q: With improvisation being central to this music, how do you see your role as composer and bandleader?
GW: Two of the 4 of the songs that were composed before we recorded them are mine, so those two are “traditional” with melodies and solo sections, etc. The other 8 songs got their start with improvisation so my first role is to determine what should be preserved from what turned out to be several hours of raw, improvised material. One thing I’ve learned from composing this way is that an inspired drum performance is the heart of the whole process. Without question, Gergo’s playing is inspiring throughout. So the main challenge is to make sure that if there’s a part of the music that needs composition, that it lives up to the level of inspiration that Gergo or the group has reached at that moment.
Q: Will you try to re-learn this sort of hybrid material and play it live?
GW: We’re gonna try. It’s cool to go back and check out – to visit what had just happened in the moment and recreate…
Q: I’d be curious to know more about how you see the bass’s role in this music — you aren’t strictly in a supporting capacity, but neither are you out front as a lead instrument the whole time…
GW: To me, music that communicates well is everyone playing with their imagination… you imagine different roles for yourself, sometimes you belong out front, other times it’s a supporting role. That’s the other thing about jamming with Gergo and Kinsey is they have this ability to jam compositionally — it’s not just about soloing…
We haven’t played together that much, but it’s just something that happens when you get the right musicians together. You don’t have to talk about it — actually, the more you discuss, the less in the moment you are when it happens.
The title track started out as a trio jam with me and Gergo and Kinsey where I brought in an initial bass part. It was originally a seventeen-minute thing. Kinsey managed to whittle it down to eight minutes. I found some things he played and turned those into melodies, wrote some myself, and it developed over time into its own thing.
Q: Was the bass the last thing that went down?
GW: On six of them, Gergo and I started out jamming…I’d play melodies there, and some of those became the songs. Other times I’d do kind of a placeholder — knowing it wouldn’t be the final melody, but it would be taking up the space where I knew I wanted to write something like that…
Q: Does being in Barcelona make it easier or harder to make a recording like this? Is it easier to have a global presence being based in Europe?
GW: If this was a traditional studio-based recording with everyone in the same room, playing at the same time then yes it would be a problem. But everyone involved contributed in a way that doesn’t make you think there was any distances or time zones involved.
I stopped thinking geographical a long time ago so I really have no idea if I have a global presence. Living in Europe, I’m sure there are some opportunities that have come my way that wouldn’t have been there if I had stayed in the US.
Q: Tell us about your use of Claudia Bardagí’s wordless vocals throughout the album.
GW: One of the things that defines a melody is its sing-ability. But for me lyrics really confine how well you can identify with a piece of music. Claudia’s singing added a real human quality to the melodies and she was able to keep their abstract nature by not using lyrics.
Q: And the last track was recorded live…
GW: Yeah, we’ve added it as a bonus. It’s a good example of us improvising together. We were invited to play at the 80th birthday celebration of Joe Zawinul in Budapest, so we worked “Corner Pocket” into Kinsey’s “This Is That”.
Q: The artwork by Rafael Sarmento seems to be a big part of this new project. Did the collaboration with him come before or after the music was cut? What drew you to him?
GW: It happened afterwards. Once all the titles were settled they started to give me a kind of a vague idea about the artwork. At the same time I got introduced to him from a friend of a friend. When I saw his work, there was an immediate connection and we started emailing about it. I explained some of the visuals I was imagining for some of the songs, and he came up with some on his own. As we started working more closely, he gave the whole thing a concrete identity.
Q: Does that mean this is programmatic music? The music definitely has a cinematic quality to it.
GW: I guess it could be… depends on your imagination. I mean the music came first…but that’s how I like listen to music: With my imagination. I want to lead people in that direction, if I get a chance to.
Q: So, what would you say is the common thread connecting these performances, these songs?
GW: The obvious thread is me and Gergo and Kinsey playing but also I’m hopeful that a sense of imagination, a sense of humor and like you said, a cinematic quality can be found throughout.
Gary Willis, Llibert Fortuny and Kirk Covington Fiercely uncompromising with equal allegiance to jazzy improvisation, funky backbeats and sonic experimentation,