Gary Husband “It’s been a real pleasure to revisit this album, open up all the multitracks and completely remix the
Since his first commercial release with Allan Holdsworth in 1982, very few musicians have racked up such a diverse list of collaborations as Gary Husband. Husband, a multi-instrumentalist on piano and drums, is a producer, arranger and composer in several genres and styles. His latest solo releases “Dirty & Beautiful vol. 1” and 2″ showcase his array of talent with support from Allan Holdsworth, Jan Hammer, John McLaughlin, Robin Trower and many more extraordinary musicians.
Neal Shaw: What led to the idea of “Dirty & Beautiful”? Did it begin with the idea to bring several musicians together?
Gary Husband: “Dirty & Beautiful” actually began out of an initial desire to musically combine John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth together. I was hearing some composition and direction, which I felt, incorporated their respective very disparate styles interestingly. It wasn’t one involving any typical “shred fest” kind of deal since that was never my idea or intention, but what I heard I thought a lot of, and there would have definitely been fireworks of unbelievable proportions! It would have been wonderful to realise that, and go ahead and produce it, but for 1 or 10,000 reasons it really wasn’t feasible. I tried very hard, and repeatedly, but Allan and John – perhaps way too different, as personalities and consequently musicians. After I accepted that, I went another way and decided to combine many artists and colleagues I have shared the stage or studio with – past and present – and as a kind of celebration of my career so far, and a celebration of course, of the music. What better way to do something like that than through music anyway.
NS: When you chose musicians to record for each song, did you take into consideration each players’ style and pick each track accordingly?
GH: Most definitely. There always should be an idea, or a strong instinct involved from me, and I tend to go with my initial instincts, trust them and act on them. They’re so often right! The first ones! And there turned out to be a mixture of approaches – ones where things are quite tailor-made, so to speak, for the respective musicians, and others that stretch them a little – perhaps taking them out of their usual area a bit. That was always an idea that strongly appealed to me for the project.
NS: With the great number of guest musicians on the record, was there anyone that you wish could have made it onto the record?
GH: Yes. Jack Bruce would have made the picture much more complete, but we just couldn’t combine. His available time just wouldn’t work out with mine. I was also talking to Jack and Gary Moore very shortly before he sadly passed away, and Gary was most interested to do something. Allan Holdsworth I would have chosen to feature a lot more prominently but for various reasons we couldn’t arrive at completion point with anything we had going. I also tried to get hold of Jeff Beck, but couldn’t. Bit it’s really okay you know. We learn to take the disappointments – the rough with the smooth and all that – and that’s all part of the whole experience. I’m absolutely cool with the fact certain things weren’t meant to be, especially since a lot of really fine music came out of those sessions for these two albums.
NS: Once the tracks were complete had any of the tunes been taken in a completely different direction than you were expecting?
GH: Yes sure, many times. Also, when you feature strong musicians with strong characters for something you put together, the results can be very different from what you imagined, and I really embrace that and enjoy that. I wanted only very personal and strong emotional commitment from everyone, and I got it! Can’t ask for more than that! Everyone was amazing, and very generous to me throughout this whole endeavour.
NS: You are credited for writing 14 of the 23 tracks. When the guest musicians came into record, were they familiar with the original tunes?
GH: No, not really – not before I had sent them some kind of demo. There are a couple of older compositions by me on the records, revamped and brought up to date, and these are pieces that had someone or other’s name on them as far as I was hearing. I heard it first – you know, got the notion – and then made a demo available to whoever I had in mind to approach. I don’t recall anyone refused or disliked their allocated feature, so that, to me, was already a really good feeling.
NS: Did you guide any of the musicians playing on the original works to achieve a specific sound, or did you step back and simply capture each player’s individual take on the pieces?
GH: I used mixed methods. I like to produce, and I like to chase what I hear and suggest ways of approaching things or discuss ideas about sound, but only to a point where I’m not meddling and trying to get people to do something against their nature. I like to present people with a certain edge that I like in music, so to speak, but not at the risk of them feeling they can’t be themselves. That would absolutely just be folly. But there is always room to explore how we can imagine a certain artist opening up to a certain slightly different approach, and I like looking at that. As I say though, it’s important not to overstep the mark, especially since I’m so in love with spontaneity and what comes up out of the moment. That’s really the great payback of doing something like this – great things coming about through something you’ve imagined or put into motion that you didn’t expect.
NS: What led you and Allan Holdsworth to re-record “Fred”?
GH: I wanted to do a take of “Fred” as the tune took on quite it’s own feeling the way Allan, Jimmy and I had been performing it live on tour just prior to the recording session in LA – and different from the Tony Williams “Lifetime” definitive version. Let’s see, a mixture of other things also – it was another chance to make a bow to Tony Williams, and also there’s the fact I’d been hearing a few people cover it in a way that didn’t really stimulate me. I love the piece, and wanted to explore expanding on it with the addition of Jan Hammer, which for me led to something very special as far as I’m concerned. A different and new experience for both Allan and Jan respectively, too. Incidentally, it’s actually not the first time I interpreted the song on one of my records. The album “The Things I See” features quite a classical kind of take on this song, arranged and re-imagined for piano. It was given the song’s alternative title, “Kinder”, which I felt suited the mood of that particular rendition perfectly.
NS: Both volumes split recordings of “Yesternow”, which John McLaughlin originally recorded with Miles Davis. Did you get to see John’s reaction when he heard the tracks for the first time?
GH: No! I’m not sure if John has heard it or not yet!
NS: Was there a track that surprised you when the albums were complete? Either a performance that really stood out, or how the track blended as a whole?
GH: I think they all surprised me! I like it that they do! But to try and answer your question fully, you know there are certain things I would have liked to have got better – even down to little things with the mixing, which I had a lot to do with directly – I’m always there through every step of that. But there are a fair amount of other things – in fact most things, that I felt really came out very well for all kinds of reasons. Good reasons!
NS: What is the story behind the title “Dirty & Beautiful”? Does it have a connection to the greyhound on the covers of volume one and two?
GH: It’s largely about the music, and the supreme animal you see on both volumes is the face of this project and he defines what the whole thing is about effortlessly and rather perfectly in my view. Look into his eyes on either photo and you see it! Another thing about the album is that it was about the meeting of all of us, and not predominantly any kind of complex compositional quest especially. I’d done a few albums before which were intense compositional quests and wanted to free things up a little bit for an instant, and just play. These records are predominantly about just playing, but playing on compositional vehicles, which I really hope people are enjoying.
NS: There were two years between the releases of each volume. Was a lot of the material for both records done at the same time and split between the records?
GH: I had two or three takes of things I think, which couldn’t make the first volume. They were important things, and, you know as usual I had recorded too much material so a further volume was inevitable. Thanks to the constant and diligent support of Souvik at Abstractlogix – as ever – the project was fully seen through.
NS: Did the reaction and reviews of the first volume effect the creation of volume two in any way?
GH: No. There were many mixed reviews of the first one, and it was nice to read all of them – even if a certain few were a little on the negative side. You know, fusion’s not the most popular thing in the world (!) but as long as the material passes my test, it’ll come out. That’s all any of us can do. I just go by the philosophy that if the music embodies what I set out to achieve in whatever shape or form… and the spirit’s there and it sounds the way I like it to sound, then there it is. Reviews and opinions don’t really affect anything I do. I do my best and simply hope as many people end up enjoying it as is possible.
NS: Does Dirty & Beautiful represent comfort in you as a musician, to where you feel you can pursue the projects that interest and inspire you?
GH: It represents exactly what I wanted to do at that time really. Nothing more. I always have ideas as to what I’ll maybe do next, but I never know until I start working on it and come to terms with a kind of inner commitment towards whatever shape or form it’ll take. I would like to do some live work with a nice band playing this music, but the difficulty is always a certain pressure someone such as me faces if he doesn’t necessarily want to form a band of high profile musicians with whom to go out with. I’ve had bands featuring high profile artists and it’s wonderful, of course, but I’m just not interested to keep doing something like that just to make promoters happy. The day I can form an impressive and great little band and sell it on the merit of the music itself and, you know, hope my name can generate some sufficient interest is the day I’ll change my mind. What the managers and promoters typically fail to take into account is that actually the best bands work because of how people sound together and feel together and work together. It’s not enough for me just to throw a bunch of attractions together, because you get great artists and mingle them but it doesn’t necessarily ever mean you have a great band. I have very high profile artists on both these albums, of course, but I was celebrating my affiliation with those artists by these records. In addition to that, every track is a different line-up! So there’s no one band! I’m sure you know what I’m getting at.
NS: You produced, performed and wrote material for both volumes. Was it difficult to wear so many different hats in the studio?
GH: No, I like that! It’s suits my Gemini thing!
NS: Music is such an infinite art; musicians are constantly learning and moving forward. What did you learn from the “Dirty & Beautiful” sessions as a musician?
GH: I learned how lucky I am. Because I’m not just presenting to the listening public my performing face in the form of my involvement with all these guys, I’m realising it myself, and I realised it through every step of those many and various recording sessions. I got to also learn a bit about how they felt about me through the commitment and pleasure they had in coming and working for me, and that’s some feeling!
NS: Are there any memorable moments that stand out from the whole experience of “Dirty & Beautiful”?
GH: Oh yes certainly. There are many things on a personal that spring to mind, but if I look at the musical examples I have to think of the sound of Jan Hammer soloing magnificently on the Holdsworth composition “Leave ‘Em On”… that’s a new sound right there! I think of Mark King interacting with John McLaughlin and myself in very much a musical way the world perhaps might not have imagined hearing from him. I got Robin Trower to jam on a fusion riff by John McLaughlin on a Miles Davis album… and the world has never heard that I can guarantee! I got to debut a great new piece Alex Machacek wrote for me… oh I could go on! A while!
NS: You are an accomplished drummer and piano player. Which came first, the drummer or the pianist?
GH: The pianist.
NS: You play with several different artists and groups. How do you approach a new project? Do these methods change depending on which instrument you are playing?
GH: No. The instrument’s invisible, in that it’s just the tool. So already it’s not even important which instrument I’m playing. Secondly, I kind of don’t see the point where one music ends and another one starts! I mean, it begins with me enjoying whatever the given music is and starting to take a great interest in that music. From there I find out about the people who helped define it and develop it and I see the architecture of what makes it work and the way it works… but mostly I tend to just hear people, not styles. In fact, I hear the composer and I hear whoever is interpreting it. Beyond that, and I guess ultimately, I just hear the music. So what starts to come about for me is that I gradually move towards becoming comfortable in those different realms because I’ve learned about them, immersed myself in them and start to actually feel myself a part of them. I think it’s possible to do that and to all intents and purposes sound and perform perfectly authentically in whatever I’ve been approached to be a part of. That’s my aim anyway. I mean what have I done this past two weeks – gone from the prog group UK with Eddie Jobson and John Wetton, to composer Maria Schneider’s Gil Evans project with the NDR Big Band and slotted in there was a quick festival performance with John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension playing piano. I’m not pointing this out to show off or anything – and I’m certainly not saying I was wonderful or anything throughout all these varied engagements (!) – it’s simply that I guess I do seem to be comfortable with this thing of moving around and being diverse. It’s challenging, exciting and keeps me sharp. It broadens me, and makes what I do broader, because I’m taking, all the time, elements of all of them. That’s what fusion is to me anyway – not so much a term for jazz / rock or whatever it is, but a process of what you form inside of yourself and how you shape it and how you unconsciously incorporate it into your own individual voice as a musician. This approach also keeps me in business!
NS: Do you have more confidence behind one instrument over the other?
GH: I don’t, really. No. I’m subject – like all musicians – to whether or not I can do well on the given occasion. That’s it. If I can play something that lifts the music and consequently lifts something in people – getting the music right, playing soulfully and articulately at the same time, stimulating my fellow players… all that stuff… then I’m happy about what I’ve done. Sort of! I’m happy about the effort, the intent… and as you say, we’re constantly moving forward and learning. That’s so very true, and is something that will never change. I know that much!
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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,