Agustí Fernandez: My first encounter with the music of Agustí Fernandez was hearing him play in Barry Guy’s New Orchestra during the early part of the new century. I knew nothing about him. Because I felt that I was quite familiar with the other members of the ensemble- either through listening to them and, in many cases, playing with them- I was quite curious as to who this pianist from Barcelona was. Why Agustí was sharing the stage with such an incredible lineup of internationally renowned musicians was made quite clear in the opening moments of the group’s performance- the speed of his creativity and the powerful range of his technique at the keyboard were extraordinary. After that point, I would continue to see him on a regular basis, either at festivals in Europe, or at shows I played in Barcelona. He was always gracious and always enthused about music. The first time I had a chance to play with Agustí was organized by Joe Morris for his residency at The Stone in New York City during January of 2013, when I performed in a quartet with Joe, Agustí, and Nate Wooley (which was also the first time I really worked with Nate [see below]). I played duo with Agustí on the night following that- it was like facing a full symphony orchestra, alone. That show prepared me a bit for the concert that’s included in this collection but, as whenever I work with a great improviser, it only prepared me just a bit. The rest is always discovered in action during the time on stage together.
Christof Kurzmann: Christof and I probably met for the first time at the Empty Bottle in the mid 1990s at one of the Wednesday night improvised music concerts that took place at the club during that period. We repeatedly crossed paths after that for a decade, though we never played together. Then, while I was taking part in a “counter-festival” organized by Peter Brötzmann in Berlin during early November 2007, we simultaneously decided to ask each other to join a new project- for me, Made To Break; for Christof, his El Infierno Musical. We’ve been working together on a regular basis ever since, and have played duo on a few occasions, first in Brazil during March of 2012. The only other recording of this activity was included in the interview book and CD put together by Philipp Schmickl, theoral no. 8: christof kurzmann. It’s a single piece from a concert we played at Amann Studios in Vienna on July 8th, 2013. I don’t think I’ve ever been so disoriented by a performance as I was on that gig. I had the distinct feeling of being utterly lost, that nothing I was doing worked or made sense with what Christof was playing. A couple of days later, Christof and I were working with Christoph Amann on the mix for the Made To Break album, Cherchez La Femme. I left the room to get some coffee and when I came back I was struck by the music playing in the engineering room. It was a duo section that I didn’t recognize from the recording session and the music was full of unexpected surprise. Christof laughed and told me it was from our duo gig earlier in the week! This is the kind of work I want to be involved in as I enter the second half of my life, where I feel I’m discovering a new language, with a different grammar and vocabulary than I’ve heard before.
Paul Lytton: I first played with Paul on a duo session at WNUR in Evanston in 1999, which was organized by John Corbett and came out on the double CD, English Suites, on Mac McCaughn’s label, Wobbly Rail. That was the beginning of a relationship in music that continues to this day. We’ve played in a variety of contexts, most significantly (for me anyway) in the Territory Band, which lasted from 2000 to 2006 and released six albums on Okka Disk; a trio, called CINC, which started working near the end of the Territory Band period; and in a trio with Paul Lovens that toured in the United States during September of 2002. Recently, there have been more conversations and emails than concerts, and I am thankful for the handful of trio shows were instigated by Nate Wooley over the last few years. I regret that there hasn’t been more activity in the last decade and hope that this is something that will be rectified in the decade to come. But, as it is with all of the musicians included on this anthology, the time spent in conversation offstage often has as much impact as what is discovered onstage. Like the playing, talking with Paul is challenging, creative, and inspiring. Working with him and discussing things has taught me most of what I know about the “English School” of improvising; and the silences Paul led on the first Territory Band album, Transatlantic Bridge, during the piece “R-M,” were a lesson in risk, tension, and listening- three factors that are keys to this music for me.
Joe McPhee: I’ve said it many times, but Joe is the key that unlocked everything connected to post-changes, post-beat jazz and improvised music for me. I first heard him play in a duo with Raymond Boni at a Montreal concert while I was going to college, and the recordings he made with Boni (among others) during the early 1980s were seminal for me, and remain so. Working with Joe on a regular basis with Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet, was one of the highlights of being a part of that band- night after night Joe would surprise and motivate the ensemble through his always varied approach to sound, time, and beauty. Paul Lytton said to me, “Improvisation is an attitude.” This is true, and I don’t think I’ve met anyone with more of an improviser’s attitude than Joe McPhee.
Joe Morris: Joe’s impact on me is of prime importance. I started hearing him play when I was a just a teenager living in the suburbs outside of Boston. His trio and other group, Sweatshop, along with the ensembles, Shock Exchange and The Fringe, were pivotal bands in my development as a musician. I carried the experiences of hearing these bands perform on a regular basis during the 1980s with me when I moved to Chicago in 1989- it was these groups that formed my aesthetic foundation as a composer and improviser, not the music I heard in my early years in Chicago. Since 1980, Joe has been a ongoing source of inspiration, as a player and as a thinker. Some of my best discussions about improvised music (or Free Music, to use Joe’s preferred and appropriate term), its history and its future, have taken place with Joe, as have some of my most demanding and inspiring playing experiences.
© 2024 Ken Vandermark – musician & composer | Disclaimer