At the busy intersection of Groder & Greene, jazz comes from so many places that the borders disappear. A world-class confluence of Brian Groder (trumpet, flugel), Burton Greene (piano), Adam Lane (double bass), Ray Sage (drums) and Rob Browne (sax), spontaneously creating music that can only be attributed to total freedom and absolute surety of their craft.
Trumpeter Brian Groder completed two days of recording with multi-genrist pianist Burton Greene, bassist Adam Lane, alto saxophonist Rob Brown and drummer Ray Sage, on Oct 11th and 12th, 2007 at The Studio on Greene Street in New York City.
These are the results of those sessions, and if the joy of new discovery you felt the first time you heard great jazz still exists in your body, you’re already listening to this disc. It is the product of decades of work by the two leaders, and several lifetimes of influences.
With four swinging, pulsing, beautiful CDs under his artistic belt, Brian Groder’s highest profile recording to date is Torque. Recorded in 2006 and released in ’07, it features music from two sessions in an intimate studio where Brian, drummer Anthony Cole and bassist Doug Mathews squeezed into a space that would be considered small even by New York-apartment standards. The saxophonist for the session was jazz giant Sam Rivers, and the music was hailed around the world. "Just plain stunning... jazz as jazz should be," said radio stations in Australia. "A quartet of equals," proclaimed Sweden’s Lira Magazine. “One of the better recent samples of avant-garde jazz," said Radiophone Greece. The CD hit “Best of” and Top 10 lists for the year in Downbeat and the Washington Post, in Canada, Portugal and online.
And even while taking note of the legendary Rivers and his trio of a dozen years, all ears focused on Groder. The venerable Downbeat said, “The trumpeter holds his own as a player opposite a true giant of jazz,” while critic Bruce Crowther said, “Strikingly uncompromising in his approach, Brian demands and deserves the attention of audiences who like to hear music that is not only new but thought-provoking.” The Italian press put it most poetically: “Groder quickly brings to light who is the leader, both with his compositions and with extended solos of high artistic value, of a beauty without time and limitations of field. In these notes is the entire history of jazz.”
And that sums up the musicianship of Brian Groder. Versed in big bands and small ensembles, raised by swing, rock and Atlantic City dazzle, Brian is an inventive player, and an even better composer. As France’s ImproJazz said, “Groder speaks jazz as if it were his mother tongue.” More to the point, like Rivers, he is a polyglot, speaking one language while still dreaming in another. Free, avant-garde, post- pre- and no-bop, mainstream and outside, Brian embraces the role of “cat” better than almost anyone, because behind it is a wealth of talent, and the certainty that it only gets better.
The intersection of Groder and Greene is a busy, familiar corner, where everyone seems connected to everyone else. Sam Rivers, of course; Burton played with him during his Jazz Composers Guild days in the 60s, an organization formed by Cecil Taylor, whom Brian has worked and recorded with (Rivers, as it happens, also played with Joe Cocker, with whom Groder has toured). Greene stalwart Roy Campbell plays with Taylor Ho Bynum, as does Groder. John Zorn, whose modern klezmer label, Tzadik, has released discs from Greene’s groups Klez-Edge and Klezmokum, plays with Lisle Ellis, currently working on several projects with Groder. Blaise Siwula, a member of the Slam Trio, which includes Adam Lane, bassist on this record, has shared a stage with Lane, Groder and this project’s drummer, Ray Sage. Sax player Rob Brown records with Anthony Braxton, who plays with the legendary Joanne Brackeen, co-writer with Groder of one of the tunes on Torque … and the tight circle continues. It’s almost difficult to believe that Groder and Greene had never met before this project.
Chicago native Burton Greene studied classical piano with the same man who taught David Mamet (with drastically different results – Mamet, by the way, didn’t succeed in his studies, not because of a lack of talent, but because he needed glasses and couldn’t read the music), and jazz with the man who wrote the Doublemint chewing gum's “Double your pleasure, double your fun” jingle.
Greene hit the New York scene in the 1960s, embracing the mantle of free jazz and, with his Free Form Improvisation Ensemble, gathering what some call the first spontaneous composition group. His recordings of folk music, groundbreaking use of synthesizers (1968’s Presenting Burton Greene was the first time a Moog was used on a jazz record), his explorations of Indian ragas, and several “klezmer jazz” recordings, all give him a firm footing in not having a firm footing, but stepping lightly while adding his world of knowledge to the language of jazz. “Speaking of ‘free’ or any other music for that matter,” he says, “categories are like borders ... they have to be transcended or they're boring!”
To summarize everyone that Burton has played with would take up a very large booklet with a gigantic CD attached, so let’s just say that between New York, Paris, Amsterdam and, oh I don’t know, Mars, Mr. Greene has collaborated with the avant, the free and the unboring.
“I've had the luck and honor to play with some great musicians. The thing that always strikes me about greatness when you find it, is that usually the person or musician that radiates this, also radiates humility, graciousness, and kindness. They're centered, open; they don't easily cop an attitude. And of course they're easy to play with … it's always an immediate pleasure.”
It seems we can add Groder & Greene to the ranks of immediate pleasure. “The sudden sparks and discoveries were caught in all their freshness,” Brian said “There was no sense of wondering, ‘how long have we been playing’, ‘should we end it now’ or ‘oh-oh, what do I do with that?’ We just played and looked up when it just felt naturally complete.”
Burton and Brian recorded together on another project just before the sessions in October, thanks to Ray Sage (Greene had played previously with Sage just once before, in July, 2007), who, according to Greene, “loves to put artists together for the spontaneous reactions and combustion, which you hear in a lot of the music on these recordings.” Greene calls Adam Lane one of his favorite bassists, and has been performing with him sine 1999
Greene calls Adam Lane one of his favorite bassists. Adam’s career has been spilt between East coast and West, combining and transforming pure acoustic music with electronics and tape effects, spoken word and psycho-acoustic wizardry. He somehow combines melody and meditation with explosive bursts of free energy.
This was the first time playing with Rob Brown for both leaders. Like Brian and Burton (as if it were fated, BG and BG), saxophonist Brown has performed with Cecil Taylor, and recording a staggering number of sessions. Jazz Times called him "A fiercely original voice,” while the Village Voice said, “He not only deciphers puzzles, he creates them," bridging Charlie Parker bebop and swirling avant-garde.
“Lower East Side rhythm king” Ray Sage doesn’t wait for bridges; the man leaps into the chasms created by cross-breeding funk grooves, hip-hop asides, prog-rock with balls, and solid jazz rhythms that allow the others to fly when he’s not soaring himself.
Brian and Burton (as if it were fated, BG and BG) have similar feelings about improvisation and playing with others.
“I like working with individuals who have distinct voices,” Brian says, “and are creative in applying the wonderful musical techniques on their instruments that they’ve developed over the years. There are outstanding instrumentalists who are just awesome, but to me, don’t have a soul or don’t convey a story in their music. I want to work with the storytellers. I hear a lot of new music here in New York and I don’t hear the connection between the musicians. Everyone has incredible technique, but I don’t hear the connection to the other musicians within the moment. I know that they’re listening, but what are they listening for and to? It’s the richness of playing with musicians who know how to connect with each other and know how to use their technique. It’s not surprising to me that the best musicians are seemingly always composers in their own right.”
Composer Greene keeps his ears open. “As far as total improv or spontaneous compositions from the get go are concerned, you should know your instrument thoroughly so it can tell you what to do. You should come to this sacred experience open, as if you are the instrument, and your instrument is composing you. The important thing here is listening at all times to what you're playing, and especially if you're playing with others!”
As a “free” session, almost everything recorded was a spontaneous creation. Groder explains, “We would discuss the possible form, order of instruments entering and exiting, moods, dynamics and tempos … but there weren't any melodies/lines, chord or specific structures we were reading down.”
There’s only one tune on Groder & Greene that has existed before: Burton Greene’s “Hey Pithy, Can You Thropt the Erectus?”
“I did it originally for a CIMP piano trio recording date (Throptics, 1998) with the late, great bass player Wilber Morris, and Lou Grassi on drums. It's actually a ‘tongue in cheek’ tribute to the music of Charles Mingus, and especially his ‘Pithecanthropus Erectus’ (a ten-minute tone poem recorded in 1956), a Mingus milestone in which he broke with trad bebop and prefigured free jazz. In ‘Hey Pithy,’ there's free pitch notation with repetition of specified rhythmic or pulsating patterns to build the raw energy of the piece.”
Like Brian Groder, Burton Greene, Adam Lane, Rob Brown and Ray Sage, the best way to experience this project is to simply listen.