In a Jazz scene ruled by the individual, the star, the featured soloist or lead composer, Sketches distinguishes itself as a band that truly utilizes the broad talents of each member. This Brooklyn-based quintet of highly accomplished composer/improvisers is built around a unique and profoundly simple idea: truly collaborative composition. The process is straightforward. Before rehearsal each member shares a sketch from his notebook (e.g. any musical fragment, a collection of fragments, an incomplete tune) and another member uses that as the basis for a new composition. The band then rehearses and develops the piece further, making each musical choice together in a completely democratic way. Inherent in each piece is the challenge of blending two distinct musical personalities, yet with an ensemble of strong composers and sensitive performers, the results have been as engaging as they are unpredictable.
While similar methods have become standard practice in the Rock world, this process is surprisingly uncommon in Jazz, a field where greater emphasis is put on the individual as the focal point of an ensemble. Highly skilled sidemen are typically valued as improvisers, but grossly underutilized in their ability to make aesthetic musical choices. The Sketches creative process forces each musician to stretch his imagination, resulting in a synergistic music that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
￼￼In some cases the original sketch represented an inspirational block for one composer yet became the creative stimulus for the second composer. Pianist Jarrett Cherner, for example, was attracted to the Middle-Eastern sound evoked in one of Ziv Ravitz’s sketches and used it as the introduction to Running With The Princess. Cherner develops the initial mood with major & minor tonalities, varying time signatures, and interweaving horn melodies, while adding his own sensibility and narrative element (listen for the Princess’ footsteps in the piano and bass).
In other cases the sketch material was completely reworked. Martin Nevin's Dusk on the Porch, based on another sketch by Ravitz, began as a short free piece. Seeking to color the original idea by using it within a more traditional structure and harmonic map, Nevin reconfigured the sketch into a blues form, though the original musical material did not imply a blues form at all.
Trumpeter Matt Holman finds the process of collaboration to be exciting and challenging because he loves "the opportunity to start a piece, not from my own compositional head, but from someone else’s original idea. Starting with musical material that is foreign to me prevents me from using my own compositional clichés and allows the essence of two different composers to eventually shine through in one piece.” Holman’s Cornerstone is based on a sketch by saxophonist Jeremy Udden and explores motivic gestures, bringing lush harmonies to what was originally a simple Rock-like chord progression. The piece also serves as a catalyst for brilliant improvisations by Holman and Cherner.
To take the idea even further, Sketches developed a new approach to the creative collective process that they call Complete Compositional Collaboration (CCC), as evidenced on the piece Chain Letter. On a rotating schedule members individually compose and edit parts of the same composition over several weeks, adding a short new idea for each round. What developed in Chain Letter is a short work of creative counterpoint that has the spark and personality of all five band member’s compositional voices.
Though the band’s premise is simple, their dedication to high artistic standards make for a time- consuming process – not to mention the virtuosic logistics required to coordinate the schedules of five of the busiest musicians in Brooklyn. Each member is also a bandleader and busy sideman in his own right, with collective credits including Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Fred Hersch, Steve Lacy, John Hollenbeck, George Garzone, Aaron Goldberg, Aaron Parks, & Esperanza Spalding, among countless others. They have also garnered multiple accolades from the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Awards, the BMI Foundation’s Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize/Manny Albam Commission, as well as both national and international performance competitions. That said, their commitment to the project has resulted in an expansive repertoire, and SKETCHES Volume Two is already in the works!