It’s been five years since I have been out to Matt Balitsaris’ wonderful studio in Pennsylvania, which he calls Maggie’s Farm (inspired, I believe, by the Bob Dylan song with the same name). This converted barn has been responsible for the recording of hundreds of wonderful albums, many released on Palmetto Records (the label Matt B owned for many years). I recorded five of my albums here (Still Evolved, La Espada de la Noche, In the Loop, The Mancini Project, The Creep) and several others by Ben Allison and The Herbie Nichols Project. Although Matt B sold Palmetto Records a few years ago, the studio is still active.
Drummer Matt Wilson and I have always had more fun playing duo than should be allowed. Our concert at Merkin Hall a few years ago was a combination of jazz, theater and comedy. (You can see a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZ2uj8C09DA) The duo was also the subject of an infamous appearance one summer in a small venue in The Hamptons, a restaurant with a side room where they featured small group jazz on the weekends. When Matt Wilson was asked to perform a two-night stint at this out-of-the-way venue he thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit some of the recent duo explorations that had worked so well in concert.
Well, maybe what works on the stage doesn’t translate well to a place where people are sipping Chablis and eating crab cakes, trying to impress their dates, and hoping for a romantic setting to help solidify desired future evening’s events. Clearly the sounds piped in from the jazz room that night weren’t helping this goal to be achieved. Maybe it was the lack of chordal instruments, a requirement I learned later (when I released my piano-less quartet The Creep) was necessary to get your music played on the radio. Or maybe it was the piccolo/snare drum duet on Monk’s Four in One. Could also have been the kiddie toys Matt was playing into the mic while I blew on my sax neck. Not sure. But whatever the reason, the booking agent called Matt at the club and said that people were running out of there with their ears covered (they weren’t) and the owner had a headache (very possible).
Anyway, we weren’t asked to return the next night and schlepped back home with our instruments and tails between our legs. Maybe it was a triumph not a disaster. Don’t know.
But here, at Maggie’s Farm, Matt and I are now set up, ready to go. Matt is sequestered in the booth and I am in the large room, standing a few feet back from a vintage tube mic.
My reason for this session is threefold: first, I miss this studio, Matt Balitsaris and the beautiful country setting. Second, any opportunity to make music with Matt Wilson is always a blessing. Third, I have a specific project in mind, one that will be a challenge, but one I am excited about and ready to take on. It is based on the concept I used to compose the music for my Presidential Suite (which will be released this summer on Motéma). For this recording I transcribed the actual pitches of political speeches and then established thematic material, a context, and harmonic support to create the pieces. The process had me come up with musical themes and environments I would not have otherwise discovered.
My thought for recording duo with Matt Wilson is based on this concept. He and I will record two or three hours of completely improvised music and I will later transcribe it and compose music based on these improvisations. A kind of backward approach - the compositions come from the improvisations.
We got sounds and adjusted our headphone levels. I looked at the four instruments I had set up, ready - my alto sax, soprano sax clarinet, and flute - and grabbed the soprano. I turned to Matt, seeing him through the tiny window on the door leading to his booth. He smiled. We started playing.