As widely renowned for his unerring, intuitive grooves behind the kit as he is for his inventiveness as a composer and bandleader, Bobby Previte stretches into some totally new musical terrain on Mass, his RareNoise debut as a leader and followup to 2014's cooperative trio project The New Standard with bassist Steve Swallow and keyboardist Jamie Saft. A modernist re-imagining of the choral epic Missa Sancti Jacobi by 15th century composer Guillaume Dufay, Previte's Mass prominently features the imposing sound of cathedral pipe organ along with an acclaimed early music chamber vocal group, the 11-voice Rose Ensemble conducted by Jordan Sramek, and a slamming core group consisting of Previte on drums, Marco Benevento on pipe organ and Rheem organ, Don McGreevy, Stephen O'Malley, Mike Gamble and Jamie Saft on electric guitars and Reed Mathis on electric bass. A kind of heavy metal requiem mass, full of thrashing feedback guitars and grinding power chords, hellacious fuzz bass, thunderous beats and the glorious sound of a Medieval vocal choir, Mass is unlike anything Previte has done before in his extensive discography, which covers recordings by his bands Weather Clear Track Fast, Latin for Travelers, The Coalition of the Willing, Bump and the Beta Popes.
"I've been thinking about this idea for at least 12 or 13 years now," says thed rummer-composer. "In fact, I scored a version of it in the early 2000s that I toured Europe with. Then when when I got home, I decided it wasn't right and threw it all in the trash. It wasn't powerful enough. So I went back to the drawing board."
Previte first encountered composer Guillaume Dufay in his Early Music class in college. "You have to remember, when Dufay wrote his music it was performed at a time in which there were no loud man-made sounds -- no amplifiers, airplanes, bombs, etc. Performed in a hard-walled stone church, the sound racing around the walls and bouncing off the ceiling, it had to have been an overwhelming experience. Now it feels quiet, meditative, but in the context of its time I believe it was a powerful, soul-shaking, transportive, otherworldly music. And I needed to match that power, so I had to go with Metal -- a reviled music that somehow still keeps coming."
Previte and his wife, the writer and choreographer Andrea Kleine, presented the piece in 2007 as a full-blown theater production at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. "She wrote the book and directed it," he explains. "It was then that I met the Rose Ensemble. They specialize in Early Music, which was essential to me. It's a very different discipline than other vocal music. And for them to have the courage and the openness to do a project like this, where I asked them to sing in a different tempo, key and time signature while the crushing metal band was playing -- that was truly inspiring."
The players involved in Mass are old cohorts of Previte. Organist Benevento and bassist Reed played in his The Coalition of the Willing. Saft played in Previte's Latin for Travelers band and is also a key member of 2014's The New Standard on RareNoise. Guitarist Gamble has been a longstanding collaborator and is also a member of Previte's current working quartet, Bobby Previte and the Visitors. Guitarists O'Malley and McGreevy are members of the Seattle-based drone and doom metal bands Sunn O))) and Earth, respectively. "O'Malley in particular used a gigantic wall of amps in the studio," says Previte. "If you want that sound, you can't use a little stomp box, you have to actually move all that air. It was exhilarating to watch."
Twelve years in the making, Mass is the culmination of a long road for Previte. "I am super happy with how it turned out, as it is extremely difficult music to perform," he says. "Each of the three pillars of the piece -- choir, metal trio, and pipe organ -- are operating within their own algorithms, their own keys, time and tempo. And the piece is written for them to be on parallel tracks but making a different fourth thing, dovetailing together on the cadences. Eventually we all began to be able to hear how it all worked, what notes the choir should be singing when you, as the guitarist, were on your third beat of your bar number 15, a 4/4 bar, at quarter note = 60, as they were in their 33rd bar of 6/8 in a completely different tempo. It sounds crazy. Well, it is crazy! But the design worked eventually, which is a testament to the musicians and their resilience."
Previte adds about his latest opus, "It has probably the greatest cover art I have ever had on any of my records. Astonishing work by, and all respect to, the artist, Hadi Nasiri."