Bay Area trumpeter and composer Ian Carey's big, bold new jazz suite, Interview Music, is the centerpiece of his like-titled new album, due for release by his Kabocha Records on April 8.
The piece, which was premiered in 2013 at the California Jazz Conservatory (formerly the Jazzschool) in Berkeley, is a 45-minute, four-movement adventure and Carey's longest composition to date. It is a vehicle for both his intricate writing and the improvisational chops of his group, the Ian Carey Quintet+1, last heard on 2013's acclaimed album Roads & Codes (Kabocha Records), which received praise from DownBeat and NPR, and appeared on many critics' best of 2013 lists.
Carey's rhythm section -- pianist Adam Shulman, bassist Fred Randolph, and drummer Jon Arkin -- goes back more than a decade with him. They are joined by alto saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, whose woody, clarinet-like sound makes for fascinating interplay with the band's extraordinary recent addition, the expansive bass clarinetist Sheldon Brown.
The title of Interview Music is "not about trying to get more interviews," quips Carey, though he's not averse to the idea. It refers to a recent discussion in the jazz world over the increasing percentage of new music being funded through nonprofit commissions and grants, and whether that system favors what the late pianist Mulgrew Miller called "interview music" -- high-concept, programmatic works, often with subject matter like visual artists, literary figures, or social movements.
Carey turned the tables on the argument by writing a new extended piece for his ensemble which specifically rejects that approach. Somewhat ironically, Interview Music was funded by just such a grant (from the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music's Musical Grant Program), but Carey noted when applying that he specifically did not want to go into the project with a pre-existing concept. "I write first and figure out what it's about after I hear it," he says. "If it's about anything!" Happily, the grant committee agreed, and funded the piece's composition and premiere performance.
The result is a challenging work which runs the gamut from intricate through-composed sections to raucous group improvisation. His goals as a composer -- providing individually tailored solo contexts for each improviser, utilizing the dense counterpoint favored by his favorite composers, and moving beyond the melody-solos-melody roadmap of more traditional jazz writing -- show up in surprising ways, including a passacaglia (a classical form built around a cycling melodic figure) and a movement in which the horns and rhythm section each spend most of the time in completely separate tempos (borrowing a trick from Carey's idol Charles Ives), but the improvisational talents of the ensemble are never far from the forefront. "As complicated as the writing got, I never wanted to lose sight of the fact that it's a jazz piece," Carey said. "Improvisation and swing should still be the stars of the show."
The new CD closes with Carey's "Big Friday," which the composer calls "a suite in miniature." It was recorded at the end of the Interview Music session and "felt appropriately like a 'victory lap.'"
Originally from upstate New York, Ian Carey, 41, lived in Folsom, California and Reno before moving to New York City in 1994, where he attended the New School (studying composition with Bill Kirchner, Henry Martin, and Maria Schneider, and improvisation with Reggie Workman, Billy Harper, and Andrew Cyrille). During a productive seven years in New York, he was able to perform with musicians as varied as Ravi Coltrane, Ted Curson, Ali Jackson, Marion Brown, and Eddie Bert, but when an opportunity arose to spend a summer in San Francisco, he realized he was ready for a break from the Gotham grind.
He soon met the musicians who would become the core of his quintet, which transformed over the following twelve years and three albums (2005's Sink/Swim, 2010's Contextualizin', and Roads & Codes) into a tightly-knit unit dedicated to tackling Carey's original compositions. In 2012, looking to augment the group's sonic palette, he expanded the group to the current six members. (He also recorded a well-received duo date, 2014's Duocracy, with pianist Ben Stolorow.)
"For me, there is something for everyone in the music," says Carey of Interview Music. "It works as jazz, with enough red meat for the straight-ahead crowd. And it's heavily influenced by chamber music, so it can appeal to people who are into that. Still, I didn't know how it would go over. When we performed it as part of a chamber series and people responded positively to it -- regular jazz music fans and chamber music listeners, but also people who just decided to give it a listen -- I was so gratified."
The Ian Carey Quintet+1 will be performing Interview Music and more at the Sound Room, 2147 Broadway, Oakland, on Saturday 4/9, 8:00pm.