#13 Jazz Right Now Interview
October Artist Feature: Matt Pavolka
Bassist Matt Pavolka has been playing regularly on the New York scene since moving to the city in 1994 and has been especially active over the past decade. He has played in numerous contexts and released the album Something People Can Use (Toneofapitch Records) by the Matt Pavolka Band in 2008.
Pavolka has a residency at Seeds (617 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn) this week where he will be playing with his (relatively) new band, the Matt Pavolka Horn Band (with Kirk Knuffke, Jacob Garchik, Loren Stillman, and Mark Ferber). The band has an album due out in the spring. I had the opportunity to talk with Matt earlier this month about his plans for the residency.
CB: What path did you follow to become a musician in New York?
MP: I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana. My parents were both middle-school band directors and musicians. My dad worked a lot as a professional trombonist and my mom played piano and organ in church so I developed an early appreciation for music and musicians (and a very dark sense of humor). Not being very good at or very interested in anything else I always knew that I would be a musician myself. I picked up the trombone in sixth grade, about a year before puberty and girls could have made me more interested in playing drums or guitar. Somewhere around my junior year in high school I started playing some bass on the side. I got a scholarship to Berklee on trombone and took that as my ticket to the east coast. Once there I quickly realized that I was more in demand as a bassist and also that it was a more natural instrument for me. Plus it was nice to play something that my dad wasn’t already really good at. From Boston I made the move down to New York in the summer of ’94 with about $500 and a rather vague notion of what I would do when I got here. Some time went by and some things happened and here I still am.
CB: What are the most important musicians and groups with whom you have worked since coming to New York?
MP: I’ve been here for nineteen years now and I’ve lost at least a few brain cells in that time so I’m sure to omit significantly but here are some things that stand out. I was in composition 1 with Guillermo Klein at Berklee, we’ve remained close ever since and I’ve made a lot of great music with him over the years. I’m on his very first record playing trombone and also on I believe Guachos 3 playing bass. He also performs on my wife Akiko’s latest release “Mahoroba”. Another great musician/composer that I first met in Boston is Magali Souriau, I played trombone on her big-band record and also did a great trio record with her and Chris Cheek for Fresh Sounds. Chris is another guy that I’ve made a lot of great music with over the years. Other people that I played with in Boston and then in New York include Pete Rende, Matt Renzi and Akiko Pavolka. Her band House Of Illusion has been together for about fifteen years now with various personnel, the current fairly long-standing version of the band includes Loren Stillman, Nate Radley, Bill Campbell, myself and Guillermo when he’s around. We’ve got five records out and play fairly frequently around the city as well as touring occasionally. I would be remiss of I didn’t mention Ohad Talmor, who in addition to curating the SEEDS series is a great saxophonist and composer that I’ve had the pleasure to work with quite a bit over the years, both as a sideman and in his own groups. He was the musical director of Lee Konitz’s nonet which led to me touring and working with Lee for a couple of years. He also has a band called Newsreel with Dan Weiss, Jacob Sacks, Shane Endsley and sometimes others that I’ve toured with extensively. We have a record out with that group and another in the can. In addition I was recently involved in performing and recording his re-imagining of Bruckner’s eighth symphony for string quartet, jazz quintet and laptop, an ambitious work to say the least. Other projects that I’ve recorded with recently include Nate Radley’s, Ben Holmes’ and Noah Preminger’s bands and Alan Ferber’s big band. Lastly of course there are my own groups, first the Matt Pavolka Band with Ben Monder, Pete Rende and Ted Poor (we’ve got one album out called “Something People Can Use” on the Tone Of A Pitch label) and now the Horns Band. The debut recording for that one will be coming out early next year on the Fresh Sounds label.
CB: How did the Horn Band come together? Why did you select these specific musicians for the band?
I’m not sure exactly where the idea came from but I was writing some things that didn’t really work for my other group and was looking to do something fairly different from what I’ve been doing with that band. When I hit upon the idea of three horns and rhythm I gravitated towards Kirk, Loren and Jacob because of the unique and contrasting sounds and approaches that they have on their respective instruments and also for the incredible blend that they get together. Mark is a drummer that I’ve always enjoyed playing with, his clarity, groove, sound and orchestrational abilities are all vital to this music.
CB: What is the concept behind the Horn Band?
With my other group I write very minimally, mostly just melodies and bass lines. There are harmonies implied and sometimes notated symbolically but the whole point of that group is to let Pete and Ben work their harmonic magic, I’m not going to sit down and write out voicings for those guys. WIth the Horns Band I wanted to do something where I really have to sit down and write, arrange and orchestrate everything. With nobody comping I have to make it happen with just the three horns and bass (or second trombone when I dust off my long-neglected axe). It’s a real challenge to make the voices lead well and keep it interesting with this instrumentation and to find that magical balance where there’s just enough structure but not too much. It’s also very rewarding, it’s just a great sound that at this point feels very fresh to me. It’s very different music but sonically I really identify with those sixties Blue Note records with horns on them like “Mode For Joe”. We recorded this record live in the studio on two inch analog tape and I think we really managed to get some of that vibe up in there. Also this band can really swing when need be. That’s a feeling that I grew up with that’s still a big part of it for me.
CB: What are you aiming to accomplish during your residency at Seeds?
MP: We just wanna PLAY, man. That’s what it’s all about and it’s incredibly rare to get to play four nights in a row, two sets a night in the same place. In fact this will be the first time I’ve ever done that with a group of my own and maybe ever. Of course the more people we can share that live experience with the better. We’ll be playing all the stuff off the new record and more plus some brand new things so come on down.