A Q and A With TOM CHALLENGER
Tom: I'd been wanting to explore a variety of different approaches to making music. Whereas before my work has been very much based around dealing with improvisation, I wanted to explore larger scale ensemble composition. I also wanted to lead a band that was portable. All my projects up to now have been reliant on PA systems and good pianos, and it seemed logical to try a new route. Although there are 8 people in the band, it is still the most adaptable ensemble I have led.
Tom: Spy Boy is a culmination of work and research that I have done for Brass Mask. The original inspiration was to make an album that reflected all of this work, from my studying counterpoint with Hans Koller, to my delving (albeit on this side of the Atlantic) into the songs, traditions and cultures of the Mardi Gras Indians. At first there was a few definite starting points - Henry Threadgill's 'Just the facts and pass the bucket' and Tony Malaby's Tuba Quartet for example, however, thoughout the last 18 months of writing for this projects other influences have crept in - especially the music I've been making with another project of mine - Fofoulah.
Katan500: How did you come together as a group of musicians?
Tom: I have worked with majority of Brass Mask for over 5 years in different projects. Some of us work closely together in the Loop Collective and also in organisational capacities for gigs in and around london (Green Chimneys, The Con). I actually met Theon at a bus stop, and Nat I taught at GSMD. However, as musicians in london, you are around each other a lot.
Katan500: How did the collective process work between musicians; maybe there was also influence from the sound technicians?
Tom: As far as the music goes, it's generally myself that puts everything together. The guys help when there's issues to deal with - like re-orchestration. John Blease helped with putting the percussion parts together for the album, and Alex Bonney helped sonically shape the mix of the record before mastering. We've all collaborated on a myriad of projects before, but this was yet another departure for us and offered fresh challenges, and the opportunity to come up with a fresh approach.
Katan500: If you go to http://goo.gl/o0dMwM this is a piece about Howard Becker can you comment on what he says about collaboration, etiquette, and jazz places.
Tom: I'm reading his pieces now... I'll formalise a response soon...
Katan500: Are there any stories about the recording process...
Tom: The recording was a 3 day process, and this is where laid the music down. The majority of it is live, we recorded with no headphone monitor mixes, and we also recorded in the same room at the fish market. I hired in a caterer for the 3 days of recording, and we enjoyed a variety of dishes, alongside some fairly anal coffee brewing practices (Nathaniel). The group immensely well away from music, and I think this helps the music - 'especially in the group improv sections. Being raucous isn't frowned upon, as is playing sensitively.
Katan500: What about Dan's artwork and what it expresses...
Tom: Myself and dan decided on a collage format. Initially we wanted capture the motion of a moving person, however, we then fell upon the collage idea as a way of communicating vast amounts of colour, character and motion. I sourced some original photos taken by a friend who had recently travelled, and Dan then went to town on creating a really individual artwork idea. I think the end product is absolutely amazing, and he's captures the spirit of the album, the feeling within the group, and the live experience of Brass Mask really well.
Katan500: And the gig/launch on 26th at the Vortex Jazz Club....
Tom: We are going to be playing a selection of songs from the album. It's a combination of my originals and some of my arrangements of old Mardi Gras Indians songs. The show is being recorded by the BBC radio and will be broadcast in the UK and around Europe the next night.
Brass Mask will be @ the Vortex Jazz Club 26th September