Friday, September 21, 2012

MICHAEL FEINBERG TALKS ABOUT THE ELVIN JONES PROJECT


Michael Feinberg is a 25-year-old jazz bassist, a native of Atlanta Georgia, and a graduate of the University of Miami and New York University. In a few short years, Feinberg has moved from a relative unknown bassist with loads of promises to a go to guy hired by marquee lions such as John Scofield and Lee Ritenaur. Feinberg plays the bass as if the spirit of Jimmy Garrison has blessed Feinberg’s hands. Without breaking a sweat, Feinberg can switch from old school to modern.

Sunnyside Communications, Inc. just released Feinberg’s new album The Elvin Jones Project. There no official count on the number of Elvin Jones tribute albums out there. Surely, not as many as there are Ellington, Parker, and Coltrane tribute albums. Nevertheless, Jones’ contribution to jazz was legendary. Would Coltrane had been as great had Jones not been at his side? A question worth pondering. The Elvin Jones Project is a wonderful salute to Jones. 

Clearly, Feinberg is an aficionado of Jones' work. Careful and in depth workmanship was invested in this album. There only seven cuts on the album, two were written by Jones. You'll have to unfasten your pants after hearing the album because it'll leave you with a full belly. I Dig Jazz got Feinberg to talk about the album and his fondness for Jones' work.
What was your initial exposure to Elvin Jones' music?
Like most people, I was first exposed to Elvin through his work with the John Coltrane quartet. But after some research I quickly discovered that Elvin was on a number of my favorite records Ready for Freddie, Inception, Judgement!, In n Out, and Unity to name a few.

What inspired The Elvin Jones Project?
After years of working on original material, I was looking for a release and discovered the record Earth Jones with Dave Liebman, Taramaso Hino, George Mraz, and Kenny Kirkland. I started transcribing the music and performing it mixed in with my original material. After a short while I had collected and transcribed a few dozen tunes featuring Elvin from various records, enough material for its own band, and thus began the EJP. At the time I was performing regularly at the 55 Bar in the Village in New York and started featuring this band more and more. The music creates a great template for what I wanted to achieve musically, taking the performance of these tunes in a more modern approach but paying homage to the vibe from those great records.

Was there a nationwide search for a  Jones-like jazz drummer to play on the album, or was Billy Hart an obvious choice?
My original choice for the drum chair was not Billy Hart. He was such a legend I didn't even consider that he would be interested in working with an unknown 25-year-old. Luckily George Garzone (who co-produced the album with me) made a recommendation and put us in touch. I went to Billy's house to discuss the record and ended up hanging and listening to records, and telling stories for about four hours. I think we are kindred spirits in many ways and the music definitely reflects that.

How important was Hart's participation?
No one member of the band is more or less important than anyone else. The great thing about jazz is that if you pick the right guys, there's no need for discussion; the music speaks for itself. We entered the session with a clearly defined vision which allowed the guys in the band to relax and be themselves while working together to achieve the vibe. The best thing Billy did for me at the session was allow me to be myself and express what I wanted. 

A legend like Billy Hart could have entered the situation thinking, ‘I'm the master here, so the rest of the guys should acquiesce to my style,’ but he was really comfortable to play with and as the session progressed the band concept became really strong. I guess the most important thing about his participation in the record and beyond in our work together is that he is a guy who always puts the music first. What else could you ask for?

Your band--saxophonist George Garzone, trumpeter Tim Hagans, and pianist Leo Genovese--is tighter than a banjo string. How long has the band been together?
This was on old school record date - no rehearsals. We talked a lot before the session, but the first time the five of us played together was at the studio. This was a completely new experience to me. My previous three records came after years of performing and rehearsing music with close friends, so this was definitely a different approach. 

What was amazing was that because of the high level of musicianship and the combined effort by the band we were able to quickly establish the direction we were going to take from the beginning.
If music is a language this record date was an  eight hour symposium at the highest level. I think the music is especially fresh because of it as well. I will paraphrase a Branford Marsalis quote that I think rings true: ‘Either you can play, or you can't’.  

If you're not able to perform something in the studio, no amount of rehearsing the day of will do any good to progress your musicianship. It adds pressure and the amount of work and time it takes to progress as a musician is not conducive to that environment at all. Obviously, these guys can play, and played great!

The album opens with Jones' Earth Jones, and it closes with Three Card Molly. Why didn't you play more of Jones' compositions?
It's tricky to really know which tunes were even written by Elvin over the course of his career. Same goes for Miles and many other band leaders. Record companies in those days wanted the band leaders to be the vital member of their ensembles and would credit them with compositions even though they were not theirs. 

I just hung with Dave Liebman a couple nights ago and he told me that he had actually written Earth Jones, not Elvin. The other piece of the puzzle is that Elvin was not much of a composer as far as quantity is concerned. A lot of my favorite original music his groups played was composed by Liebman, Pat Labarbera, George Mraz, Chick Corea, and Frank Foster - and one amazing song by percussionist Omar Clay which will be on the next EJP record.

Could you feel Jones' spirit in the studio while recording this album?
I tried as hard as I could not to feel his spirit. I did not intend to make a "tribute" album, I just wanted to use his band as a reference point. I think Billy Hart had a lot to do with this because he really does not come from the "Elvin School." He is his own unique voice. 

I wanted to capture the vibe of those old records/musicians while bringing my own more modern approach to the music. The biggest challenge was getting the notes from those records out of my head. I know almost every note played on most of those records we took the tunes from so I had to work hard to separate that from what we were creating in the studio.

Billy Hart and Jones were close. Did Hart share any stories about his friendship with Jones?
If you ask anyone about Billy Hart they will tell you that the guy has some amazing stories. One in particular relating to Elvin is this: Elvin was in town playing  with a trio and his drums never made it to New York. All he could put together was a snare, kick, hi hat, and ride cymbal. For the next 3 months every drummer in New York was playing that set up cause they thought that was the hip new thing to do! If Elvin was doing it, it must be cool!

How different would The Elvin Jones Project be had Hart not participated?
Billy is a very special voice on the drums, but the music is different every time we play it anyway. I've worked with a lot of great drummers through the last 2 years of playing this music and the best thing about it is that they feel like they need to really bring it because Elvin's name is associated with the band. I think that Billy understood immediately that I did not want him to cop an Elvin vibe which sometimes happens with other drummers when they play this music. He was instrumental (sorry for the pun) in making this record what it is but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be great if someone else was on drums too! As a bass player, it was pretty damn cool to work with him though.
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