Drummer Bob Rees
AAJ: What would you say is your approach to composition? Do you compose music also?
BR: I compose, and a few projects have performed my songs but I wouldn't say that is a focus. It may be someday but I am just really happy playing right now, either playing in an improvised setting or performing other people's music and seeing what I can bring to the table. I got a Jack Straw grant and I have a couple of things coming out but it's all improvised. Composition in the traditional sense, I haven't been doing any of that lately.
AAJ: Roscoe Mitchell and Gary Peacock use this term "spontaneous composition." I guess when I said "composition" it's kind of a two-sided coin. So there is "composition" and there is "spontaneous compostion" which is sort of free improvisation. So, how would you describe your approach to free improvisation then?
BR: That's a hard question to answer. I try to listen a lot, you know, listen as much as I can, from a strictly free standpoint thinking about what has already been explored on a certain night or a certain session and what hasn't and maybe trying to keep things varied a little bit and bring a lot of energy to the table and use really big ears and just go along for the ride (laughter). And also sort of learning that, you know, it's easy to get attached or psyche yourself out and worry too much about where a piece hasn't gone or where it is going and sort of have it fizzle. I have gotten better about not getting so attached to it and I think it has helped the music - not thinking about it too much but making sure you are listening all the time and just creating energy.
AAJ: When you are thinking about what you are playing, I know like being in the moment you almost don't think, but would you say that you are drawing from free improvisation or are you conceptualizing from a structural standpoint?
BR: I would say that I probably think about both. But from a structure standpoint I am thinking really generally. I guess you couldn't really even call it structure. I mean I am looking for - we are looking for a good place to end a tune, you know, and create some sort of form but it can be pretty open...and then mainly general things like dynamic contrast, being busy or being not so busy, texture changes, things like that.
AAJ: There is sort of a general approach to playing and then there is kind of a generic approach to playing. So when a guy plays generically he is just sort of playing one thing all the time and just sort of makes it fit all settings if he can get away with it. And then there is a general approach which might even be termed as eclectic in a way which is really keeping your ears open and paying attention to what is going on.
BR: Yeah, you know. As long as my ears stay open I find myself in new situations all the time. I guess I'm still learning how to play and deal in those situations. And it doesn't have to be specifically free improvisation. It might happen to be a Flowmotion song, you know, where I sit down and I don't quite understand the form or there is something I don't quite understand or I'm not sure what I am going to play. I'm sort of learning and trying different things and figuring out what works and what doesn't. It's sort of a Bob Rees way of playing that works for me in a lot of different genres or projects. I figure out things that are just in my bag - not tricks but ways to listen and to understand music and to react that work in a lot of different situations. I guess that's what I mean when I say general. They are general enough but they are very important and they work in a lot of different ways. Just to be more specific, and this works in free improv and it works in like regular ABA rock and roll songs or whatever, one example is how to create tension, how to create release using percussion and using sounds. So when I play the drum set in a free jazz setting I'm just dealing with those textures and figuring out how to create energy and move the energy or slow the energy down. And I'm doing the same thing with the congas and the cowbell, you know, textural changes. I feel like they are related, they are similar or basically the same thing at least from my standpoint, from my approach. One of the Jack Straw things that is coming out is a duo of Greg Campbell and me, a cd of all improvised percussion.
AAJ: You just finished a tour with Flowmotion and you were up in Alaska. Can you talk about that a little bit?
BR: Yeah, two weeks in Alaska. Alaska is a very special place, really beautiful people, the nicest people on Earth, and they love music up there. They are very appreciative and they don't get enough music. When I joined Flowmotion about a year and a half ago they had already been up there three times and developed a little bit of a following. Now it has gotten to the point where we do really well up there. Tons of people come out to every one of our shows and they treat us really well, they pay us well, and it is one of the best places to tour for us. This last one was the most successful one yet. We are trying to do it in other places, California and Colorado are next, but Alaska is just really good to us. The beauty of playing in Alaska is that no one up there is really from Alaska. They are either up there working for the summer or they have relocated, and they are from all over the country down here in the lower 48 so when we play shows like in San Francisco or anywhere, there is always somebody that has seen us in Alaska. So it has kind of paid off to play up there a lot. People bring the music back home, to their home town or wherever they are from.