Marc Copland: Growth Through Collaboration
Copland's recorded association with Liebman is also a more recent development, with two albums on Hatologythe quartet record, Lunar, and the remarkable duo recording Bookends where, once again, Copland uses a repeated piece to bookend one of the two discs. "Dave is such a warm individual," says Copland, "with so much knowledge about the music and, to me, he's kind of like Gary in that there's nothing a pianist can play harmonically that Dave doesn't know or can't figure out. He's got a steel trap mind, so if, for example, in going over a tune, he does hear something that maybe he's not familiar with he'll say, 'what's that!' and he'll come over to the piano ?" which he also plays, as well as the drumsand he'll look at it, and in 30 seconds he's got it. He'll start working it out on the horn and bang, it's there. Over and above that, the thing about Dave is his passion for the music. It comes burning out of his horn. This is a man totally committed to and in love with jazz, and in the duo setting he plays with a lot of soul. You know, in the '70s first Elvin [Jones] hired him, and then Miles. There's a reason why he's got such a great résumé.
"A lot has been made of Dave's energetic/expressionist approach," continues Copland, "as opposed to the more lyrical/romantic thing of mine; but opposites can attract as well as likes. What we share in common is the desire to explore and stretch the harmonies."
Along with drummer Jochen Rueckert, Drew Gress fleshes out Copland's ongoing trio of the past few years. With two Hatology recordings to their name Haunted Heart and Other Ballads and And..., which is augmented, on some tracks by Abercrombie and saxophonist Michael Breckerthe trio has a new disc, due out on Pirouet later this year. "I've known Drew since he was 19," explains Copland, "and he's got so much music in him, and he does so many different things; he plays in a wider array of styles of music than perhaps any bassist on the scene right now. He possesses a real sense of responsibility to playing the music with the right feel; he's got a flawless command of the instrument, and also an incredible harmonic thing going on. He's the kind of musician one can always trust to play something hip."
Much has been made about Copland's unique legato approach to the piano and his distinctive pedal work, to the point that ambitious pianists often plant themselves as close as possible to Copland in performance, to be able to watch not only his hands, but his feet as well. "As you can imagine," explains Copland, "the question about pedal work and legato comes up a lot. There's no cut and dried technique to it other than this: the desire, when playing, not to hit a single note or a single chord unless it has a certain touch, a certain blend, a certain feel."
"The piano music that's always caught my attention," continues Copland, "including Evans, Hancock, Bley, Ravel, Debussy, some Ives, Joni Mitchellit all has a texture, in which harmonic colours are blended in a certain way. That's why piano playing of this kind doesn't make it on a digital piano. Some of these digital pianos are very good, but their chips can't calculate all the overtones being generated when eight or nine tones are played together. They can recreate the fundamentals of the eight or nine notes together, and a few of the overtones, but can't copy all the complex interactions between the notes and all their respective overtones, because the digital data to do so is too large for the chips to handle.
"That blend or texture," concludes Copland, "is more important than the pedal and touch used to get that blend; the pedal and touch are the means, not the end. The soft pedal can manipulate that blend a lot, not only when it's all the way down or up, but also in betweenit can totally change the sound of the instrument. It's very subtle stuff, and it can't be heard in a really loud band. In a quartet or quintet which sometimes burns, that's fine. But if you get a larger band that's bashing all the time, you'll never hear it."
The late guitarist Emily Remler once said, "There are only two kinds of musiciansthose that sound the same as they did five years ago, and those who don't." And so, Copland is always concerned with evolving his sound and approach. One thing is certain: by comparing some of his earliest recordings to his more recent ones, while his deeply lyrical approach remains intact, there's a degree of abstraction that is gradually creeping into his music. One example is "River's Run" on Time Within Time which, with its more intricate harmonic devices, is ultimately a minor blues, but one unlike any you've ever heard. And his solo reading of Wayne Shorter's classic "Footprints" brings new language to well- established piece. "That's actually an arrangement I did for the Stompin' With Savoy album," explains Copland, "which was for quintet; but there's a lot to explore in it. In the quintet, we played the arrangement, but the blowing was just on a minor blues, more or less in the usual way. This time I used some of the things suggested by the arrangement in the blowing, taking it to a different place.
"It's about the quest for new musical materials," Copland continues. "When there's a C7 or A7 on the page, one wants to play something over it that's different from what one played five years ago. When I was coming up, the people who made a differenceTrane, Miles, Rollins, Bill Evanstried to play differently in their lines. They also tried to do fresh things compositionally, whether with an original or in a standard that was interpreted in a fresh way.
"These cats were all great at breathing new life into standards," concludes Copland. "There's a version of 'Four' that Sonny [Rollins] did where he completely turned the beat of the melody around. It's the only time it's been done to my knowledge, and it's fabulous, the solo becomes a real tour de force. Evans, the same; Miles also, the Plugged Nickel recordings, for example. When cats like that played a tune you knew it would have a twist, but an organic one, not just a gimmick; the twist would suggest a new direction for the blowing. That's a worthy goal, to play something that's newnot new and meaningless, but new and continually developing a direction. That's the reason to get up in the morning and sit at the piano in the first place."