Alex Machacek: A Very Tall Tale
Be careful what you wish for, for you may get it-so the saying goes. When Alex Machacek asked drummer Marco Minnemann if he had a drum solo he could pass his way to compose around, he could never have expected a drum improvisation lasting 51 minutes. Before he could say, "Hey, 13/16 is a really odd meter," he found himself committed to composing, or recomposing as he puts it, around the entire piece.
Minnemann's drum improvisation is amazing in and of itself; the layers of rhythm, the shifting meters, the contrasting dynamics, and the sheer musicality from start to finish make it something rather special. Machacek, not unreasonably slightly daunted by the task ahead of him, elected to divide the improvisation into sections, hence the title of the album. His response to Minnemann's challenge is also something special; compositionally, 24 Tales (Abstract Logix, 2010) is as sensitive to the brilliance of Minnemann's playing as it is technically impressive. It is also adrenaline-charged and emotive, like a 51-minute amusement park ride. Machacek's compositional approach, which largely places improvisation on the back burner, yields music of a complexity and beauty which bears favorable comparison to the best composed works of Frank Zappa.
All About Jazz: 24 Tales is a pretty stunning recording. How do you view it in the context of your discography?
Alex Machacek: Well, thank you first up. How do I look upon it now? I'm so glad it's done and finally finished. It took me a while. I'm actually happy the way it turned out.
AAJ: You recorded a duet for drum and guitar with Terry Bozzio some years back on Delete and Roll (Next Generation Enterprises, 2004). Would you say that the genesis of 24 Tales goes back that far or maybe even further back? Was this something you've wanted to do for a long time?
AM: I remember that when I recorded with Terry, I asked him if he could record me a drum solo just before I was going back to Europe and he said, "Yeah, sure." That became the title track of the album [sic] (Abstract Logix, 2006). So yeah, I guess that was the genesis.
The whole story with Marco [Minnemann] is that I started playing with him just after I released [sic], and I asked him if he had a drum solo recorded and he said yes. It turned out to be 50 minutes [laughs]. At first I thought I'd just take a part or a section, but after a while Marco came up with the idea of giving the same solo to different people as an experiment. So, he gave the solo to Mike Keneally, Trey Gunn, John Czajkosski, Mario Brinkmann, Phil Yan-Zeek and he'd do a version himself; that's when I decided to take on the whole solo. First, I'd thought maybe five, maybe eight minutes maximum [laughs]. After a while I thought, "Okay, let's do 50 minutes."
AAJ: On [sic] there are several tracks based around Terry Bozzio's drumming. You once said that "Don Jon" was so difficult to compose because it was so long at over nine minutes; just how daunting was it composing around 51minutes of Minnemann's drumming?
AM: Well, when you are young you think nine minutes are long, and as you get older you think 50 minutes are long-I don't know. Actually, that was one of the reasons I divided it into 24 sections. One song-or part, whatever you want to call it-of nine minutes length, I knew how intimidating that could be, so I thought, "Let's chop it up into sections and make it much more manageable." You're just fooling yourself because at the end it's still 50 minutes, right? But while you're working on it, you think this section is only 1:30 seconds, which seems doable; then the next one and the next one. Somebody asked me if I would do it again and I said, "Well, maybe not right away." [Laughs.]
AM: The funny thing is that Marco did the same thing as I did, but he didn't know about it. I did my-let's call it recomposing so we know what we're talking about-composing with prerecorded material. I did that with Terry and with some other people as well, and Marco did it with himself, basically. He already had one album out called Normalizer (Self Produced, 2004) and he thought for the next recording it might be interesting to have other people do it. He asked around if people were interested, and they were. The whole thing was running under the name Normalizer 2, like a continuation of his original idea. We wanted to release it as a box set, but today with the economy we're happy to sell one CD at a time, right?
AAJ: Have you heard any of the other guys' versions?
AM: Yeah, I've heard Trey Gunn's version, which is like a completely different planet, and I've just heard John Czajkowski's, which is again something completely different. It's funny for me because I know the drum part so well I think, "Oh, I recognize that part. Let me see what he did here." But after a while I started hearing it as just music, and not the drum part I'd been working on.