David Fiuczynski: In the In Between
"One of the drummers, Erik Kerr, has been playing a lot with Club Delph in Boston, which is kind of a jam-trans-Moroccan band. So he has, for example, this really cool thing he does with 12/8 incorporating Moroccan rhythms, which at times are either in 3 or 4. They have kind of this rubbery quality to them. It's not the typical 3-3-3-3 triplet-based shuffle; it's more a combination of long and short rhythms that's totally different. It can be just strong downbeats, but it's also everything in between. And again, I'm always looking for new rhythmic contexts. Then there's Jovol Bell on drums, who adds this fresh J Dilla-type thing."
On the other end of the spectrum, two of the other drummers are longtime professional Kenwood Dennard, whom Fiuczynski admired for his earthy and organic way of playing, and the legendary Jack DeJohnette, who also employs Fiuczynski in his current group. DeJohnette's influence on the guitarist has been massive and expansive, mostly through his unique sense of touch.
"He's the most melodic drummer I've ever played with. It's actually a bit scary. I've been in situations where I've played with musicians that are great players; they listen, but it's often brawn over musicality. But Jack has really shown me that being sparse and having incredible touch can have just as much impact, if not more, than being loud, fast and bashing. It's a no-brainer for him to have gotten the NEA Jazz Master award. To a certain extent, the question should have been why he didn't get it a long time ago.
"Playing with him just really reinforced where music should go. The approach is very organic. Players usually end up shooting themselves in the foot from the usual hurdles, like they'll do something simpler because they can't afford to do what they want to do, or there's so much technique that they let the instrument take over, or maybe you have overdeveloped players, but they're not really composers. Jack is everything. You don't have to tell him anything; you just say, 'This is the piece,' and he does it."
The larger context of the record has been the Planet Microjam Institute operating within the context of Berklee, formed with the mission statement of introducing students to non-Western microtonal sources as well as encouraging outside-the-box thinking and innovation. Boston, through New England Conservatory, had been a major catalyst for Fiuczynski's first forays in microtonality in an academic context.
"I basically got my masters at NEC in microtonality. I took Joe Maneri's last class. Joe was the big microtonal legend in Boston. There are other classical microtonal heavyweights, but besides classical, he was also an improviser. I split my lessons between Bob Labaree, who did Turkish music studies and Peter Row, a sitarist, with Indian music studies. I took one semester of independent study with Shin-Yi Yang, who's a Chinese gu-zheng player, which is a type of zither."
Berklee proved to be a ripe breeding ground for Fiuczynski's brand of tutelage, mostly due to a statement made by the president Roger Brown. "The administration was looking to do something new, and Roger Brown had said that the ultimate purpose was to create the circumstances for miraculous music making, and I thought that was pretty happening. The exciting thing about Berklee is that small things can turn into big things. The big gospel night, which probably draws 1,000 people a year, started out as a little student club. So my institute started when my students had approached me. In order to have student club, you have to have a faculty signature. I guess they'd asked me because nobody else was crazy enough to sign up for a microtonal club. This was actually before I was doing a lot of microtonal stuff.
"So with my masters, I went to the school, and I'd asked if I can start a Japanese proto-class. I met with the head of the ensemble department, and he'd said that he honestly did not understand what I was trying to do, but he wanted to see how it would go. So I've had a microtonal ensemble for about five years, then the school wanted me to showcase what we were doing, so they would fund a few concerts per semester. We did a few in town, in New York and Philadelphia. In preparation for the Performance Division grad program, which should start in 2014, the curriculum is going to be based upon basic requirements; then the grad Performance majors will have six institutes to choose from in where they want to focus. It could be Danilo Perez's Global Jazz Institute, a more avant-garde institute which is more interdisciplinary, where you could do dance or video, et cetera, and the MicroJam is one of those institutes. That's the next step, and then it'd be a real institute. Right now, it's just me taking one class and out of that doing different projects, some high profile like the Guggenheim one."