David Fiuczynski: In the In Between
Fiuczynski has been equally as busy with his side project. He is presently in the studio with his longtime associates Screaming Headless Torsos, in anticipation of a new record that will be out sometime this year. His most recent sideperson work has been with Rudresh Mahanthappa on his new record Gamak (ACT, 2013), featuring Dan Weiss on drums and Francois Moutin on bass, and making recent appearances at clubs like Le Poisson Rouge for the 2012 Winter Jazz Festival. Mahanthappa has described the project, derived from the word "gamaka" (the ornamentation used in Indian classical music), as an expression of the melodic ornamentation as it relates to the beauty of melody as it occurs worldwide, which fits in neatly with Fiuczynski's conception. However, even though Mahanthappa and Fiuczynski are part of only a handful of musicians who can or even want to combine Eastern disciplines in Western contexts, there are still unique differences between them.
Fiuczynski explains, "One of our basic differences is that he has a completely different rhythmic approach; his rhythmic contexts are often (though not always) based on Indian music. Also, he basically only does quarter tones, and I work off a finer grid of 72 notes per octave. The other thing is that on the CD, it's all me harmonizing. There were no explicit harmonies, just modes, and he had said, 'Do your thing,' as we do in jazz, for the same reason I'm sure Miles Davis had gotten Bill Evans to play on his records for his sense of harmony. Rudresh and I played for a few years with Jack [DeJohnnette], and that was a fertile ground to get comfortable with each other. So I'm taking his modes and stacking them into chord scales, and I think some of the results are pretty startling."
The Indian-based rhythms, which have been a key component of Mahanthappa's music for years, were something of a difficult task for Fiuczynski. His first experiences playing with Weiss, who had been studying the aforementioned rhythmic theories with tablist Samir Chatterjee for years, was a bit of a trial-by-fire experience. "My first thought was 'Help!' [laughs]. There's a piece we played that's in 4/4, and he would start to do stuff, and I would just get lost. Dan is amazing; I'm probably just going to take lessons with him to help me along."
Fiuczynski noticed certain specific differences in the rhythms of Indian classical and Western/American groove music. "The big thing for us Westerners, or people who haven't studied Indian music, is that our music is very divisive. We're interested in how you can divide a whole note into a half note and that into a quarter note and so on. With Indian music, one of the first things that they do, and this is a gross oversimplification, is that they're additive. They're much more interested in looking at it like, 'Well, here's the cycle, and if I play this rhythmic unit, how many times do I have to play it through how many cycles until it lands on the one again?' which is a completely different way of thinking.
"Also in Western music, we often have larger units first, like 'BOOM- [rest]-boo-KAH' [funk rhythm]; it's big, then small. Think of the 'Mission Impossible' theme or 'Take Five," with the 5/4 patterns. It's 'DAH-DAH- dah-dah,' big-big-small-small. With Indian music, though, they'll often have smaller rhythmic units first, which was very difficult for me to get used to because I would always shift to the larger one being the focal point. We also gravitate towards something low being the downbeat. So if Dan does his thing, and it's a small unit first that's high, I'm basically toast [laughs]. But a big thing I put forward is that microtonality really needs a whole new rhythmic context, and this is a huge opportunity. We'll be back at Le Poisson Rouge in April, and we'll have had about 30 gigs. I think the music will be strikingly different. I'll certainly sound better, at least."
Fiuczynski's incredibly busy schedule has not been a hindrance to his creativity but a boon to it. The influence of Boston, either through New England Conservatory, The Boston Microtonal Society or the diverse range of musicians within, has been enormous. "I've been shuttling back from Boston to New York for about 30 years. People are drawn to Boston for education and New York because of all that's there. I've always been curious about mixing things, so I've kind of had that built in. I grew up in Germany, my dad's German, and my mom's from South Carolina, so I've always had that, but that curiosity is reinforced in Boston and NYC. The gospel thing is so big in Berklee, and I think that's where a lot new ideas, especially new rhythmic ideas, are coming from.