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Interview with Jair-Röhm Parker Wells/Luther Thomas/Tony Bianco

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Jair-Röhm: I'm here in Stockholm getting ready to go away for a few days before starting the next work cycle.

Luther: I’m good and I’m in Copenhagen Denmark

Tony: London.


What’s on your schedule at the moment?
Jair-Röhm: Nothing until the 30th. I'll perform with a chamber trio i'm in. After that it's all promotion for the "Meditations on Albert Ayler" release.

Luther: My office work

Tony: Not much. Trying to get some gigs and some recordings out.


“Meditations on Albert Ayler - Live at Glenn Miller Café” has just been released on what would have been Ayler’s 71st birthday. What does this day mean to you personally?
Jair-Röhm: Long ago i made it a point to be mindful of Albert's birthday. His contribution was vital and his birth a blessing. Later i realised that we should all think of Albert - and persons like him - every day.

Luther: I’m giving Albert Ayler his BIRTHDAY present and I’m giving the UNIVERSE a HARD COPY of Luther Thomas, Jair-Rohm Parker Wells and Tony Bianco

Tony: It’s kind of an honour to have this recording come out on his birthday.


It has often been said that Ayler changed the world of Jazz for good. In which way, would you say, does this hold true?
Tony: He effected the momentum and direction of free improvisation.

Jair-Röhm: Albert was a driving force in the move away from the conventional "standards" based Jazz. He also liberated the drummer from playing time and the art of  improvisation from the laws of Be Bop. His voice was distinct and clearly coming out of another bag. He wasn't just another Coltrane clone. That's why Coltrane was "studying" with him at the end of his life. Albert was onto a new thing. It wasn't (and isn't) Jazz anymore. The significance of Ornette and Albert playing "Truth is Marching In" (an Ayler composition) at Coltrane's funeral is irrefutable. The torch had been passed on to the new guard.

Luther: I don’t believe ANYTHING is ‘FOR GOOD’! That’s an ETERNITY! I don’t believe that is part of EINSTEIN’S THEORY.


When Ayler first hit the scene, most reacted with a state of shock. Can you still remember the first time you listened to his music and the effect it had on you?
Jair-Röhm: The first time i heard Ayler i knew what i was hearing. I recognised his voice and responded immediately. It was like hearing Dolphy (who was my hero at the time) unleashed. It was in Germany in the 1970's. Back then, record shops had "listening bars" and/or "listening booths". You could go into these booths with a stack of records and "evaluate" them before purchasing. During one of these sessions i discovered my first Ayler recording. I'm not sure which one it was. It may have been something on a compilation. Whatever the case, i was compelled to find more recordings by this saxophonist. There was a lyricism that i never heard before. It really hit me. It was like - wow, this is so human. It wasn't math any more. It was really musical.

Luther: I WAS LISTENING TO TRANE ALREADY soooooooooooooooo
It fitted right into my EDUCATION which happened to be the study of the SAXOPHONE; I was an APPLIED SAXOPHONE MAJOR at WEBSTER UNIVERSITY at that time.

Tony: Yea I thought his music was saying something to me , but I didn’t know what.


Before we get to the music – can you shortly introduce the trio of “Meditations on Albert Ayler” for us? How did the line-up get together?
Tony: Jair-Rohm got it together.

Luther: ME, ‘JR’ & ‘TB’
That’s a bit of OLD AMERICAN HISTORY but for the SHORT answer, we HOOKED UP on:
http://www.myspace.com

Jair-Röhm: The members of Meditations on Albert Ayler are: Anthony Bianco on drums and cymbals, Luther Thomas on alto sax and myself on the NS electric upright bass (though i play my Fichter electric upright on this release). Tony and i have been playing together in the trio Decision Dream with Magnus Alexanderson on guitar for a few years. Tony has released a number of titles with sax players and always thought that he and i could do something  interesting with a saxophonist based on the Decision Dream long-form improvisation model. After talking about it for a few months we decided to call Luther who lives in Copenhagen and see what he was up to. Luther and i had done some playing together in New York in the early 80s and i knew that he had the right idea for what we wanted to do. Plus he was "over here". So i booked the Glenn Miller date and the rest, as they say, is history.


You describe the evening as “one of those marvelous instances of accomplishing what you set out to do and getting it done”. What was is it you set out to do? Which musical agreements did you make before hitting the stage?
Luther: JAIR said THAT!

Jair-Röhm: One of the fundamental intentions from the start was to not "cover" Ayler compositions. Another important factor was that this would be a meditation, a drone. I've learned a lot with Tony about the nature of music and it's purpose and function. Tony studies the Vedas. I dabbled in these scriptures some time ago. Through Tony's insight into these text, i've learned alot about the commonality between the various sacred writings and the holiness of music. Albert Ayler is important for two reasons: he was dedicated to the sanctity of music and he was a nice person.

Tony: I thought the music was burning . that’s what I wanted it to do.


Ayler has of course become famous for his unique brand of “Free Jazz”. The natural paradox of Free Jazz, of course, is that it often works best in the context of a tight group, with members listening to each other closely – and thereby introducing an element of structure and coherence. So, what does the “free” in “Free Jazz” mean to you?
Tony: An improvisation that has a point and follows all the laws of great music.

Jair-Röhm: I'm moving away from the word "Jazz" as i believe Albert did. "Free Jazz" is a contradiction in terms because Jazz like any commercialisation of music isn't free. Never was - never will be. To answer the question posed here without giving a Jazz history lesson is difficult. The music we're involved with has it's roots in Jazz. At the same time it is important to remember that the music isn't Jazz. Just as Jazz which has it's roots in Blues isn't Blues. There are many who identify the music as "Free Jazz" because we're improvising Americans. This is a term that's come into use for lack of a better name/descriptor. The word "Free" in the context of this music is better replaced with the word "Liberation" or "Liberating" or "Worship". I believe this is what music sounded like on Mt. Sinai when Moses was ministering to the "mixed multitudes" who followed him out of Egypt. This is the music of the 150th Psalm. I believe that music was free - liberated - until it was restricted for commercial reasons. The all-night jams that characterised the worship services of the apostolic era or the dance parties of the early twentieth century would not fit on a seven inch vinyl disk. Meditation - like music - is a form of worship. Jazz in any form is about virtuosity and as you said "...structure and coherence". This music is about liberation. It has more in common with Gospel music than Jazz. It's goal is the opposite of Jazz.

Luther: YOU HIT the NAIL on the HEAD!!
I WISH I hadda said THAT!!
YOU SAID IT PERFECT in regards to ‘TOTAL IMPROVISATION’, which I choose to call it


What I noticed was that even though there is a certain rawness and an incredible energy to the music, there is a lot of space for vulnerability as well. Would you agree that this bipolarity and a sense of several emotional lines running at the same time, that is at the heart of those jams?
Tony: Yes.

Luther: JAMS? Now that’s a GOOD word!
THE BETTER THE MUSICIANS THE BETTER THE MUSIC
I HOPE THAT ‘YOU?’ KNOW that this IS the HIGHEST level of ACHIEVEMENT in the IMPROVISED MUSIC BUSINESS. It is complex and technical, emotional (as you said) and PERSONAL; of course it IS STILL ENTERTAINMENT and it’s presentation is to do JUST THAT.

Jair-Röhm: It is very human music and humans are capable of a broad range of emotions.


With its extensive length, these pieces truly have the capacity to take listeners to new levels. What I’d be interested in would be to get to know where it takes you as a performer – or are sessions like these experiences which defy description?
Jair-Röhm: What is documented on the "Meditations on Albert Ayler Live at the Glenn Miller Cafe" recording is a celebration. To make music is a very deep endevour. It is one of the highest forms of meditation and worship and like meditation and worship it is a sacrifice. Performing this music you will never experience it as the audience does. Being able to go back and listen to recordings of this music is as close as i'll ever get to the experience. It's a trade off - you either do the music or you enjoy the music. In order to perform this music, one has to be prepared to leave this world. It's impossible to be bound to this world and at the same time address the requirements of this task. These improvisations are over twenty minutes in length because they are outside of time. This music is performed even though "there's no money in it" because it is beyond the material world. This music demonstrates phenomenal virtuosity because it is free from ego.

Luther: Well that’s always the plan. And…………………………………….
Since I’m my BIGGEST FAN/CRITIC, I’m taking the SAME RIDE THAT THE LISTENERS are taking, ABSOLUTELY!!!!!!!!!!! I got a *FRONT ROW SEAT*

Tony: I felt happy and that Luther and Jair-Rohm were my brothers.


Two sessions of more than an hour at lightning speed – on a purely physical level, you must have been destroyed once it was over...
Luther: That nite I was F__Ked UP with a beginning COLD and I kind of felt tired and shitty but, now this is a real HEALTH TIP:
‘MUSIC is the HEALING FORCE of the UNIVERSE’
music never fails me, it works like an INSTANT antibiotic, a lot of the times, TRY MUSIC WHEN YOU GET SICK, live music works the best!

Tony: Actually it’s kind of transcendental and I felt exalted..

Jair-Röhm: Just like anything else good for you, the more you do this music the more energy you get.


Extending beyond the usual boundaries of music in a live setting is always an experiment – how did the audience react to your performance? Did you have the feeling that this was a journey you were taking together?
Tony: Yes, I felt they dug it.

Jair-Röhm: Listen to the audience. Listen to the interaction and the applause. I know that we were part of a profound experience for the people who were there.

Luther: Great Audience and FANTASTIC AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION
To me the audience is PART OF THE MUSIC/GROUP whenever (and sometimes unknowingly) I choose to use them!


The session was recorded in Sweden and it is also the home to “Ayler Records”. How would you rate the Swedish Jazz scene – which, until recently, I had not been that aware of?
Jair-Röhm: Well, Sweden is very important. Albert went to Sweden and that's where he made his first recordings under his own name. During the early 60s all of the important "Free Jazz" musicians went to Sweden. It was something of a Mecca for them. Stockholm should be universally recognised for it's contribution to the promotion of that music. It's the New Orleans of "Free Jazz" as we know it. That's why i live in Stockholm to this day. The spot here in the city where Albert first met Cecil Taylor has a vibe to it. The city is full of memories and memorials to the music. Not that there are monuments marking sites or anything like that. It's the city where i met Frippe (Bengt "Frippe" Nordström Albert's friend and the man who helped get his recording career off the ground) and the place where so much happened and the places where these events and sounds occurred are still here. There are still people here who knew Albert. They're normal people who love music. My optometrist is an Ayler fan. You know what i mean? This is a special place. As for the "Swedish Jazz scene" i don't know too much about that. I kind of stay away from that word when it's not used in direct relationship to Miles or Bird or Louis Armstrong or someone like that.

Luther: THEY ARE WITHOUT DOUBT SOME OF THE BEST JAZZ MUSICIANS IN EUROPE AND THE WORLD!!
THE SWEDES GOT SAXOPHONISTS (shit), BASSISTS, PIANO PLAYERS and everything else LIKE YOU WON’T BELIEVE!!!!!!!!! They are SCAREY, I DARE YOU TO CLOSE YOUR EYES WHILE LISTENING TO SOME OF THE SWEDISH IMPROVISERS and JAZZ MUSICIANS!
The ABSOLUTE BEST, THESE MOTHER FUCKERS CAN PLAY and I know PLENTY of them, believe me. THE LIST IS ‘BIG’ AND THEY CAN ALL PLAY/IMPROVISE.
WHERE IN THE HELL YOU BEEN DAWG? YOU DIDN’T KNOW THAT?
Give me your EMAIL ADDRESS and ME, LUTHER THOMAS will keep you informed!


You’ve already announced that the trio will continue – so, where are you heading?
Jair-Röhm: The plan is to get down to Germany this autumn and then over to the U.S. before the end of this year. There are opportunities for us to perform right now and we will take them.

Tony: Hopefully more work and recording. Thank you.

Luther: NEXT STOP JUPITER!!!!!!!!!!


By Tobias Fischer


Discography:
Meditations on Albert Ayler (2007) Ayler Records


Homepage:
Ayler Records
Jair-Röhm Parker Wells at MySpace
Luther Thomas

Luther Thomas at MySpace
Tony Bianco

Tony Biano at MySpace

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