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Bobby Previte

Counterclockwise, Bobby Previte and his working unit Bump's latest release on Palmetto Jazz, is said to be a "follow-up" to his 2001 Just Add Water. But in addition to a key personnel change, the new disc has a very different feel. Recorded more or less live at an unlikely studio on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, its energy is raw and less produced than Just Add Water.

Previte rocks out on his kit, sometimes shouting out key changes and other instructions, like a Civil War general leading his men into God only know what. The horn duo of Marty Ehrlich (tenor sax) and Curtis Fowlkes (trombone, replacing Ray Anderson) works up a frenzied sweat, pulling every possible effect from their instruments and combining sounds for some effects previously unheard of. Pianist Wayne Horvitz puts in a few (too few) awesome solos and sounds as if he's about to break the back of his keyboard much of the time. And bassist Steve Swallow accomplishes what must have been the most daunting task of all - being everywhere he needed to be.

Some writers have called the band "the Led Zeppelin of Jazz", but on this outing, it sounds more like five conservatory-trained punk rockers in your neighbor's garage. I mean that in the best possible way; imagine if the Sex Pistols had had a horn section led by James Brown.

The nine tracks alternate between hard-blowing Previte compositions. Bobby's Next Mood seems the clearest link between this disc and previous work like The 23 Constellations of Joan Miro (2001, Tzadik 7072). . .and more spontaneous-sounding etudes, based on repeating rhythmic figures, and simple horn lines that charge off into elephant arguments and cross-town traffic. If that sounds obnoxious, well sometimes it is, but it's also great fun. . .like driving like a maniac on the freeway or flipping a Monopoly board over in the middle of a game. That sense of thoughtful fun and adventure came through loud and clear in this conversation with Previte.

JazzReview: I've noticed the word "composer" used more and more in jazz. Kenny Garrett is a "saxophonist/composer"; you are referred to as a"drummer/composer." Do you think this indicates some shift in attitude, a new respect for that part of the music?

Bobby Previte: Maybe. They never used to do that. I don't even think Duke Ellington was called a "composer." Perhaps it's just people's presskits, although I've been called a composer for a long time.

JazzReview: When you're composing, do you get in the "zone?" Is it a similar thrill to improvising?

Bobby Previte: For me it's not as thrilling as improvising. I do try to get into a zone, but it's a little more of a labor. In composing, you're improvising too, but you have different parameters. When you're improvising, you do it and it's gone. . .you're making decisions about what might be a good thing to do the next second and not what might be the best thing to do next. When you're composing, you can mull over what might be the best thing. They've discovered that firefighters have a different way of problem-solving: They tend to go with the first best option rather than the best option; rather than going through A through F. They may only get to C and say "C is a pretty good option." They don't have time to go through all the options. It's a different type of thinking, more of an improv way of thinking. You don't have time to go through all the options, you're winging it and depending on your experience, what you select may be better. Master improvisers select better options, but never the best. They don't have time to consider it in the heat of the battle.

JazzReview: As a composer, I'd think you would spend a lot more time on how your records come together. Like, do you compose a whole record, or do you just wait until you have enough compositions that you like and then go in and record them?

Bobby Previte: Plenty of records are made like that. I don't treat my records that way. I view a record as a painting, a work of art. I'm trying to make a certain statement or trying to solve problems. There's a certain overarching vibe to every record I do, and sometimes two or three records. Sometimes there are secondary problems or a subtext, like in a novel. There are many things going on. It's like War and Peace. It is a very personal story and also a very grand story about war and Napoleon. There are things going on, on different levels. That's how I treat records - sometimes it's very personal and it doesn't matter if somebody gets it. I don't usually say, ‘I have bunch of nice tunes, let's make a record.’

JazzReview: There seems to be a concept behind Counterclockwise with the whole "soul" thing on five of the tracks. What's this album about? Is it one big composition?

Bobby Previte: The titles mean something to me. They are like phone exchanges: they only mean something to me. But they are all related. It very much happened in the performance. Usually I arrange all my tunes, but in this instance, they were arranged by the band a lot of the times. Sometimes you can hear me calling out arrangements. It was a different way of putting music together. They relate to the four pieces interspersed with them. They have nothing to do with them, but they do. The "soul" pieces borrow from those pieces and are related to each other ... cousin and nephew and brother relations. It is composed. I spent a lot of time putting it together, but it's a different idea of how to put something together from, say, The 23 Constellations of Joan Miro. I put a lot of time into it meticulously, but some things I left to the performance. It's very much of the moment, even more than the usual jazz tune. There are scenes and solos and specific spots with no arrangements. The challenge is to make those tunes make sense. They all have to make sense as an organic whole. That took a lot of planning. I planned it, but it was a different kind of planning, just as intense, but in a different way.

JazzReview: It must be a blast, making a record.

Bobby Previte: There's no feeling like it on the earth - no feeling like that, when you go into the control room and you hear it right off the tape, hear that it works. There's no feeling like that. That's why I'm hooked, why I do it, why I don't make the big bucks.

JazzReview: On the other hand, it must be encouraging that there are studios out there willing to take a chance on a record like that, even if it won't make big bucks.

Bobby Previte: We went out to Seattle, and they [Palmetto] hadn't heard a note. We made the whole record without them hearing a note. That's trust, and I know that and I don't take that lightly. There's the old adage that a musician is on the lowest of the food chain in terms of money. The lawyers, producers, etc. make more money, but my take on it is they don't get to do that. That's the pay off, that's the goodies right there. I wouldn't want to be on the other end. We get to do that, get to go on tour, get to stand on stage and do what we want and move a room at will. Do you know what kind of feel that is? To take a room and take it where you want to go?

JazzReview: You seem to have a great working relationship with Wayne Horwitz. Tell me how you two first met?

Bobby Previte: I met him when I first came to New York, late '70s, early '80s. It's a funny story. I left a really nice leather jacket in a rehearsal room. I came back three months later and asked about it and they said "Wayne Horwitz has it," and I said, "Who's Wayne Horwitz?" I think that out of all the people that came out of that scene, musically he's my closest brethren. He plays music all the time. He's really playing himself. He's not coasting or faking or interested in technique or how this looks; he's a musician's musician and he's a fabulous composer, and we got to be friends. I wouldn't call him my piano player. He's just a person I collaborate with a lot. I've been with his bands a lot; we have an electronic trio with Skerik.

JazzReview: Was The 23 Constellations of Joan Miro well received?

Bobby Previte: That record was one of the highest things I've ever been able to achieve. It was very much well received. I've been very lucky with the press. I've have lots of well-received records over the years. That one was the best received. It fell though some cracks, though. Still, I've got a lot of musicians calling me up and talking about that record. It was the most universally well-received record.

JazzReview: You've got so many things going on. Do you ever get tired?

Bobby Previte: I don't know. I'm blessed with what I think is just a weird energy. I'm very digital: when I wake up in the morning it's one - I'm up - and when I go to bed at night, it's zero. I'm blessed with a kind of strange energy that keeps me going and I'm just interested in a lot of things. It's my interest that keeps me going. I wonder when it's going to stop or if it will stop. I'm interested in electronics, so I want to do this and this and this. And I'm interested in Miro so I have this ensemble. I like to see all these things come to their end-point. I play a lot of electronic drums. That's my new passion.

JazzReview: You come across as a polymath, someone with many varied interests and fields of knowledge, and all that coming into play in your music. A lot of people I've known who've attended SUNY [State University of New York] schools seem to have that same thirst. Is that a SUNY thing?

Bobby Previte: I do keep up with a lot of things like painting, a lot of the other arts, philosophy and history. And I am very interested in a lot of things, so maybe I do come across that way. Music is just an extension, just the loud speaker through which I speak to you. It's the summation of all my experience and knowledge, and not just about music. I very much feel that I wouldn't be able to play the music I play if I just was interested in music, or even just interested in art. I think music is a lot wider than that. I'm just a naturally curious person and I think that comes across in the music I play. A lot of people ask me about painting and philosophy and we end up talking about those things a lot. I think, though, that most artists are curious people. The people I consider to be great artists, when you speak to them, they seem to know a lot about other things. That's what it's about. It doesn't matter what I know about music. That's just a technique. I don't want my music to relate to other music. I don't want my music to be about music; it should be about everything, it's my life.

As for SUNY, I always felt I would have liked to have gone to a bit of a higher-end school, but the funny thing about where I went to school [SUNY-Buffalo] is it was very much like that. The University of Buffalo was called the Berklee of the East. It was very radical. I knew people in the English department and the art department. I had a double major with economics.

JazzReview: That's an interesting combination. Has that been useful in your career?

Bobby Previte: No, not a bit. But I was interested in economics and math and fascinated by physics. The school had a lot of great professors and the English department was legendary. That's one of the reasons I left school: I was older by that point, and I just couldn't stand the narrowness of what I saw in just the music department - kids just practicing their instruments 24-hours a day. How can you express anything if you're ignorant about the entire rest of the world?

JazzReview: I sense a little humor mixed into your music?

Bobby Previte: Lew Soloff said I had humor in my music just the other day. I said, ‘Really?’ I never consciously do it, but I do like to tell jokes and laugh, and some people say I'm funny. In music I think I'm dead serious. I'm trying to get at the deepest thing you can get at, and all those things get out. I'd be horrified to think I put a joke in my music. . .the point being, I'm not consciously putting humor in there. It has to be there because I'm putting me in there, and all these things come into play.

JazzReview: Anyone you're just dying to collaborate with?

Bobby Previte: There used to be many people I'd have loved to play with and there are some of the giants of jazz, although I'm much more into moving away from that, more into electronica. I've been doing some duets with Charlie Hunter. I'd like to do more with that, and with Skerit and some of the New Orleans’ musicians. I'm thinking of going down there and playing with them. I'd like to play with a lot of DJs, Square Pusher or somebody like that. I'd like to play with Wayne Shorter, but I never will. . .well you never know, but things have a way. You can always be surprised. That list is long. Then there are some who I just love, but I wouldn't like to play with. As you get older, you separate things you'd like to listen to, things you'd like to be involved in, things you wouldn't like to be involved in, but you're glad they're there. I can gain something from them and love them and be happy they exist. When I was younger, that was not the way I thought. If I wasn't involved, I was like, ‘Why not?’ Now it's very different. I see the value in things I wouldn't want to be involved in.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bobby Previte
  • Subtitle: Counterclockwise
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