This interview with Chris Gestrin, Ben Monder and Dylan van der Schyff was conducted by email in December 2005.
Tony Reif: This concert was a one-off meeting without a lot of preparation. Ben, you’d never performed with Chris or Dylan, and there was only a short rehearsal to run through a few tunes that they brought. Live recordings are a hit-and-miss affair; why do you all think this concert went so well?
Ben Monder: It seems as if our own backgrounds aren’t so dissimilar, and we were able to arrive at a common esthetic with little difficulty. I think we are all versed in this open kind of playing, which involves a lot of listening. In fact, it’s a delicate balance between reaction and independence. I felt we all understood that intuitively.
Chris Gestrin: I think it’s because we all speak a similar musical language and have been involved in similar situations throughout the years. Sometimes chemistry between players doesn’t work out well, but in this case things seemed to fall into place fairly easily.
Dylan van der Schyff: I think the combination of open minds, the multiple common points of aesthetic and conceptual reference, high level musicianship and a nice balance in the room led to the success of the concert.
TR: Did any of you discover anything new relating to your own music and music-making in the process? Are there particular tunes that you feel reveal something particularly interesting or unexpected in terms of the interaction?
BM: All the tunes went somewhere unexpected, especially considering I didn’t really know how either one of the others played. Listening back, I enjoy hearing how certain ideas I would introduce were interpreted, harmonically and rhythmically, by Chris and Dylan. They certainly have big ears. I need to work on mine, as always.
CG: Because I had never played with Ben before, I found that his ideas brought out certain musical ‘reactions’ that I would not have played otherwiseÉ.as is the case most often when playing in a new situation.
DvdS: Each time I collaborate with good musicians I learn something. Usually the more effortless the music is, the less profound the learning experience is. However I don’t want to imply that just because the music flows so easily it isn’t deep. I’ve done work in the past from which I have learned an enormous amount but the music itself was shit. This gig played itself, as far as I was concerned. I also brought a couple of sketches to play which is very rare. Those two turned them in to compositions!
TR: Each of you are versatile players who can cover a lot of stylistic ground that’s more or less common to all of you: straight-ahead jazz, rock-influenced jazz, classical-influenced “chamber” jazz, avant-jazz, free improv, “ambient” jazz… All of these areas show up here or there on this record, but for the most part not in any “discrete” way. Of course, these categories are only convenient shorthand for musical directions that don’t really exist in a pure form anymore, if they ever did. Still, even on the more straight-ahead composed tunes, the improvisations tend to take things toward freer playing at some point or other. Is this at least partly the result of the fact that the concert took place during the jazz festival, everyone was busy, and there wasn’t time to rehearse a lot of tunes? Is this the zone the band happened to stake out for itself in a situation where little had been defined and therefore just about anything could happen? Is this your preferred zone anyway? If we had taken the trio into the studio with time for more pieces and multiple takes, do you think things would have turned out much differently, and if so how?
CG: Certainly because we had limited time to prepare, the ‘free’ element did dominate the concert. Not that this is a negative thing, as I enjoy playing completely improvised concerts with musicians IÕve worked with for years. I find that improvisation always spawns great ideas that would have never been thought of in a ‘composed’ situation. If we had more time to prepare something, perhaps for a studio session, I would potentially write some material for this group specifically — although I would probably keep it fairly open to allow the improvised element to remain strong. I never like to take away from a playerÕs personality by writing too much.
DvdS: This is my preferred zone, yes. It’s difficult to say how things would have been if the approach had been more contrived. Things worked out naturally and although it may have been different I don’t see how it could have been much better.
BM: I don’t think better results would have necessarily been gotten from a lot of rehearsal and/or multiple takes. The strength of this particular group lies in the openness that this material allows for. Music which might have required rehearsal time would have yielded a different kind of record. Also, the live situation forced everyone to really focus.
BS: I would go to used record stores, and borrow things out of the library and from there transcribe and try to play some of the pieces. Later, when I moved to NY, I met a lot of musicians including Matt Darriau. Matt got me started playing with Paradox Trio and gave me tapes, and my interest continued to grow. Through Matt I met Seido Salifoski who got me on Yuri Yunakov’s band. Around the same time Chris Speed started Pachora, which was another avenue for us to explore. The curiosity sparked an interest which continues to grow to this day. Next year I’ll be touring with Turkish dumbek master Burhan Ocal
TR: If the band gets together again (and there’s talk of a concert in New York later this year), what ideas do you have to take the collaboration to the next stage?
CG: I would like to keep the open/improvised nature of the group with the addition of some new material written specifically for this trio.
BM: I would try to write something specifically for this trio, or try to find suitable material from other sources.
DvdS: I would love to play with these guys again some time. As far as ideas go, I would expect not to need any to move the music. Really, just holding up my end would be enough with these guys. With certain people the music takes care of itself.