You’ve seen the scene: befuddled manager as cashier tears off his greengrocer’s apron, rushes the exit, unpockets a coin, lifts receiver to overcast sky, press press press press press press press, collecting himself: “Mama? Mama? [tears of joy/reaction/acting] It’s goin’ uh be alright! My song, my song’s on the radio! I’m gonna be big! Oh, Mama! It’s O-K! I did it! I made it!” Skies part. And happily ever after roller coaster career to commence. Present day twist: wife hears cool new music on NPR, we queue album on Spotify, backdrop to dinner dishes, sundown tiny busyings, feeling connectey. Good stuff, a seamless and golden tapestry upon which to pin our hopes and dreams. When suddenly, the happening air becomes exceedingly familiar, disorientingly so, even. What the…?
It’s said you’ve already lost if you must resort to facts, figures, and expert testimony. In matters of copyright infringement, it’s the 9 out of 10 “regular folks” concept. I’m just one of 10, but day-um, this tune I’m hearing is similar the same as mine. My head tells me there’s no way someone would deliberately take music I wrote a decade ago and, changing the lyrics, present it as original work. My ears report otherwise.
I’m sad. I’m jacked. Angry. Happy someone is having success with my work. (And if it’s all an isolated synchronicity, I’m content; after a lifetime on the margins of popular consumption, work just-like-my-work touching the masses is validation.) I’ll give no more identifying details, but, you may wonder, How similar? Imagine Black Sabbath’s Iron Man riff <the. whole. riff.> played in the same key, same tempo, with same instrumentation, same chord voicings, same color, and that’s How similar!
I considered legal action. Too costly, too likely to cause heartache, lifelong animosity. Meditate, let go, rechannel. Take substantive action. Create. Make music, music no one can copy. But not just idiosyncratic bleats, something more universal, relatable. After nearly 30 years developing a radically personal musical vocabulary, I am comfortable working “inside” and “outside,” each project given the attention it needs irrespective of commercial concerns or (cultural/inborn) pressure to ossify my core identity into an easily digested chunkwidget. My last album, Crazy Hoarse’s Your Cheatin’ Heart Sutra, is melody and 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 driven. This collection is Something Other.
Breaking with jazz liner note tradition, if indeed we’re gathered for jazz, I haven’t outsourced this task to an authority, tastemaker, or gatekeeper. A) I can’t say I know any such people and B) Are there such people? So arises the 900 foot Jelly Roll Morton in the room, the question of C) Legitimacy. Who has the right and the lineage to perform as I do? I have played jazz standards in art galleries, clubs, at parties, for money or for a go at the fruit platter. Sometimes it came together well, and sometimes it went off the rails. And any of that was a long time ago. That Something Other beckoned, and beckons; sometimes abstract, sometimes with a steady pulse and hummability, but always Something Other than a spin on yesteryear's discoveries in favor of something not quite within reach. Letting go of fear and the need to impress invisible critics, recognizing for what it is the futility of angel shoulder/devil shoulder bargaining. D) I make no claims of authenticity, and this isn’t jazz as prœscribed set of expectations. Rather it’s jazz as discovery, jazz as all we have is now, jazz as defiantly striving, speaking truths as we understand them. It’s intensely private, and uncommonly welcoming.
Enter the reboot, Killick Hinds 2.0. What a surprise. Here’s how: the Vo-96, an unassuming breakthrough technology which allows us to hear lovely, ethereal, playful information within a vibrating guitar string that otherwise goes unnoticed, and has been unnoticed since, more or less, forever. Rapidfire computational processing controls the activity of magnets which excite or dampen the strings. The sound is harnessed and projected by the resonant soundbox of a guitar, just as you'd get with a conventional strummer. There's a piezo pickup to send the signal to an amplifier, but that's off to the side of the innovation. [And on this recording, we use a blend of direct microphone capture and the remarkable amp-formerly-known-as-the-DB7, built by sonic wizard Tim Schroeder of Chicago. Tom Lewis, engineer extraordinaire, is the silent fourth member.] The whole enterprise is testimony to having a unique (and particularly complex) idea and seeing it through; we're the beneficiaries, and my approach to music making has been fundamentally altered. I’m thoroughly pleased and honored to be one of the early adapters/adopters of Ashevillian inventor Paul Vo’s obsession made real, with Chapel Hill luthier Wes Lambe’s delightfully blue fretless OM acoustic guitar as consummate host.
Playing music with the Vo-96 [96 for 16 harmonic nodes on each string x the 6 strings of the guitar] requires a relaxation of my until-now hyperkinetic plucking and fingering techniques. The notion of how much or what I am playing is challenged; perhaps my contribution is akin to director or mediator, rather than pilot and technician. Energy can be added to the strings or taken away from the strings, so matters of attack and decay are no longer happenstantial. Celestial arpeggiations and pulsating overtones create nuanced, wild syncopatory swirls. As we have found, the other ensemble instrumentalists must also adjust to these new sonic realities, words I use with intention, as what you hear is neither digital nor analog, but synthesis of acoustic, physical phenomena.
Brad Bassler is my duo partner and the pianist for Pocketful of Claptonite. In both settings, we have enthusiastically explored the outer reaches of improvisational intensity with a healthy dash of melodious languidity, yet Thunder O(h)m! flips the formula. It's refreshing, at least to us(!), and came at a point where we were each separately reevaluating the mechanics and purpose of music making. Brad has been a piano devotee since a chance adolescent encounter with an impossibly evocative Bösendorfer. He is unlike most piano players of his ability, in that his professional life has centered on being a philosophy professor and writer. Piano is something he developed offstage. Remarkable, as anyone who has witnessed him in concert will attest: he's a born performer, uncannily original in harmonic and rhythmic approach, encyclopedically referential/reverential in the cleverest of ways, energetic and theatrically hammy for a rounded good show. And yet, I'd never seen him stumped until we began in earnest shaping the group that would be Thunder O(h)m! One rehearsal was as if his piano was slowly filling with mud, still sounding of course, but rather like a thick curtain draped the proceedings. It was the Vo-96. The upper partial intensities and multiple, simultaneous, rhythmic tentacles from my guitar threatened to overtake any pianistic contribution. The struggle gave way; Brad's arrived solution is quite elegant: provide more space, both in the temporal distance between key strikes, and through an expanded realization of the potential contained within each of the 88 keys, creating a tapestry functioning as both foreground and background to what I am playing...it's quantum piano as never heard before, to the best of my knowledge.
John Norris is my Crazy Hoarse drummer, and I had a strong hunch he would be a perfect fit for this new band, but he too was guided by necessity to a breakthrough for the music to be what it needed to be. I've been blessed and humbled to have played with some of the best drummers on Earth, Brann Dailor, Jamie DeRevere, Blake Helton, Tatsuya Nakatani, and Bob Stagner among them, and Mr. Johnny figures right alongside. Like Brad, it is uncommon to find someone of John's elevated musicianship outside the spotlight. John has undertaken a spiritual quest in the past decade, devoting himself to yoga and approaching the essence of what drumming and music can do for us on the deepest level. I had to adjust my playing in the formative Crazy Hoarse days; John was a mirror, reviving in me long-dormant intellectual capacities and pulling to the surface deeply held loves I was scared to disappoint but unwittingly neglecting in favor of minting an aesthetically austere façade. He has made me a more well-rounded musician.
What John does in Thunder O(h)m! is comprehensive, guiding, and supportive, a relaxed elasticity as much responsive as calling. I've grown fond of the detailed silences he places within his beats, his tendency to new heights in general, and the specific, spacious, considered pruning he does for Thunder O(h)m! Crazy Hoarse has been on hold as a matter of practical concern (my pedals are being neatly organized into a pedalboard), and I eagerly await how Thunder O(h)m!'s vibe will influence the electric Hoarse eclecticism...I predict advantageous refinement.
With this album, some of the threads within my artistic life come full circle. In 2002, I made an album featuring my SS PUFT Quartet and the Georgia Guitar Quartet. It was called Khonsay, and it holds up as ambitious and a good listen. The players were uniformly excellent, and I was definitely on the right path. This album, Catuskoti, is a companion piece in the sense of both albums being infused with a concept. Khonsay, about the fragility and resiliency of cultural identity, was hampered maybe by me exerting too much control. (Probably, though, adherence to the letter was necessary to make things happen, given my comparatively limited life experience at the time.) In 2008, I made an album called Exanguinette. Same studio as Khonsay, different and excellent players, more life experience, a lot less control, and a very strident result. An attention-demanding collection of tone poems, sonic descriptors of death and the joy of being alive. I love Exanguinette for many reasons, mainly that by way of simpatico group interplay, it's the closest I'd come, up to then, to baring my soul.
Catuskoti is an exploration of matters of veracity, and how and why we accept or deny things. The main change from making Khonsay and Exsanguinette is, since then, most illusions and delusions I harbored about music, the music business, my importance or unimportance as a musical figure (or, gasp, celebrity) have been stripped away. It's clear now: I make music, I play guitar. That's it. I can't control what else happens because of or in spite of this activity, and I don't desire a particular outcome. I'm grateful to anyone who listens, whether they "like" it or not, and I'm grateful for the opportunity and the inspiration to continue reaching a little further with every successive project. John and Brad understand this intuitively, and in this supportive environment, Catuskoti was freed from overthinking, from micromanaging, and from making concessions to appease intangible insecurities. Don't get me wrong, I felt anxiety leading up to recording session, and during it, and it lingers a bit writing this, a week later. Should I have exerted more control, asserted, inserted, reverted? I appreciate the distance from these sorts of thoughts meditation has offered me, and I'm certain, in the end analysis, Catuskoti is exactly what it wanted to be.
Athens GA, May 25th, 2014
ps I hope you catch the nod to German double bassist Peter Kowald at the beginning of True and True Only (the immediacy of musical experience was first revealed to me through him); I also hope we captured a little of the spirit of the wonderful piano trio album Amaryllis by Marilyn Crispell/Paul Motian/Gary Peacock. Alice Coltrane factors in heavily as well. Thanks for listening.
released July 31, 2014
Brad Bassler- piano
Killick Hinds- fretless Vo-96 acoustic synthesizer
John Norris- drums
recorded 5.18.14, then mixed & mastered by Tom Lewis at Studio 1093, Athens GA
band photography by Jason Thrasher
cover image by Watson Atkinson & Jamie DeRevere
design & logo by Killick Hinds
thank you for listening
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