Photo courtesy of Pi Recordings.
Drummer & percussionist Ches Smith is a ubiquitous presence in New York’s improvised music scenes, performing with a wide range of ensembles, including his trio with Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, and with musicians like Matana Roberts, Wadada Leo Smith, Fred Frith, and Trevor Dunn, not to mention his own projects, Congs for Brums and These Arches. On top of it all, Smith still felt the need for a new band that would experiment and perform regularly around New York.
Enter Smith’s new quartet: Featuring guitarists Mary Halvorson and Liberty Ellman, plus bassist Nick Dunston, this sixteen-stringed ensemble is rounded out by Smith on drums, electronics, vibraphone, glockenspiel, and a range of other percussion instruments. This Thursday, the group will perform at The Jazz Gallery, featuring a book of entirely new music, written for the band. We caught up with Smith via phone, and dove right in to his composition process, his thoughts on the new group, and his take on new music in New York today.
The Jazz Gallery: What are you up to today?
Ches Smith: I went to the gym, I practiced, and now I’m talking to you before heading off to a rehearsal.
TJG: So you’re an early morning guy?
CS: I have a kid, so that helps–or doesn’t, depending on how you look at it [laughs]. My wife took him to the bus stop this morning, so I had a little extra time.
TJG: Can you tell me about your morning routine? I don’t know how many other musicians in New York are getting to the gym and practicing before 9 A.M.
CS: There are probably a few of them, the ones who have kids [laughs]. Normally I wake up around 6:30am, get stuff ready for my son, and walk with him to the bus stop by 7:15. I might need to do email for a while, depending on what I have going on. It’s important that I stay on top of emails, particularly when I have tours of my own, especially in Europe, because they’re farther ahead in time. After that, I’ll often have a rehearsal, but usually I can work on music for a few hours before that. That can mean writing, or practicing one of several instruments.
TJG: When you have limited time, how are you able to get into a flow where you can practice exactly what you’ll need for that day?
CS: It’s not too hard anymore, I can pretty much get right into it. I’m playing with Anna Webber at the Gallery on Monday night, so right now I’m practicing her music. I’ve been immersed in finishing the music for my Gallery gig on Thursday, and I’ve had it in mind that I should really check out Anna’s music before our rehearsal. I didn’t remember any vibraphone stuff, but when I printed it out and looked at it, I said “Oh yes… there’s some vibraphone stuff in here” [laughs]. There’s one passage that’s really difficult, with a few lines happening at once, so I started on it last night after my son went to sleep. It’s under sixteen bars, so it’s a good finite goal for something I can get together before a rehearsal. I also have all these glockenspiel parts for the show with my quartet at the Gallery, so I’ve been practicing those as well.