This Tuesday, November 28th, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome drummer Kate Gentile and her quartet to our stage. Gentile has had a breakout 2017, appearing on Matt Mitchell’s acclaimed large ensemble record A Pouting Grimace (Pi Recordings) and releasing her own debut Mannequins (Skirl), which also received very positive notice from WBGO, PopMatters, and DownBeat.
At the Gallery on Tuesday, Gentile will convene her working quartet to present two sets of brand new music. We caught up with her to talk about her ever-shifting compositional process, the quartet’s rapport, and her philosophy of rhythm; excerpts of our conversation are below.
The Jazz Gallery: What was your musical education like?
Kate Gentile: Well, I had the jazz school experience. Eastman was pretty bebop-oriented—there’s always some kids there that are into some weird shit, but they’re usually in the minority, at least when I went. I think it’s good to have that experience because I don’t think most kids check out bebop on their own, so it’s good to go to school and have someone show you stuff you wouldn’t otherwise learn.
TJG: How do you feel about bebop?
KG: I love all that music. I feel like that music in its time is, in some ways, a lot like the music I’m interested in now. Bebop was a harmonically and rhythmically complex music—finding rhythms and harmonies, voice leading, phrases that felt good relative to the way people were playing before that. What I’m doing—what a lot of the musicians in the zone I’m thinking of are doing, it sounds so different from traditional jazz, but in many ways it’s not. The same idea is there—you’re playing music and you’re improvising through it, but in these cases instead of chord changes there are raw chunks of material. It’s almost more exacting than chord changes.
TJG: I almost feel like your music lends itself to more emotionality than bebop.
KG: A lot of the classic bebop recordings make me think of playing with different attitudes, whether it’s being clever and slick, and witty—that’s how Philly Joe Jones strikes me, for instance. With lots of players that come to mind, the whole range of emotions, including joy, is in there. It’s just more subtle than total rage or metal.
TJG: I definitely do hear some metal in your playing.
KG: Yeah, both Matt [Mitchell] and I spend hours listening to metal.
TJG: Which bands?
KG: I don’t know a lot of the metal bands that everyone knows. I just know some bands that I’ve found out about. Defeated Sanity, Malignancy, Incantation, Immolation, Deeds of Flesh are some…and Wormed and Cenotaph, which both have this insane vocal multphonics thing happening that I love.
TJG: What sort of compositional approach do you take and how do you title your tunes?
KG: A lot of the titles are aesthetically driven. Part of what’s enjoyable about writing for me is the whole range of possible approaches when composing. I don’t write with the same approach every time. Sometimes it starts with an idea about a form, or sometimes it might start with a rhythmic idea, or sometimes I might write a bunch of chords or a four-part harmony chorale. Sometimes it’s at a keyboard, sometimes it’s at a guitar, sometimes it’s away from any instruments. Sometimes it’s direct brain into Finale. For the opening track on the record I had a metronome on and I sang a rhythm against the metronome and then transcribed it, which made it totally different. Sometimes you know right away that something will really sound good. Sometimes you don’t, and it’s just a theoretical idea, and then you see if you can hear it.
TJG: Do you try to write what you hear?
KG: I don’t think you have to write what you hear—I find that limiting. I think melodicism and having a good rhythmic feel is important, and good voice leading is important—that’s kind of how you make all of these weird harmonies sound good and perceptible, but I think if you write only what you hear, you don’t get to all this other awesome shit. You can hear it later—you can teach yourself to hear more by writing this kind of stuff.
“Unreasonable Optimism” is an example of me sort of freestyling what I’m hearing and not worrying about it. I find that to be one of the safer ways of composing, actually—when you hear it you know what it’s going to sound like. There’s note doubling within piano chords in some of that tune, and I went back and thought, “There’s doubling. Should I change that?” And then I think “No, that’s what I want to hear.” I love how those harmonies work. It doesn’t have to follow these rules that you can get sucked into.
TJG: What sort of harmonic theories do you use in your writing?
KG: It’s different for every tune. In “Alchemy Melt with Tilt,” I had pitch collections first, but not totally invertible pitch collections. I was thinking of one or two notes in the bass—in the bottom of the pitch collection.