On April 14th, guitarist Brandon Ross will bring his group Phantom Station to The Jazz Gallery. This group features a revolving cast of personnel and focuses on both collective improvisation and compositional interpretation. The group also focuses on the interfaces between acoustic sonic elements and sound generation devices. This particular incarnation of the group will feature Stomu Takeishi on acoustic and electric bass, Graham Haynes on cornet and electronics, and Hardedge on sound design, as well as Brandon on acoustic and electric guitars.
Brandon has lent his distinct voice on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, the banjo, and the soprano guitar to many of the leading lights in creative music including Cassandra Wilson, Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, Oliver Lake, Muhal Richard Abrams, Me’Shell N’degeocello, Archie Shepp, and many others. His unique compositional voice has served as the creative engine for recent albums with his project Harriet Tubman (with Melvin Gibbs and J.T. Lewis), For Living Lovers (with Stomu Takeishi), and Dark Matter Halo (with Doug Weiselman and Hardedge), along with his own solo project. His explorations of sonic territory are at once ethereal and searing, still yet enveloping, soulful and enigmatic.
The Jazz Gallery: Last year, you were at The Jazz Gallery with a totally different group for Phantom Station. What does this particular version of Phantom Station afford, compared to other versions of the group. The group is drummer-less this time around: what does that do for the interactive process?
Brandon Ross: For Phantom Station, I’ve been thinking about different ways of addressing creating music, in terms of different notational structures that could be employed, and also ways of providing direction in an open context without having a rehearsal. The selection of who plays, for me, is based on who I know that is willing to and has the capacity to self-orchestrate, and to think about creation in a compositional sense… and then there’s also the aspect of sound processing and electronics.
TJG: I want to talk about the role of timbre in an improvised setting, a consideration that’s particularly present in your work on the electric guitar. I saw Harriet Tubman play Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz at Winter Jazzfest, and I was particularly impressed with the soundscapes you were generating, and the way that you occupied a specific sonic register that fit within the context of a large band. How do you select particular sounds that you’ll be conjuring up? Is it something that you’ll hear in your head that you then try to actualize? Is it in response to another musical gesture? An attempt to access a dream-like state?
BR: It’s all of those things, to be honest. The first three things you said hit on the primary approaches that are, at this point, natural for me…One of the things I was asking myself recently, I really love reverb, but what do I love about reverb? What I realized is that it creates dimension, spatial dynamics, and a sort of majestic energy. But there has to be a balance. That’s the thing about signal processing of any kind, even if it’s just basic distortion or a wah wah. What is that sound going to do in the environment that it’s in? Does it bring things into relief or does it obscure some essential activities or expressions that are taking place?
And it’s funny, you know, I haven’t heard that concert yet with Harriet Tubman…that was an interesting concert [laughing], to tell you the truth. Because I could hear the difference in the kinds of understandings that people have about [Ornette’s] music. There is a generational switch and update. Certain kinds of information atrophy because it’s been completed, served it’s purpose, or been overlooked. On the one hand, that could seem like a deficit, but at the same time, I think these changes are necessary in order to keep music progressing. Music is like that.
And hopefully, like anything else, we have enough insight into the essence of what we’re involved in and not an overbearing preponderance about the form of a thing so that we can come to it in our own way. We’re still moving through the same sphere that people that we venerate and admire have moved through, but we’re in another dimensional aspect of it. So the music carries that meta-information and that enlivening and inspiration that brought us to those individuals in the first place. But, we’re not them. We’re not parodying them, we’re not genuflecting to them, we’re not adopting anything that might handcuff us to something other than our own potential as creators.