A master of trombone multiphonics in the tradition of Albert Mangelsdorf, and a successful arranger for TV, Joe Fiedler can cover huge aesthetic ground during the course of single performance. Fiedler’s home-base trio with bassist Rob Jost and drummer Michael Sarin can slide in and out of abstraction on a dime, while his low-brass quartet Big Sackbut showcases a diverse cast of top-notch players.
This month marks the release of Fiedler’s newest record as a leader, Like Strange (Multiphonics Music), which augments his working trio with saxophonist Jeff Lederer and guitarist Pete McCann. On Saturday, March 25th, Fiedler and his quintet will celebrate the release of the record at The Jazz Gallery with two sets of this new music. We caught up with Fiedler by phone to discuss his music’s new directions and how he thinks about combining highly-contrasting musical influences.
The Jazz Gallery: This record marks a bit of departure from your work with your trio or Big Sackbut. What made you want to write for a quintet like this one?
Joe Fiedler: It’s a pretty simple answer, really. I’ve had the trio for thirteen years, I believe, and we’ve done four records. I love playing with those guys. But compositionally, I felt like I needed to step away from things like using multiphonics and other extended techniques to fill the space and make things interesting. I was hearing richer harmonies and textures, so I decided to keep the same trio, but then bring on a couple of extra players—people I’ve played with in different sideman situations for twenty-some years. I wasn’t really looking for a specific instrumentation, but more for specific creative voices, so Jeff Lederer and Pete McCann were no-brainers. They’re guys I have a rapport with, and so I know the hookup will be right there. They can also range from freer playing to more inside playing.
TJG: What in particular about Jeff and Pete make them the right fit for this group? Why have you stayed close musical compatriots for so long?
JF: There’s definitely an intangible factor to it. With Jeff, one of the things we share is that as young guys, we shared a lot of influences—and those influences stay with you your whole career. I was always into a lot of saxophone players, and we both loved David Murray, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp. But if you talk to Jeff, he’ll say that his favorite instrument is the trombone, so we’ve dug a lot of the same trombone players as well. There’s just a lot of commonality there and as a result, both of our musics are grown out of the same pot, in their own ways. With that, I don’t have to explain what I’m trying to get at in a certain tune—he gets it.
Pete is just a freak of nature. He covers more terrain than just about anyone I know. He’ll play with singer-songwriters, and then he’ll play this super avant-garde gig, and then he’ll play with Darcy James Argue’s big band where the guitar book is really complex. He’s just a chameleon. Whereas Pete’s listening influences and definitely different than mine, he’s just a supportive player that no matter what I want to do, he’s able to follow. If I’m blowing a certain way, he gets it immediately and just comps so well. He’s one of the best guitar players on planet earth as far as I’m concerned.
TJG: In a lot of the tunes on the record, I was really struck by the rich harmonic palette and the clear song forms, compared to what you’ve done with the trio. Why do you think you were drawn to these kinds of materials at this point?
JF: This goes a bit back to some of my heroes as I was coming up, like David Murray and Ray Anderson. What always struck me about those guys was that they were able to play tunes—both had great standards records—and also have this incredible avant-garde creative voice that they could fit within that. While I was a young guy, I couldn’t do that. I would play my crazy free stuff all over the tunes and it sounded awful. As I was developing my own creative voice as a composer at the start, I had other thoughts in my head. I wanted to play with much more angularity, and a lot of the compositions were driven that way. But I’ve always wanted to get to a point—and I don’t know if I necessarily want to stay in this place—where I was writing more traditional songs, things that had a lot of flexibility. I love that in Mingus’s music you can have this blues-based tune and then have this really free solo in there and then have a really tonal solo in there. I also loved the accessibility that Murray or Anderson or Archie Shepp had. Avant-garde fans loved them, and mainstream jazz fans would dig them too. Not that I’m naive enough to think I’m going to be some jazz star, but I like the fact that I can play this record for my mom and she would dig it, versus for the other records she would be like, “Oh that’s nice, dear.” But again, it’s without compromising my vision, and especially my improvising. That doesn’t change from record to record, it’s just how it gets set up by the tunes.