Photo by André Hébrard, courtesy of the artist.
Tony Tixier is a pianist, composer, and bandleader, whose prior albums and tours have included potent collaborations and vivid narratives with artists including Seamus Blake, Christian Scott, and Justin Brown. His new album, Life of Sensitive Creatures, is deeply personal, chronicling Tixier’s reflection of our role on the planet, spurred by the passing of his grandmother. The album has a complex emotional tenor, containing both optimism and pessimism.
With a trio rounded out by Karl McComas Reichl (double bass) and Tommy Crane (drums), Tixier leads a group that moves through the material with intention and confidence. “It’s a songbook of emotions, put to music,” says Tixier in the liner notes. “We’re making art—a moving painting—and I’m proud of that.” In anticipation of the album’s release at The Jazz Gallery, we spoke with Tixier about his thoughts on the growth of the album and the music he has yet to make.
The Jazz Gallery: Thanks for making the time to Skype on your busy tour schedule. Where are you now, and where are you going?
Tony Tixier: I’m in Amsterdam now, for a last-minute session at Bimhuis with Ben Van Gelder. I’m going to Berlin tomorrow, and then New York, to play the show at the Gallery. After that, Lyon, Paris, and back home to Los Angeles. Before that, I was in London, playing at Ronnie Scotts, then in Madrid. I was also with Seamus Blake, touring with his quartet, which was another good excuse to be in Europe.
TJG: What are you doing in Berlin tomorrow?
TT: We’re playing at A-Trane with my German trio. I had a friend at MSM who lives in Berlin, Tom Berkmann, a bass player, and I play with him and drummer Mathias Ruppnig. We’re doing songs from Life Of Sensitive Creatures there. It’s way different with this trio. They’re more in the learning stage of the music, getting to know it. With my New York trio, Tommy Crane and Karl McComas-Reichl, we’ve been playing for three years, so we know the music, we know where we want to go. But it’s also great playing with newer people, because they’re fresh. They have a different type of focus and intensity.
TJG: In the new album’s dedication and video trailer, you wrote; “Along the way we meet, question, and feel a wide range of emotions, all while continuing to breathe and cohabit together. Stay listening. Stay sensitive, never forget that all creatures on this earth share the same home. That’s what this music is about.” Did you write this?
TT: Yeah, it’s my broken English [laughs]. You know, when I wrote the music for the album, my grandmother had just passed. That’s when I started, and decided to take it into the studio. She was 86, and would talk a lot about the world, how we, human beings, are burning it, consuming it too fast. We’re a selfish species. Are we too focused on ourselves? Tommy, and Karl, they’re into talking about this. And through playing with them, I’ve learned how to open my heart to other creatures, you know? The music is really about this human conversation. The titles are sometimes kind of negative, but I like to take the negative and transform it into a beautiful dream space. It’s an ode to life, to all sentient creatures.
TJG: Yes, many of your titles are cynical. “Denial of Love,” “Illusion” and “Calling Into Question,” even “Causeless Cowards” and “Blind Jealousy of a Paranoid.” How do you take that cynicism and spin it into something beautiful? How is that cynicism presented?
TT: The album is like a book. I’m actually going to do a book for children with songs from the album. The introduction is “I Remember A Time of Plenty,” to put people into the shoes of kids. Let’s be more open-minded, try to listen: It’s a reminder that we should all love each other, or at least in general, have more love. Sometimes people look at you with judgement. We don’t give each other our hands, and I think we should. “I Remember A Time of Plenty” asks, “Why is it this way? Let’s open our hearts again. Don’t deny us this.”