Canadian-born Chet Doxas, praised by The New York Times for his “soulful and rhythmically assertive style on tenor saxophone and a warm, woodsy tone on clarinet,” makes his debut as a leader at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, September 29th, 2016, with a band of close friends and peers: guitarist Matthew Stevens, bassist Zack Lober, and drummer Eric Doob. Stevens and Doob are both rehearsal space co-habitants with Doxas, while Lober and Doxas grew up together in Montreal’s richly diverse music scene. The project he’ll be presenting on Thursday, “Rich in Symbols: Pieces for Art – NYC 1975- 85,” has already been recorded and is set for release on Ropeadope Records in September, 2017. We spoke with Doxas about this new project and its inspiration: ’80s “No Wave” bands and artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy, Keith Haring and Futura.
Read below for excerpts from the conversation as well as a trailer for this debut performance:
Chet Doxas: This is something that I’m head over heels for, this movement of the Lower East Side often referred to as the “No Wave” movement. It’s one of those times in music and art where there was a beautiful synergy where, outside of hip-hop, I can’t say that I’ve seen a simultaneous occurrence. I mean, grunge, maybe, but I don’t think the art world came up around it and with it.
The deconstructed nature of this music reminds me of the things I love about my favorite instrumental music, like Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet. There are moments where it sounds very exposed and raw; sometimes, Keith’s band sounds like cavemen! You know? Like they’re cave painting.
With Basquiat’s paintings and Keith Hering’s paintings, and some photography by Nan Goldin, there’s this primal rawness. This music doesn’t sound pretty, but it works, right?
The Jazz Gallery: How did you get into No Wave?
CD: I got into No Wave through playing in this band that I played with in Canada called the Sam Roberts Band. Those guys really turned me on about six years ago to The Clash. I had never really spent time with The Clash, and that record London Calling, every tune a gem. It’s an incredible record, and it made me wonder, “All right, why is this working?”
The language of rock and roll is a powerful thing, just as much as in my opinion when we listen to Joe Henderson with the Wynton Kelly Trio—this just works! This just works, and why does it work? I think part of it has to do with the sound of the band and the language that they share.
I’m kind of jumping around a bit, but it all makes sense. This is a guy from London, Lee Perry, who was really influential and is still very active. He’s one of the great dub musicians, and with dub, they’d have a board of eight tracks, things playing through the eight tracks, and they would have two effects: they’d usually have delay—you hear the “psh psh psh”—and you can hear the tape loops and the clicks. You can hear the influence of it with some of The Clash’s songs, almost like reggae, which is cool, this British white boy dub coming out of Lee Perry and another guy, Mad Professor.
Across the pond in the early ’80s was another post punk scene called No Wave. There was a lot less dub going on—the Clash grew up in Jamaican neighborhoods, so that was a very real place that they were coming out of—but in New York, there’s still something similar, a deconstructed sound in how guitars sound. It’s not slicked out; it’s not rock and roll, but you can hear the rock and roll in it.
With dub, you can tell this music is so grassroots. They worked with what they had, and it’s folk music. There’s something that connects Louis Armstrong to Charlie Parker to John Coltrane to Joe Henderson in this music. They’re folk musicians, I think. People work with what they have. You feel like you’re let in because the person doesn’t know how to do anything else—like, this is how they made music, and that’s something that, dare I say, is missing in a lot of stuff these days.
It excites me when I hear somebody who really sounds like themselves.
TJG: It’s like an incredibly high level, sophisticated way of dealing with basic elements.
CD: They had forced limitations; they didn’t have anything else. It’s cool what people can do. You just can’t hold them back. This is one mixer and a delay pedal—or, actually, they used the tape echo, which was their early delay.
TJG: How long has this project been on your mind?
CD: It’s been a long thing. There have been various levels of it, like, visuals have always been really inspiring. I can hear stuff when I look at things and it makes me want to write music, and then the reverse—when I hear things I see things—like that kind of stuff. This will really put it into practice, and a lot of these tunes are based on pieces of art.
What it comes down to is being honest. And I finally feel like I’m getting closer to the music that’s exactly what I want to make. It can kind of take a while to shake off—I don’t know if it’s school or part of growing up, just that idea of what you should be doing, rather than what you really want to.
You may as well do it your own way because otherwise it’s going to be disappointing, but it’s hard. This is the first time in the past few years where, instead of “I gotta get this together, I gotta get this together, etc.,” it’s like, “What do I really want to do?”
I keep developing that. I, for one, have been guilty of sometimes playing from the wrong space. You hear your favorite players and you’re like, “Wait a second—music isn’t that hard; getting to know yourself is the hard part.”
TJG: How has moving permanently to New York contributed to this development?
CD: It has a way of making you … well, because it’s lonely. It’s a lonely place. I’ve only been here for two years, but there are contributing factors to making you want to get your own shit together. Whenever you hear somebody you really look up to and they have their own thing, they’re leading by example.
I don’t know how you feel these days, but there are a lot of musicians out there and sometimes it’s nice to hear people who are making music from a place where you feel like they’re okay with falling on their face. I fucking love that, and many people are afraid to make music like that now! I mean, tell me something you’ve heard where you’re like, “This sounds wild.”
I find that a guy like Dewey [Redman] almost scares me, because to move someone that much, you have to do that—not just what he does, but to bring that to the stage.
And with the whole writing thing, sometimes it’s nice to hear the work.
TJG: The labor?
CD: Yeah, music that’s really well-thought out and has a system behind it—people who have their own vernacular. When I hear Steve Coleman play, it’s so natural. It’s so impressive when someone synthesizes a lot of material, like you’ll hear all the way down the pyramid, you know?
I saw him do this thing once at The Jazz Gallery: he was talking about “The Song Is You,” and he was talking about Bird. He talked about that famous solo of Bird’s, and he started playing. He played 10 choruses, and he sounded so much like Bird at first that it freaked me out. Then, he started to play some of his own language, and by the end of the 10 choruses … it started Bird and it ended up Steve Coleman. It was jaw-dropping, and it made me think of that other thing, “What do you want to work on?” It can be anything. What do you want to put into the music? Deciding and going with it.
I took a lesson with Mark [Turner] 11 years ago, and it was the same thing, like, if you like two notes, become an expert. If you love two notes, become a master of those two notes. People are smart: if we’re doing this, we’ve got ideas, and those two notes are going to become flipped around, and all of a sudden you’re going to wonder, “How am I going to get to those two notes?” By semitones, by tones, functionally?
Do I want to approach by half steps, do I want to approach them by dominant chords? All of a sudden, I have functional harmony. What if I want to approach them with symmetrical harmony? All of sudden, these two notes become six notes, and if you talk to someone like Steve Coleman or Craig Taborn, six notes now have a negative or a positive counterpart and now we have twelve notes, and then you’re off! it’s incredible, but it all came from two notes.
Chet Doxas presents RICH IN SYMBOLS at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, September 29th, 2016. Doxas will be joined by Matthew Stevens on guitar, Zack Lober on bass, and Eric Doob on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $15 general admission (FREE for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.