When we last spoke to drummer, tablaist, and composer Dan Weiss, he was celebrating the release of Fourteen, his first large ensemble release, for Pi Recordings, back in the spring of 2014. Weiss returns this weekend to celebrate the release of a sequel of sorts, which arguably matches or even surpasses the ambitious scope of the first.
Sixteen: Drummers Suite, which drops on February 26, 2016 on Pi Records, pays tribute to six legendary jazz drummers: Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Tony Williams, Philly Joe Jones, Kenny Clark, and Ed Blackwell. But, in paying tribute to these masters, Weiss honors their forward-thinking legacies by imaginatively expanding upon favorite selections from their personal languages, constructing compositions that feature stark solo and duos juxtaposed with meticulously plotted ensemble passages.
We caught up with Weiss by phone, who brought us up to speed on the source material for the recordings and illuminated some of his compositional approaches to crafting this remarkable collection of music:
Track One: “The Drummers Meet”
The first track is intertwining of all six drummers, pieced in the form of a north Indian rhythmic composition called chakradhar. I took pieces of each of their phrases, and wrote chakradhar around those phrases (chakradhar is a kind of tabla composition).
What I did for the other tracks was I chose drums, either eight or sixteen measures, which are the basis of the melodic material, the rhythmic material, and the harmonic material, too.
Track Two: “Elvin”
[This project] started with an Elvin comping thing that I liked behind Trane. I put pitches to that, and from there, I was experimenting with modes—not your Phrygian, Locrian, or Dorian, but kind of hybrid scales, because Trane was obviously into all that. What I wanted to do for that piece was juxtapose the Elvin line with the different homemade modes. Basically the piano line in that is the modal thing I’m talking about, and those specific big phrases, but they cycle; there’s a thing that works for how they cycle.
All the other stuff—all the horns and the voice—are basically derived from the piano line and are different orchestrations coming out of that, so those things are the main focus. And that’s how I started with the pieces: I was listening to Elvin, and then I decided, “You know what? I’m going to make a suite, and I’m going to take some drum language of these guys that I like and that I think can work.”
Track Three: “Max”
The third track, “Max,” is from Deeds, Not Words, a song called “Jodie’s Cha-Cha.” … I wanted to explore their personalities. I knew Max Roach was into a lot of different things; he was into hip-hop, or at least he respected it, so that Max phrase, [sings phrase], he plays it under I think it’s George Coleman—it’s basically a minute in—so I took that phrase and made that the tune and made it into a pretty grooved out piece. I also knew that he was very influenced by the tabla drums—not necessarily the language, but I read an interview where he says he saw a tabla player do a solo recital. The rhythmic relationship on the drums in the second part of the piece is one-third faster. It’s the same phrase, which happens a lot on the tabla, and you can hear that it’s the pattern [sings the pattern again, then faster].
Track Four: “Tony”
Track Five: “Philly Joe”
“Philly Joe” is very abstracted, but, in my mind, what gave me the right to do that was that I heard this record he did with Archie Shepp in the late ’60s. He was basically playing free, which I’d never heard him in that context, so that gave me the freedom to take “Philly Joe” out toward this context.
Track Six: “Klook”
“Klook” is from Dexter Gordon’s Our Man in Paris, the introduction to “Broadway.” It’s way ahead of its time. There’s some very slick stuff that Kenny Clarke plays on the hi-hat and snare that’s kind of unusual, these kind of “hiccups,” this hiccup phrasing. Because of that and the phrase, it led me to make a mixed meter kind of thing, and I wanted to have this kind of hiccup thing throughout the whole piece.
Track Seven: “Ed”
“Ed” starts with a saxophone free improvisation, but then it goes into the theme a cappella. [sings theme] That is actually Ed’s solo on “Cherryco,” but slowed way down, probably by half.
So that’s how the pieces were constructed: there are things that weave in and out, material that goes in and out of the pieces … They intertwine throughout tracks on the CD; there’s some overlap, which has to do with the influence of the different drummers on each other.
Dan Weiss celebrates the release of SIXTEEN: DRUMMERS SUITE (Pi Records) at The Jazz Gallery on Friday and Saturday, February 12th and 13th, 2016. The performance will feature Weiss on drums and compositions, Chris Tordini on bass, Jacobs Sacks on piano, Matt Mitchell on keyboards and glockenspiel, Miles Okazaki on guitar, Katie Andrews on harp, Stephen Celluci on percussion, Anna Webber on flute and alto flute, David Binney and Tim Berne on alto saxophones, Ohad Talmor on tenor saxophone, Jacob Garchik on trombone and tuba, Ben Gerstein on trombone, and Jen Shyu, Judith Berkson, and Lana Is on vocals. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $22 general admission ($12 for Members). Purchase tickets here.