Peter Evans is a trumpeter, bandleader, and composer navigating the nebulous worlds of jazz and other contemporary experimental musics with aplomb. In his latest venture, a new trio of trumpet, drums and vibraphone play a limitless series of new pieces. This trio will perform at The Jazz Gallery on June 1st; Peter will also perform a solo set that evening. We caught up with him via email to talk about politics, composition, and everything in between.
The Jazz Gallery: You’re opening this concert with a solo set, with trio following. How do you feel those formats interact with each other? Do they change your approach to playing?
Peter Evans: The ensemble and solo playing has been converging a lot more in the last year or so. It’s something I never really expected, but maybe it was inevitable. In my solo music I have been searching for ways to create coherent and interesting structures that can shape the music—structures that are clearly audible as structures but at the same time are flexible and malleable in the moment if need be. There are a bunch of different ways to achieve this, and some paths I have taken from my work as a composer for improvising ensembles: for instance, a 12 tone mode that repeats at the 2-octave point. This is a field of harmony and melody that fixes each pitch in space, allowing me to work with set materials in a very detailed and sometimes very fast way without having to juggle what note goes where. Strict modal improvisation, in short—nothing new about that! But it’s a development for me in the solo music that comes out of my writing for one of my bands (the piece “Intergalactic“).
Conversely, there are ways of developing and organizing material that grew directly out of my solo playing—for instance, juggling 2 or 3 small chunks of music (I think of them as characters or spirits) and bouncing them off one another, developing each character in isolation and in dialogue with the others.
TJG: Do you prefer to play solo, or within a group?
PE: I don’t really think in terms of preference. I just try to answer the musical situation as naturally as I can and let things happen. The best feeling during a solo concert is when I feel like I’m just tending the fire, keeping it going and observing, almost as if I’m an audience member. It’s all a very strange process that I don’t actually understand. That feeling of participation somewhere between active and passive is much easier to achieve when you have other people to bounce off of.
TJG: You’re premiering some new compositions for this trio with Max Jaffe and Joel Ross—can you talk about what direction you feel they’ve taken, or what you were interested in while composing them?
PE: The pieces are still in the works. I change them a little after each rehearsal. It’s a purposefully tricky instrumentation, but I’m into the challenge. In addition to being virtuosos, both Max and Joel are extremely flexible and great listeners. The vibe of the trio so far seems to be that there aren’t really any limits and that we can explore whatever we want, which feels great! I already have some other gigs booked for this group for the rest of the year. I can’t really predict what’s going to happen but I’m very optimistic.
TJG: You play across a wide span of improvised and composed music—what do you see as your main influences? Where do you see the line being drawn (if you do) between jazz and new music?
PE: I don’t really draw lines like that for myself. Obviously there are “scenes” with both loose and strict divisions separating them, and yes I float through these scenes. But I really try not to let those divisions cloud my mind as a creative artist. My artistic allegiances have more to do with a certain value system than a specific “type” of music. And this value system puts a high premium on personality, improvisation, engagement with craft and history, among other things. So maybe it’s no surprise that like many other musicians I know, I find George Lewis’ term “Afrological” to be an accurate descriptor—both specific and broad enough—to describe the kind of musical activity I like to engage in. I’m influenced by lots of stuff, that never changes. I’m reading Ernst Levy’s “Theory of Harmony” and Ananda Coomaraswamy’s “Dance of Shiva” concurrently right now. Some surprising common themes concerning the idea of the Absolute/the infinite, the idea of mirroring or representing the infinite within the finite in the fields of music and art. I’m going to to keep studying this topic, it’s definitely helping me clarify some ideas I’ve been thinking about in relationship to my own work.
TJG: Where do you think your music is going?
PE: Specifically, I don’t know! And I would like to keep it that way. If you told me two years ago I was going to have a trio with vibraphone and drums I would have no idea what to make of that haha. I want to remain flexible and continue to study and develop. In general I want to make music that is in direct opposition to the ugliness and spiritual degradation we see all around us in society
TJG: You’ve been in New York since 2003—how has that shaped your artistic practice?
PE: It’s been the reason for almost everything that’s happened. NYC was my gateway to Europe, which allowed for a lot of interesting and lasting musical relationships, as well as my first opportunities to tour. As far as the city itself, while I’m dismayed at the continuing transformation of NYC into Switzerland, I’m meeting great musicians that come here from all over the country. Max and Joel are only recent examples of that. Somehow, even though it’s an increasingly difficult city for artists, there is still an influx of great new players, as well as players who have been here for a long time that are new only to me. This dynamic of constant meeting, testing, playing, forging relationships is essential to my artistic life. I travel a lot, and I’ve never been to a city that has the sheer numbers of crazy musicians in one place as NYC.
TJG: What do you see change in your role as bandleader vs. band member?
PE: My goal as a bandleader is to put together combinations of musicians that engage with the music with a high level of listening, instrumental craft and openness. If that happens, I’ve had the (frustratingly slow) realization that I don’t really need to do much as a player in terms of “leading”. I really don’t like that feeling–leading the band with my horn–it takes energy away that would otherwise go into engaging with the music.
TJG: What are you excited about right now?
PE: 1. The (probably remote.. but I can dream) possibility Trump/Sessions/Kushner etc being ousted from office.
2. The inspiring people around me who make it worthwhile to continue to create and make music. Whenever I’m down on my own playing or music I am able to look to my right or left and feed off the energy of one of these incredible artists I know. I had an experience like that in February; was feeling like garbage about what I was doing and then spent the afternoon with Roscoe Mitchell, I felt like it gave me creative fuel for the rest of the year! I would like to be able to provide that for people some day.
3. The gig on June 1st with Max Jaffe and Joel Ross!
Peter Evans plays The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, June 1st, 2017. At 7:30 he will perform a solo set, and at 9:30 he will be joined by Max Jaffe (drums) and Joel Ross (vibraphone). $15 general admission (FREE for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.