2019 Highlight: Solo bass from Larry Grenadier

It is not only Jeff Ballard from the Brad Mehldau trio who struck out again in 2019 as a leader. The famous piano trio’s Larry Grenadier was also highly visible with The Gleaners, which had a mid-February post-Valentine day’s digital release first, …

Published: 27 Nov 2019. Updated: 12 months.

It is not only Jeff Ballard from the Brad Mehldau trio who struck out again in 2019 as a leader. The famous piano trio’s Larry Grenadier was also highly visible with The Gleaners, which had a mid-February post-Valentine day’s digital release first, which happens to fall shortly after Grenadier’s 53rd birthday, followed by CD and vinyl formats a week later.

A Manfred Eicher-produced studio album on of course ECM which was recorded in New York in late-2016 will be that rarity: a bass solo album an endeavour few bassists have ever successfully traversed before.

The only two marlbank can think of are Peter Kowald’s 1995 free-jazz classic Was Da Ist and probably a little closer in outlook Eberhard Weber’s beautiful Pendulum again from the 1990s.

Grenadier, who we think is one of the world’s best jazz bassists, was “inspired by Agnès Varda’s film The Gleaners and I” according to ECM, and the album includes his so far unnamed originals, a dedication to Oscar Pettiford who remains a strong influence on another of the world’s great bassists, Christian McBride, plus George Gershwin, John Coltrane, Paul Motian, Rebecca Martin and Wolfgang Muthspiel material. On the Grenadier website there is a little more elaboration, the site author noting the presence of “a pair of works written especially for Grenadier by guitarist, longtime friend and fellow ECM artist Wolfgang Muthspiel” and an instrumental interpretation of a song by his wife the singer-songwriter Rebecca Martin.

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Jake McMurchie interview

From 2014. Melodic, minimalist, modal: Michelson Morley debut, an intriguing alchemy of Get The Blessing saxophonist Jake McMurchie, Moonlight Saving Time bassist Will Harris, and drummer Mark Whitlam. Jake McMurchie dons his lab coat to set the …

Published: 27 Nov 2019. Updated: 12 months.

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From 2014. Melodic, minimalist, modal: Michelson Morley debut, an intriguing alchemy of Get The Blessing saxophonist Jake McMurchie, Moonlight Saving Time bassist Will Harris, and drummer Mark Whitlam. Jake McMurchie dons his lab coat to set the scene

Starting with the obvious, why is the band called Michelson Morley and whose idea was it to adopt the moniker? Jake McMurchie: Michelson Morley is the name of a famous/infamous 19th century physics experiment, which in turn is named after its scientists-in-chief Albert Michelson and Edward Morley. I have a degree in mathematics and whenever this crops up in conversation people often say there’s a connection. At first I tended to disagree – the process of making music feels very different to the process of mathematical analysis to me – but there are a lot of parallels with the scientific life in general. A lot of musicians I know (including me) share the obsessional traits and shy geekiness that are frequently associated with scientists. Or should that be passionate dedication and introspective intellectualism?

The Michelson Morley experiment is a particularly interesting one because, rather than proving a theory (of the existence of the luminiferous aether), it produced a ‘null’ result, confounding the theory and throwing physics – and therefore the prevailing theories of the nature of the universe – into disarray. But of course this paved the way for Einstein’s relativity theories and an entirely new way of looking at time and space.

I hasten to add that I make no claims of an analogous revolution with this band, but I love the idea that something good might come out of the process, however apparently futile.

How did you form and why? JMcM: I wanted to try a different approach to playing, one that combined my growing use of electronics with the saxophone, a minimalistic compositional style, and an evolutionary approach to improvising. I’d tried playing with a couple of different line-ups but after meeting and playing with Mark [Whitlam] and Will [Harris] a fantastic chemistry quickly developed and we went from there.

Do introduce the band, possible idiosyncrasies and all. JMcM: The band consists of me, Jake McMurchie playing saxophones through a variety of guitar effects pedals and other electronic devices, Mark Whitlam on drums, percussion and more electronics, and Will Harris on double bass and effects pedals (of course). Since we recorded the forthcoming album we have been playing live with the excellent rising star of Dan Messore on guitar. He’s a great guitarist in any genre but his use of effects and musical approach is a great asset to the band and we hope to record with him in the summer.

We play atmospheric music that is influenced by minimalism and ambient music but which has grown out of the jazz tradition. There’s a lot of improvising, but the improvisation is always collective, evolutionary and a cinematic, atmospheric sound is always important.

When is the album out and, just to confirm, what is its title? JMcM: The album will be called Aether Drift and is going to be released on 1 May 2014.

Did you spend a long time in the studio and where was that? JMcM: It was remarkably quick. We spent only two days in the studio, though we had spent several days developing the tunes and the approach. We recorded it in J and J Studio in Bristol, a great studio with an excellent live room, run by my good friend and GTB (Get the Blessing) partner-in-crime Jim Barr. He has excellent almond fingers.

How would you rate and describe the overall experience in terms of your previous stints recording with other bands? JMcM: Liberating! So much of the recording was improvised, even from a compositional perspective, that there was room for genuine creativity even under the pressurised conditions of having to record an album in a limited time frame.

You’re releasing on F-IRE I believe. Why choose them and why did they choose you?! JMcM: The F-IRE label has released so much of the most exciting music in the past decade, it was an obvious label to approach. But they are also wonderfully hands-off. They’re very supportive and enabling, but all creative control is still in our hands. I hope they chose us because they liked the record! But you might have to ask them that.

How would you describe the Michelson Morley sound in general terms from your point of view? JMcM: I would like to think that it's atmospheric, subtle, perhaps a little mysterious, but warm. It can be emotionally unsettling at times, but at other times uplifting and joyfully exuberant. There’s a lot of delicacy and space. We’re happy to be patient in the development of the musical arc we’re trying to create. There’s always a story behind the notes and we like that to reveal itself.

MM and Get the Blessing are very different. How would you sum up the differences? JMcM: Ah. This is where I get into trouble with my various band-mates isn’t it? From my perspective the main difference is the amount of improvisation: MM is largely improvised, even though – as with GTB – a strong tune and concept underpin the improvising. There’s also a lot more space (even silence) in MM. I think I would also say that MM is more introspective. We eat fewer almond fingers too.

Turning to Get the Blessing a bit, I’m enjoying Lope and Antilope a great deal. Would you say recording L&A was a very different experience to OCDC or earlier albums and if so in which crucial respects? JMcM: Enormously different! OCDC and earlier albums were created by us each bringing along tunes for the band to construct/deconstruct, whereas Lope and Antilope is the product of several days’ improvising. And it’s not just that the creation process was different: it was a hugely positive experience because rather than spending hours and days deconstructing and worrying tunes into existence, the process was all about finding the most exciting bits and honing them.

How jazz are you; and does that matter in this day and age? JMcM: I’m very proud of the extent to which GTB has become a fixture in the jazz scene, but I’m also conscious that we don’t conform to many of the stereotypes ascribed to jazz. Perhaps most importantly, the question honestly doesn’t occur to us while we’re writing or playing. We make instrumental music that we hope appeals to the heart, head and feet, and we’re just happy to be considered part of the jazz community.

Turning back to MM who would you say if push were to come to shove would you like (if at all) the band to be compared to? JMcM: I’ve been very inspired by bands like Iain Ballamy's Food, Angel Song (with Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Bill Frisell and Dave Holland) and the Paul Motian Trio (with Joe Lovano and again with Bill Frisell). Tortoise, Radiohead and Boards of Canada are also important influences, as is the music of Brian Eno and the great minimalist composers. And the presence of the saxophone probably means comparisons with the output of John Surman and Jan Garbarek are relevant, though I feel very uncomfortable with my name being in the same sentence as either!