Monday, October 29, 2012

Ringing Dave King: The drummer talks about his new album, “I’ve Been Ringing You”

Dave King by John Whiting
Dave King played back-to-back CD release concerts at the Artists’ Quarter on Friday and Saturday (Oct. 19-20), had a tooth pulled on Sunday, and left Monday for London, the start of a nine-city European tour behind the new Bad Plus CD, Made Possible. Still, he found time on Sunday evening to talk by phone about I’ve Been Ringing You, his new album on Sunnyside.

King made Ringing You with pianist Bill Carrothers and bassist Billy Peterson. King and Carrothers have recorded together before (Shine Ball, 2007, and The Electric Bill, 2002), but King had never played a note with Peterson until the day they all convened at a Minneapolis church and laid down the new tracks.

Ringing You is an album of standards: songs by Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Ornette Coleman. Songs including "Autumn Serenade," "So in Love," "People Will Say We're in Love," and "Lonely Woman." So this is not the Dave King of the Bad Plus or Halloween, Alaska or the Gang Font or Dave King’s Trucking Company or Happy Apple or Junk Magic or Buffalo Collision.

Except, of course, it is. 

PLE: A lot of people will be surprised by this album. Dave King playing standards?

Dave King: I was talking to Ethan [Iverson] about some reviews that have come in – “King shows that he plays brushes!” or whatever – and they always make us laugh because it’s obvious that the reviewers don’t own any Bad Plus records. Every record has tunes with all of this language I grew up playing – brushes, swing rhythms. I could name ten ballads right now, tunes like “Bill Hickman at Home” [on Never Stop, 2010]. The irony is, even “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on These Are the Vistas [2003] is straight-up swinging. So it’s not a surprise or a controversy for people who have really listened, only for those who have never listened.

Twelve years in, there are still people who have read one article about a rock cover band, and I’m just this guy who sounds like Keith Moon. As long as I’ve been studying jazz, I’ve played straight ahead. That doesn’t surprise any of the musicians who know me, or who know the music of the other groups I play in. Donating a whole record to the idea of noirish balladry, and using brushes more, just means I was trying to make a different piano trio record.

But why standards?

I wanted to make a standards record after so many years of dedicating my life to original-sounding bands. But I still wanted to make a record that doesn’t sound like anyone else. It would be much more surprising if I made a record that was totally straight-ahead, without a shred of the avant-garde or progressive rhythms. Then I myself would go, “What are you doing?” But this record has all of those open spaces and chances being taken that the Bad Plus has inhabited, and my work with Tim Berne and Craig Taborn. I’m always going to inhabit some sort of risk-taking space. It’s part of what I am.

I’ve never been an irreverent person, with ill will toward straight-ahead jazz. When I’m at home, I listen to LPs of Carmen McRae more than Ornette Coleman. I don’t just sit around listening to Sun Ra and shit like that. I prefer listening to a lot of straight-ahead jazz as a fan.

I hadn’t made a record dedicated to tunes I love listening and playing. I’ve been turning my kids on to old jazz records and musicals, spending a lot of time going back, taking in music I love, in different versions. The version of “If I Should Lose You” I go insane for is Keith Jarrett’s from Standards, Vol. 2. There’s always some sort of iconoclastic element. Like in “Lonely Woman.” All of these are forelorn tunes.

So I’ve been spending time going back. And I thought it would be nice to document, as a love letter, a record I’d like to listen to in wintertime, that would put me in a mood. I think of jazz that way: fall and winter. I would make this a total homage. That’s why I wanted it to come out in October.

You recorded in a church.

I wanted to do it in a different way so it sounded older. All of the pop artists are doing retro stuff – Amy Winehouse, Adele – mining soul influences and old tones. You don’t hear any modern jazz records going for the old [Rudy] Van Gelder room sound.

Matt Lindquist, the sound engineer for FirstAvenue’s main room, has been experimenting with mobile recording. He offered to find us a room, set up mics, and do it the old way. He found a church in Hopkins off Highway 7, and he knew someone who went there. He asked if it would be OK to rent the church for a couple of hours, and how much would it cost? $200? Fine. It’s a 1960s church, a big room. We went over and tested the sound.

We played in the eagle’s net, where the choir would be – above the congregation, near the pipe organ. We had a grand piano. Not a great piano, but we had it tuned by Gordy Johnson.

How did you decide on the other musicians?

I knew I was going to ask [Bill] Carrothers. We have a longstanding friendship and we’ve played together for years. He has a deep love of music, and he’s a master. He immediately said yes. Then I thought about the bass. I had a couple of New York people in mind, people I’ve worked around and with. There’s no shortage of great bass players in my life. But I wanted Bill to feel comfortable. I never even thought about Billy Peterson, even though I knew he and Carrothers had a long history.

So Bill Carrothers suggested Billy Peterson. What was your response?

I trust Bill, and if he’s comfortable with a particular harmonic relationship or improvising relationship, that means the music can’t be bad. Everyone around here knows that Billy’s a great musician, but I hadn’t had any experience with him. I’ve never really fit into the Twin Cities jazz scene. I’ve lived here for 15 years, but I’ve never played with Billy Peterson, someone everyone else seems to know. But I called him. I thought – this is my chance to bring in an unknown element, unknown to me. I called him and he said yeah, immediately, absolutely.

Can you talk about how the album took shape?

We met in March, but we didn’t talk about tunes at all. I wanted Bill [Carrothers] to pick a few things he wanted to do, and I started thinking, “What would round out this record, this noir thing?” and decided, “We can improvise one piece – the title track.” We discussed tunes at the session. We went in late one afternoon, played for a couple of hours, took a dinner break, played for two more hours, and it was done. The opening tune, “Goodbye,” was the first thing we played, and we did it in one take. The other tunes were never more than two or three takes.

And that was it. I went home, sifted through everything, and set aside a couple takes of “Solar” that didn't turn out quite right.

How did you work with Billy, since you had never worked together before?

I didn’t want any of this “we’ve got to hook things up” mentality. I wanted him to be a searching, equal improviser. The bass didn’t have to play any role at all. It was more about a concept or emotion than filling some quota. I wanted him to know how I thought as a musician. To me, the deepest rhythm sections are working on some sort of esoteric level.

You played “Solar” at the CD release on Saturday. That was also only your second time playing live with Billy.

"Solar" was one of the highlights of the weekend – that sort of burning, swinging thing we didn’t have on that tune during the recording session. I had a great time at the CD release. I thought Billy P. sounded unbelievable. You could tell he really went for it. His ears are so huge, and he has incredible technique. He was so fired up about just being able to create like that. I felt really good about having him there, and I thought we played great together. I was completely comfortable playing with him.

Is I've Been Ringing You a one-off or the start of a new band?

I think we definitely want to try and play some more. Do another record in the future. Definitely field offers to tour and stuff. I’m looking at that.

And what will you call your newest band?

Not another band name! I would rather have all three of our names listed.

I’m super proud that this group is all Minneapolis dudes. This is not some small release. It’s already been reviewed in the New York Times, DownBeat, JazzTimes. These guys are bad motherfuckers. Carrothers is one of the greats of all times. His love for the music is so obvious. He’s earnestly in love with the piano and playing jazz. It’s an added bonus that he’s such an iconoclastic, controversial, thorny personality – a renegade human being. And before this record, I didn’t know the depth of Billy Peterson.

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