Bird is the Worm Review by Dave Sumner

Some albums are able to get as loud as they want and still occupy a very tranquil place.  It’s “May Day,” the third track on guitarist Ryan Blotnick’s newest, that signals Kush is one of those recordings.  It begins peaceably, but with an insistent bit of melodicism.  That insistence grows into an imperative, and that’s when voices get raised.  The opening salvo is Michael Blake’s tenor sax and then spreads from there.  The thing of it is, even as the intensity gradually increases, the heat generated still possesses the presence of embers burning furiously in a fireplace.  And that’s because the previous track “Lunenburg” laid down a scene of sunset melodicism streaking colors across the song, and sometimes the light burned too brightly to look in the eye, but all of it was soothing and welcome.  That had a lot to do with opening track “Kush” and its ambient presence, where glittering fragments of melody are a night full of stars and the twittering rhythm section are the crickets calling up to it.

And so when fourth track “Churchy” dovetails with the opening passages of serenity, it’s as if the album never left that state in the first place.  The gentle back and forth sway on “Delaware” holds strong, so even when Blotnick lights a fire during a solo and Blake follows right behind and pours gasoline over it, the bass and drums of Scott Colbergand RJ Miller make sure there’s still that feeling that this was a song to dance along slowly to.

Not all albums are constructed this way.  That how it should be, really.  There’s any number of alternatives to presenting music, and how to roll out the creative vision guiding the musician to put the album together in the first place.  Kush comes out with a strong opening statement, a pronouncement of how the spirit of the recording will manifest and how the abiding tone will carry.  It creates an interpretative context for everything that comes after.  The quieter, serene moments reinforce that thesis statement and those with volatility only come off as intriguing divergences from the album’s tranquil personality.  So even when the album ends with the boisterous “Spring,” the walking-away impression is that this is an album best suited for when peaceful music is a requirement.  That’s not an easy thing to accomplish and it shows the strength of this album, that it’s opening moments are able to resonate throughout the entirety of the recording.

Kush review by S. Victor Aaron, Something Else

A moody, unforced album rich in nuances, Kush (Songlines, November 4, 2016) is the fourth from the progressive-minded guitarist, composer and sometimes-leader Ryan Blotnick. After a decade in the Big Apple,Blotnick recently returned back to native Maine and set out to not only separate physically from the bustle and white-hot intensity of the NYC jazz scene but also make the break musically as well. A collection of eight, spacious Blotnick compositions gently swayed by African-derived rhythms resulted.

Blotnick hadn’t offered up an ensemble album since Everything Forgets and that was back in ’09. But in order to get to Kush, a self-released guitar-only Solo, Volume 1 from 2013 was probably a necessary step. At the time we surmised that with this particular record “we get a portrait of a jazz guitarist learning to be a genre-less guitarist that follows his muse to wherever it leads him. Not setting up those fences made the music far less predictable and thus, far more interesting.” That genre ambivalence and openness is ever present here, too, this time supported by Scott Colberg (bass), RJ Miller and Blotnick’s long time mentor and bandleader, saxophonist Michael Blake.

Songs aren’t so much performed as they are flowing forth. “Kush” begins with a haze of abstractness, settling into a relaxed, 17/8 groove meted out from hand-beaten drums; both Blake and Blotnick set off on explorative solos. Africanized drum ‘n bass rhythms prevails on “DX7” and Blotnick shows off a bit of his rhythmic acumen from being the longtime rhythm guitarist in Akoya Afrobeat and then spools out a solo that’s more rock oriented than he’s ever previously put on his records, and Blake recalls the tenor sax fury and emotion of Pharoah Sanders. And it’s damn near impossible to listen to “Lunenburg” — so Americana with Blotnick’s shimmering guitar and the addition of Jonny Lam’s pedal steel guitar — and not think of Bill Frisell. It would rank as one of Fris’ better songs, too (for the record, Blotnick cites another guitarist, Jacob Bro, as his primary influence for this song). The guitar settles into a gentle sweetness, enjoyable for its sparkling resonance alone.

Blotnick’s guitar on “May Day” is like funk in slo-mo and Miller’s drums come out from the dark and takes its place near the front when Blake takes his turn. “Churchy” isn’t gospel, but it’s soothing like Sunday morning, deceptively so as the chord progression doesn’t go in a straight line and Blake’s sax is soulful and serene.

Following a couple of tempered, purposeful numbers played in 3/4 time (“Delaware”, “And Bright Snow”), “Spring” ends the proceedings with a gorgeous jazz ballad, much in the way Thelonious Monk did ballads. And more than the other seven tracks, it’s played in the jazz tradition as well, keyed by Blake’s canorous soprano sax.

The mastery of space and tone within an improvisational setting is an art few have truly mastered; with Kush, Ryan Blotnick has shown himself to be among such rare masters.

-S. Victor Aaron, Something Else Reviews

Kush review by Elliott Simon, New York City Jazz Record

Many of the cuts on guitarist Ryan Blotnick’s Kush create a free-floating exotic realm washing over the listener. On the surface, and as the name implies, Kush frowns on flash serving as a safe sanctuary from stress and strain. Blotnick’s ambient and harmonically astute approach combines with saxophonist Michael Blake’s anthropomorphic sound to glide and drift within heady environs created by bassist Scott Colberg and drummer RJ Miller. But all is not as it seems.

The session is a travelogue of sorts. Squeaks and squawks open the title track, which morphs into a leisurely voyage yet dissonance wonderfully haunts the band throughout. And despite the overall laid-back vibe there is tension and grounding. This is again largely due to Miller and Colberg’s sensitivity but also catchy melodies and ethnic rhythms, which, as on the extended party piece “DX7”, explode and turn the musings visceral. Blotnick’s touch is exquisitely delicate and he incorporates a variety of styles to outline boundaries.

A stop in “Lunenburg” portrays a serene setting with a sweet melody and elegant harmonics featuring pedal steel guitarist Steve Lam. However, Blake provides an undercurrent of saxual tension and pathos running through the town. “May Day” is painted in a rich Afroblue while “Churchy” has Blotnick and Blake deftly exploring the spirituality of their instruments. A soft bluesy layover in “Delaware” gives way to the more cerebral “And Bright Snow”, highlighting Blake’s tenor before “Spring” closes out the voyage as an ode to Strayhorn/Ellington exotica.

Blotnick is clearly on to something here and his ambient approach rooted in jazz, blues, Afro/Latin and even psychedelia—liner notes from Henry Finch would be an apt companion to any ‘60s head-trip—
works very well.

-Eliott Simon, New York City Jazz Record

Interview with Guitarist Vic Juris

This is an interview I did over the phone with Vic Juris in 2011. 

Vic Juris is one of the most in-demand and versatile guitarists in jazz, best known for his contribution to Dave Liebman’s group over the last two decades.  The trio from his Omega is the New Alpha album, with Adam Nussbaum and Jay Anderson, plays at the 55 bar the first Sunday of every month.  His latest album, Listen Here, is now available on Steeplechase. He is also featured on the new Tim Hagans record The Moon is Waiting, has a Hendrix Tribute band with Sheryl Bailey, and teaches jazz at the New School and Rutgers University.


The New York City Jazz Record:  I’ve been listening to a bunch of your albums and they sound really beautiful.  I really like the Remembering Eric Dolphy album and Omega is the New Alpha.


Vic Juris:  Omega is the latest one that I have done.  There’s a new one coming out in about another week.  It's an organ trio.  It's with Brian Charette and Anthony Pensiaty.  


TNYCJR: What are you guys playing?


VJ: It's a combination of some standards and some originals.  But I think it puts the organ trio in a kind of new light; kind of in a more modern setting rather than - you know there’s some traditional sounding things but there's also some freer-type things and some funkier-type things.  I don't think it’s the typical organ trio thing, it's a little different.


TNYCJR: I was looking at your bio and you have played with a lot of organ players: Jimmy Smith, Wild Bill Davis, who else?


VJ: I was fortunate enough to get to play with some of the master organists, you know, when I was younger- Don Patterson, Shirley Scott and people like that. That was a really good experience to get early on.  


TNYCJR: So you were playing at organ clubs or what?


VJ: We were playing you know some organ-type places but also some regular clubs.  That was a really good experience to get early on.


TNYCJR: So you were coming up in Jersey in the Seventies, right?


VJ: Yeah.  When I graduated high school there weren't that many opportunities to go to music school to study jazz in those days.  Berklee was like the only place, really. So, you know, it was pretty expensive. I came from a kind of a lower middle class blue collar town in New Jersey and not everybody went to college. Nobody really had the money to send their kids to college in those days, so I started hanging out in the city, and then Pat Martino had recommended me to Don Patterson so I played with his trio for a while.  It was great, you know, we played trio with Don and Billy James.  We also got to play with Sonny Stitt.  




VJ: And then, you know, I went to Jimmy Smith's trio for a while with Bobby Durham.  The drummer had recommended me for that so I did that for a while; then the Wild Bill Davis for a little while, but I was also playing like, you know, fusion-type stuff too.  You know, electric stuff also, like, the newer generation.  What’s different now is people graduate college and they kind of play with each other, but in my time, [in my] early twenties, you were also apprenticing with all the masters as well as doing stuff with your peers.


TNYCJR: So you would kind of play one way when you were playing with the organ trios, and then you'd take it all the way out there with your own groups?


VJ: Exactly.  The stuff I was doing was more electric. I was playing a Les Paul, and using effects and things. We were playing like, you know, Return to Forever was big then, with Mahavishnu and Larry Coryell, so a lot of us were gravitating toward that stuff.  ‘Cause we were coming up in the 60's, listening to Hendrix, you know, all that stuff.  So we were kind of bringing that into the jazz thing.  The older guys, they hated that stuff!


TNYCJR: Were you playing for bigger audiences with those fusion projects?


VJ: Mostly jazz clubs. New York had tons of clubs in those days, like, it still does, but there were even more. Live music was really flourishing. 


TNYCJR: There was probably a lot of different kinds of people that were coming down to check out that kind of thing. 


VJ:  Absolutely.  Everybody was hanging out.  So, you know, we were also checking out a lot of the rock stuff and folk stuff. It was kind of like one big community.  


TNYCJR: So it was all part of that [Greenwich Village] folk scene?


VJ: Yeah, like the Bitter End and even Kenny's Castaways originally, when it first opened, it had jazz. Bleeker street had about 8 or 9 clubs and MacDougal street, The side streets all had clubs. There were piano bars. And everybody was sitting in and playing.  


TNYCJR: It was more loose with people sitting in with other people's bands?


VJ:  Sure. I used to sit in with everybody. I remember even playing in front of the Village Gate one night, had a little trio, and Ornette Coleman came by and he said “Oh, I'm gonna come back with my violin.”  I mean he never did but that’s the kind of stuff that was going on.  You never know who you'd hear.  You'd hear a band playing and somebody would sit in.  It was a little more open in those days. 


TNYCJR: Yeah, I feel like the country has gotten kind of conservative again. 


VJ: Yeah, and the cover charges were really low, like I remember going to hear Keith Jarrett at Slugs with Dewey Redman, Paul Motion and Charlie Haden. I think it was 3 dollars to get in or something like that. There was never any problem. Sometimes if you didn't have the money you could just plead your case and they'd let you in anyway.  But it was a completely different time. It was before the internet. It was really a transitional period because it was maybe 15 years after the whole bebop era. It was kind of like it is now, kind of. It seems like a transitional period.

    I think right now, since a lot of the older musicians, unfortunately, are leaving us it’s almost like a rebirth, where a lot of musicians are graduating school and starting their own groups and laying the groundwork for the next phase. They will eventually become the older generation and the next wave that comes out of school will be apprenticing with them. 


TNYCJR:  I wanted to ask a couple of things about your playing. You have a really beautiful chordal concept and I was wondering where that came from; whether it developed in Liebman's group or what?


VJ: A lot of it comes from playing with Liebman. The last 10 years or so that I've been playing with him it’s been a piano-less band so I’ve had to take a lot from the piano score; He writes everything, basically, from the piano. I kind of try to get as close as I can to that sound when I'm working on it; and I’ve fortunately been able to bring a lot of that type of harmony to my own playing, my own writing.  It’s really been valuable; he's a master musician and he's shown me a lot about harmony. 


TNYCJR: Yeah, it seems like no one else can fit that many notes into one chord and have it sound good. 


VJ: Well, you know, the thing you do is like: he has the melody and then the bass player will get the bottom and, you know, all great compositions throughout history are really from… you can go back to Beethoven, Bach, its all from the anatomy of the human hands at the piano, like the far left of your hand gets the bass function, the middle is the harmony and then the upper right hand is the melody. So that’s where a lot of guitar players miss the boat, they just think of the chord and the melody and [end up] neglecting the bass and the counterpoint function. The guitar is a great instrument in that it can function as a second horn or a chord instrument.  It has that kind of timbre.  Where a piano, it is limited, cause it’s a kind of a one-dimensional sound; but with a guitar you can do a lot of things, plus you have acoustic, you know, the nylon string.  There’s a lot of colors that I bring in when I play with my own thing and Liebman. 


TNYCJR:  And your technique of comping behind your own solos, did you come up with that yourself?


VJ:  That just kind of happened. I listen to a lot to piano players.  Sometimes if you play two bars of chords and then two bars of lines it simulates the left and right hand at the piano.  So that’s something I discovered on my own, so I would use that as an exercise.  So then after a while they are kind of like training wheels - after a while I started to play that way naturally. A lot of young guitar players just play a lot of lines, they don't play any chords, but the guitar is a chord instrument. 


TNYCJR:  I was noticing you will bend a note, hit it, and then gliss down and do some kind of microtonal things. I was wondering if that came out of playing with Liebman where he bends stuff around a lot.


VJ:  That kind of bending down really comes out of my early rock days listening to Chuck Berry. He used to do stuff like that all the time. He'd bend a note, then hit it and bend down. A lot of the early rock players like T-bone Walker, Bo Diddley they did that kind of thing. The first records I had were Chess records- Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, a lot of those guys really tried to get a horn-like sound in the way they bent notes. You listen to those recordings and they're all playing in flat keys, they aren't really playing in guitar keys, they’re playing in horn keys. 


TNYCJR:  Why do you think that is? 


VJ:  They were picking up a lot of stuff from horn players like King Curtis. He was like one of the first blues/rock horn players.




Growing up in the 60’s at that time you had Miles' group, Herbie and Wayne, Coltrane's group, you had all the Motown stuff and the British stuff, the Beatles, and all that was happening in the same decade. And there weren't walkmans or, like, phones in those days, so you'd hear everything blasting out of storefronts. People had these little transistor radios and you could here the music coming out of buses. It was unbelievable.


TNYCJR:  Did you feel like there was just more music around?


VJ: Well, that decade was a total decade of change.  ‘Cause jazz had gone to another level with Miles' group and Coltrane's group, but you also had people like Albert Ayler,  Ornette and Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy especially. I was absorbing all that at the same time, as well as Aretha and the Temptations and the Beatles. It was a pretty amazing decade to grow up as a teenager.  We were just soaking it all up, you know.


TNYCJR:  So you’d just come hang out in the city and hear all this different stuff?


VJ: It was unbelievable. I remember as a kid I’d take the train over; I remember one night I walked from the Village Gate, I heard Monk play, and then I walked from there over to hear Keith Jarrett and then I heard Sonny Rollins all in the same evening. 


TNYCJR:  Holy shit! 


VJ: Talk about jazz. Holy shit! [laughs] But you know, that's just what was going on, you know.


TNYCJR:  That’s amazing.


VJ:  You know it was pretty amazing. I was an 18-year-old kid hearing this stuff. It was so inspiring; and these guys didn't mess around, they were hitting hard, you know.


TNYCJR:  What's it like teaching- you’re teaching at the New School, right? 


VJ:  Yeah, I’m teaching at the New School and Rutgers University.


TNYCJR:  What's it like working with some people that are just getting into jazz now? 


VJ: Well, it’s really great. A lot of people are bringing in arrangements of the standard repertory, as well as original compositions that are, you know, there are a lot of young players showing a lot of promise. I had a lot of great people go through my ensembles.  I’ve had cats like Robert Glasper, Mike Moreno and Becca Stevens.


TNYCJR:  Do you think there is a trend of people shying away from stuff that swings? 


VJ: I saw this whole thing on YouTube, they're calling it some kind of jazz-nerd thing, I don’t know. I think it’s just a reflection of the time. Everybody wants to be the hip new person, and somehow swing is getting lost in that. It’s not considered to be hip anymore. But I think it’s really important for people to learn how to play the tradition, because its really the foundation of the music. 

    It’s really a lifetime thing. I think everyone’s in too much of a hurry to make their own CD. I remember in the old days, when I started, you didn't make your own record till you played as a sideman on at least 10 other records before a company would at least consider you, and now its like people have a CD while their still in high school or college.  I’ll go on the road and I come back with 10 or 15 CDs in my suitcase of people I’ve never even heard of.  People hand them out like business cards.


TNYCJR: Yeah, The recording environment is not as selective as it used to be.


VJ: The market is saturated with jazz records by people you've never even heard of. But that’s just the way it is now. 


TNYCJR:  But I think its hard because a lot of people just want to be playing and there’s not that many gigs out there.


VJ:  Sure, there's 10 times as many players and not enough gigs, and everyone's really in a state of desperation. If you’re not established and a club doesn’t know who you are its really hard to carve a place for yourself. You know, fortunately I’ve been around for a while so I’ve managed to work a good amount, as much as I want to.  But there's a lot of people who are up and coming and, you know, they'll get there its just… there’s 5-10 schools in New York that have jazz programs.  When I was coming up there wasn't even one. You could go to Julliard or Manhattan, but you'd have to study classical. There was no place to go as an electric guitarist.  


TNYCJR:   I think of you as a really great accompanist. What do you think is important to do in order to become a really good sideman?


I played with a lot of vocalists, sometimes duo gigs, sometimes with a trio, and a lot of times we played for dances. So you had to be a good rhythm guitarist, you had to have a good harmonic concept to back up the singer. Playing with vocalists, learning to play rubato with the bar lines being taken away, is a good way to learn. But that’s what a lot of us did, we played with singers.


TNYCJR:  You played with Mel Tormé?


VJ: Yeah, I played with Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughn, Nancy Wilson, a lot of good singers.


TNYCJR:  Was it fun playing with them?


VJ: Absolutely. And in those days a lot of singers didn’t bring charts, you had to know the tunes and you had to be able to play them in whatever key they called. 

Horn players would do that too, Sonny Stitt would play, when I worked with him he wouldn't play any standards in their conventional keys.  He might play the same tune five nights in a row, and play the tune in a different key every night just to keep it fresh and interesting.  And he would expect sidemen to be able to play in those keys. I wouldn't really trade the way I learned for anything. It was allon-the-job training, learning on the bandstand, and it was really invaluable. But you know I wouldn't mind studying arranging, learning how to write for large ensembles- I think music school is really good for that. 


TNYCJR:  And at least for just bringing together a lot of like-minded people and giving them a couple years to work on music together.


VJ: Exactly, ‘cause a lot of times I was really frustrated. There was information I needed that I really couldn't get on my own, and there weren't that many books around either. There weren't a lot of people teaching jazz privately either. And a lot of guys, Liebman and his crew, a lot of them studied privately with Lennie Tristano. There was another piano player named Hal Overton that also taught a lot of people.   


TNYCJR:  What about Charlie Banacos?


VJ: Charlie Banacos, I ending up studying with for over 10 years, and I think he was the best teacher that ever lived for jazz. I studied with him for 10 years and never met him. We did everything through correspondence. 


TNYCJR:  You just wrote letters or what?


VJ:  We just sent a tape back and forth, and he would give me the lesson, I’d put it on the tape send it back, and this went on for over 10 years and I learned so much from him. 


TNYCJR:  You must have met him at one point.


VJ: I never met him, no, never met in person 


TNYCJR:  I'd love to hear some of those lessons.


VJ: Incredible.  I'm still going back over all the information he gave me over all the years, but the way he taught was in really small doses. That's really the way to get it. A lot of time you get too much info at once and it's hard to assimilate it, but he was just like a spoonful at a time and it really worked for me. 


TNYCJR:  That seems to be the problem with a lot of education these days with the top-down model, trying to jam as much as possible into the curriculums.  


VJ:  The brain is not that big.  You know, you can’t fit a suitcase into a human brain.


TNYCJR: It seems to have a function that it shuts down if there’s too much info going in.


VJ:  Exactly, and plus, everybody's so young too. They don't have any playing experience. But I guess it's good. When you go to school you should write everything down and then you have the rest of your life to sort it out. Life becomes a natural editor. 


TNYCJR:  When I was in school I didn't see it as just the beginning of something, after getting out of high school it felt like, this is the real thing now.


VJ:  Learning how to solo- a solo is supposed to tell a story from point A to point B. It’s not about blasting through the changes with each chord. If you're going to play three choruses you should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That's what Wes was so good at. If you go back to those solos, every one tells a wonderful story.  Those players, like, the players I listened to were like Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis, George Benson, Grant Green, Johnny Smith. 


VJ: I haven't thought about a lot of this stuff in a long time, Ryan. Watch out man, the years fly by! But you know, I think the music is in good hands. There's a lot of really great guitarists- a lot of good players coming up. I think its really a transitional period though. I think in another ten years something new is going to evolve from all this.  You know what you might want to mention is that I have a trio with Adam Nussbaum and Jay Anderson, you know the Omega [is the New Alpha] band.  We play the 55 bar the first Sunday of every month; its a really good show.  


TNYCJR: What about the Hendrix tribute with Sheryl Bailey?


VJ: Yeah, that's starting to evolve. We just played the Syracuse Jazz Festival and we’ve also been playing the 55 bar, and there's an album coming out of that pretty soon. Its gone be on vinyl, actually. That'll be released shortly, and the new organ trio is called Listen Here, that's on Steeplechase records  


TNYCJR:  Like the Eddie Harris tune?


VJ: Yeah


TNYCJR: I’ve been listening to the new Tim Hagans record The Moon is Waiting and it sounds really good.


VJ: You got that? I don't even have that. That's a hell of a record. 


TNYCJR:  It sounds amazing. 


VJ: Yeah, I'm really excited about that record. I think that’s gonna do a lot of good for all of us. We're gonna do a gig at Birdland in October, an early set. 


TNYCJR: Thank you so much for doing this.


VJ: Thank you so much, it's nice of you to keep me in mind for this. Every little bit helps.    




Interview with Leif Arntzen and Michael Bates about The Leif Arntzen Band: Continuous Break

Using a combination of danceable grooves, jazz standards and a new concept of freeform playing, The Leif Arntzen Band achieves a rare balance between melodic simplicity and abstract expression. I have played in this group for almost three years and it is a pleasure to be a part of such an organic collective of excellent musicians. I interviewed Leif before one of our rehearsals to help form some press materials for our first album, Continuous Break, to be released next month. The CD release concert will be held at Nublu, 62 Avenue C btw. 5/6th streets, NYC on May 25th, 10pm, with Leif Arntzen, trumpet; Ryan Blotnick, guitar; Landon Knoblock, keyboards; Michael Bates, bass and Jeff Davis, drums.  

RB:  How was this most recent version of TLAB formed?

LA: Well...[chuckles] I called up Michael Blake. I was looking for a bass player.  He said he knew a really good guitar player and a really good keyboard player and a great drummer.  And thats how it happened. We got a gig and the next thing you know we're a band.  

RB: You came from quite a notorious musical family in British Columbia. What was it like growing up playing in a family band?

LA: Well, playing in a family band is no picnic, let me tell you. [pauses] My father has a lifelong obsession with New Orleans jazz, and when he was raising us as little young budding musicians he wanted us to learn all of those old tunes, and we did.  So, when the family would get together we would practice the tunes together, and make music. What we didn't really realize was that that was how he was kind of keeping the family together and that's how we connected.  So, I don't know if it was like a trick or what, but it worked because all these years later when we get together we play music–we find reasons to play music because that's what brings us together.    

RB: So you feel pretty close to your family because of that?

LA: Yeah… that's how we connect.

RB: So it's mostly New Orleans style jazz, or do you guys play other styles together? 

LA: Yeah, we would throw in some folk tunes some irish tunes, and as we all became older musicians, we all became interested in different kinds of music. So it became kind of like a variety show where pretty much anything goes–rock, jazz, folk, a little bit of pop, r&b. It just depended on who had a song they had worked on and practiced and felt like bringing it to the family to play. 

RB:  And you were playing shows?

LA: We played a lot of shows, mostly little concerts. Once in a while we do a concert series in Vancouver. When I came out to New York I would come up with excuses to be able to do a family concert out here. I would invite whatever family member could come up with the plane fare to come out and play, and then that would be the family band.

RB: So you have a lot of family rolling through?

LA: Right… there is a constant, steady stream of Arntzens flowing through this town–no shortage!

RB: Like a plague.

LA: Yeah, It doesn't matter what I do, they keep on coming!

RB: You've mentioned your connection to nature and your past life as a commercial fisherman.  Do you have any stories from your upbringing on the West coast? 

LA: Well, I never figured on being a professional musician, really, I just played for my own enjoyment mostly. I was working in the resource industries and would take my horn everywhere. There was always a reason to play, whether it was just to get up early in the morning and play some tunes for people to get up to, or to play at night it seemed to be part of my way of life, to just play my horn in whatever circumstances I found myself in. When I was a commercial fisherman, I played a lot more seriously then because I had time on my hands in between fish bites and so forth, so it was an unusual way to learn to play the horn, but I've always been thankful for it.  The good side was that I always had lots of freedom to play whatever records I wanted to on the cassette tapes that I recorded. The bad side was that I never had any credits on any of the tapes so I never really knew who I was listening to. I knew maybe the lead player whether it was Freddie Hubbard or Miles Davis but I never could really sit and read the record credits. 

RB: You probably couldn't hear the rhythm section over the diesel engine. 

LA: Yeah, there was that too. The 5-cylinder Gardner below my feet was a constant accompaniment. 

RB: So, is that sort of your ultimate rhythm section?

LA: [laughs] you know, I'm always looking for a groove...

RB: The music on Continuous Break is largely freeform but it is rarely dissonant or abrasive.  How did you achieve this controlled sound and who were your stylistic influences?

LA: Oh boy, influences is a rough one for me because I've been around for a long time, so I've soaked up a lot of music and I can't just remember, you know, who started what vibe, that inspired me. But I think the key was allowing each musician to freely express themselves within that group setting. When something felt good to play to I would play the horn, and when it seemed like time to lay out and let something else go on then I would lay out. I think that each of us were doing that, and that created an instant sort of trust that was going on when we were recording that. Since there was no pressure to really play anything in particular, I think it made everybody really relax a little bit and just kind of play what felt good—and usually what feels good is a mix, a little bit of variety in feel and, you know, major, minor, dissonance or whatever—I'm not really thinking in those terms. It just feels like you need to go up dynamically here or down a little bit, or slower or faster, and kind of "come what may" and see what happens.

RB: Yeah, I guess what I'm thinking of as dissonance in a lot free-form stuff is probably a couple people that are overplaying and it's clashing.

LA: Yeah, I think that's one of the things about this particular band is that we seem to find a balance where that doesn't seem to happen. I never feel like "oh my god this is really jarring against what somebody else is playing." I never feel like that really is a problem with this band, I think that's why this band is still together.

RB: The musicians in T.L.A.B. are all bandleaders and composers. Did you make a conscious decision to pick all composer-leaders for this band?

LA: I wanted a band where everybody had a developed voice already–had an idea of what they wanted to sound like–and felt comfortable composing on the spot. Collective composition, that type of thing, or that kind of drive, was something I was really interested in trying to harness in some way. I'm a reluctant leader. I would rather just be a part of something. In that way I call it The Leif Arntzen Band, but it's just a name–that's all. I feel like there is equal voice going on. 
[Michael Bates walks in and starts unpacking his bass]

RB: Michael, what is your experience playing in T.L.A.B and how is it different from other groups you are in?

MB: Collaborative.  You know, no written music, really.

RB: Does that change your role as bass player?

MB: Um... no, I don't think so.

RB: You've decided what your role is, sort of, by now.

MB: The open element to the music is just a different way of getting to a collective thing, or like an open thing. Knowing the music cold like that, you know, anything can happen at any time. The thing about this band is, for me its like we've kind of collectively come up with our own identity, you know five or six different ways, all the members. Whereas when you're playing in your own band you're kind of trying to understand the identity of the band, or if you're a sideman you're trying to make the identity of the band happen. Whereas this is like… frankly I think Leif would probably be happier if we grooved a little more often, but, you know, there's six of us and you're kind of like "yeah… woah!" 

RB: It probably evolves faster that a lot of bands too, because as one of us gets into some other thing it just instantly…  

LA: Yeah, it adds to the identity of the band when you do that–instantly. 

MB: And also–and this is, I think, really key–the music's not hard. It's easy music, in a great way, so we can get to the essence of why we play really fast. People wouldn't know that it's easy–it doesn't sound easy. So it's fun that way. It's like… [sings the first five bars of The Call]… that can go like three ways right now. So I like that a lot. 

RB: It's hard not to think of certain Miles Davis records when you are listening to this album, particularly the end of the quintet into the early fusion years where he is basically rehearsing the band in the recording studio just rolling tape.  \

LA: That comes back to influences and I just refuse… I'm not capable of sticking to–I don't think anyone likes to be labeled but we're all just a product of what we've been listening to and practicing our entire lives. And what comes out of it is just the big  moment we are looking for, is to see what comes out of all that work that has gone into it. And we play these simple pieces and we create something that's musically different from these simple devices, and I think that in the simplicity, that is where the hardest things are; those are the hardest things to try to develop and it just takes a long time and  a lot of work to be able to make something happen. When I listen to all those great records of the past, those are my favorite records, when I realize that I think these guys just showed up and started playing.  And yes, there was a tremendous amount of work to get to there, but it wasn't preconceived in that sense.  Each guy was just working on their own thing and they came together, and it just took off from there in something that was unified. Those are the greatest records to me.

RB: It is coming out of the unconscious?

LA: Yeah, absolutely, and I think that so many of the great records—not just jazz, but rock too, and folk—some of those recording sessions where the songwriter had spent a lifetime developing a particular song or a lyric, agonizing over a lyric for I don't know how long, it could've been years—but to just go in and play one or two takes and just get something magical happening with a group of musicians who didn't necessarily know the songs so well... but it's there—the essence of it is there, the warts of it and all—and that's what lasts. It makes it human and it includes every listener—I mean everyone gets to be a part of it, because you can hear that in the music. I think that people instinctively hear that, and that's why they keep listening to those records over and over. That's why I do.

RB: So what, specifically, is it that makes those records so fascinating?

LA: I don't know if I could put it into words.

MB: It's the thing.

LA: It's an intangible

MB: It's the thing! You're like, 'How do they do that? How do they get that feel?'

LA: You know the notes–it transcends the notes–the instruments are being transcended. And the trumpet doesn't sound like a trumpet, the bass doesn't sound like a bass anymore.  It's just like a voice.  I'm not sure how you get it but when it's there it's magic, it's operating at a whole 'nother level than I could possibly articulate.

RB:  This album has the energy of a live performance-did you do any editing or is it basically done 'live to tape' like the records from the 50s and 60s?

LA: It was recorded live for sure–there are a few creative edits, here and there, to connect some parts. We didn't put every take on the record… most of it, though! We tried as much as possible to leave it as it was.

RB: There was no editing out wrong notes?

LA: No… we really couldn't.  There was so much bleed, even if we wanted to, I mean, we couldn't! 

RB: Where did you record?

LA: We recorded in the basement of my house on Cornelia Street in New York City, a little basement recording studio–a really cool little place to record.  

RB: What's the vibe there ?

LA: I don't know, what do you think Michael?

MB: Space is the tie that binds [starts improvising on bass]


LA: The studio is just so loaded up with a lifetime's worth of musical odds and ends. It was just a raw space–I think it sounds great down here. 

RB: Is that a tuba on the wall?

LA: There is a tuba hanging on the wall. There's some african drums hanging on the wall. Any kind of curtain, you know, we used painter's canvas drops that ended up just stapled to the ceiling because everything else is cinder block behind it. There's an old canvas circus marquee with a painting of... its kind of a weird painting actually…

RB: Does it say 'Cheese Torture?' 

LA:  [laughs] 'Chinese Torture' and there is a woman in a bikini being tortured in there–it's a little odd.

RB: The actual console is a gutted piano?

LA: That was a piano I bought from a little old lady on 6th avenue. We wheeled it down here on the street with a few guys, and in the process we broke the soundboard. So you know, that got screwed up, so rather that get rid of it I left the strings in there and turned it into a studio console, and it hasn't budged ever since.

MB: There's a B3 and every imaginable guitar and bass stapled to the wall.

LA: Yeah, everything here belongs to somebody. There's an old banjo on the wall, it's like a little mandolin-banjo. That's a Bear Lake corn husk child's rattle-roll it up and it make a rattling sound. Everything here is connected. That's the fishing gremlin. I carved that out of a block of cedar that was floating about thirty miles off-shore, off of British Columbia.  The only paint I had was black, white and red engine paint–that's why it's that color. When I finished carving it I lashed it to the mast and he rode up there for at least ten years on the mast. 

MB: Really?

LA: Yeah, I never took him off there either! A matter of fact, he also had a hat that the deckhand had accidentally washed, a wool cap, and when it came out it was about this big, and it survived years at sea.  So all of these things, they all got a little story to it.  The painting, everything, is homemade.

RB: And then you walk outside and you're right at Cornelia Street Café and right in the center of the village. There's something magical about that, right?  

MB:  It's a great street. I think after I came out of our rehearsal here I walked straight into Steve Earle on the sidewalk [with his guitar].

LA: Oh yeah, he lives right around the corner.

MB: And he walked off the sidewalk onto the street and he looked at me and he said: 'yours is bigger that mine.'

RB: What's next?

LA: I would like to use the same system that we have and create a record of songs that are collectively composed, with some singing, something like that.

MB: Like pop tunes, or, like, songs?

LA: Yeah, something that's big like that–just work that and see what we can come up with.

Copyright 2013, All Rights Reserved
Ryan Blotnick
Blot Ink PR
18 Dewey Ct.
Northampton, MA 01060
tel: (646) 732-8761 



Solo, Volume I reviewed in electronic/experimental blog textura

"the thirty-four-minute set exudes a somewhat introspective and intimate quality... Blotnick makes a positive impression from the outset... Each subsequent song finds Blotnick tackling a different genre and providing a full portrait of his range... earmarked by contrasts between calm and animation and light and dark moods...Blotnick envisions Solo, Volume 1 as the first in a guitar-based series intended to explore different genres, including jazz, classical, Americana, and improv—much as he's done so handsomely in this first volume."                   -textura
Read the full review:

Interview on

Ryan Blotnick is young and a guitar player, but he is by no means a young guitar player. Listen to his new record, and you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

I’ve known Ryan since we were both studying music together at William Paterson University in the 2000′s, and he’s always been the embodiment of The WIN Principle.  Solo, Volume I is no exception. I’m not ashamed to say it. I love this record.

We sat down recently and talked about the new record. Here’s the interview.

Nate Chinen reviews Solo, Volume I in the New York Times

Ryan Blotnick, a guitarist approaching 30, has maintained a slippery self-containment in enough sociable settings — with the saxophonists Michael Blake, Pete Robbins and Bill McHenry; the Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble; and a range of musicians from Copenhagen, where he earned a graduate degree — that he’s a strong candidate for a solo album. He’s not afraid of starkness or silence, and he knows how to spin a good yarn. He’s a natural.
Which isn’t to say that he skimps on preparation. “Solo, Volume I,” available as a pay-what-you-wish download at, is a product of several summers in his home state, Maine, spent working in hotels, restaurants and other for-hire settings. (On one wedding-services Web site, his customer rating is a perfect 5.0.) The album clocks in under 35 minutes and gives the sense of an intensely thoughtful design.
Mr. Blotnick clearly knows the tradition he’s drawing on here. “Lenny’s Ghost,” the album’s longest track, is his nod to Lenny Breau; elsewhere he touches on the stark lyricism of John Fahey and the intricate fingerpicking technique of Leo Kottke. “Dreams of Chloe,” a wakening ballad processed with light distortion, and “Hymn for Steph,” a sober country waltz, evoke the recent solo guitar recordings of Marc Ribot. “The Ballad of Josh Barton” suggests a close study of some early acoustic Neil Young.
Every track but one was recorded with a 1959 Martin guitar — an acoustic model, but one with a pickup and volume and tone controls built in — and no overdubs or other studio manipulations. The sound, mixed and mastered by Marc Bartholomew, is pristine enough that you hear Mr. Blotnick’s fingertips lightly scudding across the strings. And the atmosphere is such that every liberty registers as both audacious and reasonable.
What’s missing from the album is any palpable impression of danger, a feeling that Mr. Blotnick is reaching beyond his carefully honed capacities. That’s acceptable on an album so defined by intelligent restraint. And it raises certain expectations: by titling the album “Solo, Volume I,” Mr. Blotnick implies that there’s more of this to come. NATE CHINEN

Michael Blake at the Standard Sunday

I will be on my way to New York City soon to play at the Jazz Standard with Michael Blake's Band.  We play Sunday the 11th at 7:30pm, mostly music from Michael's new album "In the Grand Scheme of Things."  The band is Landon Knoblock, Kirk Knuffke, Michael Bates and Greg Ritchie.

Music Needs You Liner Notes 10/15/07

Here are the liner notes for my debut album "Music Needs You"

This group's first show was in a castle in Vic, Spain where we were lucky to play for an amazing audience. Instantly bonded by the experience, we booked a studio in Barcelona on a whim and made this album.

In improvised music, where most of the notes are composed in the moment of performance, the focus of the audience actually shapes the outcome. If the band knows that one person in the club that is hanging on every note, the bar is raised and there is no excuse for self-indulgent abstractions or attention-seeking dramatics. If the whole room listens with open ears, the notes fly off the page and there is nothing to be understood, only the immediate and obvious reality of human beings in a room communicating with closed mouths.

This is the experience that keeps musicians playing music, and audiences coming back to hear it. Without a set of ears, music is a bunch of weird waves with no purpose.

Music needs you.

The music on this album is the product of nine short handwritten sketches. Each musician sees the same chart, but deduces their part from it in a different way. Each piece sets a new tone for the improvised solos, which are the real focus of the music. Some pieces were inspired by specific places or experiences, others by musicians, or musical ideas. While music speaks its own language and should be interpreted first through the ears, I have included some of my thoughts here for your amusement.

Winter Melt is a portrait of a sunny February morning through a coffee shop window. The mercury rises and the neighborhood begins to shovel away at the sidewalk's snowy lining, pushing it into the street for the buses to crush. The early thaw usually triggers relief and the happy anticipation of spring, but this year has a different feeling. After such a mild, unfulfilled winter the sudden warmth seems out of place and somehow unjust.

Climbing a mountain, we reach the point where physical exhaustion begins to silence the brain's chatter. The highway noise becomes replaced with birdcalls and wind, and we are drawn out of ourselves into the world around us. In the city we experience the opposite when we sink into the underground subway. The bustle and flow of strangers creates a jumbled wash of noise, and the brain retreats into a dreamlike state, spinning on an overheard melody or conversation. Sketched out in the subway and finished at home, Thinning Air portrays the descent into the underground world of strangers, and the ascent into the realm of the imagination.

Written with Albert’s two-handed melodies in mind, Music Needs You presents a rhythmic dilemma. The alto saxophone and guitar play a slow melody in whole and half notes while piano and bass play an unrelated, upside-down sounding line in quarter and eighth note triplets. The drums groove away in an impartial double-time swing, which becomes the medium for the solos.

Barceloneta is a seaside neighborhood of Barcelona where the light barely pierces through the narrow streets and balconies. It retains some of the old coastal town feeling in the middle of a gigantic city. The melody is urban and cerebral, but still ebbs and flows.

Liberty is a musical collage whose divergent pieces are glued together with a rock beat. The first hints at a corrupted counterpoint- a single melody split into two voices, with an ominous gravity. The second is a vagrant riff, modulating recklessly yet stuck in the groove of too many repetitions. The third is an interpretation of the first, this time harmonized in call and response phrases. It leaves a hopeful question unanswered, segueing into the groove-based solo section.

I wrote this piece under the strange circumstance of being snowed in at a stranger's house near Liberty, New York where I took a job cat-sitting what to all appearances was just a neighborhood stray. The cat would disappear for days and come back weary to scarf down meal after meal. I think the cat's reckless wanderlust (and my own) contributed to the song's unusual form.

You Can Talk During This and Tired House were written when I was living in Copenhagen. They both capture the feeling of being holed up in a tiny wintry apartment with only a few hours of sun each day. In the outskirts of the city, the nights are completely silent except the echoed sound of someone smoking in the courtyard or shutting a window. The phrases float, linger, overlap, and mimic each other over mostly-diatonic chord progressions.

Wrong Turns was an experiment in what could happen if a song made a critical mistake right at the very beginning. I wrote the first bar on piano as kind of a classical ‘air’ and realized that it couldn't continue much further that way. I changed its direction entirely with a grace note down to the bluesy minor sub-dominant region to create a conflict of interests and let it find its way back to the center through all kinds of different paths. Despite moments of major buoyancy, the melody keeps turning to minor as if torn between extremes.

Pete’s tune, the Quiet Space Left Behind, is a "hook-based tune, anchored in 16-bar sections, with deceptively un-diatonic chord changes." Other than being an incredible melody, I think it creates a distinct ambience that complements the other tunes, some of which were directly influenced by Pete’s writing.

The musicians on this album are all composers and have brought the music to life through their generous interpretations. I hope you enjoy their spirit and artistry as much as I do, and continue to keep the music alive with your minds and ears open.

Ryan Blotnick, October 15, 2007

Everything Forgets Interview w/ Tony Reif 7/19/09

1. The music on Everything Forgets is played by two different groups, a NY based quartet featuring (NOT FRETLESS) electric bass and an international trio that's 3/5 of the group on your first CD Music Needs You. Could you tell us how this came about, and what you learned about producing and recording your own music in the process?

The original concept for this album started with some gigs I did in London with Peter Van Huffel, Robin Fincker, Jeff Williams and Simon Jermyn. It was my first time playing with Jeff and he was thrashing away on a borrowed rock kit. Simon would lay down all kinds of loops and samples and then groove out and it had this kind of 70s rock vibe mixed with a more modern ’Icelandic’ soundscape kind of thing. I had met Joachim in Copenhagen and was floored by his clarinet sound, and his whole circular breathing concept, so I put the quartet together and we made a demo with mostly free-form stuff.

Meanwhile I had a weekly trio gig in Brooklyn with James Ilgenfritz and John O’Brien and we were rehearsing a lot and I wrote some music for that band where I could play the melody and chords at the same time. When I brought some of those tunes to the quartet session it became apparent that it was really meant for trio, so we ended up doing a lot of improv in the first quartet sessions, and then recording the trio stuff at the end of a Spain tour with the ’Music Needs You’ rhythm section.

2. In your quite philosophical liner note for this record (which can be read here and on your website but was left out of the CD packaging so as not to affect listeners' first impressions) you write:

"When the melody is restated after the solos, it takes on a new meaning based on what's been established in the improvised section. This push-and-pull of statement, abstraction or forgetting, and restatement gives us the sensation of movement in music. It is this kind of movement that conveys thoughts and feelings to the listener, the feeling of being moved.....The process of selecting the best takes, editing and mixing them, and weaving them together to tell a story was an experience not unlike what the brain does as we form memories. Moments in time can’t be repeated in real life; but the ability of music to recreate thought, emotions and the feeling of movement through time is truly astounding.”

It's always interesting to consider the perceived "content" of music, the images and associations that surface as people listen to and make sense of a piece and give it some positive or negative meaning or value for them (or perhaps it leaves them indifferent). These responses of course can involve relating it to other music or artistic creations, as well as personal experience of any kind. It’s a fascinatingly subjective topic, and because your music really touches me I’m curious to know more about how you think about emotion and storytelling in music. So here are some questions:

a) How more specifically did these ideas about music and memory affect the story you were going for in the long process of sequencing the record, including the break between side A and side B?

I listen to a lot of music on vinyl and one of the things I really like is that at the end of a side you are left with this absence of music and it puts you in touch with the fact that you want (or need) to hear more. Then you have to physically get up and flip the disc and basically say “I want some more music now.” I think this makes the B side that much more interesting, and there is also a certain kind of commitment involved. Usually the A-side is flashier and meant to draw you in, and then the B-side is more adventurous. A lot of the music on Everything Forgets is very demanding on the listener, so I have shortened some of the freer pieces to a minute or two, and offset them with the lighter, more rational trio compositions. When I hear live music I am content to sit through long pieces with no apparent direction, but I think an album should be more concise and structured, even if it is presenting free music. As [engineer] John Raham said while we were mixing, ‘the act of pressing eject on a CD is so destructive,’ so I wanted to organize the music in a way that people could listen to a half hour of intense music and feel like they had completed something, like a chapter. I want people to think of Everything Forgets as two albums really, and maybe even take the time to really absorb Side A before moving on to Side B.

b) By “the feeling of being moved” do you mean to include (by analogy at least) a sense of physical movement and places associated with different mind-states – walking in the Maine woods say, as opposed to walking in Manhattan – or do you mean the kinds of dramatic/narrative movement and forgetting/remembering/anticipation that for example sonata form is working with, involving modulation away from and a final return to the home key? And if so, are you working with structures and harmonic development used by classical and romantic composers as well as jazz in your own composing? Have you studied George Russell’s harmonic theory?

I meant to suggest the feeling of being brought to a different emotional state, like at the end of a book or movie. But I think this kind of movement is also closely related to physical movement and vibration. Music is one of the most subtle types of movement that we can pick up on, and it can be used to evoke other kinds of movement in the brain and in the body. Just like some music makes you want to dance, other music makes you think or feel a certain way. I think good music engages all the different Chakras, or energy levels in the body. Even if it isn’t dance music you are dancing in your head to it. It is building up expectation on a bunch of different levels, within the beat, the bar, the form. I never got too involved with Sonata Allegro form but I don’t think it is too far from the typical jazz form, with the improvised solo sections taking the place of the Development. My music is written pretty instinctively, using the sense of form I have picked up from playing jazz and other styles.

c) When you perform these tunes now do they still conjure up the “residue of experience” of the events and feelings involved in their creation, and if so how do those memories affect your interpretation and playing? Do different pieces have different emotional states that in some way you’re trying to evoke in the listener, or are you operating on a more abstract – or maybe I should say concrete - musical level (especially when you’re improvising)? You also write in the liner note that playing with great musicians you experience a release from the world, a feeling of hurtling through time – similar I think to what Jerry Granelli calls “this wonderful sonic adventure always on the edge, and always in the wonderful world of nowness.” How do you, as a performer working with other musicians performing your music, immerse yourself in the now while maintaining some direction and control (or ideally, as everyone internalizes the music, would that become unnecessary)? Does remembering or thinking about anything while you’re playing just get in the way?

Some of the compositions on this album are very personal. I will write a song when I am feeling a certain way, and playing it usually brings be back to that state. Sometimes the way you feel about things changes though, and then you have to find a new personal connection to the song. As long as you connect to the song and play honestly what it makes you feel, I think you are doing it justice. So a song starts from a certain emotional state, but isn’t confined to that- it keeps on changing.

For me, it helps to have a starting and ending point, and a chord structure, to make the music clearer to the listener, and to maintain direction. As the bandleader I am responsible for making sure that the overall form of the tunes comes through. But once I have communicated it to the band in rehearsal, and they have internalized it, it is a shared responsibility. During a solo, you get to drift a little further out into your own world, and then you come back in and support the rest of the band. I guess you have to think just hard enough that you don’t mess up, but not more that that.

d) When you listen to performances or recordings of other music (whether jazz, rock, classical, world or whatever), what typically is happening to you – are you more an analytical listener or a free association one? And listening to other improvisers at work, what’s it like as a musician to identify with that feeling of freedom and openness in the moment - does it mainly or only happen at live performances, where you’re participating in the space and time of an event? And how does that feeling mesh with other, content-related emotions that the music evokes?

I listen to a lot of recorded music very impulsively. I use it to control my emotions and sometimes I just need to hear Aretha Franklin or Neil Young at a certain moment. Live music is completely different, because you don’t know what you are going to get. You just have to go with an open mind and hope for the best. Last month I was at the Village Vanguard for four sets of Bill McHenry’s group with Paul Motian, Ben Street, Andrew D’Angelo and Duane Eubanks. You couldn’t help but hear all the beauty of those great musicians. The other show that was like that for me recently was Søren Kjærgaard’s trio with Ben Street and Andrew Cyrille. When I see musicians play with that much grace and openess it is really uplifting; it makes me feel good about being a human being.

When I see a great show it will often stay with me for some days, and I will reflect on it after the fact and learn a lot. I try to incorporate what I have learned into my practicing and playing somehow. Like right now I am working on a certain kind of phrasing that I got from listening to Andrew Cyrille. He plays phrases that sound so natural, kind of like speech. I also transcribe and learn other people’s music to figure out what is going on there.

3. Getting back to the specifics of this record, are there any tunes here that have interesting stories connected with their composition (like your notes for Music Needs You go into)? And what about the Benoit Delbecq dedication, “Dark Matter”?

I don’t really think the stories are of that much importance, but I would say that a lot of the tunes were inspired by concepts I heard in other people’s music, to which I am very much indebted. I can hear Michael Blake and Eivind Opsvik in Mansell, Bill McHenry in Mainstream I, Ned Ferm and Rob Stillman in Ned Ferm, Benoit Delbecq in Dark Matter, Sonny Rollins in Sonny Song and the Ballad, and Skúli Sverrisson in Business Class.

4. You’ve used the term postjazz to refer to your music (on the analogy with postrock). As a (post)jazzer, what do you think about the current state of jazz - where it’s going, what’s good or bad about the music and the business that the term “jazz” is used to categorize and valorize. In the end is it more of a help or a hindrance for young musicians today?

I think genres are used to turn music into a product, which is a necessary evil if musicians are going to reach a larger audience than their friends and family. Thanks to the term ’jazz’ I have been able to bring my music all over Europe to clubs where people will pay money to see someone they might never have never heard of, based on the fact that it is supposed to be ’good jazz’. So that term seems to be working in my favor. I am only hesitant to call Everything Forgets a jazz album because of the composed tunes there is only one with a swing feel, and the improvisation concept on the freer stuff has very little to do with jazz and more to do with avant rock or new music. I feel like the vibe on this album is almost closer to a Led Zeppelin album than a Charlie Parker album, although it is clearly coming out of the jazz tradition. I have a lot of friends that don’t listen to jazz but have gotten into my music so that gives me hope that I might be able to reach a broader audience with this album.

5. What are some of the directions you’re exploring currently in your music, where do you want to take it next?

I want to write some stuff that has that really heavy group hypnosis vibe, like when you hear some of Mingus’s bands. I also want to explore the other direction toward more spaciousness and air in the music, and also a kind of trancelike bluesy Mali thing, like Ali Farka Touré. I want to put together a really dynamic show that the band has completely memorized and tour the world without sheet music.

Everything Forgets Liner Notes

I wrote these liner notes for Everything Forgets and then decided that I didn't want to actually include them in the physical CD. I wanted people to be able to experience the music first and then download the notes if they were interested. I imagine probably almost no one actually downloaded them, so I will share them here in case anyone is interested:

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." – Confucius

Forgetting is incredibly vital to our everyday experience of life. Our mind records so many memories; but when we go to retrieve them they are always colored by our own personal narrative. We capture memories in the form of words, photos, paintings and video; but music captures things in a different way, leaving out the details of people, places, words, things and smells. Often times all that remains are the qualities that might have gone unnoticed in even the most detailed description of events. We are left with the essence of that narrative spin the mind puts on things, the rhythm of human thought; and the rest is discarded and forgotten.

Monk said, "the inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good." A jazz tune is a structure involving the repetition of a main theme, with a bridge somewhere in between. After the bridge, the initial theme is restated, but it takes on a different meaning because coming back to a theme gives a different feeling than getting hit with one out of the blue. It is now colored by the information we have gathered from the bridge. The same process happens on a larger scale within a tune. When the melody is restated after the solos, it takes on a new meaning based on what's been established in the improvised section. This push-and-pull of statement, abstraction or forgetting, and restatement gives us the sensation of movement in music. It is this kind of movement that conveys thoughts and feelings to the listener, the feeling of being moved.

To feel a certain way about something in the past is to have a simplified memory of what it was. Simplified in the sense that it was a series of events over time and now it is flattened into the past. The way these memories are stored has a lot to do with our emotional thought process. In "Funes the Memorious," Borges writes about a man, Funes, who perceives everything in vivid detail, and forgets nothing:

It was very difficult for him to sleep. To sleep is to turn one's mind from the world; Funes, lying on his back on his cot in the shadows, could imagine every crevice and every molding in the sharply defined houses that surrounded him. (I repeat that the least important of his memories was more minute and more vivid than our perception of physical pleasure or physical torment.) Towards the east, along a stretch not yet divided into blocks, there were new houses, unknown to Funes. He imagined them to be black, compact, made of homogenous darkness; in that direction he would turn his face in order to sleep. He would also imagine himself at the bottom of the river, rocked and annihilated by the current. . . . To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions. In the teeming world of Funes, there were only details, almost immediate in their presence.

Every living creature filters the world in its own distinct way, and that process is directly tied to what ends up getting left behind as the residue of experience. A big part of why music is so important to me is that it is a way of practicing the art of how things are experienced and forgotten. Everything forgets. Playing with great musicians, there is an amazing feeling of levity. Everything unimportant is quickly forgotten, giving one the sensation of being alive and hurtling through time. It is a release from the world somewhat like Funes at the bottom of the river of his imagination, "rocked and annihilated by the current." This is the feeling I am going for in music. I hear and I forget.

This album was made during a time of extreme catharsis, and the two sessions represented on this CD reflect two very different and important periods of my life. The process of selecting the best takes, editing and mixing them, and weaving them together to tell a story was an experience not unlike what the brain does as we form memories. Moments in time can't be repeated in real life; but the ability of music to recreate thoughts, emotions and the feeling of movement through time is truly astounding.

You are holding in your hands the distilled spirits of a year of my life, shaped by the musical contributions of some of my closest friends. Drink up.

Ryan Blotnick

What Are You Listening To?

My press agent Cary Goldberg asked me if I would write a paragraph for a new project that Patrick Jarenwattananon from NPR's A Blog Supreme ( is working on. He is asking musicians to write about as song they are listening to. So I wrote this and figured it would make a good first blog entry:

I am digging through my roomate's vinyl right now and found this great album: Les McCann and Eddie Harris, Swiss Movement, Live at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. The first thing I noticed when I put it on following Miles Davis' Nefertiti on CD was how REAL it sounded. Then I realized it was because it has that stage feeling, the feeling of playing for an audience, which was a stark contrast to Miles' masterpiece where they are basically workshopping tunes in the studio. Nefertiti is like the best rehearsal ever. Anyway, the Les McCann and Eddie Harris album just kind of reminds you of what is so great about jazz. Some great musicians find themselves in Europe at the same festival and throw some music together, and then play it for thousands of people and make it sound amazing. Les McCann anounces one of the songs,

"Alright, we gonna try a new song. This song was written by Eddie Harris, and today was the first time we ever saw it, so with your help, we might do it. It's called Cold Duck Time."

The entire band is completely grooving and in their element. My friend comes down the stairs during Eddie Harris' solo on Kathleen's Theme and starts making saxophone motions with his hands with a look on his face the like "What the?" "It's so relaxed" I say, and he quips back "It's like Trane without the stress," and we both crack up. This is the way jazz is supposed to sound: spontaneous, thrown together, a special feast for whoever is lucky enough to hear it.

Now that music is a product that can be bought and sold there is too much importance placed on the ability to create the same experience over and over again, which is impossible. It is impossible, but it is every producer, promoter, agent, or label's wet dream. I saw a hip-hop show with Big Boi this summer and he was playing along to his own music video. Seriously? Is that what we are headed toward? If you ever see me on a stage playing along with a recording of myself please shoot me in the head and burn all my recordings.

Cold Duck Time.