The quadrangled members of Industrial Revelation are absolute players. Chaste capacitors for sound, each one of them, with outright ability and aptitude. Seattle based bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, trumpeter Ahamefule Oluo, drummer D’Vonne Lewis, and keyboardist Josh Rawlings could each take their respective instrument to the top of a mountain and make it talk to the curved expanses for days and days alone. From some fire tower in the Cascade Range they could discuss ice ages via vibrations with whatever gods were hovering around. Thankfully for us, they choose to play together, for human ears, at altitudes with more oxygen.
As musicians, Flory-Barnes, Oluo, Lewis, and Rawlings are listeners. They know when to listen and when to play - when to set the trap, and when to let the trap set them instead. They’re aware of what's going on with each other and are able to get out in front of real time.
Industrial Revelation’s jazz isn’t jazz, but it is. For their new studio album Oak Head, they convened and recorded over two days this past spring at a cabin by the Hood Canal in Quilcene, WA. Some songs they'd been playing for over a year, and others that were formed on the spot, after they hit record. Oluo spoke.
Industrial Revelation utilizes improvisation. How do you know when to hit record? How do you know when a moment is going to happen?
Oluo: Everyone in the band is under the same understanding that if a moment isn't happening, you shouldn't be playing. The idea is that every note, every beat, is coming from a genuine place, that’s the goal. Just like a conversation, you never know exactly what direction things are going to go but in a great conversation, that journey is made without posturing. In my opinion, one of the worst things you can do in a conversation is try to say something cool for the sake of saying something cool - it becomes the antithesis of cool. Musical improvisation is the same way, if you play something that you truly mean and you play it in honest language, you should be able to hit record at any moment and it will be magical. Obviously though, not all magic is created equal.
Industrial Revelation play this Sunday, Oct. 13th, 8 PM, at 2312 2nd Ave. $7. All Ages.
How do you all get into that improv space? As a band, do you have a process that puts you there?
Oluo: As a band, I don't think we've ever had a conversation about an improvisational process. All of us come from a jazz background and the methods associated with the jazz tradition are naturally the building blocks that we structure our improvisation on. It's not an intellectual decision at this point, it’s just the way we instinctively operate.
In a way, improv sounds easy and now and live, but I think the reality of that situation isn't easy at all. You all catch improv moments on the album, and when you play live, but that comes from the years you guys have been playing together, and the skill you have as players. Which comes from hours and hours of playing and practicing and scales and unsexy stuff. Improv has this sexy element to it, because it's untamed, and has a mind of its own - the unexpected. But for people that might not know or understand how you all put yourselves in a place to allow for those moments to happen, how would you explain it?
I think a lot of people believe improvisation to be just playing whatever you want, and I actually think that is a great goal to have. But to achieve that, you have to understand the language you are working with. There are 12 notes in the western scale repeated though several audible octaves and if you are playing based on that scale, to be able to truly play whatever you want, you have to understand what literally every combination of those notes sounds like, both in succession and played at the same time. It is thousands upon thousands of combinations, just like a literary alphabet. You have to know how all of that works and then on top of that, you have to actually have something to say. A vocabulary doesn't make a poet. It helps, but it's the display of human emotion that actually matters. That said, I certainly do not have the ability to play anything that I want, I think there are probably very few people in the history of music that have ever gotten there. Luckily, I am usually a man of very simple thoughts.
What are some of your favorite recordings that are improv based?
Well, in a certain way, all music is improvised, sometimes very slowly in the mind of a composer, sometimes very rapidly in the mind of someone who fits the generally accepted definition of an improviser. I don't say that to be contrarian, I say it to promote the idea that improvised music is just music. It's not as scary or forbidding as some people think and it's ok to personally like it or dislike it on the merits of how it makes you feel at the time. It always helps to have an understanding of an art to fully appreciate it but it's like food, you can work to refine your palette, but if you fucking hate mustard, you fucking hate mustard [laughs]. I would just hope that it doesn't scare you away from condiments in general.
In terms of the generally accepted idea of improvised music, a few recordings, chosen at random from my brain, that I love dearly are Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, Jackie McLean's Let Freedom Ring, Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder, John Coltrane's Interstellar Space, Duke Ellington's Ellington at Newport. All of those recordings are from about only a 10 year span of time from the mid 50's through the mid 60's. But what can I say? I fucking love that mustard.
When you all were recording at the cabin, how much nudity was there? Were there just a bunch of naked people hanging out doing drugs? It was all nudity and drugs right?
In good conscience, I can only speak for myself but I had a beautifully serene time aided only by substances that are legal in the state of Washington. There is something about that space that makes you calm and focused, it just makes you want to work, it makes you want to create. At the cabin, we just worked our asses off the whole time and it was glorious.
We had some friends and family out with us. Lindy West was there, it's her family's cabin. The first day I made some "regular" brownies for everyone to enjoy. The second day, I made a different type of brownies. I thought I had informed everyone that these were not the same type of brownies but somehow Lindy missed the memo. At one point I saw her grab a "regular" sized portion of the special brownie and I would have warned her that it was way too much but we were in the middle of a really killer take and by the time we finished, I had forgotten about her brownie. A couple hours later, I couldn't find her. I looked everywhere until I spotted a blanket covering a huddled mass on a couch in a completely dark room. I removed the blanket to find a mid-freak-out Lindy, shaking and petrified, crying and begging for it to stop. I don't know exactly what she saw under that blanket but I'm not sure if she came out of that experience the same person.
She must have seen The Hood Canal Blanket Monster. I hear it's pretty mean. Glad she's ok. I wanted to get you to talk about getting your horn sound. Such great tone. Drifting, but with body. Blues and greens. Beaches at low tides, things in the distance? Any effects you use?
My biggest influence when it comes to tone is probably the alto saxophonist Jackie McLean which has been kind of problematic for me, not because I dislike my sound, but because Jackie played a completely different instrument that works different in a mechanical way. Jackie played at the high end of the pitch - some people say he played sharp but that would imply that he played out of tune when in reality he played with the intonation that he wanted to play with - which thinned out his sound a bit and gave it a kind of astringent quality that is more stark and beautiful than it is pretty. In adopting some of the elements of his sound in my trumpet playing, I have always ran into the technical difficulties that it causes on my instrument. It's just unrealistic to always play the trumpet like that, it makes your playing unreliable and causes you to get tired much more quickly. I'm self taught so no one ever told me that and I have been working for a long time to find ways of playing economically to compensate for my errors in technique. It's a battle but at this point, I sound how I sound, it's my voice and while it naturally evolves over time, I would never intentionally change it, for better or worse, to do so would be disingenuous in my fucked up musical moralist approach.
How was the mixing for Oak Head? Who produced? How did this phase go?
It was recorded by Dave Abramson from Diminished Men and mixed and mastered by Mell Dettmer at her studio in West Seattle. Mell worked with Femi Kuti for years and years. Everything went really fast, all phases. I love the job that both of them did, there is a low-fi element that I just go bonkers over. A cabin is a low-fi kind of place and the recording has just the right amount of "dirt" on it, in my opinion.
Talk about your umberr-ture - embouchure. Your mouth muscles. Not many people understand this. Please explain. How quick do you lose it?
I get tired fast, but I play really fucking hard and I wouldn't have it any other way. Again, my way of playing is very technically incorrect but I get stronger everyday. I keep working on my endurance and it keeps getting better but with such a physically demanding instrument, I know as I get older, there will come a day when it turns a corner for the worse, no matter how much I work at it, when that stage begins. I guess I'll just have to philosophically play it by ear as well.
As players, how do you all go about listening and hearing while you play? Cause if you can hear and you're aware, you can place the notes and phrases where they need to go. Or, the notes and phrases place themselves. It's like the action of playing becomes this subconscious muscle memory thing. To listen AND be out in front of it, that's the thing. How do u do that? What's running through your mind when this is happening?
It's all a conversation, if you are talking but not listening or oblivious to the body language and gestures of the people you are conversing with, it's a shitty conversation and you are no fun to be around. All the members of the group are excellent listeners. I think D'vonne Lewis might be the greatest musical listener I have ever worked with. The man is made of ears. He hears everything I say the moment I say it and he always has the right response. I mean, it's made it extremely difficult for me to work with a lot of other drummers, because D'vonne, through our 15 years of playing together, has helped to make me very trusting. I'm always doing a musical trust-fall and most drummers just don't catch me, most drummers aren't used to soloists putting that much faith in them. I think those are characteristics that all of us in the group share, we push each other to the forefront with full knowledge that the other members will truly have something to say and we allow ourselves to fall back with full and undoubtable knowledge that we will be caught. We are all fully aware that each one of us can do things that no one else in the band can, there is more than mutual respect, there is mutual awe. That's why this band was, is, and may well forever be my favorite group to play with.