I have always loved jazz, especially the more experimental and progressive edgy stuff. I have never considered myself a jazz musician however, yet mbira music is full of improvisation. Playing in Tumble has given me the opportunity to bridge the worlds between traditional African trance music and modern improvisational jazz.
My band Tumble formed in the Summer of 2014. At the time we were a trio – mbira – guitar – reeds. From the very start, I realized that the interplay in our playing and the collective timbre created by our instruments was very special. As a band, we have consistently embraced a very delicate balance between structure and improvisation that is exciting to me.
We began recording our album in the Spring of 2015, before bassist Bill Douglass joined the group. In our trio format, with no bass player, there was a certain open ended quality to the sound. At times, I could play in the lower register of my mbira and become the “bass player”. At other times, guitarist Sean Kerrigan would fill that role by digging into the lower register with his already thick and deep guitar tone. Reed player Randy McKean would do the same thing, especially when playing bass clarinet or tenor. At other times, we would all play in the higher register, creating a more “bottomless” or ungrounded feeling and sound. These shifts were never planned, but could happen spontaneously as a part of the group improvisation.
Music for Trio is unlike any album I have ever worked on. My approach to album making and recording has always been to meticulously layer parts through overdubbing over a period of time. In this sense, my artistic process in recording was more like weaving. With Tumble, we set ourselves up in the studio facing one another in a triangle, and played live with the “tape” always rolling. With an improvisational band like Tumble, the challenge in recording is to create a space where the spontaneous musical conversation can flow freely. During the recording of this album, we were able to get deep into our collective improvisation vibe where some real musical communication happened! I am quite pleased with how it turned out. Much thanks is due to engineer Bruce Wheelock for creating such a warm, homey and comfortable environment at his wonderful studio Flying Whale Recording.