Saxophonist Zakari Frantz sees free jazz as growing out of jazz's tradition of improvisation – not as a wildly different type of music.
Together with guitarist Tim Bedner and drummer Mike Essoudry, he's presenting the first Peace & Rhythm concert Friday night at GigSpace. And while the trio's music that night will be completely improvised, there still will be melody and harmony and rhythm – all those aspects that listeners enjoy in regular jazz.
"There's so much about music that all of us get; it's that common language. I think that language can still be used in free music."
Frantz plays alto sax in a wide variety of groups in Ottawa, including The Souljazz Orchestra (AfroBeat/jazz), Slim Moore and the Mar-Kays (soul), the Kelly Craig Sextet (modern jazz), the Jivewires (swing), and his own Curiosity Killed the Quartet every Monday night at Le Petit Chicago (standards, modern jazz).
But not so much free jazz.
"I've always been interested in free jazz, but it wasn't really something I thought was 'me'. But I've always been mostly into just improvising freely as a soloist. It's pretty much how I practice now, rather than going through any routine, I just spend a lot of time improvising freely. And I know that Tim does that when he practices, and so does Mike. So the idea was that just 'isn't that free jazz at its essence?', and to really come in as a trio and see if it works with three people doing it together."
He said he had been wanting to try a free jazz concert for a while. "I just wanted to throw the book out the window, and say well, in terms of the things that we already feel as musicians, the three of us: everything from song form to creating a good melody to creating an underlying beat. We understand form, and rhythm, and harmony in melody. Does it need to be written down? Can it just be created on the spot?"
And Bedner and Essoudry were natural partners for that, since Frantz had played with both many times in many different combinations. Essoudry in particular is known for his free jazz partnership with alto saxophonist Linsey Wellman and for his participation in many IMOO concerts.
"The three of us have performed so many shows together [that] we know what makes a good show for all three of us. The experiment we're doing right now is can it be spontaneously created right from the beginning? Does free jazz have to be big long freely-interpreted songs, or can it still contain some of the things that we like about the 'inside' music that we play?"
And now the concept needs to be tried out in front of an audience, he said.
"We had one rehearsal a couple of months ago and talked about the concept and it came together. I felt exactly what I wanted to feel at the rehearsal, and now we know there's no sense in just rehearsing because it's not about the three of us. It's about the people listening. As soon as I knew it's going to work, I said "OK, now we just have to perform in front of people. Because that's the only way the experiment works. You can't just experiment in a vacuum. You can't just sit there and play free jazz in a loft in front of the musicians that are there. You gotta go out and play it in front of people."
And he hoped it would connect.
"I think a lot of listeners think that they need to do their homework before they listen to free jazz, or else they don't get it. I've been talking to a lot of people in the last couple of weeks about certain shows that they've seen in the avant-garde free jazz category, where they just walked out and it was just like 'Wow, for a second I thought I got it, and then the guy would just start cursing into the microphone or then the saxophone player took his mouthpiece off and then I lost it. I didn't get it anymore.'
Frantz said he got the name for the performance, "Peace and Rhythm", while on tour with Souljazz in France. The guitar player for another Afrobeat band, Fanga, had a T-shirt with 'Peace and Rhythm' on the back. "And it just stuck with me. I started thinking about it.
It inspired him to think about where music comes from. "To me silence comes first. A lot of people say, is rhythm more important than harmony and more important than melody, and all this type of thing. To me, silence is the most important, because nothing exists unless you have a blanket of silence. You need a canvas. So that's the 'peace'. To me, I really want to start with 'peace' and add rhythm, and I think everything else manifests from there.
An alternate name for the concert could be "Patience and Rhythm", he said, "because I think a lot of musicians would admit that one of the things they try to work on is trying to take themselves out of the music and just play what they feel and not what they think. To play from the heart and not from the head.
"So we're hoping to be patient enough to try to find the rhythm in that room, that night, and try to not get in the way. So we're just going to let it flow. I think it takes longer to explain it, but it's really in essence a simple thing: can we create music that people will enjoy listening to, even though it's not composed music? Do we have enough sensibility, the three of musicians, to hear where we're going?"
– Alayne McGregor
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