Name: Brian Chase
Occupation: Composer, drummer, improviser
Current release: Brian Chase and Anthony Coleman's Arcades is out March 25th, 2022 via Chaikin Records.
If these thoughts by Brian Chase piqued your interest, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, and twitter.
When did you first start getting interested in musical improvisation?
As a young drummer listening to Jazz.
Which artists, approaches, albums or performances involving prominent use of improvisation captured your imagination in the beginning?
John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Miles Davis’s Milestones were early influential albums.
In my late teens and early twenties I got deep into the Tonic scene where John Zorn and Susie Ibarra were key. Alef, the first album by John Zorn’s Masada, made a major impact.
How would you describe the shift of moving towards an improvisation based practise, both as a listener and a creator?
Improvisation has its historical precedents, its forms and its methods. Learning such methods lays a groundwork for later freedoms and innovations.
Conversely, improvisation can also serve as a means to convey distinct styles and tastes which are completely contemporary and stand on their own.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to improvisation? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage?
Understanding a relationship to improvisation as a process of spontaneous composition.
As for a personal perspective of lineage, I see myself as extending from the NYC Downtown scene.
What was your own learning curve / creative development like when it comes to improvisation - what were challenges and breakthroughs?
Creative development came about primarily through playing with people. A useful means for ‘practicing’ improvisation has been to record improvised-music sessions and listen back in a critical way; this allows for an opportunity to think about and develop compositional style and direction.
Challenges came at times of self-criticism relative to what I felt was my potential. Breakthroughs came from new opportunities and experiences in working with musicians whom I respect as well as being involved with the community.
Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?
I play the drums. I am particularly fascinated by the complex harmonic resonance of drums and cymbals, and have a project explicitly dedicated to exploring this fascination. The project is called Drums and Drones; as an entry point to the project I recommend Drums and Drones II: Ataraxia.
Can you talk about a work, event or performance in your career that's particularly dear to you? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
A particularly dear performance for me was a concert with harpist Zeena Parkins. We each played two solo sets and then a duo set. The concert was recorded and released as an LP, Live at San Damiano Mission, which came out on my record label, Chaikin Records.
The event and album were so special largely because Zeena has been such a hero and inspiration; to perform with her and in her presence is very special. The vibe in the room was amazing. The album was released in September of 2019.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your collaborations? Do you feel as though you are able to express yourself more fully in solo mode or, conversely, through the interaction with other musicians? Are you “gaining” or “sacrificing” something in a collaboration?
Whether collaborating or working independently, the possibility exists to expand ‘who we are’.
In a collaboration there is naturally more ‘give and take’. In both scenarios, the emphasis is on the resultant ‘offspring’ of the creative process: the music.
In a live situation, decisions between creatives often work without words. How does this process work – and how does it change your performance compared to a solo performance?
Decisions. Decisions on what? The music. What about the music? Direction - decisions of direction as the music unfolds, especially in improvisation. What happens next? That is the question. How and why do I or others make decisions? Too late to ask that question yet it is important to know and also not to know. All of this could be summed up primarily with one word which just came to me while typing: intuition.
The pianist Anthony Coleman and I have a deeply unified intuitive sense. It is a joy to perform with him for many reasons, and one of them is the way in which we ‘dialogue’ through our collaborative improvisations. This is evident on our new album together, Arcades, also released on Chaikin Records.
Regarding the context of a solo setting, this sense of intuition is channeled through the way in which I am required to spontaneously cultivate the music in real-time as a performer.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? In which way is it different between your solo work and coollaborations?
Feeling and form.
When working independently I am subservient to the larger principles of the music. When working collaboratively I am subservient to the larger principles of the music and am a partner with those involved; to be an effective partner at times involves compromise.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
Sound is physical and much can be carried through its vibrations.
In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music and improvisation express and reveal about life and death?
In the linear sense of improvisation, as a time based medium, there will always be someone else, another player or another generation, to pick up where the previous sounds left off.
In the non-linear sense of improvisation, as a ‘moment’ based medium, there is the infinity of NOW.