Name: Jean-Philippe Dary
Occupation: Pianist, Keyboarder, Improviser
Current release: Under the name of The Paradox, Jean-Phi Dary and Jeff Mills have just released their debut album, Counter Active. It is out now on Axis Records. European customers can also order on vinyl via News Distribution.
If you enjoyed this interview with Jean-Phi Dary, visit him on Facebook, Youtube or Spotify.
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions or influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I've always wanted to be a musician. My father was singing and playing guitar. He had a band when I wasn't even talking yet. And I love being in the middle of instruments and musicians.
I started playing the organ when I was about 8 years old. I was a kind of UFO who wanted to play the organ in an accordion music school. The teacher liked that, so he taught me some blues and jazz licks from an Oscar Peterson music book. I didn't really understand what I was doing, but I really liked this music. This went on for two or three years. Then I became a bass player in a Caribbean band from the South of France.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I am a self made musician and I learned a lot of things that way. When I started being a professional musician, I was playing in restaurants, bars and piano bars with a friend. But something was missing and I observed that people were more enthusiastic when I was improvising. Of course, people love standards and tunes. But sometimes when you propose something else, it can feel like something is really happening in this very moment.
What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
I've been really lucky to work with people like Papa Wemba. Through him, we got to work with Peter Gabriel. A mere six months earlier, I had still been a pianist in a piano bar! So being in the Real World (Peter Gabriel studio) and travelling, playing in this new “world“ I could taste what I really wanted to be a part of. I felt that it was possible to be considered as an artist, having ideas, points of view … and that was much better than playing in piano bars!
Tell me about your instrument, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results – and possibly even your own performance?
I love instruments, drums, bass … But the piano is, to me, the most mystical of them. We say it's like an orchestra. It's the instrument we use to explain and learn harmony. Everything is in the piano. I mean - you can do everything. One day, somebody told me not to play the piano as if it were a drum. I will always be thankful to this person. I did the opposite: I played the piano like a drum with 88 toms … That' s one of my artistic axioms with the piano: The groove and the melody must be one and have to be the first step.
Your current project with Jeff Mills, is based on a series of very free improvisations. Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. What kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
Music is vibrations. Physically and psychologically. Improvising is, to me, like telepathy with both of these aspects of the music. Sounds and emotions. And when this is happening with the audience, it becomes a mystical form of sharing and you feel that you are touching something very special. You can heal people, help them feel better.
The Paradox started during the recording of a project with Tony Allen, Tomorrow Comes the Harvest. How do you look back on that project and in which way is the music on Counter Active possibly influenced by those sessions?
In fact, The Paradox started during the tour of “Tomorrow comes the Harvest“. The album had been done the same way. Tony and Jeff just let me express myself. This was a real boost to my self confidence.True masters give you the the strength to surpass yourself and the opportunity to go beyond your own boundaries.
Counter Active feeds from your collaboration with Jeff. But collaborations can take on many forms. What is it that drove this project would you say: Your differences or your commonalities? What are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives?
I think it's the idea of feeling free while you are creating without any pressure nor desire to go somewhere. Just play the music you feel at the moment. And like I said, music is vibrations. And a lot of very good vibes were there when we were recording Counter Active.
I love this way of creating. With Jeff, this is perfect, but we can also work in different ways, for example similar to classical musicians and writing scores, or producing like hip hop beat makers … It's open, it's music.
Counter Active is a collaboration between two musicians, but it contains a third element, which is technology. In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at? Would you go as far as to ascribe a co-authorship to your tools?
Jeff is the master. All the drum machines, the sound and groove work has been done by him. I took care of the synth sounds, finding the sound material and working with pedals effects which I use a lot: the wahwah, delays, echos, etc. I used only analogue synthesizers: Moog, Prophet 12, Deepmind 12, Fender Rhodes, acoustics pianos … I also did the edits and the post-prod of the tracks, just before the mix.
Many jazz musicians believe that improvisation works best in front of an audience. And yet, on Counter Active, no one was present except you two. From your point of view, how does playing live in front of an audience and in the studio compare? What happens, when you subtract the audience from the equation?
It s a very interesting experience. I used to believe that the connection between people was what releases adrenaline while on stage. But I could see that it's almost the same sensation in studio. Music is Magic. If you want to express yourself in front of people, even in front of an audience, or just 2 or 3 people, you have to go deep inside your mind to be efficient anyway .
How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition?
Chopin, Mozart, Bach, Miles Davis, Coltrane, were improvisers. Improvising is like automatic reading. When I improvise, it's like I' m just recreating something that a powerful inspiration breathes through me
Could you take me through the process of working with Jeff on the basis of one the performances on Counter Active that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind and how do you translate these beginnings into the finished work of art?
Let 's take "X FACTOR". When Jeff started to play the drum, I heard in my head, in my heart, the beginning of the chord changes. So I decided to record the Fender Rhodes in the first take while Jeff was playing the drum machine. As we recorded this first step, I added the bass line. I remember Jeff, the sound engineer Laurent and I were gathered around the Korg Monopoly that I used to play the bass line. And while I was playing the bass, Jeff was like coaching an athlete, showing me the way, giving me the images, and encouragements. Like a film director with an actor.
So I played the bass in one take. Always in the improvisation mood. Then we talked about what could be added. In my mind, it was like writing a movie soundtrack for a science fiction story.
In the same way we added the piano and later the synth lines. Jeff asked me to stay in the improvisation, so I decided to be inspired by Chopin. I was improvising melodics lines that are telling the same story but by different characters. I used a lot 4th chords witch are modal chord, so you don't have to follow a tonal chords progression. It helps a lot for freedom. And I love their sound.
Jeff said about the process: "A concept and direction would be imagined and we would both address as best we could with what we had at our disposal." Can you tell me a bit about what these concepts and directions would consist of? Did you find that you and Jeff had very different approaches to translating them into sound?
Yes, it's about listening, and about being part of the process. Do your best for your partner to help him express himself, and he will do the same for you. I think somewhere we had the same kind of education. Do your best with what you have. And stay focus on the goal. We have the same approach and the same language, just not the same instrument. Even if to me the keyboards are also drums.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I practise and teach a Russian martial art called “Systema“ .and a breathing method called “EthosFlow Method“. We learn how to breath for a purpose. I use these breathing techniques to put myself in a state. This state is not so mystical; it's more about being “aware“. An awareness of life, but with the purpose of being more connected with what and who I am playing or interacting with.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
I love the sound material, the synthesizers. The way you can play sub bass and high frequency leads lines at the same time. It's important that the sound has a palpable impact on the audience. It' s the vibration of the sound that physically touches people, and it's how we manage this sound: With harmony and melodies that emotionally touch the crowd.
Counter Active sounded fresh and exciting to me, but it is based on a very primal concept: Two people in the same room, making music. With 'visions' of AI generated compositions making the rounds, do you still think this constellation offers the best potential for stimulating and, possibly, innovative results?
You know, the first instrument is the voice, then we start clapping hands. This is still giving emotion to people. But of course we have so many ways to express ideas, and to create, that the possibilities are unlimited. For myself, the door is always open for other experiments. Let's see what the future will bring.