Reid Anderson: I've always been a late bloomer

Reid Anderson: I've always been a late bloomer
Photo by Cristina Guadalupe

Reid Anderson has made his career as an improvisational musician, and a successful one at that. As bassist for the Bad Plus, he's toured around the globe for over a decade, redefining jazz for a generation that grew up on Nirvana and Radiohead.

It should come as no surprise that Anderson would opt to challenge himself creatively beyond The Bad Plus. Tonight and Wednesday will mark the debut of his first full-evening compositional work The Rough Mixes as part of the SPCO's continuing Liquid Music Series. The work has Reid on electronics, not bass, and includes SPCO violinists Steven Copes and Ruggero Allifranchini, Minnesota Orchestra cellist Anthony Ross, percussionist Jeff Ballard (Brad Mehldau Trio, Joshua Redman's Elastic Band), as well as accompanying video design on two screens.

Gimme Noise spoke with Anderson from New York about The Rough Mixes, the compositional process and his approaches to collaborations.

Gimme Noise: Can you talk about this concept of merging and mystery that drives The Rough Mixes?

Reid Anderson: [Laughs] Oh my goodness...

In an interview you gave last fall about The Rough Mixes you said you were going for "autonomous elements and the kinds of spaces that are created when they overlap, the kind of harmony that can exist between what are ostensibly independent elements. Almost like a society." Does that relate to the first question?

I think that because my day job is as an improviser, and the thing about improvised music is you can get to these places that you just can't get with the written page. There are a lot of things that occur when there are overlapping, strong ideas that aren't trying to necessarily line up with each other, but there's this magic that can happen and this mysterious correlation that occurs, and that's definitely something that I use a lot when improvising, something that comes out of the avant garde and free jazz. I feel like it's something that's a part of my musical life and experience and that I want to try to create under these circumstances, with classical string players and bringing together these different elements of electronics and Jeff, who's a great improviser on drums.

So this must impact the creation process as compared to your work as an improvising musician?

It does, I'm having to balance a lot of elements because the string players aren't improvisers. One of my goals is to make them sound great, but to find a way that we can all enter those spaces too, so it definitely determines the way I'm thinking about how everything is put together. It's a creative challenge for sure. It's new territory for me, and at this point it only exists in my head [laughs].

Are there parts scored out for the string players?

Oh, there are definitely parts scored out for the string players -- that's the challenge, how to score the parts in such a way that gives them the information they need but also gives them some freedom as well.

In the same interview you also said you "really think the holy grail these days is to incorporate electronics with live musicians, so this will be my sort of first major statement in that arena." Is that along the same thought process as bringing classical musicians into a setting with improvised players -- or is it a whole separate level of synchronicity?

It's just something that's very much a part of our time. I mean, electronic music has been around for awhile, but still there's this quest to find a way to integrate those things. It's something that I'm personally quite interested in, and seems part of a general quest these days. I don't know if it's THE holy grail, it's A holy grail.

NYC could be seen as the pinnacle of "control and chaos" you strive to balance in The Rough Mixes. How has living there influenced your craft and appreciation of aesthetics?

I guess you can't live in New York for twenty years without that sort of influence. To me, New York is always just a creative place and it's very open to how people are expressing themselves and creating on a high level. I think that's what allows for the kind of convergences to happen here. Not to say that it can only happen exclusively in New York, but I just believe that the place you are influences you no matter where you are.

Do you still feel like a Midwesterner?

I guess so in certain ways. After a while you start to consider yourself a New Yorker when you've lived here for years. There's a certain part of the Midwest you can't take out of you when you spent the first 18 years of your life there.

You started out school at UWEC? Any experiences there that heavily impacted you?

I was just starting out, though I have to say my entire schooling experience, like many, started out with a strong will to go somewhere, I just wasn't sure where I was going. Eau Claire was great. I got some really good help and attention, a place for me to learn how to play music and the instrument, acoustic bass at the time.

Could you have foreseen then that you'd move into a more compositional role?

At the time, not really. I wasn't writing music back then. I didn't really start writing music until I was in my late 20s. I guess I've always been a late bloomer at pretty much everything [laughs]. I think that's a positive thing.

Are you able to work on your own compositions when you're on the road with The Bad Plus?

I do it as well as I can. In fact, on this last tour I was still finishing up the details of The Rough Mixes and spent every possible moment on it, be it in vans or trains or whatever. I don't recommend it, but it's a necessary part of the process for me apparently.

Do you find you garner inspiration from being on the road?

I don't want to be romanticizing anything, but not really... I guess, travel broadens the mind and so forth, so that certainly can be inspiring. And certainly things that happen, you're always thinking about the performance. I always take things that are happening while we're [The Bad Plus] playing, and think about this piece I'm working on and wonder how I could take them, use that idea or use it as a starting off point. So yes [laughs], maybe yes, the road is inspiring. It's exhausting though.

Do you wait for inspiration to work on composing or do you regiment yourself to sit down and work on things regardless of whether or not you're feeling creatively compelled?

I personally think you have to just work on things, and occasionally you'll feel inspired while you're working on things. When you're dealing with things that involve a lot of detail and structure, I think inspiration is good for inspiring the seed of an idea, but inspiration has to grow out of actually working at it, shaping it, considering it.

You've worked with Jeff Ballard before, correct? Can you expand on the chemistry and creative relationship you two have formed?

Jeff is sounds obvious to say that he has an incredible feel and beat, but it's actually one of those things that's harder to find than you think - somebody that has that level of depth to his rhythm. And he's also very open-minded. There's something very loose about it as well. Jeff is one of those musicians that finds the space in between. It's perfect for this project, because he's going to be the bridge between the string players and the electronics. You have to have someone with instinct to do that.

Can you talk about the video element of Rough Mixes and how that collaboration manifested in terms of the process?

Christina Guadalupe is the video artist and she worked with The Bad Plus on the Rite of Spring. It was always from the beginning, when Kate [Nordstrom, Liquid Music] and I were talking about The Rough Mixes, it was always proposed that there would be a video element. It's something that I haven't done much of, and saw an opportunity to include that in this.

Through this process of composing The Rough Mixes, is there anything thus far you've learned or would approach differently down the line?

Yea, oh my gosh, I can't even tell you how much work this has been. It's been a labor of love, but as something that's really new territory for me, it's been a learning process from the beginning. Considering the elements, the orchestration, what I'm trying to do... I feel like I'm learning something new every day, even now at the last minute I'm learning things and having thoughts about how to do things. Part of the process is that you have to say, ok I have these elements together, I have to work with these elements, I can't keep adding new ideas, adding some new element I've learned. But it's been an unbelievable learning process and if nothing else, I'm glad for that. And I think it's going to be really least in my head it sounds great [laughs]!

The SPCO's Liquid Music Series presents Anderson's full-evening piece The Rough Mixes at the SPCO Center June 18th and 19th at 7:30 PM.

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