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A Different Drummer, Pt. 6: Iberian Beats – Jorge Rossy & Pedro Melo Alves

A Different Drummer, Pt. 6: Iberian Beats – Jorge Rossy & Pedro Melo Alves

Courtesy Nuno Martins

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When I was younger, I was more focused on becoming a ‘professional’ and on developing skills that I believed a professional would be expected to master. That was a bit of a mercenary approach that doesn’t motivate me anymore.
—Jorge Rossy
The music of the Iberian Peninsula is as rich and diverse as any in the world. Its influences are many yet it developed in the pre-global bubble of geography. Early music of the peninsula was impacted by much of the known world in the primeval period and the Middle Ages. The peninsula was isolated by the Pyrenees Mountains effectively blocking off modern Spain and Portugal from the rest of Europe but cultural aspects of the Roman Empire, Turkic tribes, and the Greeks were entrenched prior to the Muslim invasion of 711 AD. What the Muslims came to dominate included Visigoths and Vandals who had already integrated with the local population. The Arab rulers of Andalucía, the southern agricultural region of Spain, along with Berbers from North Africa, ingrained their customs into the Andalusian culture and ethnic composition. The ancient Greek inhabitants, the church, and the Moors of Northwest Africa, less than ten miles off the coast of Spain, shaped the music of the region, often in Arab-Andalusian melodies.

Percussion was a critical element in the development of jazz music in Portugal and Spain. In part six of A Different Drummer, we talk to percussionists from both of those countries. Barcelona's Jorge Rossy played and recorded with musicians in Spain during the 1980s, moving to the U.S. in 1989 to attend Berklee College of Music. He worked with Woody Shaw, Kenny Wheeler, and later in Boston, with Danilo Pérez and Paquito D'Rivera. Relocating to New York City in 1991, Rossy recorded with Mark Turner, Chris Cheek, Ethan Iverson, Avishai Cohen and other top names. In 1995 Rossy broke through in the U.S. as a member of the Brad Mehldau Trio with whom he recorded a dozen albums. In addition to the drums, Rossy is an accomplished pianist and also plays vibes, and marimba.

Porto, Portugal native Pedro Melo Alves is a rising talent. Jazz has had a presence in Portugal since the mid-1920s but had found itself in decline from the 1970s. The revolutionary jazz scene in Portugal, circa the 2010s, has produced a profusion of stars. On the burgeoning Portuguese jazz scene, drummer Melo Alves is becoming one of the more prolific artists. The multiple award-winning composer has accumulated international praise for four unique recordings in the space of a year. Melo Alves works in exploratory jazz, electroacoustics, improvised music, and soundtracks.

Drummers

All About Jazz: Could you tell me about where you grew up and what were your earliest musical influences?

Jorge Rossy: I grew up in Barcelona in a musical family. I started listening to The Beatles and Elton John at 11 years old. Started playing homemade drums (with cardboard boxes and tambourines) with soup spoons so that I could play along with Ringo and Nigel.

Pedro Melo Alves: I was raised in the city of Porto, in the north of Portugal, as the second son of a family with no artistic background, back in 1991. As I remember, my first musical influences came first from my parents, with some good old Queen, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, or Pink Floyd being played often at home, but then mostly from my older brother, with whom I had an eager relationship with music discoveries. I remember perfectly first discovering with him Portuguese pearls like Dulce Pontes, classical music like Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring, "guitar music like Paco de Lucia, progressive rock like Liquid Tension Experiment, rock classics like Jimi Hendrix, soundtracks like Hans Zimmer's Prince of Egypt (DreamWorks Records, 1998) or my first jazz albums John Coltrane's Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957) and Oliver Nelson's Blues and The Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1961). Then, when I was already in my teenage years, I started to have my own private discoveries, and it's pretty nostalgic now to remember the first time I heard Debussy, Bernardo Sassetti, John Hollenbeck, Ligeti or Bartok. Time flies. And I kind of miss that rush of discovering something that totally crushes my references, that provides me with a new dimension of experience. Maybe it has never been so intense again. But I hope I'm wrong.

AAJ: Pedro: What was the first instrument you studied, and when were you introduced to drumming?

PMA: My first instrument was the drums, at the age of 8 or 9. I started studying it because of my brother, 5 years older, who wanted to learn the guitar. Otherwise, I don't know when or if I'd have started studying music at all. My parents describe me as a little kid who wouldn't stop hitting all the furniture at home, pretending to be playing some sort of drums. Supposedly, that's why I ended up in drumming classes. But I guess I could've started learning pretty much any other instrument. But either way, around 2000 was the beginning of a precious music relationship with my brother. Me and him, 10ish and 15ish years old, would learn how to play a lot of our favourites, ranging from Metallica to Dream Theater classics, and that's how playing became a consistent part of my life, eventually leading to my first bands, many years before I started approaching music with an academic serious perspective.

AAJ: What is it about drumming that appeals to you?

JR: For me drumming is a very direct way to get inside the essence and the spirit of the music. Like a conductor, the drummer is not playing the melody or the chords of a tune, but he or she must know them deeply to create the context in terms of pulse, tempo, dynamics, style, and emotional meaning that add to a personal interpretation of the music. In other words, when I play drums, I experience it as if my instrument is the whole band. I'm dealing with the band's sound. My playing pushes the band in the direction that I believe the music should go. Sometimes it feels like just riding the wave and allowing things to happen rather than pushing the music in a pre-conceived direction. Most decisions are spur of the moment and unconscious, or semi-conscious.

PMA: Well, as I said, drumming appeared quite arbitrarily in my life. And it has not been a linear relationship, since then. First, it was just purely fun to play and have bands—as it should be. Once music started to become more central and expanding to philosophical and artistic inner demands, I started to realize I had a much broader interest in sound than just the drums. It led me to quit the Jazz Drums superior degree halfway to study classical and jazz piano and then to enroll in a Music Composition bachelor. I was searching for a holistic, multidirectional and omnipotent approach to sound creation. But I didn't stop playing the drums in the meantime. And eventually everything came together.

It's quite obvious now to realize that you can be a Stockhausen or Ligeti through a drum set as much as through an orchestra. It's a matter of choosing your set of rules. Or having life choose them for you, doesn't really matter. So, finally addressing your question, drumming appeals to me as a means to an infinite end of sound and art expression. (Put like this seems rather cliche to say). But really, the drums as a means, even though I once thought about them as a limited one, now feel like one of the most polyvalent acoustic instruments. First, it's a modular instrument which leaves doors totally open for creativity and customization, composed of pretty much everything you want it to have and to be played equally by any kind of beater/exciter. Then, it has a big resonant acoustic property, full of complex harmonics, an infinite timbre palette and a wide dynamic range. And there's also a specific characteristic which I've grown to love about it, since it typically lacks determinate pitches, which is how it usually deals more directly with the abstract and undefinable layers of creating a narrative through sound.

As an image of this, it's interesting how in many genres where the drums have established as a central instrument, from jazz to rock to pop, you'll have the music written for all the instruments except for the drummer—the drummer is supposed to somehow make the music happen. When composing or improvising, many times the more discernible and theorizable aspects of music like rhythm and harmony provide an annoying sense of obligatory directions, squashing possibilities, just because it's more obvious to follow idiomatic options or theoretic rules of thumb that you know to work. And when you're dealing with pure sound and pulse, it's not so obvious how to find functional ways, and you end up having to truly activate musical intuition and sensibility before thinking about it. Of course, all of this applies to any instrument—and drum rhythms can be just as dogmatic as any harmonic voice-leading, sure. But there's something about drums and unpitched percussion, like with electronic music, which invites you to think about/feel these things earlier, in a purer state, I think.

AAJ: How would you describe your development as an artist?

JR: Over the years I have become more conscious of the relationship between music and society. When I was younger, I was more focused on becoming a 'professional' and on developing skills that I believed a professional would be expected to master. That was a bit of a mercenary approach that doesn't motivate me anymore. Now I'm searching for meaning and I'm satisfied when my playing is connected to the values that I believe society urgently needs to survive and hopefully thrive.

PMA: Well, first I just played music. Then, when it started to get more serious, my approach to music lost almost all of its hedonistic nature. Music became the means for the search itself, a colorful exploration of the deeper emotional and intellectual layers of existence and life in community.

And, as a side note, I remember I thought many times that I lacked a genuine dose of pain in order to be a proper artist. You see, I have a stable relationship with my parents whom I love, come from a non-activist medium class family of a peaceful country in the 90s with all the promises of prosperity running through Europe, have no real traumas in my upbringing, am a heterosexual man and, even as I faced all the incongruities of real life, I still felt whole and at peace. It felt many times as if I had nothing to say or no real perspective of the life under the stability cloak, no real crack from where inner, raw treasures would appear. I remember how this frustrated me in my first year of music bachelor. I then realized I just needed to live more, get outside my little bubble and have my feet swept away. So I became an avid student, as much as an avid experimentalist, creator of opportunities for things to happen, either by organizing events or leading new bands, composing new material or searching for new circuits and people where new things would happen.

And now, I feel I might be entering a more mature stage of all this. Sometimes it's good to have clear signs that things have changed without you noticing. And the most clear sign I can think of is that it's been some time now since I've created music mostly for an academic or perfection statement. And a lot of driving forces for creation that moved me are now losing their interest. I wanted to be the best musician, artist and person I could be. I had really strict standards of what it would be to be "ready." And because of that, I had to have written reminders of why music should feel good, why I pursued it in the first place, and how could I reach the things I wanted to hear instead of the things I was "driven to play/write." Do you see the contradictions here?

The more I started to explore different art circuits outside the academic realms in both music and performative arts, from pop to rock to experimental to erudite, things have become gradually more and more organic, diverse, healthily ambiguous and driven by purer curiosity with no solid ground or purpose. I mean, the more you experience, the more you realize reality is such a beautiful mess. So beautifully untamable. Always more limitless than your given references of chaos and complexity. I guess that's a bit of what it feels to be an artist in our era. You already know in your guts that you're not really doing things for a higher purpose, but at the same time it doesn't feel like you're lost. You just keep as open and sensitive as possible, absorb, feed your curiosity with stimulus of all kinds (really all kinds) and try to be as present and active as possible in your reaction, knowing that none of what you believe matters that much. I feel one's guts are supposed to be highly plastic and doubtable. That's what produces the truly multi-directional beauty of it all. And awareness. It guarantees that you're creating in touch with the metamorphic and nonsense elements around you instead of any crystallized and romanticized ideal of meaning and purpose.

So, summing it up, I'd say my development as an artist has been characterized by a healthy dose of deconstruction of almost everything that made me follow arts. I don't want to be the best nor aim for the best in the world. I don't want poetry nor [do] I want disruption. We've all seen it before, all that spectrum is a given part of us already. I happen to play the drums and compose music and, through it, I just want to be a more present, fluid, part of what's going on in this complex, dirty, melting pot we have in front of us. Everything being possible, with no big expectations or purpose. Does it mean dystopic, abstract, unbearable music? Not necessarily. Probably means dance music, who knows?

AAJ: Jorge: you've toured and recorded extensively with Brad Mehldau and backed Chris Cheek, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, Wayne Shorter, Joe Lovano, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Mark Turner, and many other top artists. In almost all of those situations, you've worked as a drummer but are an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. In your namesake groups, the Jordi Rossy Trio, Jorge Rossy Quintet, the Vibes Quintet, and the Rossy & Kanan Quartet, you choose to play vibraphone, marimba, or piano but not drums. Do you actively search out opportunities to play vibraphone, marimba, or piano?

JR: Lately I'm involved in so many projects that I don't search for more stuff. I like to have a nice balance between vibes, marimba and drums. I'm not playing piano that much lately, only at home and while teaching. When I write music, I enjoy playing the melodies and harmonies with a melodic instrument which is why my own projects are vibes/marimba projects. As a sideman it's usually much easier for me to learn repertoire on the drums. I do get some calls to play vibes and marimba and I enjoy doing that but often it takes a lot of work to feel comfortable so I'm very selective about the projects I take on. I don't have a real interest or capacity to become a versatile vibes virtuoso. That is not to say that I am a virtuoso on the drums, but I think more musicians are very familiar with what I can offer on the drums so a lot of what comes my way as a drummer is very comfortable and easy for me to approach. That doesn't mean that it's not challenging!

AAJ: Jorge: as a leader, how do you decide on which musicians will make up the group?

JR: That is a key decision. I think of what combination of musicians will provide the skills needed to achieve the full potential of the repertoire. I also look for musicians who complement each other but also bring different things to the table. I look for musicians who will understand the music in a way that is similar to mine; there must be a deep affinity in the interpretation of the meaning of the music. But I also need the musicians to feel totally free to interpret my music in a very personal way and contribute their own musical sensibility and imagination. What I write is just like a seed: it needs all the members of the band to become a real complete piece of music. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to develop deep musical connections with many great musicians from different generations, with whom I feel a very strong aesthetic and personal affinity.

AAJ: When you compose, on what instrument do you develop your ideas?

JR: Mostly, I write without any instrument. I use the piano for arrangements and the vibes to develop vibes parts.

PMA: This really depends on the project. I might compose it entirely on paper or music writing software, with no instrument, or on a DAW project with MIDI controllers operating synthesis or sampling or at the piano, when writing more conventionally, or also at the drums, if I'm composing something to be played solo or based on it.

Truth is, it makes all the difference to choose wisely. And I should remember myself [of] that more often.

AAJ: Pedro: who are your current influences, musical or otherwise?

PMA: Lately my influences I guess are both people that clearly have thought about these concepts as much as people that clearly haven't and couldn't care less. But still, artists that, even if seeming like they don't share much similarities, inspire me on this impolite connection to a more raw, unfiltered, real and open reality. In the improvised and erudite music, people like Alexander Schubert, Christian Lillinger, Craig Taborn, Simon Stean-Andresen, Lukas Koenig, Peter Evans, Streifenjunko, Dans Les Arbres, Wet Ink Ensemble and their composers, Yannis Kyriakides or crazy Petr Válek; in the more popular electronic realms, people like Clipping, SOPHIE and the whole PC Music label, Aphex Twin, Ryoji Ikeda, Alva Noto, Icarus, Oneohtrix Point Never, Deantoni Parks, Vaetxh, Qebrus or even The Books and Chassol.

AAJ: Pedro: what are some of the tools and instruments you're using? Do you use any uncommon percussion effects along with a standard kit?

PMA: In line with the way I like to compose, embracing tendencies from acoustic to electronic music, I also like to have a diverse approach to the drum kit, yes. And that might include using it with piezos, triggers and pads or playing it acoustically with less conventional tools like small speakers and vibrators as much as preparing it with objects which change the response of the skins or the cymbals. And having big multi-percussion kits or small one-piece kits. And also playing it in a very standard way. But I generally get more interested when the drums don't sound like a drum kit at all.

I also collaborate closely with cymbal and gongsmith João Pais Filipe, whom I have the pleasure of having living nearby. And so, I have a lot of custom, handmade objects from cymbals to bells on my kit that contribute to a wider and unique palette of sounds. The same way that I sometimes go and buy a metal sheet or chains. Or that I always follow the work of many percussion craftsmen around the globe like Morfbeats, Electro Lobotomy or SM Percussion.

I'm realizing I shift between cycles where I'm more into the possibilities of the fully electronic resources and cycles where I prefer to go fully acoustic, trying to reach, however, the same kind of sonic possibilities. In 2018 I toured with an electroacoustic solo where I had all my kit pieces being processed and played by me in real time, called O. And last year I decided to record a 6-part video series, called Prepared Drums Studies (later released as an album "Zero of Form"), where I've focused on some of the acoustic techniques and resources, I've developed on the last years of playing experimental music and doing live soundtracks for theatre and dance plays. On that I participated in Rodrigo Constanzo's Play Talk Play series, where he plays and talks with improvising musicians about these concepts. But this year, for example, I'm focusing more on an electroacoustic approach with electronic pads spread around the kit to integrate sampling as a nuclear part of my drumming vocabulary.

AAJ: Over your years of playing, how has your practice routine changed?

JR: I never had much of a practice routine. I have always tended to just play a lot with other musicians and listen to a lot of music. Especially since lockdown, I have enjoyed playing vibes at home alone, exploring tunes and textures. I used to do this with the piano.

PMA: I guess I only had a real practice for the sake of a practice routine on the drums back when I was studying jazz drums at the university. Since then I see myself directing the drums practice always towards the projects I'm involved in, usually my own creations. This is, in part, due to the lack of spare time to have an independent practice routine.

On the other hand, because most of them tend to be my projects, they usually involve some kind of resources—whether they're a concept, specific vocabulary or sound technique—that I want to understand and master by composing, developing and practicing it. So I end up having a steady basis of evolution on the instrument by putting it in function of the music I create and perform.

But looking at my full routine, I'd say I put a lot more time into listening actively to music, transcribing at the piano, exploring harmonic concepts, exploring new music software and composing material.

AAJ: What type of techniques do you practice to advance your drumming skills?

JR: I haven't 'practiced' drums since 1994. All my life, I have mostly learned by playing drums with great musicians who have led me into new musical situations that required me to expand my imagination, vocabulary and skills as a drummer. Over the last 10 years or so, playing piano and vibes with many really great drummers has inspired me incredibly as a drummer. To hear how these masters have dealt with my music and to feel their support on stage and experience their musical decision-making on the bandstand has really been something else! Each one of them has been different: Joe Chambers, Al Foster, Jimmy Wormworth, Billy Hart, Joey Baron, Jeff Ballard, Adam Cruz... Whenever I play drums now, I feel that my awareness of what can be done with the music from the drum chair has grown enormously thanks to playing with these masters.

PMA: One of the most structural practices I do, with specifications according to the pieces I'm studying, is based on a pulse, going through the different subdivisions and different groupings of those different subdivisions. It's an endless generator of vocabulary, orchestration, tempo stability and a quick spotter of one's weaknesses.

But one of the most challenging and interesting practices I regularly do is to pick examples of really rich solo sound explorers which aren't percussionists, acoustic or electronic, like, let's say Merzbow, Nuno Rebelo or Mark Dresser and try to emulate those sounds and phrasing, coming up with new techniques on my instrument. This makes me investigate in a non-instrumentistic way, which always opens expressive unexpected results. It's similar to what happens in real time when you find yourself in an improvisation session with musicians for the first time and try to dialogue with sounds you've never heard before, many times reaching them through means you didn't know you had. It's an experience which connects your inner perception of sound with your hands and feet, in a way where you're briefly unchained from your physical memories and able to almost communicate instantaneously -through the concept itself rather than through words.

AAJ: How has the pandemic affected you? Is it more challenging to keep your skills sharp when you're playing in isolation?

JR: It was great to focus on vibes for a few months in Barcelona from April to July, 2020. I had vibes and piano at home during lockdown, but my drums were in a studio that I couldn't access. Since July 2020, I've been living in Basel, where lockdown has not been as strict as in Spain. I have also travelled a bit for a couple of projects and have been able to keep teaching at the Jazzcampus. In Basel my musical activity has been just as intense as before the pandemic. I have done less traveling but lots of recording, playing, and teaching. I need a holiday!

PMA: Well, we're now reaching the year mark, so the pandemic has meant different things throughout these past months. In the beginning, which in Portugal means around March 12th, everything was shut, and for me, just coming from a tour in Berlin, that meant an opportunity to focus on all I didn't have time while on the road. I had access to my studio, so, after the initial shock, it was not challenging at all, it was actually pretty heavenish: I was able to study and investigate on the drums coming from all the gathered stimulus of the previous years and have a daily routine of composition and musical production. I remember even feeling guilty for feeling so well in the midst of a global disaster. Then came the summer and the 2nd part of the year which, around here, brought a new kind of activity with some commissioned new work and fewer concerts, but mostly all bigger, better prepared and better paid events. They happened for real audiences and I even had two international ones that managed not to be canceled, in Switzerland and Italy, a theatre play where I played live and a commissioned work for a big ensemble. Nothing that compares with the past normality, though, because I still missed a lot of the unexpected stimulus that comes when you constantly deal with new people, spaces and go out to see what people are doing. That's when life cooks you those ideas and connections you were not counting on. But it still worked and proved there's more functional ways of being a musician than the constant rush, being all over the place, I was used to.

Now, since January everything got shut down again and I'm back to the daily routine, alone at the studio, between investigations on the drums, composing, editing and mixing records to come out this year, applying for fundings to make some projects possible and actively listening to a lot of new music. And, I have to say that for the first time, I've been feeling the isolation brain struggles, especially when it comes to the meaning of this all. I'd say the artistic skills are definitely the most endangered ones. Even with all the audio and video available online, here I am, day after day in a studio thinking about the impact of sound experiences and getting on to generating new exciting ones when the origin of why this matters is starting to get blurry. You know? Not so much why art matters in a general macroscopic sense but more specifically how and why people vibrate, what's the essence behind any significant human bonding and share that happens on live concerts and sometimes with recorded albums and videos. Those invisible reasons that feed your search, that restore your drive for that new thing you want to generate and share with everyone. I'm starting to realize that now I'm working based on a blind faith that the reasons that were feeding me before this new reality might still apply when everything opens up again. I don't know anymore. Meaning and truth above what words can say, in my experience, come from interaction. More and more on the past years, the epiphanies I've been getting about what matters and what people need, which then translates subconsciously on everything I might do in music, have been taking abstract forms, less tangible through words, like an inner unshaped urge for something you just know to be relevant. And it's exactly these kind of epiphanies that I miss. It feels like a void now. And that absence makes me approach life more intellectually but I know myself better, and I recognize that to be just a desperate measure of the brain to find some food in a desert of social interaction. I hope this all ends soon.

AAJ: Jorge: you've appeared as a sideman on almost two hundred recordings, with prominent jazz artists such as Ethan Iverson, Kevin Hays, Seamus Blake, Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Steve Swallow. Do you take away something you can use with each of those experiences?

JR: Of course, and each one is unique. I love recording—it is always a beautiful crystallization of what has happened in a specific moment. I learn a lot about music every time I record. Sometimes listening to yourself can be quite painful! In those moments the lesson is unforgettable!

AAJ: Jorge: you've played and recorded in various styles and settings; progressive jazz, standards, Latin, big band, and orchestra. Do you have a preference for any style? Do you feel that a particular style allows you more space for improvising?

JR: No. Each situation has different challenges and I enjoy them all.

AAJ: The musicality of drummers/percussionists can often be overlooked. Bill Bruford said, "I've always seen the percussion or drum part for the song as being a stand-alone little work of art that, should all the other instruments be silenced and the percussion soloed alone, would still sound unique and interesting." How do you experience the drummer/percussionist as not being limited to a rhythmic role in a group?

JR: I play rhythm, form, harmony, phrasing, color, shapes, structures, style, space, stories, pictures, occurrences, jokes, reminders, intentions, emotions, ideas, beliefs.... Drums and cymbals can't play chords or complicated melodies with specific pitch, but everything a good drummer plays is 100% connected with the harmony and melody of the music you are playing. Music is much more than notes and chords the same way that poetry is much more than letters and words.

PMA: Well, coming from all I already said, I guess it's pretty obvious now that I don't see those limitations on the drums. But I remember I saw them, though. So, I guess it takes some exposure to the music phenomena as a whole, going through different styles and contexts, challenging yourself to produce musical meaning with all kinds of limitations, so that you go full circle and come back to that rhythmic role (or whatever starting point) knowing that it's all music. And that it's never just one thing. Drums -metal, wood and skins, one of the most primitive kinds of sonic expression -are a fascinating source of sound that can be put in function of all types of musical demands, from the most concrete to the most abstract. Not seeing this has nothing to do with the drums themselves, it's how you position yourself in life, what you allow yourself to experience.

AAJ: What components do you need in the kit to be able to play melodically?

JR: Nothing. Using just imagination and touch, you can make all kinds of music with only "brushes on a phone book" (or any other available surface).

PMA: Every single object out there is a melodic drum kit part, potentially. Of course I know what you mean, I come from the standard way of setting and playing a drum kit, so, most of all, I know what it feels to have your mind counting with specific parts of the kit as part of your dialogue. On this I had many conversations with my friend cymbalsmith and percussionist João Pais Filipe, on the importance of taking out certain structural parts of the kit, in order to stimulate your brain to come up with creative solutions for the gap. Like for example, taking out the pedals and playing only with your hands. Or no cymbals at all. Or having one of your hands playing a keyboard at the same time. Or playing just one piece.

In a standard approach I'd say that, for a diversified melodic speech, you need 3 layers of register—bass, mid and treble—so that could be bass drum, snare and a cymbal and both long, resonant and short, staccato options. But you can always find those layers in any object or set of objects—take the cajon technique, for example. In my personal experience I've been enjoying having those layers expanded not only by having really deep and really high-pitched options on my kit (and many times that does not imply more components, it just means mastering new techniques) but also by defying some of the percussion instrument limits like sustained notes.

AAJ: All art has some historical context, even if unintended. Max Roach was the first drummer/composer to make a definitive, full-length political statement with "We Insist!" What are your thoughts about the function of music in raising awareness on political or social issues?

JR: Yes indeed, Max is enormously inspiring in this regard. His work with Abbey Lincoln is a great example for all. I feel that responsibility, especially now that the stakes are so high! It's not only trying to achieve a better, more just and more equal society, the mere survival of humanity, among another species, is at stake. We just can't afford not to act, it's plain suicide/genocide for future generations. I hope that I can find ways to share my belief in the superiority of collaboration and responsibility for the common good over the infantile idea that competing to be the "the best" will solve our problems. Responsibility and accountability need to be at the center of our decision making. That's one of the messages I try to put out there. As a teacher and by example, I try to do something at the local level. In an interview like this, I also try to express these ideas. I hope that the spirit of the music I play and the musicians I associate myself with also reflects [these] values and beliefs.

PMA: One thing is what music, because of its community nature, can do to make people come together around a cause or how you, as a musician, express yourself around the music you do, whether it being what you speak on stage, the people you choose to work with, the performative component of the show, what you write on your release descriptions and, generally, how you do and present your music. And there I think it's almost impossible not to see its political and social implications.

Another is the nuclear content of the music itself. And I personally tend to look for less specifiable contents in music. I think, as you say, that even if unintended, music will always be a product of what you live. But, when you experience it, I feel like it's always going to depart and expand beyond any initial predetermined subject. So, what I mean is that actually music will deliver you the contents of freedom and justice in a vibrating manner because of the democratic way it is done or the implicit emotions it conveys. But that does not need "freedom and justice" explicitly written anywhere. When composing, I prefer that the music expresses itself fully in its abstract organic way, which doesn't mean it's condemned to be an empty art form. Far from it, music will always come from concrete tensions and urges but only the nuclear, invisible matrixes of these subjects will reach people's ears and body. And so another kind of communication happens, freer and timeless but fully and inevitably in touch with its time. And because of it I believe all musicians doing new music raise this awareness that you mention, even if it's the last thing on their mind. I guess you can't avoid being a human in a human society, [a] product of its time.

However, there's another side to all of this that compels me all the same. Which is how progressively all art forms have their limits shredded and how you can't imagine a music statement of nowadays which isn't connected to its multidisciplinary (especially digitally speaking) form. Everything is coming together more and more in surprising ways. So maybe this social function in art will be maximized more and more as well.

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