Following the release late last year of their debut album And I Love Her, pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron embark on a European trio tour next month. Their itinerary includes a 12 February gig at London’s Pizza Express in Soho. Copland had a busy 2019, including not only the aforementioned release – his first trio outing in several years – but also the award-winning piano solo album Gary, a collection of Gary Peacock compositions. During a winter stopover at his NY home between tours, Marc Copland spoke to Mike Collins of LondonJazz News by skype:
LondonJazz News: You’re coming over with the trio that recorded And I Love Her. How did this particular combination of players come about?
Marc Copland: It really goes back to my musical partner, the late John (Abercrombie). John and I worked together for many years, usually in my bands; then about six years ago this arrangement was turned on its head, and I became part of his band. The rest of the quartet was Joey Baron, who’d been with John for a while, and Drew Gress, whom I recommended. We toured together as a quartet for around four years and made two CDs for ECM.
It seemed natural to me to make a trio record with Drew and Joey, because we’d been playing together for a while with John’s band, developing as a rhythm section. And I Love Her was recorded around the time of John’s passing (August 2017). This was a hard period for me, I was losing a very close friend and collaborator. It took over a year before I felt emotionally ready to finish the mix and release of this recording. Nothing could ever replace the Abercrombie quartet, but to continue that vibe of playing – which I love – the trio was a logical next step. Drew and Joey are really ideal for the kind of trio I wanted, which is… as little planned as possible, and everyone pitching in equally.
LJN: You can hear that in the music, its quite organic. Can you say a bit more about that?
MC: For starters, there was no intention to play Afro-Blue (the first track on the album). It wasn’t even on our radar. We were warming up the first day, and Joey started playing some 6/8, and the first melody I heard in my head was Afro-Blue – which I don’t believe I’d ever played… so I started playing that to Joey’s beat, and we liked it and kept it. Canteloupe Island wasn’t planned either, it just happened… I remember hearing it in my head in the studio, and felt hesitant to record it again, since I’d already done so on an earlier release (quartet with Michael Brecker on Marc Copland And…, Hat Hut Records). I remember thinking, I guess enough time has gone by, it feels right so let’s do it.
LJN: I guess it comes out different with different people in the room.
MC: Yeah… you know, Abercrombie used to say – and I’m 100% there – “I want to be a side-man in my own band”. I’m happiest if everybody’s contributing… the nice thing about musicians of this calibre and world-view is that I don’t have to tell them anything! At its best, music is an adventure of the mind and an affair of the heart. And with these two guys, I feel like I can do that.
LJN: Some of the themes are very familiar, but… they’ve been through your filter. Watching you play you give the impression of selecting the harmony, so what’s the balance there between carefully arranged and unplanned?
MC: A spontaneous interpretation – choosing harmony, feel, and tempo in the moment – keeps things fresh, and makes it fun…. to approach tunes with a mind open to whatever’s happening right then. The way I operate harmonically is to keep the bass note or root of the harmony mentally on the left side of the keyboard, and the melody or line I’m making up on the right side, and anything in between is fair game…. I’ve always liked stuff where harmonies move around. I remember that in my early 30s, a light bulb went off in my head… it suddenly seemed clear that so-call harmonic function, the role a chord is supposed to fill, was no longer necessary, and that colour could become its own function. It came naturally to me, because of the kind of music I liked listening to. I would always think, “here’s where the bass is going, here’s where the line’s going, what kinds of different colours can I play in there”?
LJN: The trio tour starts at the beginning of February?
MC: Yes, 11 or 12 gigs, starting in Prague, then Germany, Stockholm, Cardiff, London, and back to Germany… Lichtenstein at the end.
LJN: And what next?
MC: We’re about to record with a quintet that toured this past September and October, and is going out again in May. It’s with Dave Liebman, Drew, Joey, and Randy Brecker and Ralph Alessi alternating on trumpet. That album will be out in March or April of this year. There’s also a solo piano album of John Abercrombie tunes already in the can. That’s something I really wanted to do for my friend, and it might be the hardest thing emotionally I’ve ever done. It’s planned for release in the fall of 2020.
The Marc Copland Trio, feat. Drew Gress and Joey Baron plays Pizza Express Jazz Club (Soho) on 12 February 2020
LINK: Pizza Express Live event