A Drummer's Song
For nearly three decades, Jim Black's musical creativity and unstoppable curiosity have made him one of the most in-demand drummers in the jazz/new music scene today. With roots in Seattle, WA, Jim spent his early years exploring all styles of music – from garage rock to big band swing – before heading to Boston, MA to attend the Berklee College of Music. Jim moved to Brooklyn in 1991, where he currently resides, and maintains a busy schedule touring, recording, teaching and enjoying music across the world.
Jim Black co-leads and composes for the groups Pachora and Human Feel, and works in numerous groups alongside some of today's most creative artists including, Ellery Eskelin, Uri Caine, Chris Speed, Tim Berne, Dave Douglas, Dave Liebman and Laurie Anderson. He appears on over 100 recordings.
Jim finds himself most at home leading and composing original music for his band AlasNoAxis. "Dogs of Great Indifference" is the fourth album from the group, which includes Black's Brooklyn cohort Chris Speed – tenor/clarinet and frequent Icelandic collaborators Hilmar Jensson – guitar, and Skúli Sverrisson. (Speed and Sverrisson also appear on Pachora's recent release, Astereotypical, on Winter & Winter.)
In 2000, Jim released his acclaimed debut recording, AlasNoAxis on Winter & Winter (called "A masterpiece of future jazz" by The Wire) and toured internationally for enthusiastic audiences. He continued writing new songs, finding new grooves and exploring ensemble sounds with his band on Splay (2002) and the instrumental songbook Habyor (2004).
Jim approached "Dogs of Great Indifference" with the ear of a veteran band leader: "On our last tour the band reached a new level of interaction and cohesiveness that can only be found by playing night after night. Since then I have been looking forward bringing that kind of energy into the studio."
When AlasNoAxis entered the Brooklyn Recording studio (a great match for the band, with its atmosphere and equipment), Jim decided to approach the new music with no overdubs, extra parts, or additional electronics. He brought in songs that weren't clear-cut so the band could play as if onstage – with melodies that could come and go as needed, even leave them unresolved or unconnected if need be.
"Since the best music tends to happen when one doesn't ask for it, I wanted it to be as musically spontaneous and democratic as possible…only wanting to pen the actual song material, and letting the band forge the shape and attitude of each piece", says Black.
The music says the rest. On "Dogs of Great Indifference", the improvisations develop organically from and within the songs – as if Black knew exactly what cues to give the band so the intensity of live performance is complemented by the intimacy of studio recording.
Song highlights include "Harmstrong", which grew from Jim's improvisation with Mahler samples on his laptop while performing in one of Uri Caine's projects and "Desemrascar", an almost slang Portuguese word that loosely means "when things don't go as planned, you have to improvise you're way out of it". "Just Because You Know" was the first song written for the new CD – on two strings on his guitar. Most of his song titles come from fake lyrics he would imagine while writing each tune.
The album's namesake, "Dogs of Great Indifference" has its beginnings in Jim's Brooklyn neighborhood, where canines line the streets usually begging for attention from passersby as their owners shop, cavort in cafes and take care of business. All dogs but two: a twin pair of small Asian huskies that remained unusually unfazed by the street traffic. Their blatant nonchalance made them all the more attractive to Jim, as there was no chance of pulling them out of their own world.
The album's design by Steve Byram shows the extraordinary work by Myra Brooklyn, whose neon light and stuffed animals display at the Winter & Winter Showroom caught Jim's eye in November 2005.