MICHAEL FORMANEK ALTERNATES between open-ended group improvisations and more structured passages on The Rub and Spare Change, his first album as a leader in 12 years. A jazz faculty member at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Formanek has provided steady groove making and inventive soloing for a rangy mix of artists, from a teenage stint with Tony Williams Lifetime to gigs and recording sessions with the Mingus Big Band and late jazz masters Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, and Joe Henderson.
You’ve played fusion, big band, bebop, improvised music, and more. Do you feel most at home in one of those genres, or do you see it all as a continuum?
It’s a continuum. Maybe improvised music is the one for me, because I feel like I can go into any of those other zones. Some people think of improvised music as not referencing other styles or grooves, but I don’t like those kinds of limitations. I’m absolutely thrilled to go there, find a groove, and not shy away or from something because it references something else.
What’s the state of the improvised music scene?
It’s maturing in a lot of ways. Greater numbers of young musicians going to school—or otherwise getting traditional jazz educations—are looking to bring more free, non-structured improvisation into their music.
Which players have had the deepest impact on your work?
Different guys at different times—Paul Chambers, Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, Sam Jones, Oscar Pettiford, Israel Crosby, and Ron Carter. But Charles Mingus stands out just because of the breadth of his contributions. As a player and composer, I always loved the sound of his bass, the depth of his personal expression, and the way he wrote extended compositions. I’ve never been wild about his methods for dealing with people as a bandleader, but I’ve admired his attempts to get players to make the music their own and his focus on collective improvisation.
HEAR HIM ON
Michael Formanek, The Rub and Spare Change [ECM, 2010]
Bass u-size French Mirecourt school double bass, circa 1860
Strings Velvet Blue
Bow German-style Pfreschner bow
Rig Aguilar AG 500SC head with GS 112 cab