Back in the 90s, producer Stefan Winter got to know and appreciate drummer Jim Black as a JMT sideman of Tim Berne and Uri Caine. 20 years ago, the young drummer fulfills his dream of releasing his first leader album on the label that is also home to the recordings of Tim Berne, Uri Caine and Paul Motion. For the anniversary of WINTER & WINTER, Jim Black compiles his personal selection of the recordings of his group AlasNoAxis: Music for open ears, for explorers of the unusual and unconventional. The musicians of AlasNoAxis combine jazz elements, new wave and grunge to create their very own sound. Stefan Hentz writes: »…atmospheric songs in which the saxophone sings while bass, drums and Hilmar Jensson's peculiarly motionless guitar shred the familiar and pile up new energies with the fragility of dissolved harmonies, the power of their power chords or even with true feedback orgies.«
My Choice: When Stefan (Winter) initially approached me to record my first album as a leader for WINTER & WINTER, I told him »yes« on the condition that I was only interested in recording my own compositions. He said »I want you to record your own compositions.« I said »But you have no idea what kind of music I write!« He replied »I trust you…« The fact was, I didn’t have a clue what to write… but an invitation to be more than you can imagine yourself being is a call to grow.
I was raised on rock radio growing up in Seattle, along with the 8-track tapes in my parents’ car blasting Burt Bacharach songs performed by the Carpenters, the 5th Dimension, and Dionne Warwick. I completely forgot that part of my musical upbringing during my jazz obsessed college years. When I moved to Brooklyn in ’91, my ears changed for the better by listening to the very eclectic and interesting mix of music coming from a small listener supported freeform radio station, the legendary WFMU from East Orange, New Jersey. Since they were a major influence on my tastes and direction, I made the simple decision to write exactly the music that I would want to hear on the radio. Raised on John Coltrane and Albert Aylers’ musical energies combined with my love of distortion and melodic singer/songwriters seemed like a mix I would want to hear. [Not lost on me, the band Sonic Youth was already focusing on this through their own lens.]
Oh, delusions of grandeur, what one wouldn’t give to write the next Beach Boys’ »Pet Sounds«… Instead, the first song I wrote was the absolutely strange »Optical« [track 8] included here.
Sometime in 1999 I read somewhere that singer/songwriter virtuoso Joni Mitchell would pick up a guitar and tune it to a random tuning that she thought sounded good, and would then proceed to slowly figure out her own chords and progressions while singing melodies on top to write songs… [Sounds like a great idea, let’s go!]
Thus began my journey to write all of the music for AlasNoAxis on various randomly tuned electric baritone guitars, while having no idea how to properly play guitar. A slow and painstaking process to say the least but one well worth the effort and unexpected rewards. Removing all technical knowledge from writing on an instrument forces one to only write exactly what one hears – there are no instrumental skills or tricks to save you. If I couldn’t sing the melodies, I wouldn’t write them down. After I had the songs, I needed the right band to provide all of the sound, color, shape, energy, and to breathe life and soul into these sonic imaginations.
After two minutes of thought, it was an obvious choice to give them to my oldest and most open-minded musical friends at that time: Chris Speed, Hilmar Jensson, and Skúli Sverrisson. With these gentlepersons, you are working with artisans that play, arrange, and spontaneously compose from the inside of each composition, highlighting the meaning and message of each section of every song. You can trust nobody will come to the music and simply drop a familiar musical ‘style‘ on top; they are going to search for approaches and sounds that make each song unique – even spending hours rehearsing 1 bar of material to find the just the right vibe.
The compilation [»My Choice«] you are in possession of is a sampler platter. Hopefully it piques your interest to explore each of these six albums in full. Thank you for listening to our music.
Special thanks to Stefan and Mariko for the trust and believing in my music, even though they had no clue what they were getting into. — Jim Black
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