My morning is brighter because of the exuberant melodies of A Tree Grows, a new Jazz ensemble out of Brooklyn, New York featuring brothers Rashaan and Russell Carter who founded this project with German-born electronic musician Emanuel Ruffler ( past collaborators include Meshell Ndegocello and designer Emanuel Ungaro). Together with saxophonist Tivon Penicott and trumpeter Duane Eubanks, the group is charging full speed ahead, playing shows which showcase their fast-forming and delightful sound. I hope you enjoy what you're about to hear as much as I do.
They play this week in New York at Nublu on 12/9/2016 10pm;
Emanuel Ruffler answers some questions about the project here.
1) How did you start playing music and how did you eventually move into the jazz sphere?
Growing up in Germany there were lots of pianos around. The piano is pretty much the default instrument for children, they are everywhere, and there aren't any brass bands in high school like in the US. I received some classical training but quickly shifted towards creating basic compositions and improvising. I am into listening to both vocal and instrumental music, but my talent as a composer runs more towards instrumental. At this point in time, when you play instrumental music with any kind of drum ostinato, it is often associated with jazz. And when you perform any kind of instrumental improvisation, it is definitely associated with jazz, even if it has culturally and aesthetically little to do with my image of jazz.
2) How did all of you in A Tree Grows eventually come to play together and decide to take this beyond just a jam session?
Everybody in this band has strong leadership capabilities, which creates a lot of respect and space for expression. Nobody talks over each other. We have know each other for many years, both professionally and socially. Basically friends and buddies to begin with. Tivon and his amazing band played a double header with the piano & drum duo "Painting", which I am a part of, last summer. It was a great combination for a show, so we figured we could combine it into one band. When we all got together a few months later it was just the most natural and convenient combination.
3) How did you come up with the interesting earthy concepts you explore in each song on this debut album? Is there a story behind this?
The stories and images about the evolution of life on earth were guiding us through the creative process. It made it easy to for us all to work in the same direction. When creating these storyboards, it's best to be very casual, almost random. Whatever comes to mind, don't overthink it. In the case of this story we began with this fascinating image of the early ocean, where life just started out. From there we make stops at a few moments in history and orchestrate the time passing in between. I have been writing and recording solo piano music with the help of storyboards for quite a while. But this time we used it more for orchestration and interpretations - the music on "A Tree Grows" is partly through-composed with additional extended parts and improvisation. So it was really the first time we applied the poetry/storyboard approach to an entire collection of pieces.
4) What do you think of the current jazz scene? To what extent do you feel you need to be part of 'a scene' or just doing your own thing? Where do you and your band mates find balance?
Jazz is a small part of communities in almost every corner of the world. It is always surprising in what remote places you find people that are passionate about listening to jazz or even playing jazz. Each of these local scenes represents the people and their culture. I was just contacted by a jazz musician from Algeria, and i assure you their take on jazz was quite different from what you might find in Berlin or Osaka - two other places with a vibrant jazz scene.The New York jazz scene represents a very unique part of this world wide phenomenon. We are at the source, we have direct access to the people and the cultural context that created some of the greatest jazz. And as a result we undoubtedly have the greatest concentration of jazz talent anywhere in the world. All members of the band are connected to this New York jazz scene; we are elated by the possibilities it represents. And i think we all take pride in being a part of it. But I think we also have found out over the years that just being part of a scene is not necessarily enough for a certain music to connect with its natural audience. There are many music listeners around the world who are actively looking for exciting music, and they really don't care what the stylistic background is. Our hope is to create music that can be understood and connected with by this kind of a diverse audience.
5) Do you think living in New York has somehow shaped the sound of A Tree Grows? In what way?
To me this band could only happen in New York. If you live in New York you want to be surprised, that's a "New Yorker's" favorite state of mind. New restaurant, new people, new idea, new neighborhood, whatever. So when we have a new project we want to surprise ourselves, and then amplify the surprise factor for the audience.
6) Do you have any upcoming performances our readers should know about?
We are going to perform at Nublu on 12/9/2016 10pm; 62 Ave C., New York, NY 10009; This is one of the coolest small music venues in manhattan. Still has a bit of the old-school east village look-and-feel.