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Trey Henry
Ray Brinker

Image of bassist Trey Henry © Michael Gottlieb
The Making of Contradictions - Trey

[Q1] What drew you to record this project?

That's easy. Anything that involves Ray and Christian I will be drawn to. As my career proceeds and my musical experiences vary, it becomes more and more apparent that I can create and express myself most freely with these two musicians. Also, the opportunity to explore some relatively untouched music was appealing to me.

[Q2] Your last trio CD was centered on the music of Jule Styne, and now Petrucciani, don't you think that recording a CD of music most people are unfamiliar with will make it harder for you to connect with your audience?

Yes and no. I would hope the potential owners of this CD would be able to enjoy it for what it is- a collection of beautiful songs performed with the utmost care and respect. I think sometimes as artists, we're concerned with "giving them what they want". I'm confident that anyone who knows the work of this trio or even those who don't will enjoy the beauty and virtuosity of this recording even if they don't recognize many of the songs. Years ago, I used to tour many colleges with a very avant-garde band. We would do clinics and workshops on how to play "free". It wasn't for everyone, but I was always amazed at the number of students that would be moved by the music. They had never heard it before, yet they new it was good and they wanted to know how we did it. I learned a lot from those students. I think the music of Michel Petrucciani and the music on this CD will have that same effect.

[Q3] I understand that you guys had started working on Petrucciani’s music a few years ago and then put the project on hold until now. Since you have been able to ‘live with’ Michel’s tunes for a couple of years, was this helpful to you when it came time to record them?

My concept of how to treat this music changed drastically from when we first talked about doing this project to the actual recording. Initially we got together to run over some of the material and I was going to approach it how I'd normally approach the music of any other composer. Typically, I try to maintain a balance between what the composer had in mind and what I might be able to add to create a freshness or uniqueness. As we went through the songs, it became clear that this composer didn't need my help. Then we put it on the shelf. In the time away from the music I didn't think too much about it, but in the back of my mind I knew my initial approach was the wrong one. When we began to rehearse for the recording, I decided to be less creative and more musical. That is to say, perform the compositions rather than enhance them. That approach really took the pressure off. I was able to relax and listen to the interaction of the trio and the music and enjoy the ride. My mantra became " less thinking, more playing."

Image of Trey Henry and Ray Brinker © Michael Gottlieb

[Q4] What do you find that’s different to your ears about Michel’s tunes; what makes them interesting to play on?

Just about every aspect of Michel's composing is unique. The structures of these songs are very interesting to me. As a pianist who must have been influenced by those around him, I wonder how he came up with his ideas. There's a stream of conscience aspect to his writing that creates a very flowing melodic feel. Just playing these songs, as they are, makes you sound like you know what you're doing. Improvising over his chord changes, however, is another matter entirely. Here, he does nothing to help you. It's on you. It's not that the chords are weird as much as how they fit together. Soloing on these tunes was, by far, the most challenging and rewarding part of this CD for me. Challenging in that I was required to alter my vocabulary as an improviser- rewarding in that I felt I was able to adapt to some new surroundings. By the way, it doesn't sound to me like Christian had too much trouble in this department.

[Q5] Michel played the tunes on this recording with a variety of rhythm sections, but he never recorded all of them with the same bassist and drummer. Do you think that using the same rhythm section for all these compositions creates a unifying presence in the way his music sounds?

I think Petrucciani's music suits this trio perfectly. But I'll go out on a limb and say that this trio, or any trio that's been together for a decade or more, has a distinct advantage when it comes time to create an underlying musical atmosphere or flavor. When you listen to Michel play, there's no doubt you're listening to unrivaled genius. When you listen to this CD, you'll hear a more collective approach. The goal is that all of the elements of this recording- the compositions, the interpretations, and the individual performances- will combine to create a more powerful impact than any one individual element. This is where Christian Jacob excels. He is as strong as any solo voice out there and yet his playing inside the trio is no less astounding. His restraint as well as his ability to hear the big picture is truly special.

[Q6] How did the arrangements for each of the selected Michel tunes come about? Were any changes made to the original song structures, if so, why?

I touched on this earlier. There was some experimentation early on as far as arranging ideas, but as we progressed and got to know the music, they seemed less and less effective. Most of the arranging was limited to instrumentation(who plays what when) and an occasional form tweak. It occurs to me that my definition of "arrange" might be different than others. The lead sheets I was using had very few notes on them. I will confess that as soon as I hear Ray play something and hear Christian join in there is bound to be some arranging on the fly.

[Q7] Jazz critic Stephen Cook has noted that “… Michel Petrucciani weaves myriad textures, rhythms and styles … producing work that sounds both complex and seamless.” Is this how Michel’s music sounds to you?

If I had to describe it in one sentence, that would be a good one. I would add this. There's a balance of complexity and simplicity that is constant in all of his music. I would stare at the melodies on the page and check out the 11 bar phrases and try to come up with a plan. Then we would play the thing and it'd be like " no problem, just play the tune". It almost seemed like anyone could write this stuff. The title track, "Contradictions", is a perfect example. The simplest melody in the world up against super advanced rhythmic and harmonic surroundings.

[Q8] Was there any track in particular that you found the most challenging?

Rachid took me on a journey of love and hate. This was a very elusive tune for me because I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. Songs you love are sometimes the hardest to record. I think the take we have is pretty good but I could have done 30 takes and still want one more chance.

[Q9] Besides a greater familiarity with Michel’s music and the trio’s interpretation of it, what are you hoping your listeners relate to after hearing this CD?

I hope this CD shows the average listener that material that isn't necessarily familiar can be equally moving. There are a lot of Michels out there and I have no doubt there is a healthy supply of great music that deserves some measure of recognition. Maybe this will serve as some modest springboard for artists to explore the less known.

[Q10] How do you get to the almost mystical point of knowing when something you’ve recorded is “a take?” Is it always easy to identify one recorded track over another as the ‘best’ or ‘master’ take?

There are often times when one musician's best take is another one's worst take. On a project like this, with a group of like-minded players like these, this is almost a non-issue. It's almost a cliche, but each take is like a child. Each has their strong points and weaknesses. I can say with some confidence that I don't think one single take we recorded was bad. But it's the magic you're looking for, and that's the challenge. Often times you finish a take, listen back, and everyone agrees that that's the one. A few days pass by and just to make sure, you listen to the alternate takes. Sure enough, the one that's the wrong tempo is the one with the magic. The beauty is, we all hear music so similarly, there are very few arguments about the final decision.