Interview with Russ Johnson
about Save Big (OmniTone 12205)

Tafuri: So, Russ, you play in all different kinds of groups.  You play in small groups.  You play in big bands.  You play in duos. 

Johnson: New Math

Tafuri: New Math.  Now, finally, we have you as a "leader" of your own group.  And, of all the different configurations you could choose, you come up with a quartet.

Johnson: [Chuckles.]  I thought I'd really stretch the concept.

Tafuri: And with no piano in it.

Johnson: I was thinking, 'What can I do that's really, really different?'  [Chuckles.] 

Tafuri:[Laughs.]

Johnson: When I put the group together, for this particular thing, I didn't have a concept, thinking 'Oh, I have to do this.'  I was thinking about players, and who I really wanted to play with.  And, so, I was able to get the players I really wanted to play with.  I've had a long relationship with all these guys — especially John [O'Gallagher].  It's scary; it'll be 20 years in August that John and I have been friends.  That was the whole thing: When I really decided I wanted to do a "solo project," I was thinking 'Alright, who do I really want to get?  Who do I really want to play with?'  And I made a conscious decision about the players.  Whenever I've had a sub in the band, it hasn't been the same ... because these are special guys.  For this project, when I started for it, I chose what I thought were strengths for each of the guys, to try and give everybody a place in the music where they can sound great as a group, but give the individual guys a chance to "do what they do." 

Tafuri: Well, you said you didn't really think about the configuration of the group, that you just picked people you wanted to work with.  But you did think about the group from the standpoint of not having a piano in it, right?  And you did make some decisions about not making a quintet, so you did make some decisions about the group, per se.

Johnson: When I started writing, I wanted to do something that was "open" in structure. Considering the players I wanted to use, I thought if I brought a chordal instrument into the mix, it might send the music in a different direction, and I specifically wanted to write music that was somewhat "vamp" or "groove" based, having the ability to really stretch and go wherever.  A lot of times, in bands that I've heard with chordal instruments — not that it can't be done — obviously there're great players that do — you get locked into certain things, and I wanted the music to have this openness and flexibility.  That was a conscious decision not to use a chordal instrument.  I play in other groups that are "missing" an instrument.  I mean, The Other Quartet has no bass in it.  And though it was a conscious decision, a lot of the music came out of music that I've been listening to recently that I've been checking out and have really dug, plus some "classic" stuff — the Ornette [Coleman] stuff and things like that. 

Tafuri: I had some Ornette stuff on last night.  It was really funny, because I hadn't listened to it in a while.  I put on Change of the Century

Johnson: Yeah.  Incredible.

Tafuri: And then I put on Something Else with Walter Norris —

Johnson: Yeah.  With Walter Norris. 

Tafuri: And Billy Higgins.  And I hadn't listened to that in a long time.

Johnson: Yeah.  And that's a bebop record, too. 

Tafuri: Yeah.  It really is.  You know, [trumpeter and OmniTone artist John] McNeil was over here earlier and then [his wife] Lolly came over later.  While there were sitting there chatting with me, I had the CD player right next to me, so I just through the CD in.  He wasn't really paying attention at first but, when Ornette started soloing, he asked "Who's that?"

Johnson: Wow!  Yeah.  I wore those records out.

Tafuri: I gotta tell you something you'll get a kick out of.  I have this Blue Wisp Big Band CD and, after I listened to the two Ornette things — I don't know what prompted me to do it, and it happened to be one with [trumpeter Tim] Hagans in the band.

Johnson: Sure.

Tafuri: And I was diggin' it.  So, when McNeil shows up, I played "the [guess-what-musician-this-is] game" with him.  He's so funny about that, because he's always amazing at it, but he always plays it off. 

Johnson: I don't know if I ever told you this, but in '84, I went to [the] Berklee [College of Music, in Boston] for a year; that's where I met O'Gallagher.  There were a couple of guys on the faculty — Tim Hagans and Bill Mobley; I signed up for all these extra ensembles just so I could get next-to those guys.  And Tim was incredibly cool to me.  We would do lessons, and he would never charge me.  I gave him the first transcription of one of his own solos.

Tafuri: Oh, yeah.  You told me about that.

Johnson: From From the Neck Down [an album on the Cincinnati-based Mopro label].

Tafuri: Yeah.  You messed me up that one night, when I thought I'd stump you by playing that, and you told me you had already transcribed that....  But getting back to your record — and I don't want to keep harping on this, but you didn't want to make it a bigger group, either, by adding another horn.

Johnson: Part of the reason is that (as I said before): I really wanted things to be really open; I really wanted to give the guys a chance to play.  To stretch out and really explore.  Plus, to be honest with you, I've really been inspired by listening to records with two horns, bass, and drums.  The combination of listening to things like that and of finding the right players kind of led the direction and pushed it that way.  And I've actually been thinking about doing another group with no other horn players, with just piano, bass, and drums.  That's not traditional.  There are not too quartet records with just the trumpet.  There are a few I can think of with Kenny Dorham.  I've actually started writing music for that, because it's important to me to have a band and have different projects and have specific material for each project.  For example, a couple of times I've tried to play this music with chordal instruments, but that's not the way that that music was conceived.

Tafuri: It's not the way you're hearing it.

Johnson: Exactly, exactly.  When I wrote the music, I wrote most of the music in a four-day period.  I rented a place with a piano in Vermont for four days, and just wrote.

Tafuri: And previously you'd gotten together with everybody and just played to get ideas, or it was just that you'd played with each of them individually?

Johnson: I've played with all of them in various contexts, and I'd settled on the personnel pretty much before I started writing the music.  And then I wrote the music specifically with those guys in mind.  There were a couple of tunes that I wrote specifically for Kermit [Driscoll] that just didn't sound the same when played with different bass players.  I thought 'Wow, this tune doesn't work,' and then when Kermit played it again, I thought 'That's it; that's what I want."

Tafuri: I guess the other burning question is: After playing for all these years, why has it taken you so long to have your own recording as a leader?

Johnson: What a question.  "Timing is everything," as they say.  You know, everybody says they "want to feel ready."  Well, there's no point when you're going to be ready.  It's the same with buying a home or having a kid.  There's no point where you're "ready."

Tafuri: Especially if one has any kind of perfectionist tendencies.

Johnson: And I do.  Especially with my composing — a fact that may not be clear from the record, because some of the stuff sounds loose — but I painstakingly go over each note when I compose.  But it was time.  I've been involved, thankfully, with a lot of different projects over the years, and everyone gets to the point where they want to put out "their thing."  It was important for me to get my music out.  To be honest, I think I had done this at some earlier point, I don't think I could have been able to represent myself as a composer, as well as a player, in a way that I would have wanted to.  So, it was important for me to at least have the experience of being a sideman; I love being a sideman.  Some people are leaders; some people are only sidemen.  I wanted to be both, but I had to have all those experiences as a sideman and to really have time to sift through ideas.  I mean, I've written a lot of music over the past ten years that I will never play again.  So, it was time where I felt like I had a concept for a record.  I didn't want to just "do a record."  I've had opportunities, and people are still giving me opportunities to do a record.  "Well, why don't you record?" and I was like "I want to have a concept, I want to have a band, I don't want to just get players together to make a record."  I mean, the world doesn't need another record by a thrown-together ensemble.

Tafuri: I hear ya!

Johnson: And you've been to many of our gigs.  It's a real band, and that was important for me.  So, I decided that it was time.  It was time.  And, as I've explained to you many times, this was the label I wanted to do it for.  I didn't want to do it for anyone else.  I have relationships with other labels with other bands, so I could have probably presented a project to one of them and could have gotten it out [by now].  But it was important for me to do it for OmniTone, because I listen to OmniTone's music, and I relate to and dig all the people that are on the label.  I didn't just want to do a record — I mean, I'm not going to name any other labels specifically, because that would be unprofessional — just to do a record.  As it is, there are just way too many records on the market.  So, I just didn't want to go there. 

Tafuri: I would agree even if I didn't have a record label.  You know, I guess that's another thing...  You know, at OmniTone we talk about "adventurous and listenable" and, over the past four years, people have asked me questions about that expression.  After being asked that a lot of times, I think I finally came up with an answer to how OmniTone can present "listenable and adventurous" music.  I think it's because all of the leaders and many of the sidemen on the label are all composers as well as improvisers, so they know how to write structures within which people can stretch out improvisationally.  So, there's this sense of order at the same time that they're breaking new ground. 

Johnson: That was really a goal for me.  That was the main goal in the composing process.  I've recorded music that was completely improvised, and I've recorded very structured music.  With this band, where everyone has their agenda, I wanted to have a platform where there is structure and where underneath there's always a thread of the original tune.  Free-sounding as it may get — and, for lack of a better term, it opens up into some "free" playing — there's still an element of the tune within the blowing that's tied in.  That's why I chose those players: because they're able to do that.  Kermit is an incredible musician; one of my favorite players.  Whenever he approaches the music that I give him, whenever he plays it, it gives me that "thing" that I want, and he always brings whatever he's doing into that specific composition.  That was very important to me in the process.  I mean, yeah, these guys all write great music.

Tafuri: I was just going to say, "Kermit's a composer, and John's a composer."  I don't know whether Mark [Ferber] is a composer.

Johnson: I've known Mark since two weeks after he moved to New York, and I've yet to play one note of his original music, but he's a composer on the drums, I can tell you that.  [Laughs.]

Tafuri: And, very recently, I was just having this discussion with someone.  I was saying that some of the most incredible musicians I know — people who really understand the music — who, when you talk to them, you know they know — they know what's happening in the music at every level and from every perspective — have been drummers.

Johnson: Paul Motian.

Tafuri: We can run down the list.

Johnson: Mark is incredible in that way.  I play with Mark in probably four or five different groups, and he's able to approach each setting by playing them differently ... like a composer.  He really, really is attuned to what the composer wants, and yet he still manages to maintain his own identity and bring it to the music.  You know, when I was writing the music on this record, I had a general outline for the "groove" for the piece, but I respect what these guys do so much, I'm like, "Hey, you got something you think works, hey, you're the drummer.  I mean, I can give you an idea that maybe I want this 12/8 thing underneath..."  But that's where Mark is a composer.  I give him free reign to do whatever he wants, and he composes the drum parts a lot of this stuff.

Tafuri: And you defer to that.

Johnson: Yeah, definitely!

Tafuri: You depend upon it.

Johnson:  Of course.  That's why you get those guys.  That's why I can't make a record that's a thrown-together thing.  I just can't do it...

Tafuri: And I think your deference is shown in a very concrete way by the fact that not all of the tunes on the record are your own.  You've got one of Kermit's tunes.

Johnson: Got one of Kermit's tunes.  It's a beautiful tune, too.  It's incredible.  I had a band that played at The Tap Bar [at The Knitting Factory in New York] with Ohad [Talmor] and Kermit and, I think, [drummer] Scott Newman was playing the gig at the time.  We did a couple of months there, so we'd all bring in tunes.  "Reveille" was one of those tunes that Kermit brought in that, when I heard it, I was like "Wow!  That's the kind of stuff I want to write."

Tafuri: That's interesting because, though you mentioned during the recording that it was Kermit's tune, I evidently promptly forgot that fact and was only reminded by you at the mastering that it was Kermit's tune.  I thought it was your tune, because it fits in so well with the rest of the recording; it sounds so natural.

Johnson: That's why I chose that tune for the recording.  It's an incredible tune, and it has that mixture of what we were talking about earlier: structure and openness, all at the same time.  That is one of the more structured tunes on the record, but the melody is so spacious and beautiful, the bass line is perfect.  When I approached Kermit about recording it, he was like "Aw, heck."  Even if Kermit wasn't in the band, I might have wanted to record it anyway ... just because I had played it before.

Tafuri: That's one of those tunes that has (like you said) this "spaciousness" or speciousness — I don't know what the right word is — and grandeur.  That tune, "Saguache," and there's another tune on the record that have "Coplandesque," "Americanesque" sound that one doesn't hear too much of  — or enough of — today in American new improvised music. 

Johnson: And not only that.  It's difficult to get that sound with just a quartet ... with no chords.  It's very difficult to get that open sound, what might be thought of as "simpleness" of that Americana vibe.  When I wrote "Saguache," that was one of the tunes that I wrote the quickest of all and that was the only tune that I've never changed a note of.  On everything else, I'm erasing and scratching and scribbling.  I was doing a solo backpacking trip in Colorado.  It was my first or second night out there.  Flew from New York.  Stayed at this rangers' station — which was basically a hut — at 10,000 feet.  The views were expansive and incredible, and the whole tune unfolded in about fifteen minutes.  I had my horn with me, so I just sat down and wrote the whole thing in fifteen minutes.  And that's one of those tunes that I said was really specific to Kermit, because when he plays it, it sounds completely different than when other people play it.  It's really difficult to get that kind of  "vibe."  I know some other examples where that really worked.  There's a Liang Ziang thing that's really good.  Peter Epstein has a thing; that has chords in it.  You know, "American sounding" ... for lack of a better term.

Tafuri: I don't know what to call it.

Johnson: Yeah, exactly.  It's kind of an "Americana vibe."

Tafuri: Where did the title come from?

Johnson: It's a county in Colorado where I was staying.  It's on the side of one beautiful mountain range — I think the Sierras — where there's a beautiful valley below, and the Santo de Christos are off to the east.  So, I guess it's the San Juans.  I think I was at least 25 miles from anything other but bears and elk. 

Tafuri: [Laughs.]  It sounds like an American Indian name.

Johnson: It may be. 

Tafuri: Speaking of the "Americana vibe," how much to you think being from the "Midwest" from Wisconsin, from growing up there and still having some roots there, has contributed to or influenced your music?

Johnson: It's funny.  I don't consider myself a Midwesterner.  But I definitely know other people who do consider me to be a Midwesterner ... just in my "vibe," in my day-to-day life.  In my "laid-backness," if you will. 

Tafuri: Well, I understand, me being from Cincinnati.

Johnson: Exactly.  And here's the thing: I don't think it affected me much on this record.  I think the stuff here is either East Coast or the mountains.  I feel like there's definitely an East Coast vibe to the record — with the exception of a couple of tunes — like with Kermit's tune and "Saguache."  I was influenced by being in an really beautiful open space.  Even though there were these amazing forests, there were meadows and hillsides that I could see from the spot that were incredible.  You know, it's funny.  I don't consider that Midwestern thing.  Other people may hear it; it's not "right" or "wrong," but I just don't hear it.  It's been so long since I've lived there; I've spent over half of my life here.

Tafuri: Yeah.  I hear ya.

Johnson: Like in tunes like "The Loper" and stuff like that.  Even though it's a simple tune — well, it's not really a simple tune; it's a complex tune — it doesn't have an Midwestern or Western vibe.  It has a junkie-on-the-street kind of vibe.  [Chuckles.]

Tafuri: [Laughs.]

Johnson: "Juicer" more than "junkie."  [Laughs.]

Tafuri: [Laughs.]  I love the fact that there is that other vibe on the record.  So much of new, "creative" improvised music over the last ten years has had such an Eastern Europe, Balkan, or Eastern Europe kind of vibe — and, on this record, you do make your contribution to that trend with "Constantinople" —

Johnson: Living in New York — especially with the whole Knitting Factory scene from the '90s — is living in a powerful scene.  Those guys were really exploring the "Eastern" stuff.  You know, the Balkan stuff.  So, it definitely has had an impact.  When I got into that music, it was so fresh and so interesting because the harmonies were so different and metrically it was different, it rubbed off.  So, I think what you said before was a complement in a big way.  The record is a statement of all of my influences, and I don't want it to be a you-know-I'm-going-to-do-this-hard-driving-East-Coast-burnout thing or a completely-laid-back thing.  I'm using all different parts of my personality and all the different parts of whom I've become of the last ten or fifteen years as a musician.  All those influences play a huge role, and you can't be afraid to admit that.  You know, some people deny it.  Some people really try to deny it.  I can't deny it.  All those different musics have had their effect on me, so you try to pick and choose.  And I think I don't go completely in any one direction.  Instead, I'm grasping an idea from that world and finding out what I have to say about that world, rather than 'Okay, I'm gonna write a Balkan-sounding tune.'

Tafuri: One of the things that really impresses me about this record — and this ties into what you were just saying now and what you were saying about having wanted to make the record when you were ready — is that there's a real "maturity" to this record in its cohesiveness.  It is diverse, but it is cohesive, and there's completeness to this record that one often doesn't hear on debut recordings.  Too often, the artist's trying to impress people with a record that's schizophrenically too eclectic, because they're trying to play everything they know.  So, I think the selection of tunes and the quality of the music on Save Big is really a tribute to that maturity. 

Johnson: I really consider the CD as a suite.  With the exception of two, I wrote all the tunes in a short period of time, and the music on the album was written with a concept and these specific players in mind.  So, I'm happy to hear you say that, because that's what I was really trying to project. 

Tafuri: Plus I love the fact that it's not 74-minutes-long, because that's the other thing you hear on artists' debut CDs.  I mean, I get so many submissions here that sometimes, on the one's I listen to, I get to the point where I find myself saying, "Okay, that's fine, we get it, we know you know how to play.  Now talk to me.  Say something."

Johnson: And that was a very important to the whole process.  Very rarely can I sit and listen to a 70-minute CD, and I don't care if it's the greatest music in the world or the worst music in the world.  I find it very difficult to sit down and listen to 70 minutes of music.  I mean, some of my favorite records — you know, like the Blue Note Records that were 38, 40 minutes tops, and I loved that music growing up — and even some of the newer records that I listen to that I really like tend to be on the shorter side.  You know, they're a statement.  This record is a statement.  It's where I am at a point in time as a composer and as a player, and I didn't feel the need to (I don't really want to say) "overextend" myself, just to push myself just to say, "Wow, I have all this music!"  I have other music, too, that I could have recorded, but I picked things that I wanted to use to make a cohesive statement. 

Tafuri: I think you succeeded in doing that.

I'd like to talk about a couple of the tunes, if you don't mind.

Johnson: Sure.

Tafuri: But before we do, speaking as you did about the group, I gotta ask you: why "Save Big."

Johnson: I'm still wondering about that.  [Laughs.]  To make a long story short, I was hanging out with a bunch of friends, and we had a band for "a second."  [Chuckles.]  This is hilarious...

Tafuri: When was this?

Johnson: This is four or five years ago.

Tafuri: Okay.

Johnson: Different players.  None of the same guys that are in this band.  And we were struggling to find a name for the band.  We recorded, but never released it.  And all of us were throwing out these ideas, and none of us could agree on anything, and none of us found a name that we really liked.  And I happened to have a newspaper in front of me.  So, I opened up the newspaper and I said, just as a whim, "Okay, 'Save Big'!"  [Chuckles.]  And the band didn't like it.  [Pauses.]

Tafuri: So, you dissolved the band.  You all said, "Fuggeddaboutit!"  [Laughs.]

Johnson: [Laughs.] We did dissolve the band.  The band did dissolve!  The band did dissolve.

Tafuri: So, anyway, nobody liked the name.

Johnson: I don't know.  The name kinda stuck.  I don't feel any particular reverence to the name and I don't think it has anything to do specifically with this band.  I just thought, well, maybe, it caught my ear.  You know, maybe there is a reference that I'm just not aware of. 

Tafuri: But now people know that name, that "Save Big" is somehow associated with your quartet.  I mean, I've heard so many names of so many bands that really don't have anything to do with their music.  But, at least, I guess the expression "save big" is pretty quintessentially American.  I don't think there's any translation necessary.

Johnson: I don't think there's really a translation for it.

Tafuri: And, in some way, it speaks of "practical economy."  It's talking about being economical or sensible about spending your money ... or whatever, but being sensible about it.  Maybe I'm stretching the metaphor too far —

Johnson:  I don't think you are.

Tafuri: But I think, in a way, that that's musically what's happening on this record and that that's the power of the band.  What comes through on this record is that, if you have any ears and if you listen at all to this type of music, there is amazing additional energy potential and power behind each of the players on the record, and they're playing what they need to — no more and no less — to communicate with the listener.  They're "holding back," they're saving some of themselves.  That, through the compositions, is what makes the music on this CD so "legitimate."

Johnson:It's interesting, too, when we get to the "economical" thing, that was one of the things that was somewhat difficult about the record — even though the recording session was very quick and very easy: when you're playing live, it's a different thing.  You might do four tunes, five tunes in a set and really stretch out.  Obviously, because I didn't want a 70-minute CD, that played a big role in it.  I think it's a tribute to these guys that we can still get to a vibe without having to be ten minutes into the tune before that vibe is actually captured.

Tafuri: I think it helps that you guys had played together a lot.

Johnson: We'd play the music a bunch.

Tafuri: Well, you know, so many times you either have a band that's put together for the recording session, or it may be a band who plays together, but someone (probably the producer) feels the need to bring in "guest" players and that changes the vibe, or one player can't make the gig, so they choose to use someone else on the recording. 

Johnson: And that ties into what we were talking about before — and that was hugely important to me: I would not have made the record unless I could have made it in this way.  I would not do it.  That's part of the reason why I waited so long: I wanted the opportunity to represent myself.  And that's why I feel so good about it.  It captures a snapshot of who I was at that particular time.  That was hugely important.  I would not have made the record otherwise.

Tafuri: How does "Figuratively Speaking" capture part of yourself?

Johnson: [Chuckles.]  That was tentatively the other title for the record.  The way that tune and the way a lot of the other music on this record is composed is that there are certain musical figures [motifs] that are used.  I wanted things to be elastic and, within that composition, there are a couple of different times feels and things like that.  But the tune is based on "figures."

Tafuri: Motifs.

Johnson: Motifs, exactly.  Rather than this kind of  "okay, let's play this 32-measure structure."  Some of that, I guess, is probably influenced by Ornette and music like that, but a lot of the music I write is based figures that somehow capture the whole "sum of the parts." 

Tafuri: You're making a pun there, basically, with the title.

Johnson: Totally.  It's a pun, but it's also a concept; it is both. 

Tafuri: [Chuckling.]  It's a pun and a concept!

Johnson: It's idea-idea-idea.  Are they connected?  Yes.  There's a train of thought that weaves all of these specific ideas together.  So, it wasn't just all these separate things; there was a connection of all the figures.

Tafuri: "The Day After."

Johnson: That tune was interesting to compose.  Again, there were two main musical figures or ideas.  I wanted them to be completely unrelated in time [signatures], so that tune took the most rehearsal time.  The two sections are entirely unrelated.  Actually, they're completely related but, tempo-wise, they're two separate structures.

Tafuri: Well, how about "The Loper"?  You mentioned "juicer." 

Johnson: I was picturing a guy walking down the street.  Middle of the afternoon.  Had a few already, maybe early this morning or maybe just from late last night.  And you know how those guys kinda walk side-to-side with a little limp?  There's a little limp here and there in the tune, too.  He's grooving along then, all of a sudden, there's this the-guy-trips-on-a-crack-in-the-sidewalk kind of vibe. 

Tafuri: It's a lot of fun; it's a really cool tune.  And it is pretty complicated.  You know, one of the things I like on this record that I think "throws" people — I mean, in a nice sort of way — is "Duo."  Because that was something you pretty much wanted to do.  It wasn't like, "Oh, we have tape rolling."

Johnson: No, no, no.  That was a very specific composition.

Tafuri: Oh, it is a composition?

Johnson: Oh, yeah. 

Tafuri: Awww.  I didn't realize that!

Johnson: Yes.  Half of what you hear is composed.

Tafuri: Oh, I didn't realize that.  Isn't that interesting?  See, it threw me, too.

Johnson: That one's written for Kermit and myself.  I wanted him to do something with the bow, and I wanted this counterpoint thing.  So, yes, half of what you hear is composed.  The idea was, when we play it live, that you can improvise either at the beginning or the end; it doesn't make any difference.  We get to this certain point, the composition and the improvisation is really blurred.  That's why we can successfully approach it two different ways with the improvisation at the beginning or the improvisation at the end of the piece. 

Tafuri: And the listener can figure out which is which.

Johnson: Exactly. 

Tafuri: And I love the segue from that going into "Indonesian Folk Song."

Johnson: That was a tune that I'd played with John O'Gallagher in another group.  John and I have such a "thing" when we play together; we've known each other for so long.  He's one of those few guys who I play with who I can really, really hook up with.  And, with John, I don't have to think.  I don't have to think about breathing, I don't have to think about intonation; we just play. 

Tafuri: That's nice.

Johnson: Oh, it's incredible.  It's incredible.  Ohad [Talmor] is an example of that.  There are a couple of other players with whom that magic happens, and that happens between John and me.  When we play that tune, the "rubs" are so close together, and you're alternating these half-step ideas and stuff like that.  If either player doesn't commit to player his part separately, it will not work at all.  With John, that's one of those things where we're both strong individually, and we're very strong together, so I just love the way the horns rub against each other.  Also, I wanted there to be a spot on the record for Mark and Kermit to explore textures and sounds, rather than like, "Oh, we gotta worry about time" or "This is in 7 or 11" or something like that.  So, that whole piece's concept is about sound.  That's all that it's about.  I mean, the notes that I played there on the improvisational section are really irrelevant.  It's a chance to explore texture and sound. 

Tafuri: And that piece is something John brought in?

Johnson: Yes.

Tafuri: Because he recorded it on one of his records.

Johnson: He recorded it on his first record.

Tafuri: On CIMP, I think.

Johnson: Yes, on CIMP.  But we've been playing that tune together for a few years.  When I was deciding what to put on the record, we'd done it live many times, so I felt like I wanted that to be part of the overall experience for the listener because, as a listener, I don't want to listen to just eight tunes that swing or, you know, "We must have the straight-eighth ECM vibe."

Tafuri: I love the sound and the way the timbres rub together.  It really does sound like somebody playing...

Johnson: A different instrument. 

Tafuri: A Vietnamese oboe or something like that.

Johnson: Exactly. 

Tafuri: It gets that sort of "micro-tonal thing" happening. 

Johnson: It definitely does. 

Tafuri: You don't hear that too often.

Johnson: Well, like I said, that can be successful only with two guys who are really willing and able to commit to their individual parts and be aware enough and selfless enough to really check out the other person's sound and try to find a complementary, blending sound within that. 

Tafuri: It's ironic that sometimes, when a listener is listening, they don't realize how "precarious" some of that music really is.  Some listeners might almost think that the music's actually improvised, that it's a "looser" thing that it really is.

Johnson: And that's part of the theme for the whole record.

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