by Claire Daly
While many in the music business are grumbling about paradigm changes, Canadian born, Brooklyn dwelling Richard X Bennett is releasing 2 CDs on the same day. Oct. 6th, 2017, Ropeadope Records will birth “WHAT IS NOW” - a trio recording with Bennett (piano), Adam Armstrong (bass) and Alex Wyatt (drums), which he categorizes as groove jazz. The same day, his quintet recording, “EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH” adding Lisa Parrott (bari) and Matt Parker (tenor) to the mix will hit the stands.
These recordings were done in two consecutive days. Richard categorizes the trio recording as groove jazz and the quintet, influenced by Ornette’s harmolodics and Indian raga (among other things) are more about the melody and the groove and the texture. Richard X Bennett is a fearless creator. These two CDs will give you a good introduction to this colorful force of nature.
We sat down at my music studio in New York City to discuss Richard's latest moves and musings…
My first concert was Abdullah Ibrahim. I went to this hall at 15 years old, and thought, “Where’s the other guy?” because it was billed as ”Abdullah Ibrahim/Dollar Brand”. Then he plays a little flute, shakes a stick and starts playing the piano.
I memorized everything he played. I went home and started playing his music by ear. A few years later, I heard the records. I wasn’t far off and some of it had become my own thing. Sometimes, if you learn something poorly, you will become an original.
What did you do musically when you got to NYC?
I played Greek music, a Greek funk rock band, jazz, a lot of blues. I sent this blues guy a tape for a tour and was hired, but on the tape I was playing in the key of C. It was a guitar band, mostly in the key of E. The first time I played with him was for about 2,000 people in Switzerland. By the time I was really good at it, I was playing for 5 people in Brooklyn.
Blues are like the raga because there’s a scale, but if you just play the scale it doesn’t sound like the blues. You can’t run up and down the scales to play music. Some people do, but It’s about finding the soul of the music within these limitations.
Let’s talk about India.
I went to India because my girlfriend was studying Indian music and singing jazz there. I met Dhanashree Pandit Rai, an Indian classical singer who suggested we do some concerts together. I picked up knowledge and interest as I went along. I said I would go back to India if I never had to play any western music, because I didn’t like how the musicians played it there.
Dhanashree set up a concert. We made a record that was never released because it was a disaster in every way, but people knew who I was. Meanwhile, she was getting steadily more famous. She is a great singer.
I made the first record of Ragas on piano for an Indian label. I didn’t really want people to know about it but word got out and I still do it, playing with Indian musicians in Brooklyn.
The last time I went to India, I got very sick and didn’t want to go back. Now what I do is very much a memory of what Indian music is. For 5 or 6 years, that was what I listened to. I’ve released records there, and I’ve had commercial success.
What’s coming up on Ropeadope?
I wanted to go in a different direction. I took the Indian instrumentation away. The trio CD is called, “What Is Now”. Now is always gone. What is now? It’s never now. Everything is an original except “Over the Rainbow” which is an homage to Harvey Keitel. There’s this 1970s movie, “Fingers”, where he is a killer and also a piano player who likes doo-wop.
I asked (drummer) Alex Wyatt, “Who is the craziest sax player you know?” He said Matt Parker. Matt came over and in 30 seconds I knew we had a band.
Not in a million years would I say that “Experiments With Truth” is an Indian record, but it’s the background of it. I went to Buddhist caves in India to meditate. 2 days later, in Mumbai, it was very noisy and I thought, “It’s good to meditate, but how do you do it when you’re surrounded by chaos?” I wrote a song called, “Say OM 108 Times”. When you chant OM, you do it 108 times. You’ll hear the horns doing the “OM”. It’s the chaos of the city, but there’s a spiritual element. The quintet album is based on Gandhi’s autobiography, “The Story of My Experiments With Truth”.
Your personal style makes a strong statement about you.
I’ve always thought that the piano was a dud when you watch it because people are looking at the back of your head. The trio album cover is a picture of the back of my head.
I’m a colorful dresser. I like people to have something to look at. I like the colors and it gives people joy. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a flannel shirt offstage or on. This is not happening. We’re not playing pop music. Do what you can to invite people in and say, “This is gonna be a good time”, not “Take this suffering because it’s supposed to be good for you.” I like people to come in and think, “Oh, this may be fun.” They won’t even notice that the musical ideas might be more complicated than what they’re used to.
It’s showbiz. I don’t mind. When I pay money, I want to be entertained. I don’t have any problem with that at all. DB