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Josh Roseman - "To get the ball rolling"

He had been the "rising star" of the Downbeat Critics Poll 2003. The following year trombone player Josh Roseman astounded the public with his album "Treats for the Nightwalker" on Enja Records, showing a black panther on the cover. The music, showing indeed a little feline animalic aggression, has a slightly way-out group-sound which at the same time is exploding with humor: Modern jazz with a strong, brassy edge, contemporay club-sounds spiced with ingredients out the 70ies funk-bag.

Josh Roseman

Despite last year's sucessful and acclaimed appearence of the Josh Roseman Unit at the "Jazzfest Berlin", in Germany Roseman still remains widely unknown to a broader public—a fact that hopefully will be overcome in the near future.

Carina Prange talked to Josh Roseman during Jazzfest Berlin 2004

Carina: Your music cannot be put into a definite category, because it's kind of "genre spanning": To be open musically and in life—which role does that play for you? And what is your opinion about dogmatism in music?

Josh: Music has a number of components that I'd regard as sacred—the obvious one has to do with the transformative power of sound. I return to myself immediately when I hear mid-60's Sonny Rollins, for example.

The other transcendent aspect has to do with the path of the musician. When discussing this or any other path for discovery, the big word is patience. It's not practical to be judgmental about other people's aesthetic choices, things are relative and always changing, anyhow.

That said, I do find it curious that the marketplace influences people to be less inquisitive and self-reliant in terms of the way we develop our awareness. The struggle to make the best decisions begins by being aware that we have choice—in terms of what we elect to consume, believe and create at any moment.

I try to remain flexible; for me, the path of composition and improvisation has to do with the constant search for new options, and cultivation of the skill of seeing things anew. The tendency to judge can be a huge hindrance—I think the path is larger than my capacity to really understand the purpose of what anyone else is doing, although I may learn from watching.

Josh Roseman

Carina: The "Josh Roseman Unit" (JRU) is a group of musician with lots of interplay between the members of the band. How important is for you the group-feeling, your position in the group-context—and from which point on is it important to dominate as the leader, to do the decisions and to show a certain kind of authority towards the other band members?

Josh: For me, the group-feeling is the most important element. This usually translates to a rich rhythmic dialogue and a good acoustic sensibility—and when we have this kind of balanced, warm energy in the group, anything is possible musically. My role is to set up conditions where this may be possible, even if this means removing myself from the process a bit. It's gratifying when this works well, reminds me of the Lao Tzu quote—the wise king takes no action and yet nothing remains undone.

Practically speaking, the most important thing is to find real colleagues, folks who you can share with. When you know that everybody in the group is vitally interested working together sonically, when you have that kind of regard and interest, things happen automatically. It's the most amazing thing to hear a dynamic band discover the resonant center of a room together.

I work alone as a composer, and the process of ushering the printed information into the acoustic world can be a long and interesting journey. But I live to hear these guys get inside the music—when they figure out what a piece wants to do, they play as if they composed it themselves—and there is no seam between the written and improvised sections.

Josh Roseman

Carina: After "Cherry", an album with fabulous cover versions, your second CD as a leader was "Treats For The Nightwalker", a very energetic album combining diverse styles and genres. Are there plans for a new album of the 'JRU' and in which direction might it go?

Josh: Thanks, I'm happy that these discs seem to be translating well, glad that you dug them! We are in the midst of preparing to return to the studio for Enja records; the new disc will feature a smaller lineup, will reflect the sound of the touring band and it'll be positioned somewhere on the future-beat axis, hopefully with a warm oldschool R&B energy and organic, totally unpredictable form and sonic elements.

Our aim is to make a disc that feels good once you hit "play"—but that sounds different every time you listen to it. The tunes have a lot going on and they should reveal different dimensions as the listener settles in. I'm also influenced by people like Muhal Richard Abrams and Ornette Coleman in that their music is meant to be inhabited, like a house or a theater production—I want to make a disc that sounds totally alive.

Josh Roseman Unit - "Treats For The Nightwalker"

Carina: In which way does the project 'Xenophelia' differ from the 'JRU'—and concerning the members of the band, or the venues you play?

Josh: Xeno was a precursor to this band; it's something I began after I left the Groove Collective project, wanting to paint with a broader palette. We recorded some years ago, with a band featuring Jim Black, Adam Rogers, Scott Colley, Chris Speed, Ben Monder and Barney McAll. Hopefully some of this recorded material will see the light of day.

The JRU is growing on its own now, it's beyond my reach! I have to write JRU material in layers these days. I'm also preparing to record a full-out dub record and my acoustic chordless ensemble, the Execution Quintet, which features three horns and rhythm; with luck this music will be available before too long.

Carina: As a trombone-player, people attest you a "powerful command of the instrument", a "formidable technique" and the "best trombone-sound in the business." How did this sound become so huge and versatile?

Josh: I'm hoping to create a sound that has some value to it—as a kid, I grew up listening to Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Isley Brothers and Sarah Vaughan records all day long, so I feel I have a lot to pay back.

My favorite trombone players have unclassifiable, kind of original sounds—Don Drummond, Julian Priester, Gary Valente, Frank Lacy, Barry Rogers, greats like Curtis Fuller. You can tell that they had to find answers for themselves and I especially respect that.

Carina: Roswell Rudd and Lester Bowie were two of your heroes as well. Would you also call them your mentors?

Josh: Roswell is one of the warmest human beings I have ever met, and his playing plants a seed when you hear it, infects you with a greater appreciation of life, whether you wanted it or not... he is so passionately alive. Lester was the same, very open, wise, funny, very powerful musically. He set an impossibly high standard with his career and the amount of music he developed.

It's mind-opening just to be around people with that kind of vibration, it transcends the music. But these are two very warm people. The history behind their work is very humbling and it puts things into perspective for me—their work is like a laser and it makes me feel privileged to be involved.

Carina: You started playing the trombone when you were eight or nine years old and started touring when you were eighteen years old. And you studied a the New England Conservatory of Music: Where does a musician learn more about technique, about the cultural heritage of the music, about politics and how to work together with others—on the road or at the conservatory?

Josh: I think it's different for everybody—I'm tempted to say on the road, where you have a nightly trial by fire, find yourself and deliver. But I think people who are open and passionate will learn wherever they are.

I actually dropped out of school for two reasons—I wanted to perform and kind of open the door a bit; and I realized I just needed to play and practice (a lot); it's cheaper to do that outside of school. Dropping out also forced me to be proactive and hands-on with my work—which was really the biggest thing.

Because when you're inside the academic setting, there isn't as strong a need to create your own context, to develop your own creative values But while I was there I learned from great people, folks who I still see and hear regularly—and who remain an inspiration to me, including Dave Holland, Dave Fiuczynski, John Medeski, Chris Speed and on and on.

Josh Roseman

Carina: In addition to the trombone you studied and performed on tuba, euphonium, bass, drums and you have (citation) "composerly chops on piano." Why did the trombone stay your main instrument? In what way do you profit by your knowledge for arranging for a group with rhythm section and brass? Can you imagine a studio project where you play all instruments yourself?

Josh: I hope to put out a solo thing at some point over the next few years, playing a lot of instruments and using production tools also. There are a few other projects in line right now, though—the reward of learning how to work cooperatively with other musicians is more valuable to me than the temptation of having total control with a solo production.

Although that is a very very seductive proposition for me—I probably spend way too much time investigating technology, working with computers and programming electronic instruments as it is. I love it, but It's an artificial reality-hours fly by, you eat when you're too hungry to see the LED's clearly.

I'm grateful to be a brass player, the challenge keeps you honest and grounded. I respect the history and playing a slightly more obscure instrument gives you a good opportunity to examine and consider your work from the ground up. You're working to refine and perfect a sound in both cases-in the acoustic world, you're dealing with your body and the organic world around you.

In electronic art, you're creating some new alternate world where there would seem to be the possibility achieving absolutely flawless work. I guess I have some kind of weird moral issues with the electronic side, but I like it too much to throw my computers off a cliff, what can I say!

Carina: What would you prefer—an instrument that is so easy to play that it becomes in a way "transparent" or one that offers resistance and has deficiencies you have to overcome?

Josh: I think about sound before playability, but the same exact question applies—the difference is primarily psychological—which doesn't make it any less real. This being the case, I prefer to start with a more transparent instrument and kind play the sh*t out of it until it sounds like me, no matter what I do. Seems to allow you more options that way.

My 'Bach' trombone was twice as robust sounding, but nowhere near as flexible—I kind of needed to switch if I wanted to keep progressing. The 'Shires' trombone I use now has fairly well balanced overtones throughout the instrument, it just means one less thing to think about, good for quality of life. An inherently noncommital axe can be annoying, though.

Carina: Your mother is from Jamaica, your father is an American Jew. You also work with some Jewish musicians, e.g. John Zorn or Peter Apfelbaum, Do your roots have an influence on your music, on your view on the world, on your worldwide contacts to people or on your life in the USA?

Josh: This music presents a good opportunity to work with and refine notions of identity—your persona comes into focus with the work. Dual heritage gives you that kind of malleability. But it's harder to talk about roots because you have to cook them up yourself from scratch in a way. It works, and the process is very useful for an artist. But it takes longer—longer than if you are a many-generations old child of your city, for example.

I barely knew my grandparents, and I was left to define the notion of heritage for myself by my parents, who are very warm and open minded. I really learned what I know from working with sound, so those are my roots as much as any other.

Outside of that, I appreciate having the opportunity to travel—and to live in New York. In NYC, everybody is equally baffled with each other, and it's reassuring for me.

Josh Roseman

Carina: You once said in an interview, "my whole life has been about integration: ethnically, musically, culturally, technologically." Would you say, this is a life-long road, a path on which you always will have to struggle without a chance to win?

Josh: Well, at first I felt, if it just works in the music, I've won, it is a huge success and I can ask for no more: Demonstrating these connections, setting them loose in the world as evidence and letting them do their work on their own.

And then I reached a point where I just feel very interested in the process, it's not important to win. I'm not attached to any sort of conflict because I can see that it works and I can now hear it working around me. That's kind of the ultimate so far—maybe next, I'll just garden!

Carina Prange

CD: Josh Roseman Unit - "Treats For The Nightwalker"
(Enja ENJ-9437 2)

Josh Roseman im Internet: www.joshroseman.com

Enja Records im Internet: www.enjarecords.com

Fotos: Pressefotos (Dank an Berliner Festspiele)

Mehr bei Jazzdimensions:
Josh Roseman Unit - "Treats For The Nightwalker" - Review (erschienen: 20.1.2004)

© jazzdimensions2005
erschienen: 14.4.2005
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