Saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock has impressively demonstrated her skills as a composer for small ensembles through excellent recordings with her quintet (Anti-House) or with her octet (Zürich Concert). With her adventurous new album Contemporary Chaos Practices, the New York-based composer presents two pioneering orchestral works that integrate spontaneous elements into strictly recorded works.
ArkivJazz: Ingrid, Contemporary Chaos Practices is an extraordinary recording, and this is your first with a large ensemble for Intakt, right?
IL: Yes, it’s the first with a large ensemble of that kind of size and caliber. I’ve recorded with an octet and worked with smaller ensembles before.
AJ: Let’s talk about the recording…the Power Station is certainly a great place to make a disc.
IL: Yes, it’s amazing. I don’t know if you know Ron St. Germain (mixer), but it was incredible working with him. I’ve just never had anyone that had so much attention to detail and was just really, really was dedicated to making it sound great.
AJ: So, could you tell us the genesis of the album and how it came together?
IL: Maybe I should start with “Vogelfrei” because there’s a history that connects the two pieces. I wrote that piece for the JCOI (Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute), which is a workshop seminar for jazz musicians who want to write for orchestra. I took part in a workshop and as a result wrote “Vogelfrei.” I had a chance to have the piece read by the ACO (American Composers Orchestra) and it was a fully composed classical piece at that point. Then the Tri-Centric Foundation, which is a foundation supporting the works of Anthony Braxton, asked me to perform it a second time at Roulette in Brooklyn. Because that orchestra contains a bunch of improvisors as well as classical musicians, and also classical musicians who are open for improvisation, I decided to personalize it a little bit further and opened up the middle section for improvisation. It turned out that the curator of the Moers Festival (German avant-garde festival) came to that gig. He heard it and wanted to try and bring it to Moers, so he commissioned me to write the second piece. It took a few years before that happened and he and the new curator of the festival were able to convince the German government to put some money into it. So, in 2017 I wrote the piece "Contemporary Chaos Practices" for the Moers Festival and we also premiered it there with the same soloists and a German orchestra.
AJ: So this has been a long path…
IL: Yes, it’s been a process and it really started in 2012. The first version of “Vogelfrei” was actually performed in 2013.
AJ: It has a very different feel…
IL: “Vogelfrei” can mean two things. The original form of the word means “free as a bird,” but in medieval times, it was also a synonym for outcasts…those who lived outside the city limits.
AJ: The string writing is fantastic. You really capture a lot of tension and focus with it, which is unusual these days.
IL: Well, it’s a very different endeavor for me to write for a classical orchestra. I wanted to have some detail, especially with the strings because they were not a familiar group of instruments for me. I really had to study and look into other scores.
AJ: Kris Davis (piano) also does a remarkable job on that piece.
IL: Yes, she’s amazing
AJ: Is she another New Yorker?
IL: Yes, she lives in New York too…in fact, all the soloists are New York-based. The orchestra is also basically based in New York, but a few people came in from Chicago and other places. Most of the orchestral writing is through composed, but there are conducted backgrounds cued by hand signals behind the soloists that are reactive to whatever the soloist is playing. It was important that all the musicians were on board with that aspect, which is not a given in that world. Erica Dicker (violinist) is a good friend of mine and we basically sat down and cooked up our dream team. She interviewed everybody and asked if they were open for exploring improvisation as part of this. So, the group of musicians we got together for this was just remarkable.
AJ: Yeah, it’s extremely well organized and intensely focused.
IL: That’s good to hear!
AJ: Also, the extraordinary Mary Halvorson appears on this recording. She has always managed to surprise with the array of sounds she produces, and she’s such a great self-editor.
IL: Yes, I think she had just come off a tour and she just was amazing every night. It’s always such a pleasure to listen to her, she just has a knack of playing the right thing.
AJ: Yeah, there’s nobody doing what she does, and in so many different settings too.
IL: Yes, absolutely. She manages somehow to be tasteful and always true to herself, which is beautiful.
AJ: I noticed you also had two conductors for this recording…
IL: Yes, there are also two different conductors which I think made it slightly different as well. Eric Wubbels is such a remarkable composer and a great piano player in the new music world. He took care of the bulk of the music…the through-composed parts. Then Taylor Ho Bynum came in, who’s been working with Anthony Braxton for a long time. He came in with these conducted, punctuated kind of orchestral improvisations behind the soloist. When we performed this piece in Moers, it literally was a situation where one stepped off the podium and one jumped up. The two really worked well together for this recording.
AJ: Well I would have to agree with you, it’s just remarkable. And it’s nice that after so many other recordings, you were able to get to do something with a large orchestra.
IL: Oh, it was just a dream. I’ve always wanted to do that. It was amazing as a composer to have such a pallet of sound to work with….it’s kind of addictive, and I would love to do more of that.
AJ: Well, I would hope so...
IL: But, it's impractical...
AJ: If we only did practical things, none of us would be in this business.
IL: Yes…very true [laughs]…that’s completely right.