>> write // chris tarry: sound, talent and perseverance
I first met Chris Tarry as a first year electric bass student at Capilano College, a jazz studies program located in North Vancouver, BC, Canada. He was onstage, giving a clinic with his group Metalwood and I proceeded to experience an incredibly profound musical moment. With a 5 string fretless Hozono in hand and an Eden Rig with a flat EQ setting, notes of golden proportions began to fill the theatre. I was experiencing the sound. It was the sound which was to inspire me to look at the electric bass in a different light and to see that it too had its place in creative, improvisational music.
After a few more years of checking out his various gigs and attempting to emulate his sound, I asked our Jazz Studies coordinator if there was room for him on the faculty. Low (no pun intended) and behold, room was made and I was finally able to study with Chris Tarry and learn about his sound first hand. When I learned of the opportunity to conduct this interview, I jumped at the chance to tell the world of my mentor's accomplishments, his many talents and some of the secrets to his sound. You will also notice through the interview how Chris Tarry is very active and that the reason for his success is that he persevered and made things happen for himself. The world of the profession musician is a tough one, but Chris Tarry is riding the road well.
I caught up with Chris a few days after his band Metalwood, some 5 years in existence [as of 2001], signed a deal with a major record label.
Chris Trinidad: Chris, congratulations to you and Metalwood on being signed to Universal Jazz. Your relationship with a major label will finally put Vancouver, BC, Canada on the map as a city with a vital jazz scene, but more importantly, will hopefully open doors and opportunities for Vancouver based artists involved in jazz.
Chris Tarry: Thanks! Yes, we are very excited about the new record deal for Metalwood. To have a Canadian jazz group recognized on a world wide scale is pretty unique and I hope it does open the doors for other Canadian jazz artists. I feel we do have some of the most talented jazz players on the planet here in this great country!
Chris Trinidad: You and trumpeter/keyboardist Brad Turner formed Metalwood back in 1996. Up until that point, you were enjoying a fairly successful solo career taking the Chris Tarry Group across Canada a number of times. The drummer from that group, Ian Froman is also a member of Metalwood. The saxophonist Mike Murley is often touted as a first call tenor man in the Toronto area. What is it about these players that you and Brad found appealing for this band?
Chris Tarry: First things first, everybody had to be big big hockey fans or else it just couldn't have worked out! Seriously, I had been touring with my group for quite some time and wanted a bit more of an electric groove outlet to offset my band's slight traditional jazz sound. Brad had played with Murley at a local jazz camp and I had been playing with Ian since Berklee. We each wanted to play with the other and decided it would be a very cool sound. When you bring musicians together of that caliber you know it's gonna be good. To be honest thought, we had no idea what it was actually going to sound like. We took a bit of a gamble flying them out to do a record having never played together as a band before! Whew, good thing it worked! As it turned out we won the Juno (Canadian version of the Grammy) for best jazz album that year.
Chris Trinidad: How would you say that everyone's playing in the group has changed or evolved?
Chris Tarry: Because we had done 3 albums on our own to pretty good success before we got this deal we were able to take a good look and listen to the sound of the band and it's development over the last 3 or 4 years before we did this new album. With the first record, because we had never actually played together before, we sounded really loose and it had a very garage band feel. This, I think, was the big appeal behind the first album. As the sound grew we became tighter and started to investigate some of the electronica/drum 'n bass sounds out there today. With the new album we made a conscious effort to capture some of the looseness of the first record and keep some of the intense tightness we had developed over the years. I guess it's a bit of a cross between all three records.
Chris Trinidad: The next Metalwood release, due May 22nd, 2001 is called "the Recline". How has the recent surge of groove-oriented electric jazz by such artists as Medeski, Martin and Wood, Charlie Hunter and John Scofield influenced the writing on this disc?
Chris Tarry: I think all of them have had a tremendous effect on the groove jazz scene. All of the groups you mentioned have managed to cross over into a market previously reserved for large pop oriented acts, bringing more and more listeners to jazz in general. The resurgence in all kinds of jazz has a lot to do with the in roads these groups have made into popular culture.
As far as the writing for the new album I can only speak for myself but I definitely checked out all of them and tried to see where some of my compositional ideas would fit in with that sound. I do, however, think that we have been fortunate as a band to have a great history up until now so we were lucky to be able to draw on a sound that we have developed over a long period of time.
Chris Trinidad: Speaking of John Scofield, he is guesting on a number of tracks on the upcoming album. Tell us about meeting him for the first time and getting to record with a legend.
Chris Tarry: It was amazing! He was such a great guy and so into the music. What really blew me away with all the famous guests that appeared on the record is that they were so into the moment. Everything they had accomplished in their career had no bearing on their personalities or musical focus. They were there to do the best job possible. They reached that level because it's always about the music right from Miles Davis down to Metalwood, period! That was the biggest thing I learned, and that the best guy's are always the nicest!
Chris Trinidad: Also guesting on the disc is former Miles Davis and Sting percussionist Mino Cinelu and DJ Logic, a frequent guest with Medeski, Martin and Wood. How has their playing added to the sound of the original quartet?
Chris Tarry: They were amazing. I was totally blown away by both of them! Mino and DJ are such cats that all we had to do was play our way and watch them magically slide into a sound that seemed to be waiting for them to put their stamp on it. We didn't really have to think about it. They asked questions, read the music, and really wanted to make it about the music and the overall band sound.
Chris Trinidad: You have chosen the electric bass as your voice. What is it about this wonderful instrument that you found so appealing?
Chris Tarry: I am not sure actually. I have always been drawn to it. I think it might be my interest in being a part of a greater whole or band. As the bass player you can affect the direction of the band to such a great degree but it's almost subliminal. Slide in a great reharm here or rhythmic figure there and watch it take shape. It's kinda like being the most accepted back seat driver in history!
Chris Trinidad: Who were some of the players you admired while learning the electric bass?
Chris Tarry: Some of my earliest influences go back to growing up in Calgary, Alberta. There was a bass player there named Dale James (he is actually an ActiveBass member for anyone who wishes to drop him a line). I learned a lot about intensity and time from him. Of course Jaco was a big one. I think Gary Willis is one of the best out there right now, he was a very big influence. As an electric bassist I have tried to learn from and listen to a lot of acoustic players. Dave Holland, Gary Peacock, Charlie Haden, Paul Chambers, and Ron Carter have all been huge influences.
Chris Trinidad: Attending the Berklee School of Music was probably an incredible experience. Take us through what a day down its halls is like.
Chris Tarry: It was a great experience. In fact, as told before here at ActiveBass, I met one of my closest friends and fellow ActiveBass creator Chris Sung on the first day in line during registration!
The great thing about Berklee is that it's a little mini scene onto itself. The best players get called first for various shows, recitals, studio sessions, and upper level ensembles. This type of environment really pushes you to become one of those top call players! Most of the learning takes place at night when you get a chance to play with different musicians from all over the world!