Interview and story by J Hunter
Each year, hundreds of jazz groups scrabble round the world trying to get the first bit of attention that could lead to wider levels of discovery. I know, because all their CDs are scattered around my home office. What’s both sad and annoying is that only a few artists are brave enough to take the extra creative step that will separate them from the rest of the pack. That step could be as big as re-envisioning Ornette Coleman as a soul-jazz artist, or as little as trying to cover “On Green Dolphin Street” in some way not thought of by the last 50 bands who covered “On Green Dolphin Street.” In either case, a little thought can go a long way.
Happily, the Greater Nippertown jazz scene has more than a few players who have no problem thinking outside of the box, and the Arch Stanton Quartet is the latest example of that trend. While there’s plenty of hard bop and bebop in their ever-expanding catalog, the ASQ’s overall sound has a carbon-fiber core that lets them maintain the agility and flexibility of the 21st-century groups that have become darlings of the jam-band circuit. Using shorter words, they’re as nasty as they want to be without sacrificing the intelligence that makes their original compositions such a pleasure to listen to. And if we’re going to talk about separating yourself from the pack, how many groups are named after a minor (but important) character in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” – the best Spaghetti Western ever made?
Area jazz fans were well aware of the vitality and creativity Terry Gordon could pump out long before he became part of the Stanton Quartet. But those same fans might not have been aware of Roger Noyes, whose fuzzed-up guitar shares space on the ASQ front line with Gordon’s arsenal of horns. That guitar brings a whip-snap sound to all the group’s tunes, even as it provides a real contrast to Gordon’s shining tone. As tough and ragged as the band can be, Gordon and Noyes have no problem taking it to the other extreme when the moment calls for it – which it does on “Estate,” the tender coda to the Stanton Quartet’s 2012 debut Along for the Ride. All these ingredients influenced Metroland readers to name the ASQ the Best Local Jazz Group for 2013.
Noyes took time out from preparing for the group’s upcoming appearance at the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival to talk to me about the band’s development and its appearances at the Cairo International Jazz Festival earlier this year. Noyes was also kind enough to resolve one major, nagging question:
Q: Who was the Clint Eastwood fan who came up with the band’s name?
A: I was watching “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” a lot at the time when we were thinking up band names. Phonetically, the word Arch Stanton is in the same orbit as the names of other jazz players and bandleaders, from Art Tatum to Stan Kenton to Stanton Moore. It just seemed right as a band name. Also, since jazz is the quintessential American art form, it seemed fitting for our name to reference another American cultural export – the Western film genre – that was being produced in Europe during the ’60s. We were just drawn to the cultural richness of this idea, as well as the sound of the name Arch Stanton.
Q: I’ve described the ASQ’s music as “garage-band jazz” – not because it’s simple like garage-band rock & roll, but because there’s a ragged edge to it that you don’t find a lot in this genre. Am I being accurate, and (most importantly) am I being fair?
A: I personally like this description, especially because it differentiates us and pretty well captures the spirit we are going for. We are all attuned to the idea that American jazz has its roots in barrooms and clubs, and that this music has a direct line to the blues. As a rhythm section, drummer Steve Partyka, bassist Chris Macchia and I all have a lot of experience working in other genres, including rock, which is more closely associated with the “garage” moniker. Terry is one of the most daring musicians I have ever worked with as far as trying new styles and approaches, and he has written music in a lot of these styles. I think these elements come together in our sound, which leans a bit on the edgier side of things.
Q: What’s the process been like developing this band and this material? Also, what was the recording process for “Along for the Ride” like, and what’s the reaction been to the disc outside of the Capital Region?
A: The process varies depending on the tunes we are working on. Some compositions and arrangements are very fleshed out before they are brought to the entire band, while other compositions undergo more of a workshop approach to arrive at an arrangement, a rhythmic feel, or structure.
We couldn’t have been happier with the recording process on “Along for the Ride.” Our friend Alex Torres very generously offered up his rehearsal space for two days to record last summer. Jeff Dowd came and did the recording, mixing and mastering. Thanks to Jeff, pretty much everything you hear on the recording is how you would have heard it live in the room with no overdubs or punch-ins and just a few takes. You mentioned “garage-band jazz” as a description for our sound. In fact, the album was literally recorded in a garage, with all of us standing in the same space, performing live.
The reception to “Along for the Ride” has been great so far, and we appreciate that a lot of people understand the sound we are going for, which is rooted in the jazz tradition while bringing in elements of other genres that complement this tradition.
Q: I’ve compared some of the stuff you and Steve do to the kind of pyrotechnics Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola create. Were those players and those sounds in your mind when the band was being developed? And are there any particular influences that have shaped the ASQ from an overall perspective?
A: Steven and I have been longtime listeners of Charlie Hunter’s music. I’ve heard Hunter say in interviews that he practices drums every day in order to become a better performer on guitar because, for him, rhythm takes complete prominence. I really embrace this idea of an abiding devotion to the rhythmic feel of the music – the groove. Hunter and Scott Amendola, as a duo, have a level of chemistry, trust and responsiveness that Steven and I certainly strive for, but I don’t think their interplay has a conscious or deliberate influence on us. I just think we come from a similar place, philosophically, as Hunter and Amendola do. Overall, ASQ has a pretty diverse mix of influences. I would say that we tend toward the bop and post-bop traditions of the ’50s and ’60s with a strong impulse of blues and groove-oriented music.
Q: Terry Gordon’s had his own thing going on in this area for some time. In fact, “Watching the Storm Go By” is from one of the Gordon Quintet’s discs. Was that tune part of the ASQ’s book from the jump, and how did it change to the stripped-out take you guys have on it?
A: Terry brought this tune to the band very early on. I liken it to the way Thelonious Monk would record his compositions multiple times with different bands that naturally contributed a different feel to the music while staying true to the composer’s original intent. Generally we follow the form on “Watching the Storm Go By” as Terry conceived of it, but the solos are a little longer and Steven offers up this great drum solo at the end in which you can really hear the melody. The first version by Terry’s quintet has this wonderful Herbie Mann kind of relaxed quality to it, while the ASQ version pushes the rhythm a bit harder and stretches out a bit more.
Q: In the past, the Stanton Quartet has tried to get on the bill at the Albany Riverfront fest through the Downtown Albany JazzFest Competition. How does it feel to be on the regular bill, and with a disc of your own under your belt?
A: The Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival is one of the events we look forward to every year, so it’s really great to be a part of the line-up. There is such a rich jazz scene in the Capital Region with so many first-rate musicians, including a lot of great players participating in the BID competition. We really appreciate this opportunity.
Q: Albany Riverfront will be your second festival this year. The ASQ also did two shows at the Cairo International Jazz Festival, in addition to other concerts and workshops you performed in Cairo and Alexandria. How did all that come about?
A: Jim Ketterer, who was our first drummer, relocated to Cairo two years ago where he led the Egypt office of an American-based education organization, AMIDEAST/Egypt. Jim worked hard with AMIDEAST, as well as the U.S. Embassy and the American University in Cairo, to put together an ASQ mini-tour that had an educational focus, but also a public diplomacy mission at a crucial moment in Egyptian political life. In all, we did about seven or eight gigs during the week we were there.
Q: Given the unrest in that region (and the animosity towards the U.S. from certain segments of the Egyptian population), did you guys have any reservations about going?
A: It was such an exciting prospect to do the thing we love to do most – make music – in Egypt. We all watched the political developments very closely leading up to our trip. We also kept up regular contact with Jim and officials at the Embassy before and during the trip in order to monitor any potential risks. I think this combination of being cautious, knowing that we had institutional support from the State Department, and just the sheer thrill of performing our music internationally at such an exciting time in Egyptian history made this decision fairly easy for all of us. We were certainly very lucky that the timing of our trip fell between the two revolutions in Egypt and not in the midst of either one of them. Amro Salah, the jazz festival’s organizer, did a heroic job of making this event happen. We are so thankful for Jim’s work as well as the work of officials at the Embassy for supporting us during the trip. All of us continue to watch events in Egypt very closely and are hopeful for political stability, as well as the safety of our friends there.
Q: So how did it all turn out – not just the festival shows, but the workshops you did with Egyptian students?
A: We certainly could not have felt more welcome – especially with the students, many of whom had not really been exposed to American jazz before. Their enthusiasm, intelligence and receptivity to the music were inspiring.
Q: Boring question, but I have to know: What’s the future look like for the Arch Stanton Quartet?
A: We’ve been working on some new compositions, including ideas that came directly from our experiences in Egypt. Many of the tunes on “Along for the Ride” were performed at clubs for two or three years before we recorded them, and we might take a similar approach with our latest compositions. We hope to do some more concerts and festivals while also continuing – and expanding – our work in the club circuit throughout the Northeast.
The Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival – featuring Oleta Adams, Charlie Hunter, the Arch Stanton Quartet, Sensemaya and the winners of Friday’s Downtown Albany JazzFest Competition – takes over Jennings Landing in Albany’s Corning Preserve from 1-9pm on Saturday (September 7).
Rain site is the Palace Theatre. UPDATE: There is no rain location. Admission is free. GO HERE for more info and complete performance schedule…