“We are committed to the moment” – Interview with Irreversible Entanglements
By Louise Esbensen and Mei Bao
Q: How did you guys get started?
Keir Neuringer: “There was an event called ‘Musicians Against Police Brutality’ that was set up as a benefit for the partner and the very young child of a man, who was murdered by New York Police. His name was Akai Gurley. He was killed in november 2014. A few months later at this event Camae, Luke and I [Keir, ed] played a set – and right after us Aquiles and Tcheser played a set. And we had never met before, those two groups. We didn’t really know about each other. But it was like, if we folded the two sets together, it would have been a prototype of our music. So we decided to go into a studio a few months later. In the studio, the first track we recorded is the last track on our album. We are committed to the moment, improvisations and to the implicit message of free jazz and fire music, and the explicit context of Camae’s text, which began at that event and permeates what we do.”
Q: What do you hope happens on stage when you play? What do you strive for?
Tcheser Holmes: “Honesty. Every track needs to mean something. Everything I do has to stand on its own …”
Luke Stewart: “We work within the realm of improvised music. The music that you heard tonight and the music you are going to hear on the record, is a combination of pre-arranged motives and ideas that are extrapolated and expounded upon through the concept of improvisation. And we believe that improvisation in the context of Camae’s texts is especially powerful in the openness and opportunity, that improvisation has, to explore and exhibit things that the world has never heard before. In the context of Camae’s radical texts it suggests an even more meaningful expression that is timely for these tumultuous days that we are living in. It also places the music of free jazz, free improvisation and creative music, I feel personally, back within its correct context of political, social, spiritual and humanitarian change. An exploration of what it means to be a human in the moment.”
Q: In which do you think free jazz can be some sort of liberation?
Keir Neuringer: “You’ll know when you see it, on the one hand. On the other hand it is very easy to put my finger on the idea that free jazz – or liberation jazz – definitely comes out of the black experiences in America. So it is an integral component to the freedom and liberation strivings of black people in America. Therefore there is no collective liberation if there is no black liberation. This is a very significant soundtrack and calling forth, and in some ways – in its expressions of most outrage and anger – it’s a warning. And it has been for a couple of generations. It is also an insistence: ‘Here it is. Here it is.’”
Luke Stewart: “I prefer and most of us prefer the term creative music, because it places us in an appropriate historical context, from where we are coming from. Some of us being trained musicians through the university or through the active plain in the community, in a scene, or a combination of both. This music that people have called free jazz and free improvisation over the year, the historical context comes from a place of struggle, which is very prevalent in the United States for practitioners of this music. And the root of it comes from improvisation. If you look at the black experience in America – the black cultural and musical experience in America – it is rooted in improvisation, it is rooted in that approach, concept, in that necessity of the struggle of the United States to find a form of expression that will liberate our minds from the everyday struggle, from slavery, or really from the Middle Passage and colonialism, to slavery, to Jim Crow, to the civil rights movement, to Akai Gurley and the Black Lives Matter movement. It is rooted in that concept and you look at every form of music that comes out of the United States, every form of popular music that comes out of the United States, you can trace its roots to an improvising black community. A black community that is rooted in musical expression, enslaved africans in the US would improvise words into hymns and music as both a form of spiritual liberation and as a form of literal liberation (directions on the underground railroad) to the point where the blues comes out. Where you are improvising on a certain mood – a set of notes – but it is a mood, it is a way of being, a way of life, a way of existing. To everything else that happened after the blues: jazz, r’n’b, rock and roll, hiphop, of course – and techno. That is the root of the potency of this music. In this group we are at the same time re-contextualizing the music, but we are also making a very contemporary sound. As contemporary as that work can get. It is happening on stage. The words, the music and the sounds are immediate.”
Q: What was the song where Camae talks about breaking up “the rhythm of oppression”?
TCHESER HOLMES: “That’s one of my favorite parts too! … If you are asking for a title, it might be difficult to give you. The way it works out on our record is different than the way it works out on the stage … For me it’s interesting to be a part of this band. I’m one of the younger members. It’s a way of freeing yourself first. Coming from a major city, New York City, it’s a North American icon, but being from there, going through that and really understanding liberation, globally it starts with yourself (…) When she says that – ‘the rhythm of oppression’ – it really sticks out for me, because everything is energy, everything has a rhythm – so how destructive must that be, the rhythm of expression? What does that sound like? I think of a train rolling over the largest boulder with dynamite. Like what the f***? What is the rhythm of oppression? Getting whipped to drums? At some point this music goes past racial divides and goes straight into spiritual energy for me.”
Q: What is some of your musical and spiritual guides?
AQUILES NAVARRO: “I think we share a big reverence for the history of this music. Part of what it is to be a part of this music is to really asses the lines, all of the pathways that has been cleared for us to be here and we could spend a long time naming the grandfathers and the grandmothers. They are out there. I say that to define why I’m not going to go heavy into the musical guides. As far as spiritual guides, everyone might have an individual way of approaching that one. I have been asked that question for years and year, because I don’t have a standardized spiritual practice, but I have been making music my whole life. What I find really important – I do not divide the spiritual, the political and the artistic. For me music is about relationships. We talk about creativity and the collaborative act, but then we also talk about the act of collaboration with the audience, and we also talk about those connections that are forged through collaboration and also through playing for an audience, talking to people. That’s relationships. That’s political. We are friends now and friends don’t harm each other. They can push each other, they can demand more from each other, they can fight, but they don’t harm each other. This is a political act, but it is also a spiritual act. Because many people think of the spiritual act as where that really deep kind of love lives. The thing about building relationships and working together, even if it is between the audience and musician, we are still making a thing happen together.”