Trumpeter John Raymond‘s second CD, Foreign Territory, is out this month via the Fresh Sound New Talent label. It features Dan Tepfer on piano, Joe Martin on bass, and Billy Hart on drums. While the pieces are all originals, they’re built on the bones of jazz standards—for example, “What Do You Hear” is based on “I Hear a Rhapsody,” while “Deeper” is a variant of “How Deep is the Ocean.” The music is melodic post-bop, with almost none of the studied abstraction, clumsily grafted-on funk, and attempts to wrong-foot the listener that many new artists rely on to keep themselves well-regarded by other musicians. At the same time, it’s not a collection of simplistic melodies and uninspired, blues-based choruses either; there are plenty of surprises among these nine tracks.
Stream the whole album on Spotify:
Raymond answered a few questions via email.
You’re the only horn on this record—what are the challenges of that approach, versus partnering up with a saxophonist?
Being the only horn player is challenging for me primarily because it exposes you as a melodic voice in a very unique way. There’s no one else to hide behind! Consequently, I’ve found that I need to direct the band in a different way. It’s made me realize just how much every single thing I do—from the most obvious to the most subtle—has some kind of effect on the band. In a sense it’s put a magnifying glass on my approach, the vibe I bring to the band, how I phrase and shape a melody—literally every nuance of my playing. It’s also revealed just how much weight and responsibility there is on me as a trumpet player, horn player and bandleader to really be the leader. Ultimately I feel it’s made me a much better musician in this way.
Was all the material on this record written with the goal of “time to write an album,” or did you just gradually accumulate pieces and pick the best ones for the disc?
A little of both, honestly. I had written “Foreign Territory” and “Adventurous-Lee” a little bit ago, and when John McNeil and I talked through the personnel and approach for the album it really cemented a certain aesthetic in my ears of what I wanted to explore more compositionally. Those two songs felt very natural and honest to me, and so in a sense, while I didn’t realize it at the time, they would eventually spark something that would ultimately point me in the direction of how the music turned out on the album. (“What Do You Hear?”, “Deeper”, “New Blues” and “Chant” were all written with the album deadline in sight and the vibe I mentioned above in mind).
Is there an overriding theme or conceptual through-line to the album?
The theme for all the music—and ultimately what I’ve come to really define as a personal vision for me in everything I do—is the idea of taking something familiar and using it as a foundation to launch the music into the unknown..into “foreign territory.” Familiarity (i.e. form/progression like I Hear A Rhapsody for “What Do You Hear?” or How Deep Is The Ocean for “Deeper) leads to a certain sense of comfortability for the musicians. And what that comfortability leads to is a desire to take risks with the music and push it in new directions. That for me is where the magic—true improvising—really happens. It creates moments of transparency and honesty within the musicians and with the audience that make an experience powerful and ultimately memorable.
How and why did you choose each of the players on this record, and what do you think each of them brings to the music?
I knew that I wanted players who were rooted in the tradition of the music but all brought that fearless, risk-taking nature to the music that would push it in new directions. I had played with Dan and Joe a few times before, and I love the way how both of them play, specifically how spontaneous I felt when I played with them. They are true improvisors in every sense of the word.
Having Billy was a suggestion of John McNeil‘s (they go back a long ways), and when he mentioned this initially I knew that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to make music with someone like Billy who is a master of the music and who has really shaped how we understand this music. And talk about someone who’s always pushed the music into “foreign territory…”—wow! There’s really no one like Billy, and he really made this music come to life in a special way.
If you were to pick one track from this record to play for someone who’d never heard your work—who might not even necessarily be a jazz listener—which one, and why?
Good question! Probably “Deeper.” Compositionally and orchestrationally I feel it’s the most representative of who I am at this point in my career—my influences, tendencies, etc. In addition, how that take came out is a perfect example of what I’ve mentioned about taking something familiar and pushing into the unknown. There’s such a spontaneous joy about how we played this tune, and ultimately that’s what I want people to experience when they listen and engage with my music.
Your first album was self-released—how did you come to sign with Fresh Sound for the new one? Was there interest from other labels as well? Does being on a label even necessarily help, given that FSNT has such a low profile in the US, and doesn’t do much in the way of PR?
From the outset with this record, I wanted to be on a label mostly because I thought it would add a certain amount of credibility to me and my music. I did have some interest from other labels for the record, but I ultimately felt Fresh Sound was the best choice for me because of the long-standing history they have of working with progressive and creative artists as well as releasing such high quality music.
While FSNT may not have a big presence in the US, I think they’re generally respected enough by people (both in the US and abroad) that albums they release create interest from jazz fans.
You do a lot of teaching—what do you say to those who believe something has been lost in jazz’s transition from a more vernacular form to a tradition passed on primarily in academia?
On one hand, I might agree with those that say something has been lost in the music in the tradition from vernacular to academia. But I don’t think this means teaching jazz in academia is inherently bad by any means. I think it all comes down to who is teaching it and how they are teaching it. For example, in my experience jazz education falls short when it makes the music merely intellectual. While understanding chords, scales, harmony, learning tunes, transcribing solos to gain language, etc. are all necessary (in my opinion), if they’re taught by dispassionate, jaded educators who are merely “coasting” because they’ve got a good teaching gig, their students are pretty much set up to fail. Why? Because they aren’t modeling themselves the intensity, love and commitment to this music that it’s always required. In addition, if an educator only teaches these “intellectual” elements of the music but doesn’t combine it with the emotional effects each of them have, they’re not properly transmitting the information. Educators must teach students the why, not just the what.
Another element at play here is a student’s surroundings. While students can listen to as many jazz recordings as they can get their hands on, ultimately there’s no substitute for being immersed in this music. In the big picture, I think this means that students have to be surrounded by other great musicians if they really want to absorb via osmosis what this music is really about—especially ones that are older and much better than them. This communal aspect of the music can’t be replaced.
Do I think this means every student should move to New York? Not at all. I was fortunate to have been surrounded by a scene of creative, intense musicians in Minneapolis growing up, and I think there are many scenes like that around the country and world. Thus, I believe strongly that regional jazz scenes are vital to the success of the music. But what I do mean is that it’s every educator and musician’s duty to the music—and to each other—to be playing and creating at the highest level they can, no matter where they are located. If this happens, I believe it can combine with instruction from informed, passionate and devoted educators that ultimately gives students an ideal situation in which to learn about and eventually contribute to this music.
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