Each song so different like pushpins in a map of countries never visited, the new CD “Assorted Colors” by the quartet Spin Cycle sparkles with undefinable newness.
The minimal airiness of “Two Pan Man” is rompy with edge; the sax effortlessly establishes the melody line and then after runs and flourishes, gives it up to guitar, who hits the ground with colorful blocked chords. The bass lays a warm, thick carpet in “Roots” and sax again sings above with a few short scoops, handing off to a tasty guitar solo. Behind it all, drums and fizzy cymbals urge us to new places. “To the Puente” affirms its Latin drum inspiration, with bass two-stringing it, then flying up and down the neck. The familiar “It’s Alright With Me” certainly rings bells but the approach is sweetly funky.
Drummer Scott Neumann and saxophonist Tom Christensen of Spin Cycle had a few things to say about their upcoming CD.
SCOTT: What was the “aha” moment when you chose to be a drummer?
The “aha” moment was when my childhood mentor, Kermit Tanzey, who was also my middle school band director, was battling health complications. He asked me take over his drum chair in a working guitar trio in Northeastern Oklahoma when I was fifteen years old. I quickly found myself working every weekend, making substantial money, passionately playing music and I never looked back.
TOM: Same re: tenor sax?
For me it was in high school. There were a bunch of older musicians in town who took me under their wing and helped me out. There were also a bunch of kids in my school who played. I really admired all of these folks and so wanted to be like them. By my senior year there was no question in my mind that I was going to play saxophone for the rest of my life.
SCOTT: Biggest challenge as a percussionist?
One of the biggest challenges of being a contemporary rhythm provider is also one of the most beautifully inspiring aspects. World music has interwoven itself into the vocabulary and performance of so many types of today’s music. Percussionists now need to have a working knowledge of many world styles/rhythms to be successful and gain the freedom to create the music they are called upon to perform. Whether it’s Eastern European, African, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Caribbean, Southern U.S. R&B, etc. percussionists now need those sounds in their musical arsenal. It’s wonderfully challenging!
SCOTT: What’s in your drum kit?
I am both a traditionalist, and (after schlepping drums for over 40 years) I am lazy! I have become a less-is-more kind of player through the years, and the same holds true with my set-up. My normal set-up would include a four-piece drum set (bass drum, snare drum and two tom-toms), two suspended cymbals and a pair of hi-hats. If you are going out to hear smaller jazz gigs in NYC it is not uncommon to see a drummer (and I do this as well) who is just playing a snare and bass drum, one cymbal and a pair of hi-hats. In addition to minimizing the cartage and not incurring a parking ticket while unloading, it is another wonderful challenge to fully orchestrate the music on the most minimal set-up of drums and cymbals.
If I were to add a drum, it would definitely be a second, larger floor tom-tom; followed by extra hand drums, like a djembe drum, then less conventional-sounding cymbals. My most recent favorite and unusual accessory is a hand-squeezed Pakistani taxi horn. I played it in Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Forum. It has a 12” bell for amplification and will scare the living crap out of you if you are in the orchestra and don’t know it’s getting played. It is also great for street rallies and New Year’s Eve celebrations!
TOM: Biggest challenge as a tenor player?
Being original, not derivative. I love listening to other players and transcribing what they do. Sometimes I have to get out of that mode and into just listening to my own voice and having the courage to play what I hear.
TOM: Favorite sax?
My favorite horn is my Super Balanced Selmer Tenor Serial number in the 50,000s. It’s a great horn and I love it! I see myself growing as a musician by playing more with other people and expanding my rhythmic, harmonic and tonal sophistication. I would also like to be a better and more sophisticated composer.
What does the title “Assorted Colors” refer to?
In my mind it refers to the wide variety of influences the band has. We play a lot of different styles and grooves.
Scott- I’ll be honest, Tom and I are done with trying to title a CD with a laundromat reference. We had the trickiest time coming up with a title for this CD. Then, Tom came up with “Assorted Colors” and it is perfect.
One of Spin Cycle’s greatest assets is much like the weather in Oklahoma; if you don’t like it, just wait a minute because it’s going to change. With Pete McCann and Phil Palombi’s versatility and experience, Tom and I definitely wanted Spin Cycle to present a wide-ranging palette of different types of improvisational music, from hard bop swing to funky world-influenced music. “Assorted Colors” fits the bill perfectly.
What were some of the arranging/production highlights of this CD?
I am proud of my arrangement of “It’s Alright With Me.” I wanted to write an arrangement of a standard that was only one chorus long. I stretched out the sections and wanted it to make sense.
Scott- An arranging/compositional highlight for me would be Tom’s “Two Pan Man.” I like the song because it is built with a sequentially-layered approach, starting with just Tom playing a simple motif. It builds in layers and complexity as it launches into soloistic explorations. The fact that the song is in a couple of different time signatures also adds a freshness to its approach.
One production aspect that was different with this CD, and also speaks to the level and rapport of the band, is that two of the songs on the CD were brought in at the recording session. They were not played or field-tested on shows prior to the recording. The band has been playing together now for four years, so the guys can quickly step right in and bring Spin Cycle’s identity to the music.
How long was it in the making?
It took us about a year from the time we rehearsed for the recording to come back from the production company.
Scott- I believe we first started playing a majority of the targeted music in the fall of 2016. We recorded in June 2017 and Tom and I had completed CD copies in hand by January 2018.
Is there a theme?
There wasn’t a theme but we tried to make the band fun to listen to, so maybe that is the most important thing. Lots of styles and good grooves.
Scott- No, there was not a theme with this or our debut CD either. Tom and I want Spin Cycle to be a reflection of the different types of music that all four members in the band grew up with. We want to take the listener along on the sonic outpouring of those combined experiences. In any given set of music, and I hate labeling styles, the listener will hear music that comes from different jazz, world, rock and funk influences.
What are your favorite 1 or 2 tracks?
Oh man! They all are favorites I think. I like Scott’s tune “Etosha” a lot. Very cool tune and not something I would have thought of!
Scott- I like Tom’s “Possum Dark” for its brooding, tromping nature. And I like “Etosha,” one of my compositions, because it is different stylistically from a lot of the other music on the recording.
Who is the “Two Pan Man” and what was he cooking?
“Two Pan Man” is me but I wasn’t cooking. It is sort of a joke with my sister-in-law but I can’t repeat it here, too crazy!
Are you on a label or do you have your own?
We have our own label called Sound Footing Records. This is our second CD on the label.
Scott- Tom and I have recorded for labels in the past and have enjoyed and appreciated that process. But when we recorded the debut CD, we decided we wanted full artistic and financial control over the product. Creating our own label and producing the music ourselves ensures that control. In the process, it has been, and continues to be, an incredible learning experience from an artistic and business standpoint.
When did Spin Cycle form and what is your overall sound?
We formed the band about three years ago. I don’t know if I can describe our overall sound other than to say it’s a product of our influences. We all grew up listening to a lot of different music and then played all kinds of things in NYC. Eclectic is the key word I guess. Lots of stuff. We don’t discriminate!
Scott- Spin Cycle formed in 2014. Tom and I decided to form a cooperative project, which is one of the best relationships and decisions (personally and musically) that I have ever made. Like any band, the sound is the amalgam of the musical personalities in the band. The quartet is a mostly acoustic saxophone-front-loaded creative improvisational ensemble. With the electric guitar and both acoustic and electric bass at Spin Cycle’s disposal, I think Ed Haga’s description in Downbeat sums it up:
“The music runs wild, as soloists embrace aggressive and daring ideas from the realm of modal jazz, free-jazz, second line and soul, not to mention good old-fashioned swing.”
How do you keep your solos fresh?
I listen to Scott, Phil and Pete and try to play off of them.
Scott- As an improvisational musician I am blessed to be playing with my bandmates. They always provide inspiring new ideas and musical moments that bring a freshness to the music and the way in which I approach it. Equally important, or even more important, is the audience and venue where we are performing. Musicians CANNOT do what we do without the listener. And, the interaction between Spin Cycle and the audience is always different and special with the places we play. That always adds a freshness to the experience and the music as well.
How did the cover art come about?
Our graphics person is fantastic and a personal friend of Scott’s.
Scott- The name Spin Cycle references a not-so-pleasant past experience that Tom had with a laundromat that has to stay within the confines of the band. That being the case, both of the first two CDs have cover artwork that includes laundromats. The “Assorted Colors” cover art came out of photo shoot we did with the wonderful photographer Dennis Connors. The photos were taken at a neighborhood laundromat, Suds On 8th Avenue. Fanny Chiari-Gotschall, who is such a creative visionary with graphic design, has created the CD artwork for both of Spin Cycle’s CDs, as well as the band and record label logos.
We played around with different photos inside the laundromat with and without the band members, and ended up really liking the feel of the cover photo. The laundry cart with the instruments in it, the great mural on the wall (unknown artist) and the depth-of-field of the photo lend a unique feeling of singularity that draws the viewer into the photo. Thanks to all who contributed to make that all come together!
How would you say this CD stands apart from your self-named CD of 2016?
It is more cohesive and has a more defined band sound. We are also playing together a lot better and getting into some real interaction. The tunes are more suited to what we do best too.
Scott: In agreement with Tom, the band has four years of playing and touring together under our belt. Besides Spin Cycle’s musical identity taking hold, the trust among the players and the sense of everyone’s musical place in the band have become more apparent and defined.
What is the release date?
April 6th 2018. We are touring through Ohio and Pennsylvania in early April (see www.spincyclemusic.org for details) and then have a CD release gig at Smalls Jazz Club in New York City on Friday, April 13th with sets at 7:30 and 9 p.m.
Scott- It will be great to celebrate the release of “Assorted Colors” as we play around Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York in April. We are marketing the music in various ways.
We work with Terri Hinte Public Relations in conjunction with the CD’s release. Terri is great and has been in the business for years with experience ranging from her PR work with Sonny Rollins and Fantasy Records. Tom and I do our part by promoting with social media, newsletters, radio promotion and advertising.
Talk about your other bandmates.
Pete and Phil are master musicians and peers of ours for many years. They are band leaders in their own right and heavy players and composers too. They have an equal musical place in the band with Scott and I. I have a deep respect for both of them. Phil brings a stone-cold groove to the band and Pete brings unlimited colors and amazing solos. We are lucky to have them in the band.
Scott- When Tom and I were putting Spin Cycle together we discussed who we might want in the band. Pete and Phil quickly became apparent choices. Pete McCann, whom I have known and played with for over thirty years, has an approach to the guitar that is wonderfully versatile and fresh. Besides his amazing solo capabilities, Pete has the ability to orchestrate and color the music in a multitude of ways.
It is because of Pete’s concept and versatility that Tom and I have decided to have Spin Cycle’s repertoire cover so much musical territory. He can play and realize rock, jazz and world music sensibilities equally well.
Phil Palombi is one of the great bass virtuosos in jazz. Besides his flexibility on the instrument, Phil has a beautifully clear point to his sound and time feel that allow the music to open up on top of that foundation. Both Tom and I have done a lot of playing with Phil over the past twenty-five years, so that adds to the comfort level.
How would have you grown together?
We are playing off each other more and we know the tunes better. We can go a lot of places that we didn’t when we first started. We also have a big book of tunes which makes gigs more varied and fun.
Scott- One of the biggest indicators of the band’s growth is the ability to just start playing and immediately get into “our zone.”
You go boating together so it seems you’re friends outside of the music. Does this help creativity?
Scott and I go backpacking and camping together a lot. He is a dear and old friend who shares a love of the outdoors with me. It definite influences our music.
Scott- Tom’s and my most profound and rigorous outdoor experiences were with some extended and very rugged back-country/mountainous trekking experiences. Some of the ordeals we dealt with ranged from my being pulled out of glacial quicksand by Tom in Wyoming to my helping Tom get revived from a bad case of late winter hypothermia in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. More than fostering creativity, our wilderness experiences enhance a sense of trust and spirituality based on our respect and appreciation of nature, which then gets reflected back into our friendship and our music.
You are all highly and independently accomplished musicians. With your varied histories, what has it been like to work together?
That is one of the key aspects of the band. Everyone is a strong musician so we all bring something to the table. A lot of mutual respect and strength in the band.
Scott- Working with everyone in Spin Cycle is a complete joy! When you mention varied histories, the same holds true for the present tense and the future as well. Pete and Phil lead their own projects and we are all busy performing with other artists and in other situations. So a lot of advanced planning is needed to organize the band for performances, tours and recordings.
Highlights of your upcoming performances?
Our tour in April will be fun with stops at Youngstown State, Denison University and The Bop Stop in Cleveland. Right after those dates, we are playing Smalls Jazz Club in NYC, which is a wonderful venue. Then in the fall we return to The Rex in Toronto, another great jazz club.
Debbie, thank you for taking the time to interview us! Thanks also to all of the people who support us from our listeners/fans to family and friends. We cannot do it without you! We continue to look forward to the evolution of Spin Cycle in the coming years!
For more information, visit www.spincyclemusic.org.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Spin Cycle.
(c) Debbie Burke 2018