Bob Brozman - Interview - Songlines Magazine - September/October 2007
Concerts and Tour Dates Concerts,
Tour Dates
Press Kit Press Kit
Biography Biography
Reviews and Interviews Reviews, Interviews
CDs CDs
DVDs & Videos DVDs
Bob Brozman Digital Downloads Digital
Downloads
Books Books
Instruments Instruments
Reso-Acoustic Sound System Sound System
Tips for Guitarists Tips for Guitarists
Seminars Seminars
Contact Contact
Contact Mailing List

Bob Brozman - Official Website

 
Order
   
Home
Interview: Bob Brozman


ONE MAN BAND

SONGLINES MAGAZINE
September/October 2007

by JEFF KALISS

Click on the images below to view the original print of this article...

Page 1 of 3:

Songlines Magazine - September/October 2007 - Page 1

Page 2 of 3:

Songlines Magazine - September/October 2007 - Page 2

Page 3 of 3:

Songlines Magazine - September/October 2007 - Page 3


"Islands are some of the best world music laboratories," claims American guitarist Bob Brozman. Hopping from island to island across the globe over decades, Brozman came to realise that, "musical instruments and ideas are left behind without much instruction and then left to percolate in isolation." He went on to explore these rediscovered sounds in a series of recorded collaborations with musicians from Hawaii, Okinawa, La Reunion and Papua New Guinea.

In his recent pair of releases though, Brozman seems to be bringing it all back home to his American base, and in unexpected ways. Post-Industrial Blues, on Germany's Ruf Records (to be released this autumn), has Brozman singing original songs about contemporary issues for the first time. Lumière, on World Music Network's Riverboat label, showcases the Bob Brozman Orchestra, on the cover of which he's pictured 27 times with ritual fezes on his head and exotic instruments he's collected from all over the world.

"That's all me," Brozman exclaims at the home he shares with his wife Haley S. Robertson in Ben Lomond, a couple hours south of San Francisco. "Haley composed [the cover photo]. I sat at the right angles with the right instruments, and she spent a month putting it together," seamlessly superimposing images of her husband.

"The premise of the album," its creator continues, "is that I spent my whole life absorbing sounds into my head. And now they're coming out. I intend to keep travelling, but for me this orchestra record is an interesting arrival point." Material from all those islands, and a handful of other places, were recycled in the studio of engineer, co-producer, and long-time friend Daniel Thomas, in Santa Cruz, a few minutes away from Ben Lomond. In a switch from his familiar global collaborations, Brozman is "basically playing all the instruments," with occasional percussion by Thomas and bass by Bruce Maurier, another central California neighbour. "It's not just that I'm overdubbing something preplanned," Brozman stresses. "I'm reacting and improvising my reaction to each layer, and when I'm done, I have 27 guys who sound like they're reacting to each other."

And their reactions to the musics of the world, with Brozman claiming compositional credit (except for one piece co-written with Dunn), are dizzyingly eclectic. What could be called the title-track, 'Lumière de la Mer', is "a little of a Réunion rhythm," says Brozman, "but I'm playing a resorango, " a custom adaptation of the Andean charango, "and the chord changes are a bit PNG [Papua New Guinea]. So it's an island in the middle of somewhere." Both this album and Post-Industrial Blues make innovative use of Brozman's homestead. On the latter album, there's a seven-string English banjo from the 1860s. "Modern banjos are all bright and happy, but this thing is spooky," comments Brozman. Its sound serves to enhance his commentary on the Iraq war, hurricane Katrina, displaced children and other compelling topics.

The orchestral and bluesy discs also make much use of the National guitar, which could be deemed the flagship in Brozman's instrumental fleet. He bought his first National, a 1933 metal-body resonator guitar, when he was a 13-year-old New Yorker, in 1967. It helped inspire him to focus on Delta blues while studying ethnomusicology at Washington University, and later to explore the music of Hawaiians, who had introduced the instrument to bluesmen while touring the American mainland in the 1920s and 30s. Extending his focus on to the Caribbean and Africa, the young Brozman came to appreciate that National guitars "enabled me to have the widest possible palate of tonal colours," as well as an array of percussive effects.

To begin with, Brozman's recordings showcased blues, a few early Hawaiian pop tunes, and early jazz, including a stint with banjoist-cartoonist Robert Crumb's Cheap Suit Serenaders. The first of his many international link-ups was sparked by a phone call from 80-year-old Samoan-born guitarist Tau Moe, who expressed his delight with the Hawaiian material, particularly since he'd recorded the same repertoire back in the late 20s. Invited to a Hawaiian steel guitar festival, Brozman hooked up with Moe and his singer wife Rose and coaxed them out of retirement to collaborate on the delightfully nostalgic Remembering the Songs of Our Youth.

Tau Moe's influence on his haole (foreign or mainland) colleague went way beyond the album. Moe had carried his instrument and its open tunings (indigenous to the Hawaiian slack-key tradition) around the world for six decades, influencing music-making wherever he stopped (including Greece and India) and becoming something of a multilinguist. Brozman later found himself following Moe's missionary model, initially inspiring acceptance of his steel guitar within Hawaiian music. After the Moe album, he was able to join slack-key masters Ledward Kaapana, Cyril Pahinui and George Kahumoku, Jr on the Hawaiian Dancing Cat label. The latter guitarist made Brozman a regular member of the faculty for his annual slack-key workshops on Maui. On Lumière, the track ‘Aloha Laie,’ with its Hawaiian slides and swoops, is a tribute to the birthplace of both Moe and Joseph Kekuku, the inventor of the Hawaiian steel guitar.

In 1999, Brozman was invited to contribute some Hawaiian guitar stylings to a Japanese slack-key player's recording, and in the process was introduced to the ancient music of the islands of Okinawa, off Japan's south-western coast. Producer Kenichi Takahashi paired Brozman with Takashi Hirayasu, a former guitarist who'd taken up the traditional Okinawan three-stringed sanshin and had pioneered the setting of traditional melodies within Western chord structures. The resulting Jin Jin (Firefly) was Brozman's first project for World Music Network's Riverboat label, and was a reinforcement of the guitarist's growing awareness of the prevalence and significance of open tunings worldwide.

Two years after Jin Jin, he found another island with more open tunings and (like Hawaii and Okinawa) "some really interesting hybrid traditions," including rhythms that challenged even the unflappable Brozman. In the music of La Réunion island, off the east coast of Africa between Mauritius and Madagascar, "the loud thing is in the least expected place, every time in the measure," with the rhythmic stress falling on the 'and' between beats.

Collaborating with La Réunion accordionist and guitarist Rene Lacaille "was perhaps for me the most satisfying," Brozman testifies. Their Digdig record (Riverboat/ WMN, 2002) features Hawaiian elements alongside references to the bluesy maloya and perky sega of Lacaille's island nation. Understandably, Brozman bears some scepticism about the standard approach of Western musical theorists and academicians to the cultures of the rest of the world. "I studied ethnomusicology for a few years as a young man, and I've been living it for decades ever since," declares the 53-year-old. He acknowledges that "how to observe, how to discern, how to discriminate, how to recognise patterns, and how to disseminate ideas, this is really for me the valuable stuff of academia." And he's also grateful to the music department of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia for engaging him as an adjunct professor and facilitating his investigation of the string bands of Papua New Guinea.

Having followed the guitar's migrations across the globe, Brozman was fascinated by the instrument's relatively recent adaptation and variation among the urban and rural people of PNG, whose culture has been impacted by colonisation, World War II and volcanic eruptions. "There are moments of country music," Brozman discovered on visits there in 2003 and 2004, in the process of recording Songs of the Volcano (Riverboat/WMN, 2005) and filming the accompanying DVD. "There are even moments of what sound like the Beach Boys here and there. It's got a vague familiarity to it, but you can't put your finger on it. It's like a musical genetic bottleneck."

As a trained academic, Brozman was well aware of what he describes as "the Star Trek rule: you observe a culture without disturbing it." But he found that, "that rule had to be broken for musicians." With some of his new PNG colleagues he shared his Andean charangos and the realisation that fretted harmonies could be extended way beyond the limited parts they were used to playing in the string bands.

Aside from abiding personal and professional friendships which have resulted in reunions for tours and festivals, Brozman's productive explorations, including recordings with Indian and Guinean instrumentalists, have had tangible positive impact on the careers and finances of his collaborators. With the help of World Music Network returning royalties to the 57 musicians in PNG, "each band has done very, very well," Brozman reports. "I've heard back that they're travelling, they're touring." The label not only agreed to include the Volcano DVD documentary at the same price as a CD, but also allowed for the album to be distributed in cassette format within PNG, where DVD players are still scarce.

After this year's home-brewed recordings, Brozman will again be island-bound, for collaborations in Ireland ("with some cutting-edge younger musicians") and in Vanuatu, in Melanesia ("where this hybridisation is taking place right now, and I want to be there"). In between albums, he revels in an active touring schedule, toting along seven of the more fascinating of his many instruments.

"I do a lot of bluesy stuff in my shows, but I do feel a responsibility to take people on a trip, to pull them along by the ear," says Brozman, ever the educator and entertainer. "I love it when somebody comes up and says, 'I've never heard of you, but I enjoyed your show! And I always say, 'I salute you for having the guts to come out... because otherwise, how are you ever gonna hear something new?'"


Click on the images below to view the original print of this article...

Page 1 of 3:

Songlines Magazine - September/October 2007 - Page 1

Page 2 of 3:

Songlines Magazine - September/October 2007 - Page 2

Page 3 of 3:

Songlines Magazine - September/October 2007 - Page 3

Cover:

Songlines Magazine - September/October 2007 - Cover