Multi-instrumentalist and composer Zachary Gvirtzman (Zac Gvi) is a founding member of F-IRE Collective. His album of spontaneous solo piano meditations "Father Tongues" is released on 2 May. AJ Dehany asked him about the background to the album.
LondonJazz News: There’s a companion piece to the album, a poem also called Father Tongues that was published in Different Skies last year. What's the relationship between the poem and the music?
Zac Gvi: I think of the relationship between the music and the text as two aspects of the same piece, or two attempts at conveying a set of meditations on the same themes. Having made the music first, it felt like there were some things that I wanted to make explicit in the way that needed words. I like the idea of the texts as sorts of illustrations, as pieces that stand next to the music, independent but interconnected.
LJN: The poem and album reflect on themes of family experience: responsibility, authority and love. Are your family musicians too?
ZG: My dad plays the piano and was my first teacher. There's also other music in the family - my step-dad plays blues guitar and got me into jazz, my grandma played the cello and her dad had a jazz band in Darlington in the 1920s (!), my other grandma used to play ukele and sang and my mum and step-mum also used to play a bit - so everyone's a bit musical.
LJN: You’re deeply involved in F-IRE Collective. Is F-IRE another kind of family?
ZG: The F-IRE Collective is a family in the sense that we share a lot of the same values about music making - prioritizing creativity, the intention to explore complex forms, the importance of making music in the community. Growing up in London in the '90s and '00s, F-IRE and the music I associated with it was a really instructive and mind-opening group to be around particularly Barak Schmool but also musicians like Ingrid Laubrock, Jonathan Brateoff, Maurizio Ravalico and lots of others.
LJN: To me the album title suggests the inheritance of our languages (musical and verbal). Is it something like that for you?
ZG: I think the first thing about the phrase "father tongues" is that it's ambiguous. The meaning feels familiar, being so close to "mother tongue", but at the same time there's an otherness to it because it's not a commonly used phrase, which I think gives it an element of distance or alienation. There's also, as you rightly suggest, a level on which it's about the passage of language through time and across generations.
One thing that's especially significant to me about this process is the multiplicity of tongues or languages, whether musical or verbal, that are at play. Part of what I wanted to do with this project is to explore those some of those different languages, how they might interact and also how they could be opened up to include things they wouldn't normally. Lastly, I like the connotation of "talking in tongues" that the phrase can have, which I think illustrates what the process of making the record was for me.
LJN: Thelonious Monk is the obvious father of one of the tracks, Brother Thelonious, but who are the other musical fathers for you? (I mean, music is music, but you know what I mean...)
ZG: Yes, Monk is definitely one of my musical fathers/brothers/relatives - I've got a new recording which will be coming out later in the year of his music in fact. Morton Feldman is also someone who I saw as a musical role model at one time and still do to some extent. In terms of other influences on my music, there are of course many but I think with any recording of this format, being mainly solo piano improvisations, Keith Jarrett's work is a point of reference.
LJN: How do you feel about previously perceived lines between 'classical' and 'jazz' paradigms - are these something you're conscious of working through or against?
ZG: I think that more broadly speaking, I'm less interested in the distinctions between classical/jazz or improvised/composed and more interested in finding a form that encompasses all of those elements at once. Something that really resonated with me is the distinction Glenn Gould made in his later writings between pre- and post-Renaissance music. In my understanding, his main point was that before the Renaissance music was much more a part of peoples' lives than it is now because they were able to embody it more, whether through singing or through other means.
I think that in most other musical traditions this is still the case even where there are complex structures and ideas at play. My aim isn't to try to go back in time or to just play folk music - which I do also play - but to make new music that takes on board the ways which people have developed of listening, whether it's using complex harmonic or rhythmic material or abstract structures, and that also speaks to people plainly in a way that they can relate to in their bodies and in their lives.
LJN: You say the selections/tracks are essentially unedited but it has taken several years to get to this stage from playing to release. Was this an extended period of meditation on the material or more intensive with editing?
ZG: I wanted the album to be an honest reflection of the music that I recorded from the beginning so I didn't make any significant edits to it at all. When I started selecting the tracks I had quite a bit of material which I was considering using. So the process was really about working out what the best form was and what the strongest ensemble of pieces would be.
I think in the end I decided to go for the most diverse set of pieces out of what was available in terms of lengths and forms. It took quite a bit of time for me to work out what I think is the best way to do it and I think part of that was needing a lot of distance from the material, especially with this recording!
LJN: Further to that, when the selections have been made and the record produced, are the improvisations now compositions or are they still improvisations?
ZG: I've been thinking of the tracks as spontaneous compositions, apart from 2 Blind Elephants and Atticus which are actually compositions of mine with improvised parts. Another way I've been thinking of them is just as musical meditations, somewhere between music and language.
LINK: Zac Gvi's website