Fish Love That

As long as I've been playing and writing music, I've been torn between writing and improvising. On the one hand, I love the precision of writing things out in a way which lets me structure and control everything about a piece of music. On the other hand, I believe that there's something special and magical in the concentration, discipline and spontaneity of group improvising.

While living in Japan for six months in 1995-96,1 wrote a lot of orchestral music, and did a fair amount of improvising with players of traditional Japanese music. I also thought a lot about how I could integrate the combination of writing and improvising into my musi­cal life when I returned home. The writing part was fairly easy, since I had commitments for projects for which I needed to write quite a bit of composed music. However, it seemed that there was very little structure to my improvising life. And I knew that when I returned from my sojourn in Japan, it would be all too easy to cut back on anything that I wasn't obligated to do.

So, I came back to the States with the idea of setting up an ongoing, public forum for exploring the area between improvisation and composition. The core group which joined me in this project had been involved in another project two years before, HOME GAME, in which technology served as the transmitter, and sometimes arbiter, of compositional form in an improvisational situation. For FISH LOVE THAT, however, I wanted to focus as much as possible on the performance and the communication, and so technology has been rel­egated to the position of an instrument, rather than a director of the action. Besides my own playing on synthesizer and sampler, FISH LOVE THAT often integrates video into the musical fabric - most often designed & performed by John J.A. Jannone.

The core of this project has been the idea of letting a way of working develop over time. FISH LOVE THAT came together for a concert in New York City every month between September 1996 and June 1998, first at the Knitting Factory, and then at HERE. Since then, we have played several times a year. To keep the focus on freshness and improvisa­tion, we don't rehearse a lot. We get together for an hour or two before each concert, and generally go over new material, but only enough to know how it's put together. We don't actually try to rehearse a full performance. Instead, we try to keep the focus sharply on the performance itself, with the audience listening while we explore the musical ideas.

Although I wrote all the music for the first concerts, other players started to bring in pieces for the band from very early on. Andrew Sterman, Steve Rust and Todd Reynolds all jumped right into the heart of the concept, putting together charts which challenge us to play freely and imaginatively together, but which give us a structure and focus which keep the individual pieces unique. And although I brought the band together with the ini­tial concept, it has developed into a collective musical forum for each of us to explore ideas which inhabit this intersection of improvisation and composition. When we're play­ing well, it seems to me that we find an exciting musical landscape - one with coherent melodies, driving meters and harmonies, but with the ability to be transformed and shaped fluidly. It's not jazz. It's not "free" improvisation, but neither is it "composed music." It's somewhere in between.

FISH LOVE THAT. Hope you do, too.

Neil Rolnick October 2002


Todd Reynolds, violin; Andrew Sterman, tenor saxophone, flute, bass flute; Ron Horton, trumpet; Neil Rolnick, keyboards; Steve Rust, bass; Dean Sharp, drums.

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