New York-based drummer and percussionist David Freeman recently released his new album "Overview Effect" and was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his most recent musical offering. I was first introduced to David through his playing with the Outer Bridge Ensemble and, as you will read below, his words and answers to my questions are every bit as captivating and insightful as is his drumming and compositions.
1) Tell us about your latest recording!
My new album, Overview Effect, is a demonstration of struggle in the search for balance between the personal and the collective, where the self-seeking creative is met by a call for civic engagement. The music on this album is a result of that process, one that embodies conviction, reflection and celebration.
The musicians featured on this record include Mustafa Bhagat (Arranged Marriage, The Biryani Boys) on Sitar, Steve Hudson (Outer Bridge Ensemble) on Keyboards, Jamie Zillitto (The Everymen) on Bass, myself on Drums/Percussion with special guests Ivan Barenboim (Sha’ar) on Bass Clarinet and Arun Ramamurthy (Brooklyn Raga Massive) on Violin.
The group’s aesthetic sensibilities, musical influences and technical abilities to cross between and defy genres that include Jazz, Rock and Indian Music are among the strengths that contribute to its success in forging new territory.
2) How did you choose your repertoire and sidemen?
I’ve spent the last decade or so of my career recording either as a member of a collective or as a sideman, which is great, because those experiences prepared me to take on the leadership role required for writing, arranging, fundraising and producing Overview Effect. Everyone I’ve ever worked with and continue to work with, I learn from.
The band members and repertoire worked hand in hand with one another. While I had some of the material for this record sketched out, some of it was near finished while other hadn’t been written. For example, the opening track, Bamidbar, had already been performed by the Outer Bridge Ensemble in years past. Kindness up to the point of recording had been a sketch and Shrouds of Linen Shrouds of Fire was a composition written for the album. Tweaks were made accordingly throughout the rehearsal and recording process.
As far as the band goes, I knew I wanted to draw from my influences while forging a musical identity for myself. So I needed to find musicians I could trust with my vision, concept and direction on both an emotional and musical level. I often feel vulnerable when making art and needed to feel safe and supported when producing this record. I’m a human being. I’m grateful that the musicians on this album are also some of my closest friends.
3) What inspired you to pursue the vibe and instrumentation that you did?
Nothing on this record is forced. And by that I mean the music takes form as it would naturally. Sure you might look at the album and ask how it all might work. Listen to the record and it immediately becomes clear what’s happening. And that’s really the most I can hope for.
South African pianist/composer Abdullah Ibrahim talks about how musicians, in searching for the music, realize it’s been there all along. We just have to uncover it. And in doing so, discover our inner selves. I feel that’s true for me in the making of this album. I discovered a lot about myself I knew was already there but wasn’t fully embracing. The music that’s there is an energy shared by all of us.
4) Was there a particular message you were trying to convey to the listener?
This is certainly music with a message; messages of protest, truth, power, and celebration. The music speaks to our common humanity and the hope that we’ll maintain a conviction to do right by our neighbors and our natural environment.
5) Who are your influences with regards to this style of writing and playing?
Composing for me is contrapuntal in nature in that I tend to hear the rhythms and melodies in my mind’s ear. I don’t really hear and write by way of chord changes. I write music more like Bach would. I also take notes from John Zorn’s compositional approach.
I almost always sing them onto a recording device as soon as I can. Anywhere. Anytime. When I’m riding the subway or out on the street walking the dog. Then I head to the piano and find the music on the keyboard and write it out the rhythms and melodies on staff paper. Once it all down and arranged, I usually get help from Steve Hudson to clean up the mistakes I've made here and there. We all need help. We all make mistakes. Anyone who tells you they’ve done it all by themselves is full of shit.
6) What are you practicing/studying/listening to/researching these days?
I'm often listening and practicing music for a gig. But in addition to that, I try to stay focused on the fundamentals. With limited time, I’ll sit for 45 minutes session on a pad shedding rudiments before sitting at the drums. I usually start a session on the drum set soloing and improvising in search of new phrasing and textures. Then I’ll pick up a book and work on a lesson, or a rhythm or exercise. Russ Moy, my first drum teacher encouraged me to always pick up new books and drum videos. It's become habit. I have hundreds of drum instructional books. I’m a student for life. Thanks Russ.
7) What other current and future projects do you have on the go at the moment?
My career as a teaching artist has gained a bit of momentum in recent months as I pivot my focus towards advocacy and leadership. I just completed the Central New York Teaching Artist Training in Auburn, New York. Next month, in July, I’ll be attending the Lincoln Center Summer Forum Teaching Artist Training in New York City followed by a trip to Detroit to participate the Asylum Arts Artist Retreat.
On the music front, I just finished a run of album release shows here in Brooklyn including a taping of BRIC Arts B-Side Series. I'll be doing some playing over the summer with guitarist Oren Neiman as well. More album release shows in the works for the upcoming fall.
8) How do the drums, percussion and overall approach to rhythm factor into your compositions and concept?
My concept is feel based. Even though you find odd time signatures, it grooves. No gratuity or pretense. I try to make every effort of being honest with myself when it comes to the development of a song or concept. If it’s not working or feels forced, I try not to be too precious about it. I table it because I know the idea will manifest again at the right time in the right way. And like I said before, the melodies and rhythms are born through song first, from the heart. So there is a songlike quality to the album overall.
9) What drummers & percussionists do you consider as influences?
I grew up listening to classic rock like Neil Young, Rush, Santana, The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead. Also deep in my DNA, western classical music and opera, which was always playing at my grandfather’s house across the street. Also look to Mahavishnu Orchestra, Medeski Martin and Wood, John Zorn’s Masada, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, Ravi Shankar and Steve Reich for inspiration as well.
10) What advice do you have for younger, aspiring jazz musicians and drummers/percussionists?
We all have individual strengths and weaknesses. What may come easy for some comes with struggle for others. Work to improve your practice and help others improve theirs. Always ask for help if you need it and celebrate the success of others. Our successes and our failures are a reflection of the care and neglect in all our relationships. It’s never too late to do a kindness.
Don’t Make Excuses, Make Art!
Check out David's new album "Overview Effect" on Bandcamp: https://davidfreeman2.bandcamp.com/releases and check out David's full length performance on the BRIC Arts B Side: www.bricartsmedia.org/events-performances/b-side-david-freeman-hosted-david-ellenbogen