Over the last few decades, drummer/composer/bandleader Franklin Kiermyer has been a notable force in the jazz scene known for his expressive drumming style and his belief in “music as a spiritual practice.” With a new band (Scatter The Atoms That Remain) and a new album on the horizon, we interviewed Kiermyer for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One to get the story behind his newest four-piece endeavor, find out what fans can expect to hear on his new album, hear his thoughts on the unique qualities of jazz music, and more.
NoiseTrade: After releasing a variety of entrancing jazz records under your own name over the last two decades, including Solomon’s Daughter with the legendary Pharoah Sanders, what inspired you to start your new band under the moniker Scatter The Atoms That Remain and how did all four of your paths cross to get the band started?
Franklin Kiermyer: I’ve had this vision of what the music could be – what it could do – for as long as I can remember. I’ve learnt over the years that the only way it can get there is with a band of extremely committed musicians staying together long enough to allow it to grow and change organically. This is what we’ve done. This is what we’re doing. Scatter The Atoms That Remain is very much the sum of its parts and it could only be what it is with Jovan Alexandre, Davis Whitfield and Otto Gardner specifically.
Being part of this band where everyone brings such a high level of musicianship, love, passion and strength of heart to the congregation and is so extremely committed to working together over the long-term, it seemed appropriate to give it a name of it’s own.
It’s taken me many years to find the right people to do this with. Although I set the direction and repertoire, our sound is very much a combination of these four individuals. Our music is something different, so by giving the band a name, it allows it to be introduced as something fresh. I’ve always looked around for the right players. Whether it’s hearing people when I travel, or when I’m in New York. Sometimes I’ve found people through recommendations from friends, or listening to whatever new players I find on social media.
An old friend of mine recommended I check out Davis Whitfield, our pianist. After meeting and playing some, it was obvious we should pursue this together. Davis has a very strong spirit and passion and he is always ready to step beyond conventions. I had known about our bassist Otto Gardner for many years, as he’s been an underground legend for a long time. He has this special quality of making the music feel very moving, rooted and free at the same time. I knew he’d be the perfect bass player for this. Davis was the one that introduced us to saxophonist Jovan Alexandre and it immediately clicked with the four of us. With Jovan, the first thing you feel is his strength of heart when he plays. His love and faith in the music is inspiring. When we all came together, we knew this was the band.
NT: What can you tell us about the musical and spiritual direction of your new band and what can listeners expect to hear on your forthcoming album releasing later this year?
Kiermyer: The most important quality of what we do is the feeling of it – the vibe. Music can cause an opening to occur. This experience – connecting with the heart and soul – is transformative. That’s what Scatter The Atoms That Remain is all about. I grew up in the last part of the hippie days, in the environment of the ‘revolution’. I was deeply inspired by the incredible freedom music of people like John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix. It was the way it felt to me. It changed me in positive ways. It opened me up. My main goal was to play music with that much soul-fire. I experienced that music as spiritual, in that it opened up my spirit to commune with the source – the primordial force of love and freedom. Everyone in Scatter shares a devotion to that feeling. That’s what brings us together. It’s this sense of music as a spiritual practice.
I think musicians have always tried to get deep in their soul and share that magic with others. I think that’s the whole point for most of us. It’s all about spirit and magic. It’s this passionate feeling of faith and freedom that lies at the very core of human being. I assume that early on in human history there were no divisions between sacred music and popular music. It was all spirit and magic. So, it’s this feeling — the vibe or spirit of the music that motivates us. I hope that’s what people will hear and feel.
NT: I love the spectrum of experience that exists within your band members. How do you feel the mixture of two seasoned jazz mainstays with two of the top young players in the game informs the band’s sound?
Kiermyer: The combination of seasoned and fresh makes for appetizing and healthy nourishment, but the essential qualities of music are timeless and borderless. Spirit and magic transcend time and space. It’s great to work with Otto, Davis and Jovan because of who they are as individuals. It’s more about who a person is than what they’ve experienced in their lifetime. As long as they bring the same qualities to the music as they do, they could be 7 or 77 and it wouldn’t really make a difference. Of course, if you’re on the right path, things just get better and better over time, but the essential qualities are there from the beginning. It’s true that, from what the business people say, youth wins and old people are … well, old, but from the music’s side, all that counts is how great it feels when we play. That’s what we want to share with everyone.
NT: Without asking you the impossible question of defining jazz music, what are you personal thoughts on how jazz music operates and flows differently than pop, rock, hip-hop, and other popular music genres?
Kiermyer: I think that what most people call jazz music has this triplet swinging feel as its biggest defining characteristic. That’s the same basic feel one finds in all indigenous music, so, in that sense, jazz music is close to our roots. Up until the 1950’s jazz was popular music. People danced to it. In the relatively short period of Western history, especially over the past 30 years or so, we can hear a flattening out of this swing. It feels as if the roots have been severed to a degree. That’s why early R&B, funk, and soul feel better. All that music has that swing feel at its core. You can hear that same feel in music from India, from Africa, from the Middle-East and from all original tribes.
While different types of music are constructed somewhat differently and rely on somewhat different techniques, I think the more important distinctions have more to do with intention. Some music intends to amuse, some music has as its goal to gain popularity and be fashionable, some is designed to elicit a mood, so on and so forth. Our music intends to do something, not sound like something or portray something. It intends to cause an opening and connect with the source – beyond concept – thereby causing a transformation. That transformation is like an opening up to a bigger and more powerful awareness. That’s what Scatter The Atoms That Remain is all about.