Michael Formanek Quartet (USA):
Michael Formanek - b
This exceptional group uniting intellectual musicians and long-time partners was formed in 2008. Its leader has collaborated with Tim Berne for two decades – the musicians have partaken in each other’s projects, toured and recorded together. Michael Formanek acknowledges Tim Berne’s influence. For more than a decade the bassist has teamed up with Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver, who also work with Tim Berne; even more, the pianist is a member of his Hard Cell. It is not surprising, that the Quartet members have instantly found common territory. The Rub and Spare Change (ECM), their first album released in 2010, has earned accolades: Down Beat Magazine gave it five stars, while other periodicals placed it in top charts. With this album Formanek has claimed his name as the leader and composer.
How was it possible to find a common denominator for such a different musical personalities? According to Formanek, it was a lucky coincidence when differences make a perfect composition. Moreover, the Quartet members’ individual voices do not interfere with collective ideas. It wouldn’t be possible to form a better ensemble for Formanek’s music. It’s scored, but it’s improvisational; it’s tonal but it’s dissonant; everyone is soloing but no one is soloing.
Last September the Quartet released its second album Small Places (ECM), and in October embarked on the second European tour itinerary of which lists eight concerts in six countries. Composition is a very important side of Michael Formanek’s activities. The first album Wide Open Spaces, featuring bassist’s compositions, was released in 1990. It was followed by three more albums (on Enja label) recorded with Greg Osby, Tim Berne, Mark Feldman, Dave Douglas, Marvin „Smitty“ Smith, Ku-umba Frank Lacy, Marty Ehrlich, Wayne Kranz and Jim Black. With his solo album Am I Bothering You? Formanek contributed greatly to the development of the genre.
The bassist has won many commissions and awards from Chamber Music America, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and The Peabody Conservatory.
Born in San Francisco, Formanek started working with Tony Williams’ Lifetime Band at the age eighteen. Later he collaborated with Freddie Hubbard, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Dave Liebman, Fred Hersch, and Attila Zoller. Throughout his career lasting almost 40 years he has recorded and/or performed with a wide range of American and European jazz artists, including Evan Parker, Dave Burrell, Elvis Costello, Uri Caine, Joe Lovano, Bob Mintzer, Peter Erskine, Mark Isham, Cedar Walton, George Coleman, Mingus Big Band, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, and many others.
The bassist works with various Tim Berne ensembles, has directed the Peabody Jazz Orchestra in Baltimore. He has performed on over 100 records.
Tim Berne, one of the foremost contemporary jazz figures, didn’t decide to take up music until nearly twenty years old when he was attending Lewis and Clark College in Oregon, and putting most of his energy into intramural basketball. At this point, while resting a sore ankle in his dormitory, Berne encountered a saxophonist who was selling his alto, and bought it on impulse. Later he chanced upon Julius Hemphill’s album Dogon A.D., which completely turned him around.
Berne moved to New York, sought Hemphill out, and entered into a sort-of apprenticeship with the elder musician. The lessons they had together covered everything from playing the saxophone, to composition to record promotion to recording to pasting up handbills to aspects of magic and spirituality. It was Hemphill who taught Berne, that music making is inseparable from composition and band leading.
Berne began issuing his own albums on his own Empire label in 1979. Over the next five years he recorded five albums. Before long his albums were released on Italian Soul Note label, Columbia Records, and JMT. Berne’s JMT legacy climaxed with the historic Paris Concerts given by his quartet Bloodcount, released in three volumes. These recordings have received unanimous praise. In 1996, Berne once again founded his own record label, Screwgun.
Since 1994, Bloodcount has performed over 250 concerts worldwide. Berne is also known as the leader of Science Friction, Adobe Probe, Los Totopos, Paraphrase, and Big Satan. He has collaborated with Bill Frisell, Marilyn Crispell, Tom Rainey, Mark Helias, John Zorn, Nels Cline and a number of other jazz luminaries; composed for Kronos Quartet, Rova Saxophone Quartet, and Caos Totale with Django Bates.
Craig Taborn is one of the most intriguing, ingenious and busiest musicians in New York. He began working professionally in the 1990s in a variety of musical contexts, ranging from more straight-ahead jazz to more outside music, with young jazz musicians, seasoned veterans, and even techno artists.
Before he graduated from college, Taborn had already performed on three recordings as a member of the James Carter Quartet. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1995, he recorded his first album as a leader of The Craig Taborn Trio. Before the trio’s second album was released, he performed on two more Carter releases, as well as Roscoe Mitchell, Carl Craig and on Hugh Ragin’s albums.
After moving to New York, Taborn became one of the most in-demand jazz pianists. He has formed a longstanding collaboration with Tim Berne, also played in projects for Drew Gress, Chris Potter, Dave Douglas and Bill Laswell, sided in a number of albums including those for David Binney, Eivind Opsvik, Gerald Cleaver, David Torn, Evan Parker, and Michael Formanek.
In 2004, together with Dave King (Bad Plus), Mat Maneri and Aaron Stewart he recorded Junk Magic, an unorthodox album fusing acoustic and electronic elements. Recently, Taborn had signed a contract with ECM, which released his first solo album Avenging Angel in 2011.
Born and raised in Detroit, Gerald Cleaver is a product of the city’s rich music tradition. Inspired by his father, drummer John Cleaver, he began playing the drums at an early age. He also played violin in elementary school, and trumpet in junior high school and high school. As a teenager he gained invaluable experience playing with Detroit jazz masters Ali Muhammad Jackson, Lamont Hamilton, Earl Van Riper, and Pancho Hagood.
While attending the University of Michigan, he was awarded a Jazz Study Grant, from the National Endowment for the Arts, to study with drummer Victor Lewis. After graduating, he began teaching in Detroit where he worked with Rodney Whitaker, A. Spencer Barefield, Marcus Belgrave, Donald Walden, Wendell Harrison, and with visiting musicians Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell, Frank Foster,
His 2001 recording Adjust was nominated in the Best Debut Recording category by the Jazz Journalists Association. In 2002, the drummer moved to New York.
He has performed or recorded with Franck Amsallem, Tim Ries, Henry Threadgill, Lotte Anker, Marilyn Crispell, Mattew Shipp, William Parker, Kevin Mahogany, Charles Gayle, Mario Pavone, Dave Douglas, Jeremy Pelt, Ellery Eskelin, David Torn, and Miroslav Vitous among others.
Cleaver leads the bands Violet Hour, NiMbNl, Uncle June and Farmers By Nature. He has appeared in “Vilnius Jazz 2010” with Samuel Blaser Quartet.