Bobby Previte: Watch the Music
Without a doubt, there’s a cinematic allure to Bobby Previte’s latest disc, Set the Alarm for Monday (Palmetto). Steering his current ensemble, the New Bump, the veteran drummer/composer invents dreamy soundscapes that sound as if they were lifted from some vintage film noir. The songs’ evocative titles, such as “I’d Advise You Not to Miss Your Train” and “There Was Something in My Drink” only heighten the sense of silver-screen suspense. While Previte readily admits that his compositions often play out like movie soundtracks, he doesn’t want listeners to get too caught up in that conceit.
“The film connection is a question that I get asked a lot. It’s fascinating, because I’m just writing music,” he says. “Oftentimes song titles can influence what you hear.” Previte then argues for composers to give their works titles like “Sketch #1” or “Symphony #2,” pointing out that titles and songs sometimes exist separately. “I wonder if I had titled these tunes ‘Chiaroscuro’ or ‘15th Chapel’ that people would view them in a different manner,” he says with a laugh.
Truth be told, Previte didn’t name any of the compositions on the new album; they were titled by his wife, writer Andrea Kleine. He simply played her snippets of the music and went with the first thing that popped into her head. “That’s the first time anybody else has titled my tunes,” he says. “The funny thing is that now she’s the one responsible for the whole cinematic feel of the album.”
“Another funny thing is that this is my, quote, ‘most jazz record’ in a long time. But no matter what I do, my music sounds cinematic. I do love film, but I think a lot of composers love and know about film,” he explains before citing Bernard Herrmann, Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone as three of his favorite film composers.
The real impetus for Set the Alarm for Monday was Previte’s desire to compose music for the vibraphone, an instrument he calls “sexy, sensual and smoky.” In order to realize the music, he formed a new edition of Bump—one sporting slightly different instrumentation than its early-2000 predecessor—replacing keyboard Wayne Horvitz with vibraphonist Bill Ware. Other personnel changes include trumpeter Steven Bernstein replacing trombonist Ray Anderson, Ellery Eskelin taking over the saxophone role from Marty Ehrlich, and bassist Brad Jones anchoring the ensemble instead of Steve Swallow.
Just as a cinematic feel has followed Previte throughout most of his two-decades-long career, so has the word “bump,” which appeared in the title of his 1985 debut, Bump the Renaissance (Sound Aspects). “At that time I was listening to a lot of medieval music, not renaissance, which is very different in feel and how the composers dealt with it,” he recalls. “Also, there was a renaissance in jazz during that time.”
Since then, Previte has moved steadily to the high ranks of the Downtown scene and become one of the most revered and versatile drummers, composers and bandleaders of his generation. When it comes to fronting an ensemble, he says that he likes to create musical environments that are a little uncomfortable, just to incite creative sparks from his bandmates. “I like putting people in a musical neighborhood that they’re a little bit not used to. It’s fascinating, because they have to navigate differently. If it’s too foreign, then they’re just at sea. But if it’s just uncomfortable enough, it’ll spark something new within them. That’s when it gets fun.”
Previte’s general philosophy toward composing is to “not follow any rules,” but he insists on it having lasting and compelling factors. “I like to be seduced by what I write,” he says. “I need to play my music over and over to ensure that I won’t get bored by it.” Although he positions himself as a perfectionist, vetting his music before releasing it to the public, Previte says that he wrote the music for the new album rather quickly. “I didn’t want to obsess over the songs; I didn’t want to get them perfect,” he says.
“I wanted this music to go along without too much fuss,” Previte continues. “The way I played the drums is very illustrative of that approach; I wanted to play very simply and smoothly and not fill it up with a lot of stuff. I even mixed the drums back, because I wanted the record to have that older sound which was sort of murky. I wanted a sexy record that would have, no pun intended, no bumps.”