Catching Up With Saxophonist Mark Turner

With “Lathe of Heaven,” taking risks and eschewing comfort

Mark Turner
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Mark Turner by Lourdes Delgado
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While in Valencia, Spain, for a festival performance with his quartet-trumpeter Avishai Cohen, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmore-saxophonist Mark Turner took time out to discuss Lathe of Heaven (ECM), his first album as a leader since 2001’s Dharma Days.

“I think before I took it so seriously and now I just take the music seriously,” he says about being a leader. “The most interesting thing about being a leader again after 13 years is the music, of course, but I’ve been doing it a lot so it’s not new. I am interested in the effect of the whole thing; in other words, writing the tunes, speaking to the band members, even the record label … you put it all together and then there is a gig and the way we affect the audience and the audience affects us. I think about all the things that let a gig happen. The plan is not the biggest part. It is interesting how the composition affects how the concert goes. I am interested in that kind of power, the power that musicians have for making underlying things affect the situation. I am enjoying that. I am looking forward to doing more of it. You know, just getting into the mood, the mood of each tune, the mood of how you might plan a certain emotional state and how a tune can stay in that state and move around a lot, those things are interesting for me now.”

When Turner talks about his band he can’t hide his satisfaction in putting these great musicians together. “They are really good!” he says. “I think they are all concerned musicians. I thought they were the most appropriate for what I was doing; when I played with them they exemplified aesthetically the effect I wanted to produce on this record. They are all big individual personalities, they are clearly themselves among other people and that is important in a band.

“I am interested in taking risks,” he continues. “Comfort doesn’t appeal me, but I’d say that playing without harmony is more about responsibility than a risk. Our role gets more important, that’s the ultimate responsibility. I think about music a lot, the details, the chords … I spend a lot of time thinking about music for two reasons. I learn very slowly and I have to work very hard so I have to think about it, about music and jazz. As for the second one, which is complementary, there are things that you can’t explain by words; it’s just there and you feel it and you act and then if you want to translate it into music you have to think about it, and that’s where the consciousness is, for writing tunes. There you have both faces of music, but I don’t like putting labels.”

Among the tracks on Lathe of Heaven is “Sonnet for Stevie,” inspired by Stevie Wonder. “I heard hundreds of hours of Stevie Wonder with my parents when I was a kid and that influenced me,” says Turner. “I felt like I needed to understand what the blues means to me, and I am still trying to figure out what it is for me. With the blues there is a reaction from the audience. Sometimes it looks so simple, if it was related to a character, a sentiment or an idea, but I am interested in the blues in itself. I need to set down what it really means. I feel like the great blues is about the true inner, related to it, because it is ascetic. I don’t want a reflection of that. The only way to create it by yourself is to figure out what it is itself and what it means to you.”

Will we now have to wait another 13 years for Turner’s next leader project? “I am gonna keep going!” he assures. “I have enough music for another record but it is not balanced yet. I am finishing one tune and maybe two others. My idea is to do another record with this band and after that I’d like to do something else.”