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Jason Nazary Combines the Synthetic and the Real

With the help of a synthesizer and special mics, the drummer put out his Spring Collection

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Jason Nazary (photo: Emilie Weibel)
Jason Nazary (photo: Emilie Weibel)

Isolated from friends and family, with nary a gig in sight, many musicians could have spent most of 2020 in dark solitude, sequestered in their own psyches. Jason Nazary—whose credits include the electronic improvisation duo Anteloper and the equally raucous quartet Little Women—woke up every day last spring pondering what kind of music one makes during a lockdown. As he finished his morning coffee, the drummer patched cables into a modular synthesizer and recorded himself improvising along with the sounds he created, using everything from his trap kit to percussion to household pots and pans. It all happened in his living room. “My wife got me these low-noise, really sensitive mics that are used for field recordings,” Nazary says. “The idea was I’d play super-quiet, but have these mics there and have it be a really detailed, subtle kind of recording.” 

Some of this home project’s results can be heard on Spring Collection (We Jazz), a set that features those synth patches coming together with free improvisation. Five of the nine tracks include contributions from other musicians, who recorded their parts in much the same way: at home, alone. Nazary kept these performances intact for the most part, shaving off sounds or making loops out of certain sections when appropriate. Despite the distance, the musicians perform in a manner that feels like lively spontaneous interaction, while the electronic and acoustic sounds coalesce with one another.

Nazary’s collaborators include friends like guitarist/vocalist Grey McMurray, keyboardists Matt Mitchell and Michael Coleman, and his Anteloper bandmate, trumpeter Jaimie Branch. But he also reached out to Ramon Landolt, a Swiss pianist whom he’d met on tour but had never played with. The involvement of the other players ensures that the music doesn’t simply sound like it “was made inside the computer,” Nazary says. “I wanted to have a kind of open feel, like you were listening to two people playing in a room. I thought I got closer to having those super-detailed sound design things, but [I was] able to zoom out and have it be this free-flowing improvised thing also.”

Sometimes the combination of synthetics and live music can get a little busy, but it never feels cluttered. As each track progresses, elements that might initially sound random eventually begin to take on a structure. David Leon’s multiple flutes turn “Pulses of Wind, Real or Imagined” into a multi-sectioned piece that combines free blowing and dreamscapes. “Days & Nights, for Em,” a collaboration with McMurray, has an equally oneiric quality, with disembodied voices floating over a sea of sound. “Telefunk,” one of the tracks created by Nazary alone, manages to have a slinky groove even as the rhythm bounces around the room freely. Throughout the album, the live crack of a snare drum regularly rises to the surface, providing an organic feeling and stressing the human nature of this work. 

Despite having felt anxious during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nazary was pretty prolific. In addition to Spring Collection, he recorded Tunnel to Light, a collaboration with saxophonist Travis Laplante, his Little Women bandmate. Their cassette/digital release includes three in-person tenor/drums duets and one lengthy piece created in the same spirit as Spring Collection. Clebs, his more “electronic punk” project with his wife, vocalist/producer Emilie Weibel, also recorded an album, Feed Me Gently, that comes out this fall. “Everything I made last year is coming out around the same time,” he notes. As things slowly seem to be reaching some level of “normalcy,” Nazary shows that he put his time to good use. 

Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at shanleyonmusic.blogspot.com.