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Greatest Hits: Heavy Metal Be-bop

It’s always refreshing to read interviews with musicians that don’t come across as totally pro forma. Hank Shteamer’s Heavy Metal Be-bop series is a perfect example. Talking to luminaries like Greg Ginn, Bill Laswell and Trevor Dunn, Shteamer picked subjects in both the jazz and heavy music worlds in an attempt to locate some common ground between two fundamentally disparate modes of musicmaking: rigidly composed metal and the spontaneity of jazz. My favorite interview in the series is the conversation with jazz pianist Craig Taborn, a masterful player with impressively omnivorous ears. Shteamer and Taborn talk shop about Voivod, Gorguts, DiSalvo-era Cryptopsy as well as Roscoe Mitchell and Chris Lightcap.

Taborn’s genuine appreciation and knowledge of metal’s history is unquestionable (early on, he mentions seeing Metallica with Cliff Burton) and it’s compelling to hear him describe how that music bears a subtle influence on his own approach to improvisation: “But the thing that I’m attracted to in metal is the visceral [feeling]. There’s points where I feel like I want to just aggress with [playing], so I’d rather push it through that way. And really, I’m thinking, “I just want it to get uncomfortable”. I want that power. Because the cool thing with rock is the danger aspect, that feeling of aggression and power. You want to project that. And I definitely have that going on sometimes, especially in certain contexts where it’s maybe inappropriate . . . Even in terms of volume with a certain thing, I like to maybe get it past the comfort zone a little bit – or a lot. I don’t take it as loud. I don’t want to kill everybody, but I want people to maybe start worrying.”

—Jason Bailey

Read: ‘Heavy Metal Be-bop

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