Dave Kemp speaks to Joanne Kee on the eve of his CD launch for his album featuring Vibes, Transitions by the Dave Kemp Group.

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Dave will be performing in Melbourne on 7th June at Lebowskis and on June 25th in Brisbane at the Jazz Music Institute Live gig series

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JK:   What led you to playing the vibes?

DK:  I learnt piano for a couple of years as a youngish kid (6-8 years old) but found I wasn’t as interested in it as playing outside pretending to be Australia’s greatest fast bowler and I think my parents could see it was wasted money ! Years later in late primary school I took up percussion lessons for the school band and discovered mallet instruments which seemed to be a perfect fit for me as it combined the appeal of a physical activity like drumming along with my basic understanding of note reading from piano.

Over the years through High School I discovered jazz and improvised music with the Vibraphone ultimately being the instrument of choice due to it’s more expressive qualities through the use of the sustain pedal than wooden keyed mallet instruments such as the xylophone or marimba. Also the wealth of amazing music to inspire me from people such as Milt Jackson, Gary Burton, Bobby Hutcherson and players who have come to more recent prominence such as Joe Locke. So after completing a uni degree in orchestral percussion which really developed my four mallet technique, I concentrated fully on developing my improvisation skills and delving deeper into jazz which led to being awarded a grant from Arts Qld to study at Berklee College of Music where I was mentored by master vibes players Dave Samuels and Ed Saindon.

JK:  What sort of synchronicity do you find between the drums and the vibes?

DK:  There is a synchronicity of sorts in terms of developing a relaxed rhythmic and improvisational flow on both instruments connected to the accuracy of the physical movements of your hands and fingers, although I find the four mallet technique on vibes is a much more individual finger movement based technique than stick drumming whereby the fingers work all together ….

It’s probably closer to the intricate movements of Indian tabla playing than drumkit playing with sticks in many ways. I have experimented with transferring Swing, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban drumming patterns onto the Vibes to create comping patterns and groove ideas ….. But these can end up sounding a lot like the same patterns used by pianists and guitarists so I wouldn’t say this is an exclusive synchronicity. By being a drummer, it’s definitely helped with my sense of timing and phrasing when playing lines on vibes and helps me in ensembles to really lock in with the drummer to have that understanding of playing that instrument.

JK:  These days do you favour one over the other?

DK:  For my own creative projects I tend to favour the Vibes …. One reason for this could be that from my own experience as a vibes player you’re tending to have to create your own bands and projects to feature the instrument in a more meaningful way. Sure you’ll be hired as a sideman ….. But the Vibes tend to be thought a bit like an extra addition to a band that might already have a chordal instrument like piano or guitar, so it easily can end up being used more like a horn that has the option to also play harmonies at times. Not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing as clearly that approach worked in The Modern Jazz Quartet, but us four mallet vibes players tend to spend a lot of time and effort getting comfortable playing jazz harmonies and working hard on voicings that work well on the instrument – so we want to have opportunities to play them in bands ! I still love playing drums though and find great inspiration and creative outlets in being hired to play in other people’s bands and projects as a drummer.

JK:   Tell me a little about the album, what was your inspiration?

DK:  This album, as the title of Transitions probably suggests, is inspired by my many musical interests in terms of styles and compositional approaches to create an eclectic, but still cohesive, collection of pieces which move through more electronic influenced sounds, modern takes on classic jazz forms such as the blues and extended explorations in ensemble interplay similar to modern classical chamber music. I’ve been performing in a big band playing the music of Frank Zappa for the past few years and his odd rhythmic groupings and angular melodic lines have been a definite inspiration along with the fusion music featuring the amplified sound of the vibes (through contact pickups) of bands such as Mike Mainieri’s Steps Ahead and the Joe Locke/Geoffery Keezer album “Live in Seattle”. Dave Holland’s quintet with Steve Nelson providing all of the chordal accompaniment on Vibes and Marimba has also been a definite inspiration.

Overall, there is a sense of rhythmic invention being very much a governing force on the music. After working on the bulk of this music over 2 years as part of my Masters in Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium and then prolonging its completion due to playing percussion in the Lion King musical in Sydney and Brisbane, it was a long gestation period and I think that helped to really shape the ideas into strong musical statements.

JK:   What about plans for the future?

DK:  The most immediate future plans are the album launches in Melbourne on 7th June at Lebowskis and on June 25th in Brisbane at the Jazz Music Institute Live gig series. Beyond this, I’m currently working on a longer form work in a multi-movement framework for a group of similar instrumentation to Transitions (Vibes/Synth plus Trumpet, Guitar, Bass Guitar and Drums) which is loosely inspired by the Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays amazing work “The Way Up”. It’s a further extension of using synthetic sounds (I trigger this with a mallet MIDI controller called a “Malletkat”) alongside the really pure and clean acoustic sound of trumpet and the vibraphone through microphones. I’ve also just this year started playing drums in a group called “The Francis Wolves” who are exploring the afro-beat style but with a lot of emphasis on