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Published: 2006/06/23
by Lydia Cox

Bobby Previte Crafts a Coalition

Classically trained, Bobby Previte is the sort of guy who after viewing twentieth-century artist Joan Miro's “Constellation” paintings, sat down and composed two-minute responses to all 23 works of art. At the request of the City of Birmingham, UK, he put together The Constellations Ensemble, which features everything from a glockenspiel to an accordion, a vibraphone to a harp, and took the project on the road with eight musicians and a conductor. Previte has led master classes all across the globe. He has written a film score. He has created an operatic ensemble. So it's no surprise that when the drummer decided to go rock he distributed sheet music to his Coalition of the Willing as they headed out on their first tour of the West Coast.

"We haven't had quite enough gigs to memorize it," Previte said. "It's a little too complicated in certain spots. It's not just jamming."

That's not to say that Previte's latest group couldn’t handle it. With Previte behind the kit, the Coalition boasts a touring lineup comprised of Skerik, Charlie Hunter and The Duo's Marco Benevento. All three musicians are well aware of Previte's compositional abilities, and his tendency to take his music into rather unexpected territories. In 2002 Hunter and Previte joined forces as Groundtruther, a duo with a rotating third member who has been Greg Osby to DJ Logic. Skerik and Previte, along with organist Jamie Saft, are involved in an improvisational metal band, The Beta Popes. And Benevento has jammed with Previte at gatherings held by Ropeadope Records. While the four players in the Coalition had never collectively worked together, it didn't take long for them to connect with one other, or, as Previte would explain, successfully enter into his "mind space."

"The thing about it is, people have to get comfortable in your mind space so they can get out of your mind space, if you know what I mean," Previte said. "They have to get in my worldview. We first have to choose what car we're going to drive in. Where we go after that, you know, is up to each individual person."

The birth of the Coalition was, if anything, evidence that Previte never sleeps. Actively working on four different projects (with dozens more under his belt), Previte’s seemingly endless supply of energy and creativity sent his wheels a-turning yet again.

"One day I had an idea," Previte said. "What happens is you get a sound in your head, you get an idea, and then you root around and see what that sound is. Then you ask, 'What people can realize this for me?'"

Once he had identified the players that would make up his new band, Previte placed the phone calls. Saft came on board as producer and lent his Hammond organ skills while Sex Mob’s Steven Bernstein brought in his trumpet. Hunter was invited too, but this time was asked to set down his trademark eight-string guitar. Previte knew a six-string would better capture what he was after and, as Previte said, Hunter “graciously agreed to do it." Skerik, along with Galactic's Stanton Moore, popped into the studio for a couple of guest spots, and the group laid down the eight tracks that appear on the Coalition’s self-titled album, released on Ropeadope on May 1. While Previte had the songs ready to go, they inevitably grew a little once the group had a chance to work through them.
"Sometimes a piece of music despite your efforts decides it wants to do something else," Previte said. "So you bow to it. You're foolish if you don't follow it."

As a leading figure in New York's downtown jazz scene, Previte sees the album as "more flat out electric rock" compared to projects he's been a part of in the past. A little jazz, a little twang and lots of heavy guitar are just a sampling of the Coalition’s sound. Spacey electronics and harmonica round out the album, which carries a bit of darkness somewhat reminiscent of Medeski, Martin & Wood’s End of the World Party (Just in Case).

While tinkering around the studio, Previte played around with the group’s name as well.

"I like to put words together the same way I put notes together," Previte said.

Whether the group supports a particular initiative, like President Bush’s Coalition of the Willing, remains a mystery. Previte said he prefers to let individuals come to their own conclusions.

“"It means something to me," Previte said. "I'll never tell you."

Keeping in line with his tireless desire to invent, Previte initiated Operation Video Freedom in conjunction with the new album, bringing the record to visual life. When Ropeadope’s Andy Hurwitz told Previte he had a small budget for one music video, Previte wasn’t ready to select a single track to film. Rather, he suggested a separate video for all eight songs and Hurwitz willingly went along with the wild suggestion. To keep things interesting, Previte contacted seven different video artists to help him out with the endeavor, resulting in a wide array of style and themes seen in the videos.

“I figured [the artists] would be into it because I gave them complete freedom,” Previte said. “That’s kind of where the title came from. I said, Here’s the tune, turn it in in a month.’ And that’s what happened. It was great seeing what everybody came up with.”

“The Inner Party” features a person consuming ribs, chicken and beer while “Versificator” depicts animated paper dolls dancing, interspersed with images of flashing fruit. Abstract splashes of paint and digital watercolors make up two more videos. Operation Video Freedom can currently be viewed on Ropeadope’s website and Previte said the project may end up on DVD.

The Coalition whose touring group differs slightly from the studio gang most recently traveled from Vancouver, B.C. to Los Angeles, receiving positive feedback along the way much to Previte’s delight.

"I read a couple of news things and I was surprised they found it pretty good," Previte said with a laugh. "I thought the music would travel; I left it kind of open in some spots. It's great to go away from it, what you do when you go away from it. What was starting to happen was that I was [getting] snatches of tunes inside other tunes."

The band plans on a November East Coast tour; however, Previte hopes to get the group together this summer. Whether or not the Coalition tours in the coming months, Previte has plenty on his plate. He’s in the process of writing a new piece for the Coalition called “The Separation.” Working in conjunction with Andrea Kleine and The Rose Ensemble, the piece will take a look at religion using a 15th century mass for a framework. It will make its debut at the Walker Art in Minneapolis in early 2007.

In July Previte will return to the studio to complete Altitude, the final piece in the Groundtruther trilogy, which he’ll be recording with Hunter and John Medeski. He’s also working on a solo electronic drums DVD with Benton-C Bainbridge called Dialed In and he recently completed an album with Saft entitled Doom Jazz which they’re currently trying to market.

“Ultimately what I do, I do only for the music,” Previte said. “Everything else is important but secondary to the music. If the music is not cool it does not do anything. That’s my philosophy.

“The Coalition is probably my most complete album. I really feel strongly about it. [There’s] no moment on it so far where I cringe. It rocks hard. I have a lot of expectations about the record and the band going forward.”

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