September Artist Feature: Drummer Kate Gentile


Brooklyn-based drummer and composer Kate Gentile has been working in a number of innovative groups since graduating from the Eastman School of Music and settling in the city in 2011. Next week, Thursday to Saturday (September 10-12), she will be playing a three-night residency at Ibeam in Brooklyn. The schedule of events follow:

Thursday, September 10

8:30 & 10 pm: Kate Gentile Quartet with Jeremy Viner, Matt Mitchell, Adam Hopkins (2 sets)

Friday, September 11

8:30 & 10 pm: Kate Gentile Quartet with Jeremy Viner, Matt Mitchell, Adam Hopkins

Saturday, September 12

8:30 pm: Snark Horse: Matt Mitchell and Kate Gentile with Ava Mendoza

10 pm: Kate Gentile, Michael Attias, Matt Mitchell, Sean Conly

The following track, “mannequin #3” is a good example of the music of the Kate Gentile Quartet:


Cisco Bradley: What are some records that have recently caught your ear?

Kate Gentile:
Steve Coleman – Synovial Joints
Pygmées Aka – Centre Afrique: Anthologie de la musique de Pygmées Aka
David Torn – Only Sky

Two recent live performances jump out in my mind that I wish were records I could list:  

Michael Attias’s band Spun Tree on his recent Ibeam residency blew my mind, despite thinking I already knew how good that band was. And Jonathan Finlayson’s sextet at the Jazz Gallery. Wow.

CB: What are 10 records you’ve found to be especially inspiring or influential?

KG: I’m skipping over several of my favorite records ever for the sake of concentrating on the “inspiring/influential” part:

  1. Miles Davis – The 1964 Concert (My Funny Valentine + Four and More)
  2. Miles Davis – Nefertiti
  3. Tim Berne – Bloodcount – The Paris Concerts
  4. Marc Ducret – Tower 2
  5. John Coltrane – Transition
  6. Bill Frisell – Before We Were Born
  7. Bob Drake – The Skull Mailbox
  8. Jim Black – AlasNoAxis – AlasNoAxis
  9. Miles Okazaki – Generations
  10. Robert Pollard – all. This isn’t cheating, because what’s inspiring and influential with him is the sheer amount of great, constantly creative records. There’s over 70.

CB: What groups will you be featuring during your residency at Ibeam?

KG: Thursday and Friday will be my quartet with Matt Mitchell, Adam Hopkins, and Jeremy Viner, and we’ll play both sets each night…there’s a lot of music. We’re recording it in January.

On Saturday, Snark Horse is at 8:30. That’s a collaborative project with Matt Mitchell. We play with different people, and this time it will be with Ava Mendoza. At 10pm I’ll play quartet with Michael Attias, Sean Conly, and Matt again. We’ll be playing a really really fun set-long tune I wrote.

CB: When/how did your quartet come together and how has it evolved since its formation?

KG: Tim Berne maybe had a hand in Matt and I playing together, and also told me I should find Jeremy Viner and play with him…and I met Adam in a field somewhere in the middle of nowhere. (Weird, and true.)

Matt and I had been hanging and playing sessions from the beginning of when I moved here, though we met in another city and had a huge head start on our ongoing nerding-out. He values so many of the same things as I do musically. I realized his willingness to play with me meant I could write anything I wanted without limitation and someone was going to actually play it with me AND be able to improvise with whatever the material was, no matter how crazy. That spurred a huge composing spree.

Adam Hopkins was in another band I had briefly, for about a year or two, and I wanted to keep playing with him. He’s game to learn and work on any music, and I like his improvising choices…I’m trying really hard not to compare him to Formanek because he is very different and definitely uniquely himself, but there’s a connection that’s hard to ignore. It’s a visceral, blood and guts type thing, and a sense of momentum and pacing…sneaking bass lines into everyone’s subconsciousness before they realize they’re actually hearing them, that kind of stuff…like magic tricks.

I added Jeremy around December 2014 after we had been rehearsing for a while because I realized how much adding another voice helped clarify things that were going on compositionally. There are a lot of layers and counterpoint, and it doesn’t always translate well on the first listen with just piano and bass.

Jeremy’s a beast and totally intriguing. There’s so much I dig about his playing – he makes interesting moves improvising, and the way he improvises with the composed material, or doesn’t…he’s harmonically interesting; he’ll blow your brains out with fire or sheets of sound type things with overtones – maybe like Evan Parker, if Evan Parker played involved notated material or improvised over forms. Sometimes it sounds like some psycho combination of simultaneously wrapping you up in beautiful layers of sound and getting stabbed in the gut, which is pretty rad… Also, I think my music is relatively easy for him, which is a huge relief. That counts for a lot.

As far as ‘evolution’ – it’s still relatively early on, but the instrumentation and sound palette have expanded. It started out piano trio, and now is piano, bass, drums, clarinet, tenor, electronics, and I might add vibes to my setup not too far in the future. It’s my way of fighting against the fixed nature of piano sound.

Ambitious music usually takes longer for the process of feeling completely free with it to happen, but the progress being made toward that is starting to feel really good. It’s been growing like what you’d expect from any band that plays together for long enough – the compositions become more internalized, everyone starts to feel like they can really play and go for it, and we’ve played through our initial, obvious ideas about approaching the music and become more open to all of the way-more-interesting “OK, we already did that, now what?” type of possibilities. And again, it’s still really early on for this quartet.

CB: What music have you been writing for your quartet? What kinds of improvisational strategies are you employing with that group?

KG: The music has written material that is pretty detailed and extensive, but tons of improvising as well – probably a 1:1 ratio. It’s jazz in the sense that we play tunes and improvise on them, but the rhythmic and harmonic material and forms are not conventional and the improvising takes a variety of approaches. Instead of improvising on chord changes and a form, you’re improvising with chunks of music. There’s forms and totally open parts and things in between.

Ultimately, it’s all music that’s me just writing whatever I want with the extreme luxury of having a quartet willing to deal with that. There is no intellectual overarching concept across all the tunes, no non-music ideas it’s directly connected to, etc.

A great example of improvising I like is the second Miles Davis quintet, especially the rhythm section: total freedom to do anything at any point, complete mastery and internalization of the tunes they’re playing, and fiery inventiveness. I like things to feel different every time, and I want people to make strong moves and go for risky ideas.

I also think a lot about approaches to improvising that are more abstract…Rate of transitions. Notes per breath. Textures. Playing with or against someone. Playfighting. Ideas from visual art…’blurry’ in contrast with ‘sharp points’. Resonance. Making ‘systems’ or rules in one’s head like tying articulation or dynamics to register. Instigating. Patterns. Additive. Kung fu. Timbres. Energies. Anything, nothing. That way of thinking is in the composing, too.

CB: Snark Horse, your duo with pianist Matt Mitchell, will also be featured during the residency. What is the concept for the band? Why specifically have you asked Ava Mendoza to join you for the session?

KG: Snark Horse started with Matt and I one-upping each other writing single bars of music, just for fun, emailing them back and forth. The idea was to have a bar that could stand alone and have a compelling enough of an idea to not feel like just a fragment of something bigger.

Matt’s record Fiction is a bunch of one-page-max etudes, and the bars are almost like taking that idea and condensing it even more. The cool thing is whenever you repeat something enough, even the craziest shit starts to sound normal or catchy, so when the tune is only one bar you can really do anything. And form possibilities are endless, not only with constructing putting bars together either separated by improvisation (or not), or alternating between bars, but also dissecting them in a micro-level, like making forms within the bars…so many possibilities.

We decided that because the tunes are so short, it’s fairly easy to have someone just do one rehearsal – especially since Matt and I are playing all of the written material. Anyone else is just doubling, so it’s up to them how much they want to learn the music or just improvise. So far everyone has opted to learn the music as well as possible. We’ve done it with Ben Gerstein and Jon Irabagon, and Mary Halvorson is going to do it in March along with those guys.

Matt and I both heard Ava Mendoza online and dug her sound and playing, and Matt did a session where she did a pretty great job sight reading some of the bars and expressed enthusiasm to do more. We played some more sessions and the bars sound awesome with guitar, specifically her sounds. And she’ll pick out weird inner voices to play sometimes, which Jon and Ben do also. There are no set “parts” to the bars, you can just play whatever parts of it you want – and she has been really into figuring out how to play more layers than one would expect a guitar player to play. Her improvising is really cool also.

CB: What does the electric version of Snark Horse allow you to do?

KG: E-Snark is piano-less and Matt uses his laptop-controller setup. He actually makes electronic versions of the bars that he can manipulate on the spot with a zillion different tools, setting algorithms for affecting pitch, timbre, volume, leaving stuff out, tempo, whatever – plus he can play keyboard (controller) while those things are happening from the laptop….it’s nuts. And Ava’s guitar sounds go really well with that – she’s doing an eSnark Horse gig with us at Rye on September 16th. Jon Irabagon is playing also, both soprano and sopranino. His sopranino playing is totally nuts!! The bars sound amazing with what he does.

It’s interesting that you use the word “allow” because it does allow us to do more in a way – sometimes the bars are happening and unfolding from their electronic versions, so they’re present even if no one plays them, which frees us up to do anything.

–Cisco Bradley, September 4, 2015

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