Sept. 26--Her music world revolves around the cello, but Helen Gillet employs it in unique ways to create music with roots in an array of genres: classical, free-form jazz, rock, funk, electronic, hip-hop, French chansons and the sounds of her hometown, New Orleans.
Friday night, Gillet will perform two sets at the Brick, 1727 McGee St.: a solo set and a set with bassist James Singleton, her collaborator on the just-released "Ferdinand." Gillet talked Monday about her performance style, her music and the new album.
For those who haven't seen you, describe how you perform live.
I do real-time cello loops with vocals. I use the term "real-time" because some people in the audience don't realize what I'm doing. So I may do a "look -- no hands" thing to illustrate that. I want people involved with the process, and I want to draw them into the world of the cello in a very intimate way.
How would you describe your music?
I'm classically trained, but ultimately I'm a very organic player. When I start improvising, I'm very in the moment and I try to keep very organic and very bohemian. (The songs) can get hip-hoppy and can have this Cajun-techno sound to them sometimes.
I'm also a jazz musician, so I incorporate the many miles of free-jazz gigs I have under my belt as well. The letting go of the form for a while and coming back to it is part of the process. I also love old French songs, a beautiful, poetic genre of music. It's part of my culture, being from Belgium. I love doing those 50- and 60-year-old songs in a new way.
How much of your music is formally composed and how much is improvised?
Once I have a composition, there's definitely a form to it. Usually it starts with a bass line or opening riff that stays pretty much the same, although I may tack on an intro that I come up with on the spot. I'd say half is composed, and the other half is free, but it's always in the context of the song. If I play with other people, it's more free and open.
How different is the solo experience from the duo or ensemble experience?
Well, you talk about control freaks: I think loopers can be like that. In my solo sets, I really spread my wings, so I must have that in me. I know exactly what the bass line is because I just laid it down; I know exactly what the rhythm is because ... I've created everything. So there's innate trust and security in relying on yourself.
When you add people, you start taking risks with my beats. If the loop goes a little weird, I know I can roll with it on my own. But I don't know for sure how another person will fit in.
That's why it's important to work with someone with really big ears, who is really hearing what happens. With someone like that, we can go in different directions and make it really special. That's why I love music in the first place, for the ability to switch gears fluidly.
You recorded "Ferdinand" with James Singleton. He also will be part of your show Friday at the Brick. What can your audience expect to hear?
We recorded ("Ferdinand") at the Marigny Opera House in New Orleans, an abandoned church on Ferdinand Street. The room is very echo-y, so we worked with the slap-back of the room as a kind of third member of the band.
James and I have worked together for 10 years as an acoustic duo, but we'd also do some looping. We have this really interesting relationship. I don't sing, though we may do a couple of songs at the Brick. I'll do a solo set as well.
Our duo is instrumental. We're about what the bass and cello can do together. He's as bad-ass a bass player as there is on the planet. I've learned so much from him. He has inspired me a lot ... and, hell, argue the same.
We really trade roles a lot. Occasionally, I'll walk the bass line, and he'll solo over it, or he'll walk the bass and I'll solo over it. James has a sense of song. We don't improvise endlessly without going anywhere. We don't jam-out for miles. We want to create an idea and wrap it in a package. We both have that sense.
Helen Gillet will bring her cello to The Brick, 1727 McGee St. Gillet will perform two sets: one with bassist James Singleton, her collaborator on "Ferdinand," Gillet's new instrumental recording; and a solo set, featuring Gillet on cello, loops and vocals. Showtime is 9 p.m.
To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/phinnagain. Read more from him at our music blog, Back to Rockville, at KansasCity.com.
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