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Volcano Radar's Julia Miller and Elbio Barilari Preview their March 17th Performance at Constell



On March 17 at Constellation in Chicago, Italian masters Andrea Centazzo and Giancarlo Schiaffini will join Volcano Radar and Tatsu Aoki for a night of improvisational synergy. On that night, Giancarlo Schiaffini will be on trombone, Andrea Centazzo on drumset and electronics, Elbio Barilari will play electric viola, soprano sax, pocket trumpet, electric guitar & electronics, Julia A. Miller will play both synthesized guitar and electric guitar and Tatsu Aoki will be featured on double bass.This is an interview with the members of Volcano Radar telling us what they had to say about how they got involved with improvisation, how they were inspired, and what kind of sounds you will expect to hear from them at Constellation.

CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE: Let’s give our readers some background before we get started. Where did you grow up and when did you first become interested in music and why? Was family musical?

ELBIO BARILARI: I was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, a very musical town full of tango music and our own Afro-Uruguayan folk music but also with a strong classical music scene, jazz and, of course, rock. I became interested in all of the above. I started studying classical guitar when I was 8 and electric guitar at 14, a Teisco, a Japanese guitar that today would be considered “vintage” … and expensive!

JULIA MILLER: I grew up in the rural Midwest. My first memory of the guitar is seeing a rock band poster at the local grocery store; I was 5 years old. The band's makeup and costumes were definitely dramatic, but I vividly remember paying attention to the fact that they were all playing guitars. I began bugging my parents for a guitar, and they finally got me one for Christmas when I was 8, a 3/4 size steel string acoustic, "The Drifter"; I still have it. I also remember, from this time, wanting to play classical music on the guitar – very strange, because I didn’t know any classical guitarists or even any classical musicians.

CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE: Was there a specific person or experience that you had which helped you to decide that you wanted to become a professional musician?

BARILARI: Yes, it was Astor Piazzolla, the Founding Father of New Tango. I was 10. I saw him live on TV, I was mesmerized and I told my parents I wanted to be a composer.

MILLER: I don't remember "not" thinking about myself as a musician or "not" being aware of sounds around me. The sounds of my childhood included…the musicals and atmosphere of my grandfather's dinner theater …Midwestern marshes, rivers and lakes near the small town where I grew up…70s hard rock/heavy metal …Dixieland clarinet music. The first jazz tunes I learned to play were "So What" and "All Blues" by Miles Davis. I was 16, and spent time at a summer jazz camp.


Volcano Radar performing with Andrea Centazzo

CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE: You incorporate many different styles of music in your playing specifically how did you become interested in avant-garde, improvisational music specifically?

BARILARI: I was always interested in improvisation, at first in blues, rock and jazz, a little later I discovered free-jazz and the European improvised music scene. It was a natural development, and I don’t remember any period in which I was not interested in improvisation. In my home-town I had the chance to attend workshops with Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Elvin Jones, the German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, the Italian pianist Giorgio Gaslini and by the time I was 21 I had my own free jazz quartet.

I played bass clarinet, there was an alto sax, drums and bass. I was also a member of Trio Sagitarius, one of the first groups in Latin America playing improvised contemporary music using acoustic instruments combined with synthesizers, the old analog Arp Odyssey and Korg synths; this was in the late 70’s, early 80’s.

MILLER: As a professional guitarist, I didn't focus on learning specific, non-classical, techniques until later in my education (I have college degrees on classical guitar performance and also composition). As a result, my solos tended to be textural, noisy, downright atonal or "out". This was because my non-classical guitar playing was more influenced by my experimental compositional process. The first large group improvisational performance I played in was John Zorn’s “Cobra” (with Zorn conducting). Groups of mine before Volcano Radar were Gmlet Eye – characterized as a “noisier Soft Machine” – and also Auris. However, I also studied blues and jazz at DePaul, jazz theory with David Bloom, and have played in more than one jam session in my day. Electronic music, particularly musique concréte, is a huge influence for me.

CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE: Were you influenced by certain artists or groups? Which ones?

BARILARI: I am musically omnivorous… other people can listen to my music and speculate about my influences… I am not going to facilitate that task for them! I can mention some of my favorite musicians, but that doesn’t mean there is an influence, necessarily. Among the contemporaries, Wayne Shorter, Paquito D’Rivera, Danilo Pérez, Greg Osby… and I don’t play like any of them. From the past… so many! Just to name a few: Steve Lacy, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali (I listen a lot to the drummers!), Mingus, McCoy Tyner and of course, Ornette, Coltrane, Miles, I also love traditional jazz and swing, Armstrong, Bix, Benny, Duke, Goodman, etc. I did not mention any guitar players: Jim Hall, John Scofield and Jimi Hendrix… I am not saying they are the best, I am saying they are my favorites. I also need to say I have always been interested in “music based music”. I am not interested in “chops based music”, where something that should be an art becomes just a skill, a row of solos full of scales and patterns not really meaningful and not necessarily connected with the composition or with expressivity.

MILLER: Historical music and recordings are still very important to me, for example cassette compilations of recordings by Tal Farlow. I also played clarinet, and pieces such as Mozart Concerto and the Solo Sonata by Paul Hindemith were hugely important for my sense of interval and voicing, which I transferred to the guitar and later to composition. I also performed the introductory solo to "Rhapsody in Blue" with an orchestra. The concept of extended techniques besides the written notes, such as embouchure glissandi, and listening to performances in depth for phrasing and articulation evolved from that experience. Other artists who have influenced me over the long term include Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Buddy Miles, Pierre Henri, Sonny Sharrock, and sculptors Louise Nevelson and Lee Bontecou. Guitaristically, I have listened to David Tronzo, Nels Cline, Derek Bailey, Fareed Haque, Hendrix/Vaughan/Beck, Joe Morris, Billy Bauer, Wes Montgomery, Otis Rush, and many more.


Volcano Radar will be performing with Italian legend Giancarlo Schiaffini March 17th at Constellation

CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE: You have performed with many different groups all around the world, and I am sure you have had several spectacular moments on stage. Is there a specific performance or show that is especially memorable?

BARILARI: Two: both at Millennium Park. With Paquito D’Rivera and his Orquesta Panamericana in 2007, and my own big band for the opening concert of the “Made In Chicago Series”, in 2010. That evening we performed two of my extended jazz compositions: “Lincolniana” (commissioned by the Ravinia Festival) and “Sounds of Hope”, commissioned by the then Morse Theater for President Obama’s first inauguration. I have also had some memorable symphonic concerts as a classical composer, but that’s in my “other” life, I guess.

MILLER: One performance I vividly remember is the first concert Elbio & I played together, in which I soloed next to Ernest Dawkins. Another memorable concert was the Volcano Radar Jazz Occurrence 2 in Aurora, which we recorded for release. I am also proud of the five site-specific, improvised operas I have presented as a composer. Additionally, I was the first electronic music finalist for the Gaudeamus Music Week Composition Competition for the acousmatic work “bluu”, which was a huge breakthrough for its time.


Andrea Centazzo will be performing with Giancarlo Schiaffini and Volcano Radar

CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE: Tell us about the group you will be performing with on March 17th and significance of your special guests.

BARILARI & MILLER: Our band, Volcano Radar, is very interested in synergies and in working with guest musicians. Trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini and percussionist/composer Andrea Centazzo are two Italian living legends of improvised and creative music. They are both top musicians from the European scene. Luciano Berio and Luigi Nono have dedicated concertos to Schiaffini, one of the leading trombone players in Europe. Andrea Centazzo was for several years the drummer for Steve Lacy AND for Don Cherry, he played a lot with Derek Bailey, he is an amazing composer… we will be playing with world class musicians, and that also goes for Tatsu Aoki, our guest bass player for this concert. Tatsu invited us to play with him before, and now we are delighted to be hosting him.

CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE: While all under the umbrella of improvisational music, you all have distinct influences—Latino, Japanese, and European modes of playing—conceptually how will you go about developing the compositions and programming the performance?

BARILARI: With musicians of this quality everything is very smooth. We do program some pieces or structures, at least. But we also just… go and play! We are composers, we do like to have structure, but we also love spontaneous composition, music that has the consistency of composed music and the spontaneity of a newly created collective improvisation.

CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE: Many of the group’s members have either collaborated with various visual artists or personally fused together musical and visual components. What is the process for integrating a visual component to the music?

MILLER: My process was, and is, a combination of the visual, visualizing the conceptual, altering and adapting the physical, and listening to living models. As a band, we often collaborate with video artists, and have partnered over a long term with painter Lewis Achenbach. Many of my own pieces and performances have incorporated visual or graphic scoring, as well as musical scores. We also did a video remix of a classic, the 1930 Brazilian silent movie “Limite” with our own original sound track. People can see that video on Volcano Radar’s YouTube channel.

CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE: Many of you have played for international audiences. How does preforming in the United States, specifically Chicago, compare to the crowds elsewhere?

BARILARI: It is different from one venue to the other… it is very different playing at Millennium Park or in a theater than playing at the Jazz Showcase or at Constellation, where the experience becomes much more intimate. Also, playing at the Hide Out, Elastic or Heaven Gallery, where you are on a small stage and with people SO close to you is a completely different experience… I enjoy all of them.

MILLER: It’s also enjoyable to play music and arts festivals – where the audience is dedicated to the experience.

CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE: Following this performance what other projects or performances do you have coming up?

BARILARI:& MILLER: Our first recording, “Refutation of Time” (Pan & Rosas), has more than 30,000 downloads. Our second, “Electro Parables”, also for Pan & Rosas, already got more than 5,000. Currently we are in conversations with different record labels for the release of two CD’s, one of live recordings with Edward Wilkerson as our guest, and another studio album with Paquito D’Rivera, recorded and mixed at IV Lab. People who enjoy the way Paquito plays Latin jazz or classical music must listen to him playing “out” and doing experimental music, he is amazing!

For More Information about the Performance or to get Tickets Visit Constellation-Chicago.com

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