Adrian Sherriff - photo by Marc Bongers
Photo by Marc Bongers

Adrian Sherriff in conversation with Michael Webb

From Issue 5 of extempore (get your copy here)

While the notion of ‘original voice’ may be overused, it truly fits Adrian Sherriff, an Australian jazz and experimental musician of prodigious interests and abilities. He is featured on recordings as diverse as Oynsemble Melbourne’s live version of Coltrane’s Ascension, The Snip by the Bennetts Lane Big Band, Invisible Cities by 5 + 2 Brass Ensemble, Mikrokosmos by Andrea Keller’s Bartok Project, and Into the Fire, Sita and the Chennai Sessions by the Australian Art Orchestra. A couple of years ago, in a review of one of Adrian’s rare Sydney gigs, I wrote the following: ‘Throughout the evening, Sherriff’s bass trombone was capable of great delicacy, yet he could also unleash torrents of sound while hurtling across registers, and insert into the flow difficult multiphonic passages before diving to subterranean pedal tones.’ This conversation we had via Skype in late August—Adrian in Melbourne, me in Sydney—was not unlike that experience of hearing him play.

An excerpt from the interview…

Michael: Let’s go back to your ensembles…
Adrian: At the moment I’m focusing much more on smaller projects. There’s a duo with nylon string guitarist Roger Pell. I’m using that as a real vehicle to focus my shakuhachi [Japanese bamboo flute] playing, and that’s been really productive. And I’m in a trio with bass clarinet, visualisations and laptop with Brigid Burke and Ollie Bown, where I’m playing Zendrum, trombone and shakuhachi. That’s focusing on electro-acoustic music in a more abstract performance language, whereas the duo with the guitar is with more traditional materials; even improvising in a strict diatonic setting, trying to do harmonic improvisation together; or choosing to become a little bit more chromatic, maybe applying the language of Chopin; or trying to improvise two-part counterpoint as well as the more abstract improvisational languages.
Michael: Has that required you to go back and expand your technical capabilities on the shakuhachi at all?
Adrian: Absolutely! I’ve been really inspired in recent years on shakuhachi by a book by Steve Lacy called Findings. I’ve felt that his concept of soprano saxophone adapts really well to the shakuhachi. I also love the breadth of Steve Lacy’s oeuvre, from Dixieland to Cecil Taylor to Thelonius Monk to improvising with ensembles like MEV [Musica Elettronica Viva].
Michael: You seem to be ‘prompted’ in different directions by a diverse range of musicians and traditions. Are people such as yourself doing something unique, or ‘Australian’, do you think, or does that notion even occupy your thinking at all?
Adrian: Well, I’m trying to create music that feels alive. There’s that quote from Lacy where he speaks of striving to be more alive rather than less alive. To be less alive is to move towards death. To be alive is to be new each day really, and to live with things as they change. So I’m trying to… pursue music that has that feeling of speaking to each day.

Read more in Issue 5>

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Michael Webb ’s studies in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University in the United States in the 1990s brought him into direct contact with Carnatic, Indonesian, West African and Japanese musics, and Alvin Lucier, Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Ed Blackwell, George Russell and others. He finds the diversity and originality of contemporary Australian jazz inspirational, and his conversations with Sandy Evans and Phil Slater have been published in earlier issues of extempore. Michael currently lectures in music education at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney.