Josh Roseman

Serious sonics: Josh Roseman (in an image from Iowa Summer of the Arts)

Ausjazz blog talks with Josh Roseman

When trombonist Josh Roseman talks music, it’s not long before the word “sonic” crops up.

Born in Boston to a Jamaican mother and Jewish father, Roseman says he was “born to synthesize” because he came from such disparate backgrounds, so that “it became part of my intellectual and aesthetic make-up to intuit different cultural streams”.

He embraced his mother’s music, but it was “not the same as growing up in Jamaica listening to reggae, but more like a treasure hunt” with “the music having heightened significance because [at home] it was the only place I could hear it”.

Roseman’s father was an amateur musician who played in a barbershop quintet and a jazz big band, sharing with his son a deep enthusiasm for music and the arts.

There were other musical influences. Roseman’s cousin Ed, who lived in the family home in his early 20s, was “writing his first symphony, building violins, transcribing Scott Joplin rags for acoustic guitar and playing them”, while Uncle Vern on his mother’s side was a blues guitarist.

Roseman describes his father’s playing of the trombone as “a mercurial sonic gift”, but he was first interested in exploring the “electric bass voice”, Steve Swallow’s sound and what to do with that instrument after Jaco Pastorius.

“I think that inquiry also informs what I’m doing now on trombone, where I’m interested in things that are a little bit below the surface sonically and you might have to root around for,” Roseman says. “As a band leader I try to create space so that some of these hidden things can bubble to the surface.”

As a young musician he saw the trombone as “a rich platform for a lot of ideas that had not been explored much” and thought it sad that the instrument was viewed as not suited for virtuosic playing as the trumpet or reed instruments.

“To me that’s like saying you can’t play note clusters on the drums — it’s kind of irrelevant,” he says on Gmail’s web phone from New York.

Roseman’s love of the instrument is evident when he is asked whether the Josh Roseman Unit will be offering the Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival audience something a lot different from his music on Treats for the Nightwalker, which was released before his previous visit to Australia in 2005.

“We’ll be playing a few of the same tunes, but what I’m putting forward as a player has accumulated a lot more depth sonically, a lot more dimension these days. It’s come about that the trombone has become a significant place of refuge for me now, so it’s really a pleasure to travel and set something up that people might enjoy and share in.

Josh Roseman

Heading solo: Josh Roseman (picture supplied)

“What’s important to me is my own level of sonic involvement when I have an instrument in my hands,” Roseman says. “It’s something I feel very very fortunate to do, and the evolution has made things simpler, a lot more minimalistic and more fulfilling.

“I’ve always been interested in acoustic and electronic texture, but we’re experimenting a lot more with dynamics, and juxtaposing unusual dynamic conditions with rhythm. It’s the kind of thing that can only really come about with a high degree of trust.

“The critical element is who you really want to listen to. If you have an ensemble and everybody is demonstrating a sense of support and interest in what your colleagues are doing on the bandstand there’s the opportunity for rare events to unfold.”

Roseman’s music has been described as “heavy groove jazz meets house meets ska and industrial funk”, but he has no time for labels. In fact, he happily “rebrands the ensemble almost every gig” — recently the Unit became “Slide Twombly and the Seven Seeds” — because “it’s like taking a wine you are really interested in and, if you ship it in a different crate, somehow it really forces you to use your taste buds once you uncork it”.

But behind this Roseman refusal to let our musical taste buds go stale, or the sense of humour evident in his naming of the track Olsen Twins Subpoena on his New Constellations Live in Vienna album (a psychological exploration of Jamaican ska trombonist Don Drummond’s music), is an artist on a serious mission to play host to his audience.

As he describes it, “Anybody who has hosted a party and has been surrounded by friends and has wanted to play music as a DJ just to make people feel welcome or to make people unwind or encourage them to interact on a different level will understand it’s not really about labels. It’s about sound, it’s about songs, it’s about the expression of the people who are on the wax when you drop the needle.”

Roseman says the majority of his concerts in the past year have been with his big band or solo.

“The solo concerts are one of my favourite things to do. They are totally improvised. At some point I’ll be cultivating a codified body of work for trombone.”

He says that, at Wangaratta, “I’m sure we’ll do a little bit of it. It’s a nice thing to do.”

As the Unit (or whatever name pops up) Josh Roseman will play with Barney McAll on piano and keyboards, Peter Apfelbaum on keyboards and sax, and Ted Poor on drums.

With the Australian Art Orchestra he expects to have “carve out some interesting spaces” with Paul Grabowsky and have “a wholesome if mischievous time together”.

Wangaratta Jazz Festival this weekend is set for a sonically rich party.


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