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Thursday, August 7, 2014

A conversation with Maxwell Boecker of the Convergence

click to enlarge VINCENT TSENG
  • Vincent Tseng

One of the most significant impacts of jazz maestro Kevin Scott's Tuesday jam sessions has been a coalescence of creative minds. All those who attended his recent mammoth, 12-hour King for a Day festival know how crucial those jams have been for the surge in Atlanta's experimental jazz scene. More recently, one of the newest and most thrilling groups to emerge from the Elliott Street hub has been the seven-piece jazz monster known as the Convergence. The group has only been together for five months, but they've managed to garner notoriety for their freewheeling jams that explore far, far outside the confines of jazz's comfort zone. Maxwell Boecker, the Convergence's bass player, stopped to chat about his challenges adjusting to a playing with a seven-piece, the process behind his songwriting, and the creative influence of the Elliott Street jazz scene.

How did the Convergence first get together?

It started before this year's Music in the Park when [saxophonist] Marquinn Mason wanted to get a group together and decided to choose the current for lineup for a seven-piece.

Did everyone know each other prior to forming?

I didn't know [keyboardist] Ayo Cooley or [trumpeter] Born Foster, but Marquinn knew all of us.

With seven people, how did you decide on a sound or a message for the group?

As far as message goes that's a whole different topic. I know all of the philosophies of all of the members of the band but I don't want to say anything right now. As far as the sound goes that's the genius of Marquinn. He organized us and we didn't have to think about it. We all fit in a different spot. Somehow it was organized that we didn't even have to really consider how we fit together.

What was your musical background before the group formed?

I basically have just played and composed solo. I played some music up in Ohio when I went to school there but I've been keeping it alive solo for about ten years. I've been In Atlanta since September.

How did playing with seven people change the way you approach the bass?

It made me rethink everything really. I had to reconcile what I usually do. It changed me as a listening musician and made my ideas extremely concise. You're playing the lowest notes usually so you have a lot of power. To say it's the foundation is a cliché, but you could influence the music a lot, especially rhythmically. It changed me as a rhythmic player and a composer because you're composing on the spot. It makes you more transparent because you have to be.

Are your compositions mainly improvised?

It varies. For our compositions we have written melodies and occasionally harmonies. For a couple of them all we have is a melody, a bass line, and a groove and we expand harmonically from there. Solos are all improvised and they're never ordered. It varies from grooves to locked-in harmonies. Spontaneous composition is about half our show.

How has it been getting integrated into Atlanta's jazz scene?

It's been really great. There are a lot of really great opportunities here. Kevin Scott's jam is how I met [guitarist] Rafael Villanueva, which led me to Marquinn. I know John Gregg of Hello Ocho from Ohio so I was linked with them and the Faun and a Pan Flute guys.

How has the creativity of the Elliott Street Deli & Pub scene influenced your songwriting?

I don't know if I can adequately describe that. My entire style's changed. My personal philosophy is to have a lot of original ideas inspired by other people's playing. Sometimes you hear someone play and you really dig what they're getting at. It just makes you want to expound original ideas on your own with as much energy as possible. I would go home and try to achieve that sound playing solo rather than in-group playing. It's inspired me to go hard in learning stuff. Jams like Elliott Street and the new jam at Erosol on Mondays have times when you realize everyone is listening. It makes you feel like what you have to say counts. You don't feel like you're just playing to the wind.

What goals does the Convergence have for its first year?

Plan a tour at some other cities and get in the festival scene. We've had a pretty good response so far. It all starts at rehearsal. We're trying to rehearse as much as possible. As far as extroverted activities, we just played in Macon, which was really fun. I've talked about going to New York. We're also recording on August 27 so we should have a recording out sometime soon, though I can't say when just yet.

The Convergence plays the Earl on Sat., Aug. 9, with Hello Ocho, Dessin, and DIP. $5. 9 p.m. 488 Flat Shoals Ave. 404-522-3950.

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