Bassist and onetime Chicagoan Devin Hoff returns for April



Devin Hoff
  • Bettina Escauriza
  • Devin Hoff
In the two years bassist Devin Hoff lived in Chicago he was a fairly ubiquitous presence around town, playing in countless ad hoc configurations and forming several ongoing projects he's remained part of since leaving for Los Angeles in 2011. In April he'll play with one of those bands, his trio with reedist Dave Rempis and drummer Mike Reed called Days After Next Wednesday, at the Hideout—you can check out a track by the group toward the bottom of this post. That's just part of his wide-ranging monthlong residency here, which will be helmed by Monday-night gigs at the Skylark. The core of his visit comprises four performances (including one in Milwaukee) by a relatively new band, the Devin Hoff Bastet, that includes a couple of strong colleagues (drummer Darrell Green and tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley) from his days in the Bay Area, along with Chicago alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella.

I reached out to Hoff in advance of the residency to discuss his trip, his new band, and his itinerant lifestyle.

What's the idea behind this whole residency—not just Skylark bit—but spending a whole month in Chicago playing a bunch of different shows with different bands?

Well, I have a lot of love for not just the Chicago creative music scene as a whole, but for many of the individuals involved as well, so returning regularly to spend some concerted time collaborating with my friends and comrades in town is important to me. I was back in Chicago for a couple weeks last year to do some work with two of Ken Vandermark's bands that I play in, Made To Break and the Resonance Ensemble, and snuck in some gigs and recording time with other projects. I try to make it back every few months or so. When my friends that run the Ratchet Series offered me the chance to do this residency I jumped at the opportunity to play with some of my favorite musicians and also to write some new music specifically for these combinations of people. I have tried to make the most of the situation and booked several other shows at different venues as well for multiple projects, including some solo bass (and voice) shows, groups with such great musicians as Frank Rosaly, Tomeka Reid, Dave Rempis, the experimental ambient group Male, and a few shows with my new interstate, pan-dimensional band the Bastet.

The Bastet includes Nick Mazzarella and you're working with Made to Break—has it been important to keep some of these Chicago connections active?

Absolutely. The whole idea of collaborating with bands and other musicians is for those relationships and the music itself to grow together. Both Nick and Ken have become good friends through the initial realization of common musical interests, which has in turn deepened the musical connection. Chicago for me is a very special place in that there is a tradition of community-supported creative and avant-garde music, which has survived into the present. My time living and paying rent there was very important to me, musically and personally, and though I wasn't able to continue living there, I hope to continue working and collaborating with the many amazing musicians that I met when I was in the city.

I heard that you're leaving (or have left) LA—where are you headed next?

Well, the thing is, I am at a point in my life where I go where I feel I need to go to do the work I need to do, which tends to be mostly musical these days. There are specific musicians and projects in Los Angeles that I went there to work with or wound up working with (such as bassist Kira Roessler, drummer Matt Chamberlain, guitarist Tony Gilkyson . . . ) and these collaborations will hopefully continue as well. Ideally I will be able to keep doing what I am doing this year, which is spending time in different locations working on music with various musicians and friends.

It is also a financial necessity to go where the work is. After my upcoming endeavors in Chicago this spring I will be spending a month or so in New York doing some shows and recording with Tim Berne, Nels Cline, and Good for Cows, then eventually back to Los Angeles for some fun stuff, interspersed with some one-offs overseas and such. Beyond that, who knows?

By my calculations, the forthcoming Bastet album is your first recording as a bandleader—what took so long?

Leading is my second least favorite situation, after being lead. Haha! That's why the only record I have officially released under my own name is a solo bass record. Actually, there was a band I formed years ago in Oakland that played music all written and/or arranged by myself, called the Redressers, which featured Carla Kihlstedt, Marika Hughes, and Ches Smith. We put out one record, and played a bunch of shows around the Bay Area at pubs and left-wing get-togethers, all completely acoustic chamber style, though the songs were influenced more by Black Flag than anything to do with modern classical music. And I have made several collaborative records with groups such as Good for Cows and Teko Saso, which I wrote music for, as well as many other bands over the years. I am much happier working as an equal collaborator than as an underling or a boss. But I write a lot of music, and I realized I had a batch of material that spoke to certain musical and spiritual concepts, so I got ahold of some very good friends (Howard Wiley, Darrell Green, Nick Mazzarella) that I think share some of these ideas, and who are also very special musicians, and they agreed to help me make some of it a reality. I am really excited about this band, and we are planning to make a real go of it.

Was there a specific goal you had in mind with the project? What do you see each member bringing to the fold? (I ask because everyone seems to have different backgrounds, which I think is great.)

The goals for this band, as alluded to above, are musical, spiritual, and social. Musically I was trying to consciously write, and in some senses, direct the band from the acoustic bass guitar, an instrument that can serve different functions than either double bass or Fender bass guitar. Julius Hemphill's work looms large over this band (especially his work with cellist Abdul Wadud), as does the music of 1970's-era Sun Ra, electric bassist Mick Karn, Thelonious Monk's solo piano music, and early fIREHOSE. Spiritually and socially, we are united by sincere belief in the time-honored "free jazz" principles of enlightenment and liberation through collective improvisation. True social and individual liberty are mutually dependent, which is somehow analogous to the way that human beings are at once small pieces of the universe and are in turn made up of much smaller pieces of the universe. We try to realize and express these ideas through both our music and our lyrics. I met both Howard and Darrell in the great East Bay jazz scene that existed in the 1990's. We have played tons of gigs together over the years in many different settings and groups, and they are two of my favorite people on earth. They are both such fiery players, so creative and at the same time so full of depth and humanity, for lack of a better word. Nick and I became friends in Chicago, but got close quickly. He has a similar fire in his playing to Howard and Darrell, and all three share the intention and ability to dig in to the roots while reaching for the stars, which to me is the real deal.

You can check out Hoff's full schedule in Chicago on his tumblr, but things kick off on Monday at the Skylark with Sacred Sistrums, a project with Mazzarella, Reed, cornetist Josh Berman, and guitarist Matt Schneider. On Tuesday he'll play with Dylan Ryan's Sand, a trio led by the drummer and former Chicagoan, at Bar Deville; filling in for LA-based guitarist Tim Young will be Schneider.

Today's playlist:

Dane TS Hawk 3, 3 of a Kind (ILK)
Keyshia Cole, Calling All Hearts (Geffen)
Hayward/Lo/Taxt, Microtub (Sofa)
Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Initiale—Lieder und frühe Kammermusik (Wergo)
Bryan Eubanks and Jason Khan, Energy (Of) (Copy for Your Records)

Peter Margasak writes about jazz every Friday.

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