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Jerome Sabbagh on "Pogo"…

Recording...

Each album is a snapshot. I didn't have, nor did I want, a specific concept for Pogo. I thought of each song as a unit. The overall continuity of the album comes from the fact that we know each other well: the band has been together for four years. That has allowed us to grow together and develop a group sound.

Composing...

I try to let musical ideas come to me and develop them without preconceptions as to what genre they might belong to. I usually record myself singing or playing the piano and, listening back, I try to hear where the piece wants to go and find what it needs to fulfill itself. I never use any technique to finish a composition and I don't really know any. It's a long process. Most of the sketches go unfinished but when I succeed in finishing a song, I usually end up playing it regularly.

Saxophone, guitar, bass and drums...

It's been my favorite instrumentation for quite some time. A turning point in my development as a musician was the discovery of John Scofield's band with Joe Lovano, Marc Johnson, then Dennis Irwin, and Bill Stewart. I've always written with guitar in mind and Ben Monder has an unusually strong command of harmony and a wide range of colors at his disposal. I think Ben, Joe and Ted are the perfect sidemen to play my music and I am grateful for their involvement.

Keeping a band together for a long time...

It's really important. Time allows trust to build, and trusting each other is what lets us take chances knowing that the risk will be embraced collectively: whatever happens, each of us is free to go anywhere and the others will follow. Sometimes musicians trust each other immediately but usually, it takes time.

Preparing for the album...

Like most musicians, I seek a balance between being ready and being spontaneous. In the studio, especially, I want the music to flow, unimpaired by preconceived ideas. Both for this album and the last, we played the songs live beforehand. I almost didn't rehearse. Keeping things fresh was my main concern. For the same reasons, James Farber recorded us live to two tracks and we all played in the same room, without headphones, like we do in concert.

Evolving as a player...

I think of my playing first and foremost as an element of the musical situation I am in. What matters most to me is how the music sounds as a whole, not how good my solo is. That said, I hope I am able to let go more and more. That means learning to welcome the unknown and accepting a temporary loss of control. I try to let instinct guide my playing. I understand that what I am trying to accomplish may not work out right away, or at all. It's true of a single solo as well as for a whole life as a musician.

Less is more...

Indeed. It is tempting to play too much. It's a flaw that I come across in my own playing and with others, too. We are afraid of leaving space because leaving space requires true self-confidence: you have to let go of your ego and come to terms with the fact that there are moments when the music doesn't need you. What matters the most is when to play and why: ideally each entrance should be necessary. It has virtually nothing to do with instrumental technique, it's the result of an unflinching desire for awareness.

Improvising...

At its best, it's an incredible feeling of complete control and complete surrender at the same time. Everything comes together, if only for a moment. All the musicians' internal songs seem to connect and resonate together with the essence of the composition. Music flows through everyone. Like most good things, it's very rare. Trying to conjure up those fleeting moments by merely seeking to repeat them is bound to fail: we can reenact them but the magic is gone. It is up to us to give birth to new ones, and that's the work of a lifetime.