The Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet at the Bunker. From left: saxophonist Jason Rigby, bassist Chris Morrissey, Guiliana, and pianist Shai Maestro.

Catching Up With…

Mark Guiliana

The forward-leaning musician finds clues to the future by engaging his passion for the past.

Since Mark Guiliana’s cover feature in MD’s November 2014 issue, the groundbreaking drummer’s momentum has remained in high gear. The Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet makes its debut on Family First, released on Guiliana’s Beat Music Productions label. This riveting recording, featuring Jason Rigby on sax, Shai Maestro on piano, and Chris Morrissey on bass, is Guiliana’s first album as a leader set in an entirely acoustic jazz format. His trademark ultra-accurate and highly syncopated “beat” grooves are present, but the organic setting offers heightened interplay. “It opens up some new paths, for sure,” Mark confirms.

Jazz was a prime grounding stage for the evolving drummer during his most intensive years of study. “I looked to the classic heroes—Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Art Blakey,” Guiliana says. “The list goes on. When I think of acoustic improvised music, I still return to those landmark recordings—the ones that got me excited about that language. So this recording was a deliberate decision to make a statement within that context sonically. My goal was to sonically create something that reminded me of those influential records, although the context is quite different.”

Diverging from his previous electroacoustic discs, Guiliana sought to simplify things a bit. “When I decided to commit to this instrumentation, it was intimidating at first,” he explains. “It seemed like a bit of a prison, because it draws a lot more attention to composition. I couldn’t hide behind, for instance, a fascinating synth sound. I wasn’t sure I could be totally expressive within it. But then it became very liberating. It led to a more cohesive record; it feels like the most complete thing that I’ve made.

“On my previous records, I could consider changing cymbals each track, or a snare or kick—or invite different artists for different tracks. But with this record it was nice to say, ‘Here’s the palette. We, the musicians, have to be the expression.”

Touring jaunts are booked into 2016 for both Guiliana’s quartet and his electric unit, Beat Music, including multiple European legs. The quartet debuted in Russia in July.

Handling a hyper-busy schedule this past year, Guiliana also toured with Mehliana, his ongoing duet project with keyboardist Brad Mehldau, and worked with trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Donny McCaslin. In a departure, he appears on David Bowie’s single “Sue (or in a Season of Crime).” Currently he has a new Beat Music album in the pipeline as well as a second disc with his early breakthrough “experimental garage jazz” unit, Heernt. A solo electronic music project is on the backburner as well.

Despite Guiliana’s ability to juggle what he calls “two years of overlapping projects,” his status as an influential musical voice has brought his burgeoning goals into tighter focus. “For now,” Mark says, “I’m slowly trying to tip the scales in presenting more of my own music, both on records and on the road.” Jeff Potter