Bandleader Christopher Dammann doesn’t like to describe the music Restroy, his Chicago-based jazz group, plays.
“Restroy's sound doesn't sit still in one genre,” he wrote in an email ahead of the group’s free concert at Sweet Briar College this Tuesday. “It builds a listening space where I'd want to be.”
An avant-garde jazz band, Restroy was founded in 2016 as a writing project for Dammann, who plays bass in the band.
Most recently, the sextet has been combining traditional jazz instruments with electronic textures and experimental noise, a sound explored on the group’s self-titled second album, which was released last year.
“What Restroy does is maybe set something up on the synthesizer ... and then, they’ll be playing these tunes that Chris has written,” says Dammann’s father-in-law, Sweet Briar Professor of Dance Mark Magruder, who booked the band as part of the college's Babcock performance season.
The result, Marilyn Drew Necci described in RVA Magazine, is “hard to predict, tough to pin down, and impossible to forget.”
Before Restroy plays at Sweet Briar, Dammann talked about avant-garde music, playing in Chicago and incorporating electronics into jazz.
What, in your opinion, makes music avant-garde?
“In the last 10 years, I don't think anything has become more avant-garde than making music for music's sake rather than commercial ambitions.”
Where does the name Restroy come from?
“I'm not sure I remember when I first started to using Restroy as a moniker. Restroy feels like a good verb to use for when you lean in to a mistake and own it.”
Can you describe Restroy's musical journey since its founding?
“The more time I spend playing with this line-up the better I get at writing to their individual voices. … When I am writing music, it's all about the people I will be playing with.”
Chicago is a city known for its jazz. How much of that environment plays into the music of Restroy and how much does your time in Virginia influence the sound?
“There is a certain American way of feeling rhythm that I was exposed to growing up in Virginia that led me to Chicago. Chicago is the most exciting music scene in the world to me. I feel like there is more creative music happening here than anywhere else.”
Do the songs change constantly or do you set the whole song once that improvised portion has initially been created?
“There is a composed framework running through most of the songs that I've either written or we've built together over time. I've been working with some of these musicians for over 10 years, so a real shared language has emerged that we can use.”
What is the secret to mixing improvisation with formal composition?
“It's important to not value one over the other. They are just different tools.”
On Restroy's latest release, you mix improvisation with electronic noises and textures. How did this idea come about?
“It's a sensibility and aesthetic I've been chasing my whole life as a musician. As a kid I loved grunge like Sonic Youth and Nirvana as well as any jazz records I could find. I viewed all music as a continuum and since I didn't have much music instruction there wasn't anyone to tell me anything different.”
What kinds of electronics do you use?
“A lot of ring-modulators, a couple analog synths. Anything I can get my hands on.”
What does the juxtaposition of electronic against acoustic instruments create?
“I hope each element gives the other some sort of context to the other. Music is delivered to us electronically, so why not embrace it? The idea of playing a speaker is deeply appealing to me.”