Strings and Things Between Sets
Artist Interview by: Karl Stober February 2005
industry of cookie cutter manufacturing of talent, it is ultimately
to touch upon
artists who take innovation to the edge. Contemplating the thought
of new sounds and techniques, and creating the vision by way of risk,
undertaking. Novi Novog and Larry Tuttle took the path of risk and
engaged their talent to give birth to String Planet—s delightful
experience in strings with each cut unique in its own right.
In this new world of jazz that Novog and Tuttle have laid across
our threshold, eyes and minds open creating a more eclectic populace.
style, the project carries a range of classical, pop, new age and
world qualities. The anticipation of further creation is sure to
as String Planet proceeds. That alone drew me to sit between sets
into the minds of these two explorers of sound and jazz. Stimulating
even begin to tap into the experience of pushing play.
JazzReview: A viola and the stick!! Talk about how their sounds compliment
each other and how this musical partnership came about?
String Planet: Sonically, the viola and stick have a nice natural
blend. The viola is basically a lyrical sustaining instrument, and
the stick is
a percussive instrument with a sharp sound and a lot of attack. So
the two instruments tend to balance each other out and complete each
personalities. The point of the notes comes more from the stick,
and the duration of the notes from the viola. The viola is more melodic,
the stick is used more for chords, rhythm and bass, so it's definitely
a symbiotic sort of thing.
JazzReview: Was the choice of instruments one that you felt separated
yourselves from the rest of the jazz field, or an urge to do something
your innovative passion?
String Planet: Innovation is probably a good word to use. Originality
and imagination are important ideas to us. Choosing the stick as
an instrument in the first place was partially an attempt to find
voice. Besides, you have to work with what you have. We play viola
and stick – how could we be normal? As to distancing ourselves
from the jazz field, that may be true, but we have done quite a few
gigs. We've done clinics on improvising at the Henry Mancini Institute
and played many jazz festivals with our prior band, FREEWAY PHILHARMONIC.
JazzReview: String Planet is self-explanatory, maybe not. What is
the origin of the name?
String Planet: It sort of combines our big passions. We're totally
obsessed with stringed instruments. We write and self-publish music
- quartets, quintets, string orchestra, etc. We also do string arrangements
and orchestrations for other artists. Both of us spent the bulk of
our childhood playing in the string section of the orchestra - youth
all-city orchestras, music camps, school and college orchestras,
you name it. The "Planet" part is a nod to science fiction and
imagination in general.
JazzReview: You are quoted as saying your music is best described
as a classical crossover. Elaborate for us.
String Planet: There's a wonderful trend these days of classically
trained musicians adding pop, jazz and world elements to their music
a new sound. People like Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, Pink Martini or
Turtle Island String Quartet are creating really great music that's "informed
by" classical music, without being classical in the strict sense.
Our music is by no means classical, but hopefully you can feel the
influence of people like Copland, Prokofiev, Brahms, Ravel, Shostakovich,
coming through. Most improvisational string playing is either jazz-based
(like fiddling), but Novi improvises in a classical or pop-classical
style. You don't see that too much.
JazzReview: Unveil the personality of Novi Novog if you would.
String Planet: Novi's musical personality comes mostly from the classics
and pop, but in 1967, her musical world was changed forever when
she heard John Coltrane ("Kulu Se Mama" especially), McCoy Tyner and Herbie
Hancock ("Maiden Voyage" in particular). Novi's personal
and musical style is a blend of playful, inventive and lyrical.
JazzReview: Not to slight Larry, what is the world according to Larry
String Planet: Musically, the song is the thing - composing comes
first. Imagination and having a personal voice are priorities. Influences
science fiction literature, progressive rock and classical music,
yoga and Indian thought. A huge influence was jazz great Gary Peacock
- a short
ear-training class with Gary one summer long ago in Seattle was a
JazzReview: Their current project “String Planet” is an
intense piece of string methodology. To understand the philosophy and
behind this piece a dissection of the naissance of the piece is necessary.
We then tried to do just that.
JazzReview: Your debut album has a certain ambiance of sound. Tell
us about the musical expectations and goals you set up for this project
String Planet: There were a few specific ideas going in. First and
foremost we were going for three main qualities - imagination, beauty
We also tried to strike a balance between originality and universality
- in other words, could we create a totally unique voice while still
maintaining a listener-friendly sound. We tried to write tunes with
a lot of "song
value" - memorable melodies that would stick with the listener
all day long. And we tried to create a strong musical framework for
Some things definitely grew and changed as we went along. In the final
product, most of the tunes are layered with quite a lot of percussion.
It was also a natural continuation and growth from our work together
in Freeway Philharmonic. String Planet continues to showcase our love
but focuses the composing more (Freeway Phil had four composers).
JazzReview: Expressive and deep are pretty good descriptions for
the both of you. If close, was this relayed in the project and in
what cuts? What
cut has the largest part of both of you in it?
Larry: My personal favorites are Drum Prayer and The Race. In Drum
Prayer, I love the contrast of the soft-edged, soaring melodies with
and momentum of the drum group underneath. That one was composed
quicker than I've ever written anything - it was done in about an
hour, just one
of those magical things. To me, it's really deep emotionally. I love
playing it. The Race I love because I feel like I really realized
a long-time goal
with that tune - it has all kinds of crazy twists. Turns and arrangement
gimmicks, but never loses the rhythm flow and excitement. It manages
to be both highly arranged and spontaneous sounding at once. It was
to integrate the string quartet in with the band too.
Novi: Drum Prayer for me too. It takes you "someplace else" when
you play it. Elephant Feathers and Forgotten Messages were really fun
JazzReview: Any improvements looking back on String Planet?
String Planet: The usual - more time and more money.
JazzReview: Explain the cut Romance.
String Planet: A fun tune to play - like an old, simple pop song
done instrumentally – very
melodic in nature, with a strong feel, a bit of Richard Rodgers going
JazzReview: Walk us through the arranging and composition of Without
String Planet: Without A Word is a re-write of a vocal tune called
Without a Sound. Without a Sound was a yearning love song written
by Larry, which
can be found on our first album with Freeway Philharmonic, from the
late eighties. As we were trying out the String Planet group live,
into jamming over the changes and feel of Without a Sound. It turned
be such a great platform for soloing- simple and open with a lot
of motion and a lot of momentum - which we decided to write a new
instrumental version. The night before Novi recorded her solo on
that tune, we happened
to watch "The Art of the Violin" on PBS, with performances
from some of the greatest classical violinists of the century. It was
an inspiration - such a great viola solo on that tune.
JazzReview: It was time to touch on the cast of String Planet. Meet
this collection of wonderfully gifted artists who compliment every
note with precise elegance.
JazzReview: Introduce us to the cast of String Planet
String Planet: Tom Brighton produced and played percussion on about
half of the tunes. Tom and I go way back - we played together in
a rock band
called "Russia" on Warner Bros Records, Tom on guitar and
myself on bass. We began playing together right after high school and
together for about nine years. After the band broke up we stayed in
touch. Tom got
deeply into African percussion living in Seattle and built a studio
in his father's back yard. Novi and I traveled back and forth to Seattle
when we could and cut the initial tracks for String Planet. Tom's a
earthy, foundational kind of player and a meticulous producer.
M.B. Gordy played drums and percussion on the rest of the tracks,
done in Los Angeles. He's an extremely versatile musician with a
nature. Many of the things he played were spur-of-the-moment and
unplanned, which added a lot of life to the music.
Johnny Lee Schell produced the Los Angeles tracks. Johnny Lee's background
is mostly as a guitarist - he toured for years with people like John
Fogerty and Bonnie Raitt. He's a great blues musician, and produces
with the highly
developed ears of a great player - very valuable in the studio. He
was open to trying even the most bird-brained of ideas (and there
Rob Meurer played some synthesizer - he produced our first two albums
as Freeway Philharmonic. He's a master of subtlety on the synth,
exactly what we wanted. The synth parts don't draw attention to them,
but help the whole project to have a deeper, fuller sound. Rob spends
these days writing for musical theatre. We also play with him occasionally
in a wonderfully quirky group called Soulskin. He wrote and performed
with Christopher Cross for many years.
Last but not least, Lauren Wood guest-sang on two songs. Lauren and
Novi are first cousins, and go back pretty much to the cradle. They
together for years in Chunky, Novi and Ernie. Lauren was our first
choice for the
vocals because she always knows intuitively how to interpret our
music. She sang and composed the hit song Fallen, from the "Pretty Woman" soundtrack.
JazzReview: Looking into your crystal ball, where do you go from
here in the next few years.
String Planet: First and foremost, to the stage. We want to get out
and perform in concert as much as possible. The music will really
grow the more we get it out on stage, especially the improvising
and musical dialog. We'll also be doing a lot of string clinics -
helping out young
players who are interested in moving into pop and alternative music
and learning to improvise.
JazzReview: Now for the fun part and last question. If you could
share center stage with any musician who would it be and the piece
Novi: Either Mozart or John Coltrane - Mozart seems like a real cut-up,
and Coltrane would really push the limit. Stephan Grapelli would
be fun too - so full of life.
Larry: Aaron Copland (either Appalachian Spring or the Third Symphony),
Yes, Gentle Giant, maybe Chick Corea (not that I could keep up!!).
String Planet has all the passion and drive of the finest veterans
of jazz. I expect numerous triumphs in the years and projects to
come. It would
be criminal not to offer these unique aficionados of strings a well-earned
Karl Stober is an international freelance columnist and broadcaster
who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Karl can also be