JAZZER: Surface To Air

BY ZIVIT SHLANK When properly employed, the configuration of bass, guitar and tabla can produce a curiously exotic and intoxicating aura. New York-based acoustic trio Surface To Air is one such purveyor of said mystique. The sounds formed by Rohin Khemani (percussion), Jonti Siman (bass) and Jonathan Goldberg (guitar) are rooted in a world jazz improv context, while infusing spare, minimalist textures that evoke the spirit of East Indian music. However, there is no g?yaki or solos to be found; these guys pride themselves on constructing music that’s collaborative and organic. Having played separately in a variety of settings and together as group for well over a decade, it’s only now that they’ve finally recorded and released their self-titled debut. Join Surface To Air as they celebrate their CD release, with performances by Philadelphia guitarist Nick Millevoi and jazz/prog duo Rake at 8 PM at Café Clave in West Philly.  Phawker recently chatted with Surface To Air guitarist Jonathan Goldberg.

PHAWKER: What’s the genesis behind the focus of Surface To Air?

JONATHAN GOLDBERG: We were all big fans of some of the music happening in the 70s, when the global jazz thing started to really happen. People like Miles Davis, Collin Walcott, Don Cherry, even Keith Jarrett and labels like ECM were really at the fore. They were all making music with exotic instruments like tabla and sitar, infusing African and East Indian influences with jazz. That was certainly an inspiration for us. You could have different textures and still improvise in a nontraditional jazz setting. So when we got together, we didn’t want to try and play Indian music per se…we just wanted to utilize tabla as a percussive texture and rhythm.

PHAWKER: I’m intrigued by your cover of “Heysatan” by Icelandic band Sigur Ros. How did that come about?

JONATHAN GOLDBERG: There was no deep, intellectual decision. I brought the arrangement to the band; it was just a song that struck me because it had a nice melody. They are such a textural group and that’s what attracted us to their sound. As a band, that’s what we’re striving for as well. So their music had a mood and context that fit so well with ours. We just gave it a whirl and it was a nice surprise that we could perform one of their tunes in an improvisational trio setting.

PHAWKER: My research yielded many findings for Surface To Air, namely a clothing line and artillery. So I’m curious, what’s the deal with the band name?

JONATHAN GOLDBERG: (laughs) Honestly, we were struggling with the name for years, didn’t even have one. We were just getting together and playing. We were just brainstorming for names, and that came up. It’s more like a mechanical description of sound itself.

PHAWKER: Why so technical?

JONATHAN GOLDBERG: I think it relates strongly to the acoustic nature of the band. It is quite literally a reference to the surfaces where the sounds resonate. It’s the leather skin on top of the tabla, the wood of the guitar and upright bass, the vibrations of the strings. That’s it, really. And honestly, we recorded the album before we even had a band name!