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He Puts the Fuze in Fusion: An Interview with Dave "Fuze" Fiuczynski

By Brian L. Knight

What can one say about Dave "Fuze" Fiuczynski? He is a guitar-playing madmen. I am not talking about his sanity or state or mind but rather the magic he creates with his guitar. Ever since his graduation from New England Conservatory of Music, Fuze has been involved with some of today’s greatest sounds. He collaborated with John Medeski for the phenomenal groove album Lunar Crush. He is/was the leader of his own bands such as the eclectic metal/jazz/funk of the Screaming Headless Torsos and the Middle Eastern flavor of Kif. He has been the sideman for funk maestros Bernie Worrell and Me’Shell NdegeOcello. Fuze’s latest effort is a solo album titled Jazzpunk which contains his inventive guitar work on songs such as Pat Metheny’s "Bright Size Life", Jimi Hendrix’ "Third Stone from the Sun" and Duke Ellington’s "Star Crossed Lovers". The album also features covers of tunes written by equally influential but less popular musicians such as Jack Walrath, Ronald Shannon Jackson and George Russell. These are not lifeless renditions of popular tunes but rather innovative interpretations that shed new light on each and every song.

The Vermont Review spoke to Fuze over the phone while he was chilling in his home in Brooklyn.

The Vermont Review: You were raised in Germany. What is your tie to that country?

Dave Fiuczynski: Well, my father is German. From age 8 through 19, we were living in the area close to Cologne. I came back to the United States to go to college.

VR: Germany has a great tradition of bands – Neu!, Can, Kraftwerk. Who did you listen to over there?

DF: I was a Nina Hagen fan. I was really into guitar stuff. I was really into McLaughlin, Van Halen, and Alan Holdsworth. And also a lot of punk rock.

VR: So did you go straight from Germany to Boston to attend the New England Conservatory of Music?

DF: At first, I went to Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do music but after three semesters was only taking music courses so that was kind of a no brainer. So I transferred to the Conservatory in Boston.

VR: Has the guitar always been your primary instrument?

DF: Yeah. My mother forced me. I started on piano when I was seven but I didn’t really like it. My mother eventually thought I should do something so we made a deal that I could pick the instrument, pick a teacher and learn what I wanted to learn. I got this classical guitar when I was thirteen but I switched to electric pretty quickly. I had a really great jazz guitar teacher in Germany – a guy named Markus Wienstroer.

VR: In recent years, you have been involved with the bands Kif and Hasidic New Wave, which both play music with ties to Eastern Europe, India and the Middle East. Did your time spent in Europe have anything to do with your present musical direction?

DF: Not really. That was more in around 1983 when I was at Hampshire – I started listening to a lot of Indian music. The whole Middle Eastern/Eastern European thing that I have been involved recently – that has been a whole different kind of musical journey for me. With jazz and a lot of the groove stuff, I went to school, one way or another, for that. What I mean by that, I was at the Conservatory learning theory but I was also playing with people like Bob Moses and George Russell. In terms of groove stuff, I played with Gene Lake, Me’Shell NdegeOcello and Bernie Worrell. That stuff is really checked out and I had a great teachers or at least playing with people who could really show me that type of music. In terms of Middle Eastern music, it has been much more piece meal. In a way, I kind of enjoy that. It is a process of picking a lot of little things along the way. I had some Indian and Iranian music history classes. I played with the Moroccan contingent to the World’s Fair in Seville in 1992. That was a great experience, rehearsing for ten days in Marrakesh and playing with all these Berber folklore groups. I also took lesson from an Indian style fretless guitar player in Los Angeles called Paul Livingstone – I had lessons with him. It has been like that. Playing with Hasidic New Wave was the most in-depth training - learning all the Hasidic melodies. All these areas have their own kind of music but there is a lot of common roots. I have been picking up embellishments and inflections from those particular areas.

VR: You mentioned Bernie Worrell. The first time that I heard your guitar playing was when you were a Woo warrior. How was that experience for you?

DF: That was funk school. With him or Me’Shell NdegeOcello – its like play it right or don’t play it all. Bernie is unbelievable. He is by far the best musician I have ever played with.

VR: Going back to Boston. Did you meet John Medeski at the New England Conservatory?

DF: I met him under weird circumstances. I had tendonitis and they said "Oh, you should talk to this guy. He’s got tendonitis too." That was John Medeski. It was actually not a musical circumstance. Through him, I met Richard Zukowski who was great physical therapist. He helped John, myself and many others. After a couple of months, he has them back on their feet.

VR: After you and John figured out your tendonitis problems, the two of you recorded Lunar Crush.

DF: That was after school. I didn’t play with John that much. John was already way, way advanced. He really didn’t need to be in school. I was shopping Screaming Headless Torsos and Grammavision was interested but I was holding out. In the meantime, they wanted to so something anyway. MMW was already on their label so I said "Hey, how about something with them." That is how Lunar Crush came about.

VR: Did you know when you two got together that you were recording such an influential album?

DF: No idea. We had no idea that there was going to be so much press. We had no idea that it was going to be a cult thing. Unfortunately, we never really did anything with it.

VR: Do the two of you ever talk about getting back together?

DF: Off and on. Whenever he is back in town. We have talked about doing another think like Crush but there are scheduling problems.

VR: Do you play with any other people from New England Conservatory?

DF: The guys from Hasidic New Wave were from New England but they were before my time. The person that I play with most from my time in Boston is Gene Lake. He is an awesome drummer. He is actually on Lunar Crush. He is on the second Screaming Headless Torsos live record. He used to play with Steve Coleman’s Five Elements. He is on the first two M’Shell Nagandecello albums. He is one of the main cats here in New York.

VR: Speaking of New York. The city has a long tradition of jazz. A long tradition of punk. A long tradition new wave. Where do you fit in?

DF: New York is a big melting pot… not just musically……….it is a melting pot for everything. It is such a wonderful workshop. I have access to all these people. I can try out all of this music. It is great……..I can run wild. Screaming Headless Torsos, Bernie Worrell, M’Shell, John Medeski, Billy Hart, Muhal Richard Abrams, Ronald Shannon Jackson, all the Knitting Factory stuff – if its is not here, it comes through here.

VR: Jumping forward to your new album, Jazzpunk. Are you trying to live up to what the title is implying?

DF: The fallout from that has been kind of interesting. I guess some people think that it is kind of jazzy but really punked out stuff. I didn’t really expect it. I feel that I am more, in a sense, a smart-ass. I am basically a jazz musician who does not want to play jazz.

VR: So you are a jazz punk?

DF: Yeah. There is really not that much punk on it although I really enjoy it. Bad Brains some of my heroes. There are some rocked out, thrashed out elements on that album. Maybe it is the refusal to give in and become part of a clique and be a straight-ahead guy or a groove guy or a this guy or a that guy.

VR: There are some interesting cuts on the album. You already mentioned Ronald Shannon Jackson and his "Red Warrior" is on Jazzpunk. What are your thoughts on the talented drummer?

DF: I played with the Decoding Society for two years or so. It was a double guitar quartet. On Jazzpunk, there are a couple of different perspectives. First of all it is basically a standards records – "La Fiesta" (Chick Corea), "Bright Size Life"(Pat Metheny), "Third Stone from the Sun" (Hendrix), "Stars and Stripes"(John Phillips Souza) – you can’t get more standard than that. It is also is giving it up and paying homage to the people that I have really learned from either by doing their tunes or actually having them on the record. Billy Hart (drums) and Santi Debriano (bass) have been big supporters. Jack Walrath ("Hipgnosis"), Ronald Shannon Jackson ("Red Warrior") and George Russell ("African Game Fragment")– I definitely learned a whole lot from them. Otherwise, it is just tunes that I have always admired and always wanted to do something with. I love the version of how Johnny Hodges plays the melody of "Star Crossed Lovers." "Bright Size Life" is just incredible with Pat, Jaco and Bob Moses. "Third Stone" has kind of an interesting story. When I was in Morocco doing that thing for the World’s Fair – as a guitar player, all the Moroccans were saying "You know, Hendrix was here!" That kind of stuck in my head. It is funny. Some of these interpretations just happened. There was a lot of trial and error but there was not a whole lot of cerebral thinking behind them. "Third Stone" is paying homage to Jimi. He was interested in so many things. If he was still live, maybe that is the kind of Middle Eastern thing he may have gotten into. All of these tunes have their own story. It is basically a standards record where I am trying to show standards in a different perspective. Also, I want to introduce new standards – "Red Warrior", "African Game Fragment" – these are pieces that should be heard more.

VR: You speak about Jazzpunk with quite a bit of familiarity. Is it an album that you have been working on for awhile?

DF: It seems like most of my records have really old songs and really new things that just kind of happened. "Star Crossed Lovers" and "Stars and Stripes" are actual arrangements that I did at my senior recital – with John Medeski – in 1989. Those arrangements are old. What is really recent are the drum and bass treatments, That is the rhythm section with Zach Danziger (drums) and Tim Lefebvre (bass). That is "Bright Size Life", "African Game Fragment" and this little fragment we call "Jungle Gym Jam". Everything else is in between. I look at them as gems that I have been stashing away for the right moment.

VR: I am going to name some names. I would like to hear your thoughts. Sonny Sharrock?

DF: Definitely an influence. He was one of the grandfathers of avant-garde guitar. For me, for the most part, James "Blood" Ulmer has been the main free influence on guitar but Sonny is definitely up there. I was invited to play for his tribute. It was a very odd experience. It was very exhilarating. It was exciting to be asked but at the same time it was really sad because I felt out of place. I felt I should have been in the audience checking him out.

VR: Well, you took James "Blood" Ulmer off my list. How about Kurt Rosenwinkel?

DF: I don’t know his new record but I hear great things about him all the tune. I auditioned for a group with Kurt. He is really, really strong. It was not a question of ability, it was just question of what does this guy feel like doing at this time. It was pretty amazing. He is quite a bit younger than I. He was in Boston when I was about to leave. He was really young and he was already playing in Gary Burton’s group. I can only say great things about him.

VR: We will try a different instrument – slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein of the Sex Mob?

DF: He is the man! I played with him in Spanish Fly a little bit. He and Marcus Rojas are down and dirty and bad ass horn players. There is nothing pretty. It is brass style mud wrestling. It is beautiful.

VR: Vernon Reid?

DF: Great. I saw Living Color in Cambridge before they blew up. There was like 40 people in the audience and they were awesome then. Reid was definitely a influence with his Living Color and of course the stuff he did with Ronald Shannon Jackson. I had the pleasure of playing with him a few times.. He is great player and a great gut.

VR: Ornette Coleman?

DF: (hesitation) What can you say? I wore out my recording of The Shape of Jazz to Come and many others. I don’t know his music that well but what he did that really knocked me out was his soundtrack to William S Burroughs movie, Naked Lunch. It is unbelievable. It is orchestral and Ornette’s blowing is incredible.

VR: John McLaughlin?

DF: I had two John McLaughlin phases. First of all, obviously for guitar reasons. As a teenager – "Loud, Fast and Distorted!". Then I went through my phases and then I listened to all my McLaughlin albums all over again just for composition. He is a heavy, heavy dude. He is also an inspiration – him………Miles ……Pat Metheny………and also people like John Zorn. I am not really talking about what they have done specifically but how they have developed and moved forward and tried new things out. I actually want to do some of his pieces and do them in my own may. I want to really push the Middle Eastern thing.

VR: All roads come back to the Middle Eastern music.

DF: I am not as interested in playing Middle Eastern music – I am really interested in mixing. My band Kif is my take on the whole downtown scene here. You have a lot of players experimenting with Klezmer, Jewish, Bulgarian, Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Indian. I am into grooves so Kif is my take on that. I am basically taking African-American grooves – funk, ska, jazz, hip-hop, house and drum & bass. That is the groove element. The melodic element is more Eastern European and Middle Eastern. Than, I am treating it more from a jazz perspective. I am looking at the stuff modally and harmonically. That is what is really, really interesting to me. A lot of music is modal and there is not a whole lot of harmony. I like to mix stuff and see what happens.

VR: Is your approach similar to what Matt Darriau is doing with the Paradox Trio?

DF: Absolutely. I had the pleasure of subbing for Brad Shepik of the Paradox Trio a number of times. That has been my schooling – learning these melodies and inflections. Rufus Cappadocia plays in Kif and he also plays in the Paradox Trio. He and Matt Darriau have really shown me a lot about microtonal inflections and embellishments.

VR: What do you do when you are not involved in music?

DF: Teaching. I guess basically a lot of running to the Post Office and sending out CDs. Jazzpunk is on our own label now. We did it for a small label and they hated it. We own it now.

Head over to www.torsos.com to get the whole Fuze experience!