Tonight, Kip Hanrahan will not be playing in Desire Develops an Edge. He sold his guitar and hasn't yet found a good replacement. But Hanrahan will be wandering around the 9:30 club stage, weaving his way through 14 world-class musicians. They include bassist-singer Jack Bruce, bassists Steve Swallow and Andy Gonzalez, percussionist/hand drummers Ignacio Berroa, Anton Fier, Milton Cardona and Govani Hidalgo, guitarist Arto Lindsay, saxophonists Mario Rivera, John Stubblefield and John Neville, and trumpeter Alfredo (Chocolate) Armenteros.
Hanrahan will be encouraging a stellar crew that may be hard-pressed to fit on the club's stage, and they will be playing music that he has, for the most part, composed and communally arranged. In musical circles, Hanrahan is perceived as something of an auteur, a term usually reserved for film directors (which he happens to be, as well).
"If I'm in a confident mood, I'd like to think it's close to truth," he says, adding that " 'auteur' is a seductive word, maybe too seductive. I ended up producing records because it was easier to arrange $12,000 to finance a record than $120,000 for a film. But I do fulfill most of the same functions for a record that a director or producer do in a film."
Hanrahan points out that "every producer has a different understanding of how he sells his labor and his role, and every project solicits a different producer out of each producer." But few producers elicit headliner status, as Hanrahan has done on two masterful albums, 1979's "Coup De Tete" and 1983's "Desire Develops an Edge." He says "it's radical, but truthful, in the records I've put out under my own name, because I was the one calling all the shots, setting up the situations and framing them. On 'Desire,' I wrote or cowrote and directed everything, I was responsible for everything."
Despite being on a small label, "Desire" ended up on many critics' best-of lists last year, a tribute to its rhythmically compelling swirl of jazz, Latin and rock music overlaid by intelligent, intensely personal lyrics and challenging melodies. Some writers called it a new "world music," though Hanrahan believes such terms create "a farther distance between the listeners and the truth. I don't know a substitute term, but multinational and pan-ethnic really don't work because that wasn't the intent."
He's also uncomfortable with " 'world music' because it's been a fashion in New York for the last few years, with different musical backgrounds just overlaid or imposed." The "Coup de Tete" sessions represented a first step in bringing together musicians from different cultures and letting them feed each other, rather than feed off each other.
"We were trying to set up a situation in which musicians wouldn't be able to reproduce themselves as they did every day, sitting next to a guy reproducing himself the same way. They would be displaced enough to have to work and invent another self, measure themselves up against something they usually don't, by playing against someone whose intuitive reactions they didn't automatically know, and thus elicit something from themselves they'd never known before. That was, and is, spinal to our project. And when it happens on stage, it's magic."
Hanrahan's international musical taste developed while he was growing up in the Bronx. "The Bronx, as everyone knows, is really a Latin city, so growing up there I was playing in Latin bands and had friends who were Puerto Rican and Cubans and Dominicans. I'm not sure it was understood as world music, maybe as music of the other, because I wasn't Latin. But even if I didn't think of it as my music, it was music you'd hear coming from the street. If a guy was playing his radio too loud in the next room, it was generally a Latin station, so I heard a lot of that. And a lot of the musicians I'm working with now, I was friendly with growing up with in the Bronx -- Jerry Gonzalez, Milton Cardona, Andy Gonzalez."
Hanrahan went to Cooper Union from 1971 to 1975, majoring first in sculpture and then film. During that period and until 1978, he also worked on and off with Carla Bley's vanguard Jazz Composers' Orchestra. But perhaps the more revealing experiences came abroad: six months in the Western Sahara, a year in India, five months in Haiti, a winter in France working on a film with Jean-Paul Sartre, another winter in East Africa splitting time between films and touring with a Congolese band.
All the while, Hanrahan was absorbing the graces of international music. A fascination with jazz led him to Brazilian music ("so easy to love the first time you hear it"), through Getz, Jobim, Joa Gilberto, and "through them to others. You start loving those Brazilian harmonies and changes and incorporating them into your music."
With the "Coup De Tete" sessions, he began to reinvest what he'd been hearing. "My curiosity fired me -- what would happen if you mixed musicians who you knew too well with musicians you didn't know at all? Musicians who could play two notes with musicians who played too many notes? Musicians who understood themselves purely as Latin musicians and Latin musicians who understood themselves as anything other? What if you wrote out some parts and sang out others, had other parts open, mix it together and see what happens? The first records, we didn't know what we wanted. But we were thrilled because of the surprise at what we got."
On "Desire," the musicians uncovered "a common emotion and a common project. The common culture we had was the class we came from. Everybody from Jack to 'Chocolate,' regardless of their generation or the original country they came from or the language which they think in or dream in, all come from the same class. We all think of music as a way out of that class. Because we understand how we saw our labor in a similar way, we end up sharing a framework of language or understanding of music, and maybe that allows us to be surprised in an appreciative way by everyone else's approach to their playing."
That includes the respect in which Jack Bruce is held by the internationalist coterie in the band. Although he's still best known for his work with the pioneering power trio Cream, Bruce has spent the last 15 years performing in an astounding variety of contexts, from heavy metal to avant-garde jazz. Always, his playing has been alert and adventurous, directed forward. In Desire, he's playing with two other superb bassists, Steve Swallow and Andy Gonzalez, so it's nice to hear the side of his music that's sometimes overlooked -- his remarkable voice.
"Taken out of a rock context, Jack becomes an extraordinary singer," says Hanrahan. "On 'Desire,' he sang in a way that was different from anything he'd ever done before. It was more inward, asymmetrical for sure, but also less of the big booming voice rock audiences expected, much more personal and intimate. But," Hanrahan adds, "there's also a real fire in his playing."