“FYI, if it wasn’t clear, I’m a former minister...no longer a person of faith in such a way,” said free-jazz trumpeter Jeff Kaiser, via email, clarifying a wide-ranging discussion we’d had a day earlier over Chinese tea at his La Jolla apartment.
Kaiser’s personal history and career illustrate an interesting duality. He started playing the guitar and trumpet in the Presbyterian church but also played in several punk-rock bands in the ’80s. He earned his master’s degree in choral direction and conducting and then made the unlikely switch to free improvised music after meeting trombonist John Rapson, while becoming a minister along the way.
“I had become a regular minister in the late ’80s, and I did that for a few years, and then I realized one day that I really wanted to do music and focus on that. Not only that, but I went through a kind of crisis of faith...no longer believing the things I was taught as a child.”
While living in Ventura County, he founded the experimental music label pfMENTUM, releasing titles by Nels Cline of Wilco and flutist Emily Hay.
He’s also interested in “twisted pop,” so he founded a second label, Angry Vegan, to document non-jazz-related artists.
“Angry Vegan is more eclectic; we have noise bands, beat-less ambient electronica, stuff like that.”
Kaiser, who specializes in trumpet and electronics, has been busy with pfMENTUM lately. They have three records slated for summer release: a record by a duo featuring laptop wizard Gregory Taylor known as the Desert Fathers called Charismata; a trio disc by trombonist Michael Vlatkovich titled Pershing Woman; and one by a group called Zen Widow, Screaming in Daytime (Makes Men Forget).
Also in the works is a solo acoustic trumpet album, which Kaiser’s in the process of mixing, and a live concert by his 23-member ensemble, the Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet, which he’s about to mix. Kaiser was coy when asked for details on the solo trumpet disc.
“I’ll just say this: Joe Kucera and Clint Davis set it up and then Clint ran the recording session for that solo-trumpet thing. Those guys are getting sounds that I’ve always dreamed of being able to get...you don’t just listen to the sound coming out of the horn, you listen to the resonance of the bowels of the horn. You’re hearing the valves clatter, the spit move in there...you’re hearing all those details.”
Witnessing a live Kaiser performance can be a bit much for the casual listener. His trumpet-controlled laptop often sends waves of distortion and chaos spinning around the room, and he also sings into the computer, generating sounds like Satan trying to pass a watermelon. People have been known to run from the room.
“That’s never the goal, to drive anyone away. I would never say that. It used to maybe bother me in a way, but I’m so used to it now. You know, there are people who just don’t like it.”