British percussionist Roger Turner followed a path previously explored by groundbreaking musicians such as Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley, and Evan Parker. Applauded for his precision and speed, Turner, since entering the London improvising scene in the 1970s, has likewise achieved legendary status across Europe. Whether touring and recording under the name Konk Pack—a trio formed with Thomas Lehn and Tim Hodgkinson in the late 1990s—or working solo, in duos, and in other groups, Turner maintains an open mind about drumming techniques. He possesses a varied collection of percussion instruments, many of which are not generally associated with making music. And during each recording session or live gig, he likes to involve several different drums and other objects. For instance, during the recording of Birthdays with frequent collaborator John Russell in 1996, Turner opted for his “kit” to include two bass toms—each with a tuning pedal, a small hi-hat, and a couple of drum and cymbal stands. On the stands, he switched continuously between an array of items centered on the floor around him.
For Turner, who has worked with Phil Minton’s Dada vocalese and Martin Klapper’s “toys,” all instruments are legitimate, including eggs and laptop computers. “Sure, it’s four boiled eggs sitting behind a piece of plastic with wires coming out, “he said to Ben Watson in the Wire, ”but some of the boiled eggs move differently from others. [Composer] Richard Barrett is very physical when he plays the Powerbook: fantastic stuff. Josef Novotny in Austria almost doesn’t have to play, he looks so impenetrably still—he wears black clothes, looks like a Martian. My thing is whether I like the sound or not, whether it gives things out I can work with.”
Although Turner would eventually embrace experimentation, his musical roots are much more traditional. Born in 1946, Turner grew up in Canterbury, England, and as a teen in the 1960s, developed an appreciation for jazz, blues, and pop music. He recalls Richard Sinclair, as well as an early incarnation of the group Soft Machine, as his first influences. However, Turner’s older brothers were fans of the latest movement in jazz, thereby turning their sibling on to the style’s early improvisers. The first live concert Turner attended was the John Coltrane Quartet with Eric Dolphy. Instantly captivated, he went on to see performances by Thelo-nius Monk, Duke Ellington, Art Blakey, and Jimmy Giuffre. And by the age of 13, Turner was listening to Ornette Coleman’s adventurous Change Of the Century album. “I loved that music immediately,” he recalled to Watson. “I didn’t think about it, it was what was there. I felt that was their music. I couldn’t imitate it. Those guys created it, so for me it was important to let something else grow.”
While he loved jazz, Turner also delved into pop and rock and roll, exploring the music of Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and James Brown, as well as the musical genres of ska and bluebeat. In 1968, he left his hometown for London, where he worked with the Ghanian drum ensemble Mask and toured with the experimental Ritual Theatre. He made his first recording in 1972 as part of Company for a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio 3 broadcast.
Beginning around 1974, Turner set about creating a more personal percussive language. This included extensive solo work, including performances at the Bracknell Jazz Festival and the Bruxelles Festival of Percussion. In 1979, he recorded a duo with saxophonist Gary Todd entitled Sunday Best and teamed with guitarist John Russell for the first time in a trio with Toshinori Kondo for the album Artless Sky. Since then, Turner and Russell have worked on and off. Their 1996 album Birthdays, recorded without amplification or electronics, won heaps of critical praise. Stuart Broomer in Coda called the work “an experience that shouldn’t be missed,” while Watson, in a 1997 review for the Wire, dubbed the pair “virtuosi, electrically sensitive to merest wisp of sound. Their lifelong attention to minute detail and microscopic interaction has produced a truly special art.”
In 1981, Turner arrived with his first solo set, The Blur Between.This album, however, focused on the more specific aspects of percussion and thus did not represent Turner’s wider interests. During this period, Turner was also granted two Arts Council bursaries, in 1980 and again in 1983, to investigate percussion and
Born in 1946 in Canterbury, England.
Discovered jazz as a young teenager; moved to London and joined the Ghanian drum ensemble Mask and toured with the experimental Ritual Theatre, 1968; released album with saxophonist Gary Todd, Sunday Best, and guitarist John Russell, Artless Sky, 1979; released first solo album, The Blur Between, 1981; worked in numerous jazz and improvisational groups throughout the 1980s and 1990s; released Umlaut with German musicians Birgit Uhler, a trumpeter, and Ulrich Phillip, a bassist, 2000.
electronics. He then took workshop residences during 1984 and 1985 at Alan Silva’s school in Paris.
The mid 1980s also saw the blossoming of Turner’s talents though his work with vocalists, specifically Annette Peacock, Phil Minton, and Vanessa Mack-ness. His quick, colorful arrangements proved a great complement to the human voice. He also made recordings with the post-wave band the Nose Flutes in 1986 and 1987.
Turner, who as an improviser remains committed to playing live, also learns new techniques from listening to records and exploring and blending the music of other cultures. “I had a shocking encounter with Chinese Qin music,” he related to Watson. “It coincided with obtaining a Meazzi pedal torn, made by an Italian company. This opened up all kinds of things that have actually been explored by jazz drummers always— merging sound and line. Right from the early days, if you listen to Chauncy Morhouse and Vic Benton playing with [Miff] Mole or Bix Beiderbecke, the cymbal work is all to do with rhythm and line fusing. In modern jazz, Max Roach and Ed Blackwell were exploring that. When I found this pedal tom-tom it gave me the opportunity to explore non-propulsive line playing.”
“The pedal alters the pitch,” Turner continued. “You can play a kind of melody. You can step across the great divide. One of the great joys of improvising is that melody instruments can explore rhythmic approaches and vice versa, you can move the boundaries quite radically—and explore single-surface playing. That coincided with hearing Qin music and also Steve Lacey playing solo soprano. The clarity of line and the cutting away of ornament really appealed to me.”
Over the course of his career, Turner has worked with several jazz-based groups, including those of Elton Dean, Alan Silva, and Lol Coxhill. His improvisational collaborations have included projects with Toshinori Kondo, Derek Bailey, Johannes Bauer, Evan Parker, Cecil Taylor, and Otomo Yoshihide. He continues to collaborate with the Phil Minton Quartet with Veryan Weston and John Butcher; the Recedents with Lol Coxhill and Mike Cooper; In the Tradition with Alan Silva and Johannes Bauer; John Russell and Phil Minton in duos; groups led by Martin Klapper; and the Gustafsson, Munthe, Strid, Turner Quartet. His most recent album, Umlaut, released in 2000, is a collaborative effort with German musicians Birgit Uhler, a trumpeter, and Ulrich Phillip, a bassist.
(With Gary Todd) Sunday Best, Incus, 1979.
(With John Russell and Toshinori Kondo) Artless Sky, CAW,1979.
The Blur Between, CAW, 1981. (With various Jon Rose groups) Forward of Short Leg, Dossier, 1981.
Couscous, Nato, 1983.
(With Phil Minton) Ammo, Leo, 1984.
(With the Recedents) Frog Dance, Impetus, 1985.
(With the Recedents) Barbecue Strut, Nato, 1986.
(With Alan Silva, Misha Lobko, Didier Petit, and Bruno Girard) Take Some Risks, In Situ, 1986.
(With the Ferrals with Phil Minton, Hugh Davies, and Alan Tomlinson) Ruff, Leo, 1986.
(With the Recedents) Zombie Bloodbath On the Isle of Dogs, Nato, 1988.
(With Alan Silva and Johannes Bauer) In the Tradition, In Situ, 1993.
(With Phil Minton) Dada da, Leo, 1993.
(With Steve Beresford and Shaking Ray Levis) Short in the U.K., Incus, 1994.
(With Lol Coxhill’s Before My Time) AngelicA 1995, A1, 1995.
(With Helge Hinteregger) The Comfort of Madness, Durian,1995.
(With the Phil Minton Quartet) Mouthful of Ecstasy, Victo, 1996.
(With John Russell) Birthdays, Emanem, 1996.
(With Martin Klapper) Recent Croaks, Acta, 1997.
(With Konk Pack) Big Deep, GROB, 1998.
(With Birgit Uhler and Ulrich Phillip) Umlaut, NURNICHTNUR, 2000.
Down Beat, October 1996.
Wire, December 2000.
Ail Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com(February 15, 2001).
Emanem 4010: John Russell & Roger Turner, http://www.emanemdisc.com(February 15, 2001).
Roger Turner, http://www.shef.ac.uk/misc/rec/ps/efi/mturner.html (February 15, 2001).