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Trumpet instructor’s new album expands on soundscapes

  • New tunes:
    New tunes:  Victor Haskins, instructor of trumpet and director of the Jazz Ensemble at William & Mary, would like listeners to experience music as a story, picture or emotion that can’t be limited to being called jazz — or even music.  Photo by Josh Marcus
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Victor Haskins would like listeners to experience music as a story, picture or emotion that can’t be limited to being called jazz — or even music.

Haskins, instructor of trumpet and director of the Jazz Ensemble at William & Mary, further heightens his composing and improvisational work with his trio Victor Haskins’ Skein on his new album, “Showing Up,” released Feb. 1.

He chose the name skein because of its two definitions: a tangle of threads or a complicated situation and the V formation that birds fly in. Haskins plays the cornet or electronic wind instrument as well as electronic modulation pedals on various tracks, with Randall Pharr on bass and Tony Martucci on drums.

“The way we play as an ensemble is the embodiment of those two definitions,” Haskins said. “And I’ve written music that allows us to really interact, because we’re improvising.

“And I’ve designed different synthesized instruments for use with the electronic wind instrument. So that gives me a very personalized sound that helps me to express the ideas that are contained within these tunes.”

{{youtube:medium:right|9cOwUphD3BU, In rehearsal: W&M Jazz Ensemble}}

Haskins’ most recent solo performing project, Moving Sound Pictures, was born out of his previous experiment started in 2014, ImproviStory. In an ImproviStory performance, he would get someone in the audience to give him a suggestion of something that was not music and create a musical story based on that.

The new album consists of mostly music that was completed right after his 2013 album “The Truth” came out, but he’s grown and developed significantly since then, Haskins said. He started playing the EWI in 2015, and the sound design he’s able to do with it is a big part of the new work.

“I’ve mostly been working on the concept of how the group works and what the sound profile is, what kinds of textures and sonic environments we can create,” Haskins said. “And a huge part of that is the sound design that I’ve been doing with the electronic wind instrument. So that’s become a really important part of the sound of the group as far as how we are able to play these tunes and what kind of energy the tunes have.”

He is currently performing and doing interviews to promote the album, which was exclusively released through an independent platform and will be available at shows. He was interviewed on NPR’s Community Idea Stations and performed on Richmond’s CBS affiliate’s “Virginia This Morning” show.

Haskins wrote the music specifically for the personalities of his bandmates and the way the Skein group works, he said.

“The tunes are each akin to a board game,” he said. “So maybe like Monopoly or Sorry, they’re two different kinds of board games. They’re both board games, but you play them very differently and they have very different objectives. The difference between board games and music is that we obviously don’t win; we’re not competing with each other.

“Each tune has its own logic depending on what the story behind the tune is. And so there’s 10 different tracks on this album, and every tune is completely different from every other tune. Each one is coming from a different place and expresses a different idea. And they’re all inter-related, so that the whole album itself kind of has its own arc of being a story from one track to the next.”

In addition to teaching W&M students, Haskins also serves as director of in-school jazz ensembles for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. At various elementary schools, mostly in the D.C. metro area, he introduces students to jazz music, though he hesitates to limit music to specific genres or “boxes,” as he called them.

“The whole point of that presentation is really to get kids to realize that this thing that we’re kind of putting in this box as being ‘jazz’ is really not a ‘what,’ it’s not a thing,” Haskins said. “It’s a ‘how’ — it’s ‘how’ you do something. The skills that you use in this music enable us to use music to have a ‘conversation’ with other musicians, using music.

“Those skills are not confined to a single genre. Those skills are useful anywhere you’re playing music.”

Music has continued to be a very visual experience for him in his most recent work, Haskins said.

 “That’s the way I think about it, and that’s the way I relate it to projects that I do or to other people,” he said. “And so when I’m doing this project, it’s very much like I’m painting with the sounds.”