51 Main Improvisational Frenzy

The loose collective of improvisers I play with occasionally (which is dutifully herded by my friend Kareem Khalifa) did a brief set (well, actually 2 very brief sets) at 51 Main in Middlebury last Saturday. Kareem is on the short list of my favorite people on the planet and the even shorter list of folks I play with that actually know how to improvise. The purpose of the event was to highlight/celebrate the visit of his friend percussionist Mario Schambon who was visiting. The line up was me (guitar & realtime looping), Kareem (electric upright bass), Mario (drums & percussion), Karl Haas (percussion), Brian Robison (theremin & guitar) and Marty Fieldman (guitar).

The plan was to get together during the day on Saturday, play a little at Casa Khalifa to get musically acquainted and run through one of Marty’s pieces and then do the set that night. The afternoon was great, with lunch (Mario made soup) and a lot of laughter. I always find that if musicians laugh together it’s an indication they will connect musically. This turned out to be the case. So we ran through some things to get comfortable, including introducing the format we used for “Please Excuse the Mess” and then packed up.

The gig began with what was supposed to be the soundcheck but evolved into a mini-set. It started with yours truly doing a small solo improv that built up some ambient loops that the others played over (each musician joining in in their own time). I let my loops continue and sat down in the audience to listen. It’s a rare treat to step aside and get to listen to the group you’re playing with.

Then Kareem and Mario did a quick set with Arthur Brooks (trumpet), Michael Chorney (barritone sax) and Peter Hamlin (keys). They did a couple of free improvisations that were really nice. It was also a treat to hear Michael playing the barri sax. We had worked together in another project of his called The Seven Deadly Sins – a band that did arrangements of Kurt Weill’s music (mostly from Threepenny Opera). In that context Michael played accoustic upright bass.

Then it was our turn again. We did Marty’s piece, Please Excuse the Mess and an improv based around all of us playing repeating 8th notes (of our choosing) together and then taking turns soloing over it. Kinda like Steve Reich with ADHD.

All in all it was fun, intermittently listenable and pretty much ignored by the assembled crowd. Business as usual for improvisers in this neighborhood.

Gallery Gig

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Well, sorta…

Did a Stone Doc gig this last weekend at what has to be the most unique venue I’ve ever played in. It was in a 5 car garage (that incidentally looked like it had never housed a single auto) that had been converted into a makeshift art gallery. SD did 2 sets with a set by Mike’s friend Rick Norman in between.

Never have I had a gig plagued with as many gremlins. Firstly, I was unclear on our starting time (entirely my own fault) and in a phone conversation with Doc on the way down realized I was going to get there at the time we were supposed to begin. The traffic gods smiled down on me and I actually got there just before we were to load in (and I beat Doc there). We got set up and had a wicked hum running through the p.a. that we were unable to fully track down and eradicate. We did some creative repatching, abandoned recording and got rid of some of it but not all of it. Doc also had all of his preprogrammed sounds go wonky on him. Added to this we were set up in the corner of the afforementioned garage which was far from being a forgiving sonic environment. And so we began the set with a feeling of forboding. As usual the end of the set came around and I awakened from the trance completely unaware if what we just did was good/listenable or if it was unbearable/meandering/flailing. The applause was a surprise. What feedback we got was very enthusiastic (encouragingly a lot of this came from Rick – the guy who booked us).

Set #2 was more of the same although a little more relaxed given the response to the first set. There was, of course the occasional art enthusiast (of a certain age) with their hands placed as firmly over their ears as the look of disdain on their face. This I found encouraging as well.

Afterwards we got a tour of the house the gallery/garage was attatched to and it was without a doubt the most spectacular house I have ever seen. Jaws were hitting the floor left and right. And the floor so highly polished you could clearly see your jaw as it approached it.