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.

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