We Will Make a Home for You
In the winter of 2002 Nate McBride and I started a weekly jazz and improvised music series at the Abbey Lounge in Cambridge, Mass., which he named “mim” (for modern improvised music). Curt Newton, with whom we both had a longstanding musical relationship, joined us in forming the mi3 trio, the house band for that series. (The mim series ran weekly until that summer at the Abbey. In the fall of 2002, it relocated to the ‘Artists At Large’ gallery in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston, where Nate continued to run it until he left for Chicago in the summer of 2004.) We chose to use the electric piano partly out of necessity, since the Abbey had no piano, and partly out of curiosity for the effect it would have on our music. We processed the Fender Rhodes sound using some pedals that Nate lent me; a vintage Mutron, a Wah pedal, and a distortion pedal. It was very exciting for me to work with the long sustain, volume and timbral variety the Rhodes could offer when combined with these pedals. This was an opportunity to explore something different, and the discoveries in sound and texture energized us all to try new musical ideas. In the following season we continued playing from time to time at the mim’s new location, and we also did a two-month weekly run there as part of the ‘mim residency’ series, performing with this electric trio through the spring of 2004. Parts of this CD were recorded live both at the Abbey Lounge and at the ‘Artists At Large’ gallery. Nate contributed some of the more intriguing repertoire choices on this CD, especially the Hasaan and Dolphy selections, to which we added compositions by Thelonious Monk and some originals. PK Regular weekly gigs are a coveted situation for any creative musician. Rehearsals are good, but when it comes to ensemble evolution there’s no substitute for the steady gig. No surprise in such situations that the weekly home starts to weave its way into the character of the music. The Abbey Lounge is a great tiny dark seedy dive of a bar that usually hosts the less-cerebral sides of the Boston rock scene. No piano? No kidding — there’s absolutely nothing “lounge” about the Abbey. So after enjoying playing with Nate and Pandelis for years in more “respectable” acoustic settings, it was both refreshing and an absolute necessity to step outside the piano trio conventions with this situation. We had to take advantage of what the Abbey had to offer, and not bemoan what it lacked. Some familiar compositions were recast or reborn in this new setting; a few others didn’t survive the transition, but that’s all part of the process. It pushed all of our envelopes, individually and collectively. With a new vocabulary of density, timbre and volume, Pandelis could become relentless in digging into a single idea; at other times, seeming to let the very idea of an idea be washed away in pure sound. I remember how Nate or I would give a quick sideways nod, “NOW!,” and suddenly we’re in a roiling groove that surprised and delighted us all. And listening to the recording now, I’m also struck by the simplicity and directness of some performances, qualities I think we’ve all been seeking to develop in our music the past few years. When our time at the Abbey finished, the group’s identity was clear. We had something new and powerful to work with, something that carried over quite well to other venues like the Artists at Large Gallery. And it also carried over to the way the three of us played back in the acoustic setting, but that’s a story for another disk’s liner notes…. CN We’ve been playing some of these pieces together for a long time, and it’s not just the change in Pandelis’s instrument that makes this Ugly Beauty utterly different from one we might have played in 1991. A good piece for improvisors lays out a specific and enduringly new thrill, but the instructions are incomplete. The goal, when attained in a given performance—the expression of a particular form of energy whose pattern is contained in the written work—is so transformed each time as to be new to those who chose to chase it. Repetition only dims the effect. To attempt to release Ugly Beauty’s brilliant potential energy demands even more faith in each other than in the strength of Monk’s monumental composition: like every band of improvising familiars, we have to be new to each other each time. To have attempted it many times together has provided chances to deepen our appreciation of some truly beloved music, while testing and extending a musical connection between individuals which has proved fundamental––and has generated, spent, and generated again countless watts of energy in the service of surprise, inevitability, trust, speed, hope, forward motion.