by Giovanni Russonello and Luke Stewart
When one thinks of musical improvisation, some questions come to mind. Are they simply noodling freely? Is there a rational structure? Are the musicians on the bandstand really interacting with each other? Are they speaking a musical language with deep traditional roots, or is it a Tower of Babel? These thoughts occur to us because improvisation — when done correctly — is itself a question, a showcase of a musician’s true self. A musician is the most honest when she’s improvising. Even so, there is a well-documented rift among the different schools and traditions in improvisation. In recent years, with the emergence of more open-minded and innovative musicians willing and able to fuse their influences and approaches, this rift is slowly closing. That is evident in the number of collaborative performances that have begun to occur. Most common is the improvisational “round robin,” which aims to bring together musicians of different approaches in an organic, spontaneous, unpredictable collaboration.
This year, the Brooklyn-based Undead Music Festival is sponsoring a number of these concerts throughout the country under the umbrella of a “Day of the DIY,” and CapitalBop is thrilled to be co-presenting one of them. We will be holding this afternoon of improvised duets — between some of D.C.’s most thrilling, risk-taking musicians — in partnership with Sonic Circuits and Undead, at Union Arts & Manufacturing. (More about that new venue below.) The performers will include the great Brian Settles, Janel Leppin, Anthony Pirog, Brad Linde, Reginald Cyntje, Aaron Martin and many others. (Full disclosure: Luke Stewart, a CapitalBop editor who co-wrote part of this post, will be one of them.)
For the first time in recent memory, the widely varying schools of improvisation represented in the D.C. jazz community and the experimental music community are coming together in a collective atmosphere to share and collaborate. Here’s how this creative, exciting thing is going to work: One musician performs an unaccompanied improvisation lasting for a specific period of time (about five minutes in this case). Another musician then joins him for another period of duo improvisation. The first musician eventually stops and the second musician continues solo for another short period. Then yet another musician joins in for another period of duo, the other musician eventually drops out, and so on until all participating performers have played.
This Sunday, May 5, most of the musicians that will play have never performed together. Some have never heard each other’s music. It will be a totally new experience for many. And here’s something else we’re thrilled about: It will be the first formal performance in the newly opened studio/venue at 411 New York Ave. NE, dubbed Union Arts and Manufacturing. The space is fully artist-run, and it has high hopes and ambitions to help to enrich the arts community of D.C. Come out and support CapitalBop, Union Arts, and all of these bold musicians as we try out a little something new.