This session, opening the 2002 recording year for CIMP, is an ambitious pairing of strings and brass. It is a reunion of sorts between artists and label. In fact, all except Tom Varner and Jason Hwang began recording for CIMP during our first year. The preparations for this gathering actually began back in 2000 and the session originally was scheduled to be recorded at that time but, at the last minute, was postponed due to a scheduling conflict. Preparations at CIMP, beyond the usual, included trying to get various, but ever-present wood squeaks out of The Spirit Room floor.
In reality, this is one of the conclusions to an ongoing and evolving project as, together and in various groupings, this ensemble cast has been working and recording together for, in some cases, about 10 years. They all are virtuosos, every one capable of making a compelling solo record, such is their artistry. Talent and creativity is common among them while personalities and temperaments cover a broad spectrum, yet they all come together in this catalytic circumstance and perform as if reading some unseen score, each one his own conductor, each one an arranger, each one a soloist, each one an ensemble player, each one a part and a whole. And while the musical strategy applied here is becoming more and more established, the playing – to be the best – demands to be the antithesis of established. Together, in oratory to chorus, to oratory in chorus, to oratory as chorus, they improvise. When it works it’s the blessedness of an endorphin drip.
After “Something New” (unissued), Dominic commented, “That’s too easy, guys.” And, indeed, it does seem that way in the same way Franz Kline, Jackson Pollack, Andrew Wyeth, Ascension, Free Jazz or West End Blues seems too easy.
Things were of such a good spirit that it was early in the first night that Dominic called for Amazing Grace in dedication to his wife, Katherine, who died from a brain tumor quickly and unexpectedly in the summer of 2001. At first the room reflected a respectful sobriety. Then, as they tuned up and worked out a game plan, things loosened, loose moving to some silliness just prior to a take. Then, a refocusing, two quick false starts and a take. It’s all here: the qualities of string band, brass band, Americana harmonies and worldly thought coming together for an otherworldly excursion.
What a wondrous experience this music is. Take a theme or strand or instrument on any given piece and follow it through and you’ll find yourself uncoupled and redirected as it tracks this way and that, unfolding nuances that compel the listener and the ensemble to follow. And what wonderful movement there is in these pieces. The music is not static but transports the listener with rewarding journeys.
Watching all of this unfold over two days, it struck me as almost heroic in the way they came together (and it’s an effort to travel from anywhere to Rossie, New York) to pursue a noble cause for very little recognition. And to a man this is not an exception in their careers, an indulgence in artistry to reconnect with an integrity too conveniently forgotten. For these six, throughout their careers, this has been not an exception but the rule. So here we have talent, dedication and movement, but what really makes this complete is the musicality of these improvisations. It is the musicality that sets this apart and above so many other efforts that strive hopelessly against their limitations and compromises.
Hard not to be stirred by this American gumbo; roots music indeed.
Robert D. Rusch – January 9, 2002