The PoBand in effect was born April 13, 1995 when the core group (Lou Grassi [b.1947, Summit, NJ], Herb Robertson [b.1951, Plainfield, NJ], Perry Robinson [b.1938, NY, NY], Steve Swell, and Wilber Morris) played a gig at Context Performance Space (NYC, NY) with guest Burton Greene. Lou sent me a tape of that performance and I produced it for Cadence Jazz Records (#1062). In his liner notes for that recording, Chris Kelsey wrote about the"balance ... between utter control and unbridled frenzy" and it was just that form, combined with the excellence of statement from the group, that appealed to me. As Lou will tell you, and has written, Free (instant composition) is not without form or structure and, it might follow, purpose. ThePoBand has always managed to play free music that finds and encompasses those qualities or at least has made public only those successes.
I called that first recording PoGressions because the sense of positive aggressiveness suggested itself to me in those words. The release found its audience andLou began to refer to the group—in distinguishing it from a number of other projects he worked in—as "the PoBand." And so by its next (and first CIMP [#156]) release (July 1997), it became the PoBand.
Herb Robertson then left for a few years to work in Europe and Paul Smoker took over thetrumpet spot. For the next three PoBand recordings we brought in a guest artist (Marshall Allen, #207; Joseph Jarman, #227; John Tchicai, #262). Art Baron took over the trombone chair in 2002 and then, on August 8, 2002, Wilber Morris died. On the subject of the PoBand, Lou and I kind of went silent. About 15 months later, when the subject came up, we both realized that our thinking on the subject was more or less the same: the death of Wilber had also killed some enthusiasm in resurrecting Po. It seemed to have run its course.
In the meantime, Herb returned to the United States; Lou began anassociation with Adam Lane (b.1968, Brooklyn, NY), a bassist both powerful and with a strong orchestral sense; and trombonist Dave Taylor (b.1944, Brooklyn, NY), a trombonist with conservatory skills and an uncanny sense of improvisation, became interested in the group. As a result, and after somegigs, it seemed appropriate to regroup for a tenth anniversary jam with just the core, albeit evolved, PoBand.
A definite sense of familiarity radiated throughout the afternoon, sound checks, and supper, none of the auspiciousness one might expect prior to a recording, more like an understanding among friends that events would unfold naturally and when ready. Around 7:30 p.m. they did. Amidst the sound of an autumn rain the slow organic unfolding of Infinite Potential, a typical approach to instant compositions, began. Infinite Potential suggests a group of individuals both in sync and of a rather similar psychology and perhaps the most blended of the PoBands, with Adam, Lou, and Dave the triangle of this five pointed star. My plan, or hope, before the recording/concert was to enjoy the event more as listener than (working) producer. Infinite Potential gave me that much needed, inspired,relaxed diversion from the all too insistent events of the past few days. I was relaxed and involved and, by about the 13 minute transition, totally caught up in the music as a unit and as individuals: five improvisers clearly in concert and at the top of their form; the weave, transitions, and solos all fitting together so seamlessly it seemed as if it could go on forever. Then, as if wired, the piece came to an abrupt end and that was that.
A moment of silence, literally two or three seconds, and Lou began to develop a cymbal statement (Every Moment is Another Now) as if some mild zephyr had swept through The Spirit Room. Dave picked it up with his fuzz mute and they were off and running again in avant-Dixie fashion. It's no great leap from Dodds to Pee Wee to Tony Scott to Perry—all time, all life. Almost all of the lights in The Spirit Room were off and this five-headed invention was absorbed in its journey, leading, transitioning without hesitancy and completely naturally. So far, no one had faltered, each with multiple leads and a full reserve of ideas and inspiration; each separate all together. We approached the half hour mark: could they sustain to a climax as the oration began to mount and... and... then ebb. To where? To end.
Then on to a break and cookies, rice pudding, brownies, watermelon, and the good cheer that the mysticism of great music produces. We regrouped about an hour later and instantly, after the call for silence, Dave was into the mic, leadingthe charge (Something From Nothing). Perry—who four minutes earlier had announced that "Before we start I want to say something," to which everyone fell silent, eyes turned to Perry for what seemed a statement of some import, only to have Perry blink his eyes in confusion and mumble somethingabout he forgot, "...should have written it down"—now, with clarinet in mouth, was at no loss for statement. And the call went out and Herb answered while Lou and Adam kept things rolling so smoothly that you were well into it before realizing how far you'd gone. And the volume and pulse increased. Would the group find resolve? Would the mics overload? And then the ebb and return of the fuzz mute, and Perry's ocarina helped settle the dynamics. I think Adam would have liked to take it into his area but the group had an intuitive and collective decision to resolve in silence and timeout: "Let's take a break. We're on top of the game... I want some pie..., " said Dave.
And then again we regrouped. The PoBand knew things were going wonderfully well but the freedom from the pressure threatened to jeopardize the pressure to maintain an inspired freedom. You can hear it in the few seconds of hyped chatter that informs the beginning of Laugh Track. But the standard of excellence was soon regained and the invention moved into a bluesy ballad. Adam, then Lou subtly maneuvered the brass and woodwind into their port, when Perry musically said, "Enough," and momentarilytook it back into choppy waters. Then it was over and pies, pudding, and cooking were revisited.
We regrouped at 10:45 p.m., but this time the music was more pieces than whole and for the first time that evening the whole was less than the parts. At 11:15 p.m. they once again went for the finale, Phantasmagoria. Renewed vigor and greater focus were immediately evident in a texture quite opposite from the opening, almost four hours earlier. If there was fatigue after a long day it was not evident. Perhaps the sugar from extended desserts had kicked in. Dave had become quite animated and jocularin his playing, Herb was aggressive, Perry determined in his lines, while, once again, Lou and Adam gave the breathing direction. And then it was over... but not the pleasures.
Robert D. Rusch - Sept. 26, 2005