Today is the ten-year anniversary of a very memorable jam session for me, “The Electro-Acoustic Workshop” at Muse Cafe in Chicago IL on 7-6-6. This session was the brainchild of one Mr Dave Marsalek who was part owner of the coffeeshop Muse Cafe and a talented drummer in his own right. The Muse was his shot at opening a business that combined his love of coffee and experimental music. Of course running a cafe is damn hard and eventually due to various factors it had to close, but for a period from 2006 to 2007 (?) I joined him and a host of other friends to create some original and innovative music that ten years later still stands worthy of those adjectives. There were a few reoccuring music series hosted at Muse Cafe worthy of note and one of these was the Electro-Acoustic Workshop.
The theme of this particular session was, as the name implies, combining electronic sounds (effects pedals/electrified instruments/samplers/etc) with traditional acoustic jazz instrumentation. This particular session was a standout among my recordings from that era for two main reasons: one, Dave had some excellent musicial friends amassed for this evening. Kris Myers (Umphrey’s McGee) on drums and Chris Clemente (Kick the Cat) on electric bass were the heaviest hitters in attendance but the whole supporting cast and crew were all creative and energetic in their own rights. Alas, many of these people I never did stay in touch with and their names elude me through the fog of memory. But the playing still speaks for itself.
Behind the excellent musicianship, the second main reason why this session is a standout to me is because of where I personally happened to be in my musical development. I had started experimenting with effects pedals near the beginning of 2006 and by mid-year I had either borrowed or accumulated enough gear to do something interesting, and had also spent just enough time with it to somewhat know what I was doing or at least trying to do. Thanks to the excellent cast assembled for this evening the grooves were guaranteed to be good and I was setup to do ‘my thing’ on the highest level that I could.
In hindsight I sort of view this session as a fork in the road with my musical development. I had always been fascinated with effects and combining them with the instrument I had been practicing my whole life was an intriguing new twist to put it lightly. But was this a gimmick–a transitory phase on the way to something else–or was there real substance worth developing with the use of effects on my horn? It would take a few magic moments to cement the idea. Instants where something special happened thanks to effects pedals, instants which would not have had the same impact without them. And that’s exactly what this session had in spades.
I’ve always been a dedicated taper and archivalist of my own craft on the horn. Most of the time these recordings have a short shelf life. I try to listen to myself and identify what worked well and needs to be repeated, refined, and reiterated. Most of the time it’s incremental improvements, maybe an unusually creative phrase, or a handful of spots where synchronicity of the group yielded a neat moment–this is what we’re usually hoping for when we play music. Very seldom does an evening come along with a replay value measured in years, one where you say to yourself, “This is it. This is what I’m working toward and what I’m trying to do. I want to internalize this, be able to recreate this energy again.” July 7th on 2006 was that moment for me, and it inspired me to double-down on playing with effects and commit to that as a core-element of ‘my thing’. Of course there were many moments before and after that taught me how rewarding it is to play with effects, but this night and the many times I relistened to this night were probably the largest single motivational event that shaped my musical path foward.
So for that reason it’s a very special recording to me on a personal/developmental level. All that said, I also think it’s a fantastic listen even without that story surrounding it. Several months back I uploaded it to YouTube. This isn’t the entire evening, since the whole thing is quite long, but what we have below is the middle and ending sections which gel together with a cohesive flow and make, to me, a thought-provoking, smile-inducing, and at times eyebrow-raising musical journey, a pivotal moment catapulting me toward where I am today. I invite you to join in and listen to that journey: