Sunday, May 22, 2005

the art of the jam 2

ok, first, full disclosure: i've been playing some gtr at the wreck room's wednesday night jam. i was hesitant to ask, then lee allen (who runs the jam with carl pack) invited me one night. (he was shithoused, but i figured it still counted.) it's the most fun i've had playing in a decade: no slouches onstage, but no showboaters, either (or at least not for long) -- instead, a cooperative, listening-and-responding kinda vibe, using simple forms to create a multi-level conversation, a one-time spontaneous event. by the nature of what it is, there's a certain chaos factor, but that's mitigated by the fact that lee's a consummate bandleader, structuring and directing the event in real time. sure, it's limiting in a certain sense, but no more so than playing somebody's songs the same way night after night. i'd gladly be a color in lee allen's palette for a long time.

last week, f'rinstance, there were four gtrists in the house, so beforehand, lee pulled 'em all together for some quick instructions: "ok, let's see. you two are kinda bluesy, then we've got mr. shredder over here, and i know _you're_ great at laying in the groove. watch me for signals. i'll point to you when it's time to solo. fingers like this means that's how many people i want playing; i'll show you who. or if we're getting ready to end, i'll show you fingers for how many more times we're going around. concentrate on playing rhythmically and not filling the same space. otherwise it'll be a clusterfuck." lee looks kinda like a mad scientist, and when somebody plays something he digs, he grins bigger than dallas. who _wouldn't_ wanna play music, watching this guy?

(lee and dave karnes just opened the fort worth school of music, kinda modeled on the austin rock summer camp where lee taught for the last few years. eventually, their goal is to teach all instruments and all styles at all levels -- an idea with some potential.)

there are some "standards" that get played nearly every week, sometimes altered and extended to epic proportions: chick corea's "la fiesta," funkadelic's "maggot brain," the beatles' "come together" and "tomorrow never knows," hendrix' "manic depression." you can tell lee would like to have more material that all the jammers know; he keeps mentioning the red hot chili peppers' "stone cold bush," and talks about having a week that's all metal. at this point, anything's possible.

the jammers range from unknowns to wreck room staff to local heavies from bands like pablo and the hemphill 7, confusatron, the me-thinks, and kulcha far i. a mainstay has been violinist steven huber, a guy who makes his living playing classical scores but has more melodies floating around in his head than yr average improvisor. seriously, he'll play from the moment he unpacks his fiddle until it's time for him to go, like he was coltrane or something. an inspiring cat. a couple of weeks ago, he opened the proceedings with an original piece in 7/4, introduced as "dry hump burn," that should be played again and luckily was caught on digital recorder by the wreck's wizard of sound andre edmonson. dre promises to record all the sessions; a buddy of mine in new york who heard one recording suggested distributing the jam tapes via subscription -- "free at first, then charging when people inevitably get hooked."


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