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Jam With J.M. Adds Much Fuel to Fire

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Musical Chemistry. It’s something that has been missing from my life for some time, and it’s what I moved to NY in search of. I haven’t found it yet, but on friday night I was reminded of what it feels like. I jammed for a total of about 3 hours with Jay Margolin, the drummer I grew up playing with in the woods, for the 1st time in about 4 years. I’m not sure which was more exciting, the jam itself or listening to it on my tiny voice recorder (horrible recording quality) during the train ride home. Okay, I’ll go with the JAM ITSELF but I definitely think most of the people around me on the train were suspicious of my incessant head banging and seemingly random laughter throughout the ride.

I feel a good analogy to this experience would be a star player of some pro sport getting traded to a bad team for 4 years that can’t make the playoffs, who then gets the opportunity to play in an all-star game. Not saying I’m star material and certainly that becomes a less attractive title to any self valuing musician with each passing second, but you know what? I can jam my ass off ladies and gents and I definitely feel like this experience was on par with what said sports star might feel in said situation: Amazing!

Jay and I have long had a difference of ambitions, we’re both about playing, creating, and improving each day I think, and we easily come up with things that fit each other’s ideas, but Jay’s not about taking it all over the world like I am, which is cool, it simply means that just like the past 4 years, the quest will continue to find the right people to make a Marbar Trio pop and go around the world.

Getting a taste of our dynamics again however has served as a reminder to the sort of things I’m looking for. One of the main things Jay and I were talking about after the jam was that not many musicians we have come across have had the ability, or indeed the drive to listen to what’s going on around them so they can compliment it in an appropriate fashion. It seems to me that when most musicians that I’ve seen get together to jam it’s almost like the steering wheel is stuck, they start going in one direction (which might even be a good one) and they either can’t or won’t change no matter what is happening around them. I can’t tell you how many “jams” I’ve had where I’ve done something as simple as increasing or decreasing the intensity and everyone else just obliviously marches forward following the same dynamic. These jams are almost comical to listen to afterwards as one begins to wonder if the band I’m playing with is really just a Casio keyboard accompaniment with the drum fill button pressed every now and then when someone feels daring…

I think fear is what a lot of this might be about, a fear of taking risks or just plain closed mindedness. I learned long ago that like life, playing music is a risk, even if it isn’t improvisation. I say take that risk and make mistakes! How else can you grow and learn about what the people you play with instinctively do in different situations?

Something else Jay & I were talking about is the role that an interest in jazz plays in making someone into an improvisationally minded player and, I think, a diversely minded composer. I love picking up on the nuances of the drummer’s playing, the subtleties of different grooves / accents and complimenting them with something that jives with it all, but it seems that it’s only when I play with a drummer who has some form of jazz background that they are able to pick up on these things coming from me, no matter what style(s) we might be playing. It makes sense, unlike some of the more boring rock & blues, you can’t really play any sort of real jazz without having a great ear for what’s going on around you, the ability to adapt to it, and the tendancy to think outside the box so that new ones can be found. This is because jazz is an interpretive language of improvisation, essentially jamming in it’s rawest form. I don’t even listen to that much jazz, it probably makes up about 10% of my monthly listening but it’s influence is huge. Growing up on Zeppelin, Zappa, and pre-millenium Phish, then getting into jazz later, I realized the blatant impact jazz had on these artists, especially Phish. It’s the ability to have improvs sound as cohesive if not better than actual compositions, made possible perhaps by it being, in my opinion, the most RAW and direct transfer of emotion possible by way of sound waves.

Improvisational chemistry is the most important component to a successful project in my opinion, but an ability to channel that chemistry into composition is very important to me also… This is because composition allows for self expression in a whole nother vast array of ways, and if you have things you want to sing, composition allows you to design the landscape to plant them on so they are displayed the way you want to see them. It also allows the group to tweak it in slow motion so everybody can explain what they hear and how it could be further developed.

The other thing I love is when compositions are designed specifically to lead into an open jam, something that Phish was amazing @ back in the day. Whole songs often seemed as if they were designed solely to get the band poised on the brink of a jam that could end up branching off in a million different possible directions…¬†and because of the momentum created by the proceeding composition, that jams always got off to an amazing start….

I’ve been in projects where everyone just wants to jam, and nobody wants to work anything out. I’ve been in projects where everyone wants to focus on writing but there is no improvisational chemistry. I need both, that’s how I’m built, I can do a lot with either, but not without both in my life…