"Free Jazz"

....or whatever that meant to Bad Livers

I've worked with many many wonderful jazz musicians over the years, in many many wonderful situations. But for some reason, none of these cats ever once considered me a "jazz" man nor ever hired me to play improvisational or spontaneously composed musics.* I was always "the bluegrass guy" or the "klezmer guy" or the "polka guy" or worst of all "the Trad guy." Was I incapable or that level of craft? Maybe so. But please understand however that even I realize that I was entirely responsible for that opinion of me and must take full responsibility for. I sure went out of my way to let folks know what opinion I held the "self expressive" free jazz and jam band musics I had encountered. Talked my way into a box I reckon. Hell, I take exception to the very term "jazz," but that's another blog post entirely.

But recently I was reminded of my short lesson with Buell Neidlinger, (this gets its own story soon)  who I met in Pt. Townsend Washington at a Bad Livers show. And from that recollection I was led to remember the dreamlike state and entirely unspoken level of total creative "freedom" that I felt and expressed onstage musically for a great many years with my Bad Livers musical partner Danny Barnes. Only now through the filter of time can I get a good picture on what a gift it was to share music in that way. Damn glad I left myself kvell a bit about it. It's good to give yourself a break, if you can.

I present the attached video for your consideration. For contexts sake, bear this in mind. This was videoed in 2009. Aside from a single 45 minute set at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival the year before, this was the first time we stepped onstage in 9 years. 8 of those with no communication of any kind, at all. When we last worked with each other, Bad Liver shows had evolved into a 2 hour stream of consciousness presentation of musical dexterity and humor, anti-academic alternative histories and narrative delivered unironically entirely informed by the deep traditions of Southern elocution and storytelling and a really great stand up act, honed by a decade of 200+ dates a year on the road in front of mostly confused, sometimes charmed but oft unpleasant audiences. 

For our 2nd set this night in SF. We just walked out, looked each other in the eye and started. It starts with Monk and ends with Narciso Martinez, much like one of our mix tapes in the rental car, usually board tapes from my "Overnight" shift on KUT Radio for a decade.  Nobody ever trusted me more than Barnes. I'd take a bullet for him, even today. For reals.

Years earlier, we tried to capture that live show vibe on tape by setting up a couple mics in my old wooden house in Austin (nestled in the Ridgetop neighborhood, hence the name.) My little pal Lance the Wonder Korgi wrapped himself around the mic stand at my feet and we hit record on a DAT machine. Got a call from my old pal Dan Foster, and Lance speaks up a few times, but other wise it's just exactly what we presented live for at least the prior 3 years. We called it "The Ridgetop Sessions," and it's still available today on CD Baby. (yeah, the Mad Cat Trio CD got re-issued too!) :







* I make the notable exception of composer/percussionist Aaron Alexander, who did in fact put his trust in me and made a member of his "Midrash Mish Mosh" ensemble in 2004. He and his compositions loom large in my psyche and I am forever grateful.