Last week I saw two great sets of all-improvised music, both with the bassist Todd Sickafoose. The first was at Korzo with Eric Deutch on piano and Ben Perowsky on drums. This trio has a very melodic and groove-driven musical language, which seemed to me as something of a rarity in a group playing completely improvised concerts in New York. Their interplay was really wonderful, and the music evolved with great freedom and openness. As a pianist, I have always struggled with the issue of harmony in free-improv situations. I often fear that if I play too tonally it limits the other players, and that I become the "leader" and everyone else has to choose their notes more carefully, and the music takes on a tentative quality that can stop the flow. I think this is part of the reason that a lot of players, not just pianists, avoid tonal improvising. It's a lot easier to "match" when everyone is playing atonal, or playing non-pitch-specific sounds. The same thing with grooves. Sometimes when a groove happens in a free improvisation it can take control of the course of the music too much, or it can be hard to get out of it. The trio at Korzo didn't fall prey to any of these problems, however. I mentioned to Todd Sickafoose after the set that it was refreshing to hear a trio improvise in such a tonal language. He replied "Oh, I'm not afraid. That's 98% of music!"
Then the next night I heard Todd play again in an all improvised set with Jonathan Goldberger and Jim Black at I Beam. This trio has been developing a musical language of electronic textures, fractured grooves, and spacey ambience. Jonathan's guitar effects and Jim's laptop electronics conjured mysterious alien landscapes of sound. And of course, they also HIT! A short sample: