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Bringing The Idea Home

Last night, at a community supported performance space, FLYWHEEL, in Easthampton, Ma., two local musicians, Ben Karetnick on drums and Phloyd Starpoli on trombone were complemented in a trio by Joe McPhee on reeds and brass.

The first set began as Ben rolled to snap the snare. His sticks were light on the drum heads and cymbals, moving into a rhythm which was intercepted by Phloyd. Phloyd played in a pattern of slow to fast notes, trying to find his groove. Ben continued to maintain the rhythm. The drums remained quiet and soft. Phloyd began to distinctly separate the notes he buzzed on his horn. They stayed midrange and started to move from low to high again. The cymbals and snare tatted alternately, rapidly; the sticks were hit on the edge of the toms. Phloyd grooved for a bit until the sound fluttered, whence it became a single note to air to one low long note. Joe stood and listened for quite a while before he knew when to enter. Phloyd continued his line and harmonized with Joe's tenor. Joe moved in and out of Phloyd's line and went up to the high tenor register fairly quickly; the ringing created provided the strength of sound that is unmistakably Joe's.

The drums stayed soft as Joe became silent when the trombone entered . The tenor then elicited a melancholy song and switched to swiftly issued notes which the trombone imitated; the two were in tandem. Ben rattled some seed pods on the cymbal. Joe squeaked and grabbed at notes as Phloyd slowed his pace. Joe continued his song that became a scalar motion as if it were one long note, something that Joe is apt to do - often. The tenor offered one note after the other, a continuation of the continuity heretofore established. Phloyd's trombone was purposely muffled. There was no movement of the slide. Ben worked the snare with brushes then mallets. Joe was still in the throes of undifferentiated tone. He changed to a tune that produced a low hum and then pitched air which signaled Phloyd to do the same. They closed.

For the next piece, Joe played the valve trombone. Ben sat out. Phloyd and Joe began blowing air through their horns. There was not a pitch until Joe fingered the valves; there was not a pitch until Phloyd moved the slide. Sparks of sound came out of Joe's horn; Phloyd's horn was still in the air mode. As soon as Joe blew brighter arpeggiated pitches, Phloyd merged with a contrapuntal tune. Then the slide was out. Joe went up the scale in a graduated manner. Vibrations made by the coincidence of the two horns was inspiring. Like the buzzing of bees, the music from Joe's horn paralleled a long note from Phloyd's instrument that progressed into a series of notes, which itself was paralleled by a brighter tune from Joe's horn. Joe put his hand over the bell. And went out. Phloyd broke down a scale; Joe began again with the same graduation of a scale. The two musicians were talking with each other. The two went up the scale together; they came down the scale together more slowly and ceased playing in harmony and unison.

Ben next played a brief drum solo. With a smack of the snare started the search for the relation between one drum stroke with another broken with silences. The cymbals were snapped, the sticks went to the metal rims of the drums. There was a collective motion in and out of rhythm; then the tempo was altered. The cymbals rang. Ben vibrated the tom's skin simultaneously playing the cymbal. The bass drum was pounded continuously. The snare was rolled; the hi-hat tisked. A march beat ensued. The tisking of the hi-hat became a bridge between march rhythm and single drum strokes. Ben struck the cymbal. He grabbed it, held it to silence and snapped the snare. Silence. Eyes closed. Smile.

The first set Joe concluded with a soprano sax solo, dedicated to Phloyd whom Joe has known for a lifetime. This solo exemplified a quintessential progression of movement up and down the valves to sustaining the tone to the point that the horn rings. This Joe repeats, pushing crescendos as in a surge of power, moving from low to high pitches to produce a sound that is so strong that the discrete valve motions which create the pitches become atomic in size. One knows that there is a division between the notes that is only as fast as Joe's fingers can move. To turn the shape, a tune was introduced separated with rests, the tune was repeated, taken to a peak, became AFTER THE RAIN, became simply valving and fading to the softness of rapid tapping.

The second set was spiritually penetrating. Phloyd began with a solo that produced a insightful pattern of trombone playing. He played single notes with one slide position and then fell to a bridge of five short midrange notes. This pattern was repeated several times before he changed rhythm in between the bridges. As the piece sped up, Phloyd maintained the bridge to melody connection until he stopped and collected a group of notes. He moved back into the ostinatos, he fluttered, changed the tempo, seesawed back to low notes, differed the pace, came back to the five-note bridge, exploded into a series of notes, grounded himself in the bridge, fluttered as if to bat wings and then garbled a group of low notes to the end.

Joe began the next piece with his pocket cornet . He played it as if it were an extension of his body. Tight, distinct sounds turned into more fluid ones; he moved the valves only slightly. The trombone developed a low breathy quality of sound to offset a brighter tune on the pocket cornet. Ben kept the drums at a steady pace using the brushes. The snare was tatted. Joe produced a wah-wah counteracting Phloyd's stretched out notes. The two fell into harmony, then half-sour tones mixed with flutters. The drums divided the space behind. Joe played trills that moved into squeals; Phloyd blew hollow tones that balanced Joe's sound. Ben rang a bell. Phloyd's hollow tones set up Joe.While playing the cornet at a pitch that was hardly audible, Joe picked up the tenor. Phloyd played low notes.Ben rang the bell again and tatted a round on the drums. Joe blew his heart out on the tenor for a long, long time. Phloyd stuck with Joe over the entire spectrum. Joe kept going. Perspiration dripped from his cheeks. Phloyd reduced the trombone's notes to air. Joe hummed through the reed. Ben rang more than one bell. Phloyd blew slightly pitched air. The piece was over.

Joe once again began with essentially nothing except the tapping of valves on his tenor. A place to begin. Ben tapped the side of a tom with his fingers. Phloyd buzzed quickly with his lips. Ben picked up a drumstick and tapped here & there. Joe mingled pitches with valving. Phloyd's separated blown pitches were interspersed with the continuous ringing of Joe's tenor. The pace increased. Ben rattled his cymbals.Phloyd's pitches were broader and more stretched out to match the largeness of the tenor's sound. Then everything slowed and lightened up. Ben played with mallets.Phloyd's fluidity contrasted the high bright notes which peeked in through the continuity of the tenor line. Ben switched to sticks. Phloyd played counterpoint to Joe's squeaks. Both slowed down. Joe ended with a series of individual notes.

The last work began with harmonies coinciding on the soprano and the trombone. Joe took a brief step into dissonance which Phloyd paralleled and then countered. Ben rattled huge seed pods on a string; he created an atmosphere. Joe led with a melody, Phloyd matched Joe's pace. There was another harmonious intersection between Joe and Phloyd. Ben rattled more and touched the cymbals. Joe pulled Phloyd along; Phloyd pulled Joe along in a series of very long notes. The drums were quickly struck with brushes. Arpeggios slowed the soprano tune. The trombone assumed its own melody. Joe listened. Ben tatted the drums with brushes and maintained the backdrop. Phloyd continued in a rhythmic manner and went out; Joe came back in with a briskness which melted into a tune then moved up & down in a graduated scale. The trombone came back in: the sonorities between brass and reed were similar. One note finished the music.

At the end, Joe recited one of his poems, "Party Lights". It bears repeating:

"We will make music
In the forests
In the cool green light of evening
In a ritual long forgotten
On a street called Music Row.
Those of us who still remember
Before sampling was the fashion
Know our music comes from people
Not just from tape machines.
We know...
That our songs are meant for singing and dancing and celebrating life.
And when the studios are silent, vacant, relics of the past,
We will still be here."

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ben Karetnick
  • Venue: Flywheel
  • City State Country: Easthampton, MA, USA
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