Mark Weaver’s UFO Ensemble
Mark Weaver’s new band, UFO Ensemble, “kind of just fell into place,” as he put it. “I used to play mostly in California withWest Coast people— just the connections I made playing music. It’s hard to start playing unusual music in your hometown. That’s what I found, anyway,” he said, laughing. “It’s easier to do it elsewhere. And there’s a lot of stuff going on in California.”
Weaver has been working in the fields of unusual music for many years now in New Mexico, and he plans two UFO Ensemble shows here this month: Friday, Feb. 12, at Santa Fe Complex and Saturday, Feb. 13, at The Kosmos in Albuquerque.
The first piece of his new ensemble fell into place when trumpeter Bill Clark moved to Albuquerque from Vancouver, British Columbia. Clark had played jazz for 25 years in Canada. He earned a master’s degree in improvisational music (with studies under bassist Charlie Haden and trumpeterWadada Leo Smith) from the California Institute of the Arts.
“He’s a really talented jazz player,” Weaver told Pasatiempo. “He traveled with a blues band for quite a while, and he loves straight-ahead jazz and doing standards, but he’s really open-minded.” For years, Clark performed in the 17-year-old band Talking Pictures. Clark was recently back in Vancouver to record with the band’s Peggy Lee (cello), Dylan van der Schyff (percussion), and Ron Samworth (guitar).
The other members of the UFO Ensemble are drummer Jason Aspeslet and trombonist Christian Pincock. Aspeslet first approached the world of musical performance by playing in aWisconsin polka band at the age of 10. He broadened and deepened his chops playing throughout North America as well as in Europe before touching down in New Mexico five years ago. Pincock has a master’s in music from the Manhattan School of Music; he learned the ropes with the likes of Bob Brookmeyer and Steve Turre. He directs New Mexico JazzWorkshop’s community big band and two high school jazz ensembles.
“Christian plays with the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra and traditional jazz groups, but he’s also really open-minded,” Weaver said. “He has a whole area of his musical activities where he does electronics with his trombone.” How exactly does he do that? “He has rigged up a valve trombone that has switches somehow attached to each valve,” Weaver said. “He also runs Nob Hill Yoga with his partner. He does a group using, like, conduction, with a lot of hand signals. He’s very gestural, and you can tell he’s a yoga practitioner because of the way he moves.”
Weaver plays something he carries in two cases. “It’s an old-fashioned, big, American tuba with a forward-facing bell. It’s pretty unwieldy,” he admitted. He has recently also been playing the euphonium for the first time since high school. The career of UFO’s leader includes work with trombonists Roswell Rudd and Michael Vlatkovich, multi-instrumentalist J.A. Deane (including in The Bubbadinos), avantgarde drummer Harris Eisenstadt, cornetist and “conduction” artist Butch Morris, Chris Jonas and Molly Sturges (co-leaders of Bing), and bassist David Parlato.
Since the early 2000s, Weaver has played in A Hawk and a Hacksaw, a band founded by Jeremy Barnes that specializes in musical stews whose ingredients include American and Eastern European folk music and experimental music. The band has a new CD coming out in 2010, on whichWeaver has a bigger role than on previous records. “Jeremy, who has a space here in Albuquerque, combines and recombines and changes and remixes. This time he had a friend from Chicago do the recordings, then Jeremy records other stuff and adds horn harmony. Some of the tunes have five of me on there.”
Barnes likes playing around with sounds in the studio. Weaver would just as soon never see the inside of a studio, much preferring live recordings. “UFO Ensemble is basically for my own writing,” he said. “All the people are interested in improvised music, and they’re all really good readers, so we can have written music incorporated into it.”
Clark, Pincock, and Aspeslet will have improvising space but will also work off pages containingWeaver’s melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic ideas. “It is pretty rhythmic, and Jason is definitely oriented that way. He does a lot of rock as well, including with Stephanie Hatfield’s group Hot Mess. In this music, there tend to be different improvisational elements, but I think of them more as using the improvisation in a structural, compositional way rather than in a free-jazz way. Sometimes some in the group will be playing written material while others are improvising, which of course isn’t unusual, but you would have it inserted in structural ways, or you would have the tunes built with the improvisational elements as structural elements.
“There will be times when two horn players are playing open-ended music together, or one will do this and the other will play background, or the horns play an underlying figure and the drums are improvising. It tends to be more charted out that way. I have other groups where the structures are all improvised, and I really like that, but it’s more like free-improv music.”
It can be difficult to discuss complex music in a way that is satisfying or even accurate, because its essences are best understood with the ear. Weaver’s music, which to some extent can be said to embrace chaos, is best experienced live. “It’s not even intended to fit into any genre,” he said.
All kinds of things are put into the bin labeled “jazz,” which used to be defined, in one important sense, by its swing. It’s hard to feel the swing in much of today’s “jazz.”
“Well, to me,” Weaver said, “if you define jazz narrowly enough, it’s already gone. It’s a thing of the past. What’s here now is definitely related to it, but it’s a different phenomenon once you hit maybe 1960, and suddenly everyone in the entire world is listening to every kind of music there is.” Fifty years later, composers likeWeaver labor in an incredibly diverse musical milieu. Their expressions are often complex, but they may also reflect simpler ideas, and the musicians sometimes find compelling reasons to look backward.
UFO Ensemble is planning an April show at Albuquerque’s Outpost Performance Space that will honor a 19th-century author. “This will be all new music, and my son [graphic designer Mark JacksonWeaver] will be projecting photographic images behind the band,” he said. “It’s a theme show, with my writing and the photographs a reflection of my favorite Edgar Allan Poe story, ‘ Ligeia.’ We’re already starting to work on that music.”