Mark Weaver’s UFO En­sem­ble

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

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.”

UFO En­sem­ble

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