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Friday, 28 March 2008


By Rabon Saip of Elder Times

They came together for a one night stand, Tuesday night at a new waterfront club in Sausalito. The place wasn’t quite finished. Some of the interior construction was still in process. But the owners wanted a trial run on the small bandstand and a test of their new sound equipment.

The place was quietly open to us locals, but the grand opening had not yet happened. The three musicians who showed up had been hastily put together by phone. They had never played together. I knew one of them, the drummer, and had met the bass player once before. In fact, I was there with a few of his friends. We were sitting at a table by the bandstand when the three of them arrived, a few minutes apart, to repeated rounds of introduction.

The pianist had come from the city, San Francisco; the bass player was local; and the drummer, who was also a graphic artist, had recently moved down from Reno. I had visited his studio and had seen his unique art work, amazing pieces that he created by manipulating chemical reactions on sheet metal. He made it look so easy, but when others tried (including myself) they could only make a mess. I was curious to see if he was as creative a drummer as he was a visual artist.

The bass player, a short heavyset guy from New York, was something of a chamaeleon. He looked like a portly businessman, with short hair and usually dressed in conservative suits. He had a large and beautiful houseboat, near Gate 3 in the old Marin Shipyard, but was often away for periods of time. A friend told me this bass player could have his pick of gigs, from New York to Chicago and LA. He was really that good. But he also made an effort to avoid becoming too well connected, or too well known.

That didn’t make sense to me until I eventually got to know him a little better. His anonymity and flexible schedule gave him the freedom for his chosen life style. He was a highly regarded musical guru, preferred to teach in his own studio, and had students who came from all over.

The pianist was a woman neither of the other two had met before. Her appearance was careless and messy, but her dark beauty could not be concealed. The unkempt curly black hair and loose fitting clothes could have been a conscious attempt to distract from her sensuous good looks, but actually served to make her even more attractive.

She played a couple of clubs around the city, but was also a single mom and selfish with her time for her little boy. She worked as little as possible. And since that Tuesday was a convenient off night, she got a baby sitter and took the drive over to Sausalito. The drummer and bass player openly stared at her, but were cool enough not to leave their mouths hanging open.

With a minimum of small talk, the trio soon started playing. And from the very first moments of their combination, it was apparent that something special was going on. As they gently explored the range of their shared vocabulary, the subtle probing of their musical intelligence was like a rising tide. Casual conversation quickly died out as the audience leaned forward to listen. Their music opened a vibrant subconscious field around us that was charged with possibility.

As the trio warmed up, the sound of their instruments took on an added dimension, flowing and blending in such a way that sometimes you couldn’t tell one from another. The drummer, who was even better than I had imagined, didn’t just keep the beat, he played his drums like they were "instruments." His tonal blending with the others was so tight he could paraphrase melody. Without missing a lick, the bass and piano accommodated his unusual ability, discovering exciting new relationships as they adapted to his lead.

The twenty or so of us in the scattered audience were spellbound, drawn into the trio’s excitement. Together they had found something they could only have dreamed of individually. And the powerful intimacy between them, the depth of their communication, made us all feel like an integral part of their music. We were suspended, breathless, holding the mystery of their extemporaneous flight, so turned on we could listen to the silence between the notes, even savor an instant just before the next note was born. The trio was a catalyst, a conduit, profoundly poetic.

At the end of their first set, the three musicians just stared at one another, grinning and making sounds of appreciation. I noticed a few people heading for the pay phones by the rest rooms, undoubtedly to let others know of the "happening" that was going on then and there.

The break was short and it wasn’t long before the trio was playing again, and this time the pianist started singing. "Are the stars out tonight, I don’t know if its cloudy or bright, cause I only have eyes for you." A gently intoxicating wave of infatuation swept over everybody. When the drummer and bass player spontaneously added their vocalizing, the trio’s close and unique harmony transformed an old standard into something all their own.

After about three hours of peak expression, they ended up exhausted. The bass player rubbed his chubby hands together in a way that said they had become a little sore; the pianist’s dark curls were clinging wet to her forehead, framing and highlighting the intelligent depths of her hazel eyes; the drummer sat perfectly still, eyes closed, in a transcendental state of mind.

Its difficult to say exactly what it was we witnessed that night. The energy that drove the trio was somehow itself alive, independent of them, an archetypal force that demanded their total involvement; as though their combination on that night was ordained, inevitable. Each musician would have told you that each of them played incredibly well only because of the other two.

We all knew that a group this good had to be shared with the world. Excited whispers planned for their promotion. Just wait until the right people heard them. A recording session would be automatic. They would become famous.

But then. I’m not exactly sure when I started to understand the fragile and fleeting nature of the gift we received that evening. Others around me showed signs of the same understanding. With an odd mixture of joy and resignation, we realized that this music would never be repeated, or recorded, except in the memory of those of us who were lucky enough to be there that night. The trio never appeared together again in this world.

[The vault of new stories is running low again. If you are interested in contributing, the guidelines are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Sometimes musicians click like magic and read each other's souls in a way that can happen in no other dimension. I witnessed this with the Dave Brubeck quartet during a performance. They seemed to be completely unaware of the audience and spoke to each other with riffs that obviously pleased and excited them. The audience caught the excitement of the moment and all were transported to another world where music was the only thing happening.

Your description of this event was so marvelous that I felt like I was witnessing this trio and sharing their joy. Great piece, Rabon, and thank you.

What Darlene said better than I could...... Good work, Rabon

It is indeed a shame for the rest of us that we will never hear this magic combination.

Thanks for the perfect words to share such a profound experience. I could imagine I was there to catch to vibe.


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