Freedom Choir!
a Jerome Foundation Commission
Roulette, Brooklyn

NOVEMBER 1, 2011
[the Roulette Freedom Choir page]

A single life-principle is divided amongst all irrational creatures, and a single mind-principle distributed among the rational; just as this one earth gives form to all things earthy, and just as all of us who have sight and breath see by the self-same light and breathe of the self-same air.Marcus Aurelius (AD 121–180)

It was back in February of 2011 while home in Santa Barbara practicing trombone on the beach, getting perspective on life here for us in NYC, that the visions came to me for an enormous musical experience - something which would bring together for the first time a diverse, powerful and totally unique array of musicians I've improvised with over the years for a cathartic, free-improvised service, almost like an ecstatic praise in church, in a place with enough space to move around and explore sound with an intensity of tremendous, unknown proportions. I wanted something so strong, so huge for us! No holding back... Like a combination of an Olympic Games track and field with something primal, spiritual... taking us beyond Venue, beyond fixed roles with our instruments, us each a walking music stand through the prairies, a pow-wow, synagogue, wailing wall, mosh pit... An uninhibited experience we need as improvising musicians so deeply and here in New York City right now, with so many influences... a new and ancient musical power of communion with ferocious love and virtuosic multiplicity lifting us into bandwidths of unclassifiable harmonic and rhythmic interactions...

After this huge emotional flash of the idea, I put the horn down on the rocks and began wildly sketching possible layouts and lineups for such an event, wanting multiple drummers like bonfires, horn players like tribal members... And then the question of course became: WHERE TO DO SUCH A THING?! Something outdoors? Something indoors? Where?! Over the years I've come to feel increasingly stifled by the amounts of stage area available at performances, and the fixity of things in relationship to space and response through performers and audience, and just the transcendence of the Happening as a whole. It's music, but I want Art! Unpredictable Spirit! Looseness from everyone! Move! Shake! I want something which is drawn openly from nature, bringing the indoors outdoors, the outdoors indoors (though everything of course is really outdoors), finding greater directions in which to direct sound and motion which can't help but summon the subconscious visual faculties of dream, earth and cosmic travel. I imagine music and ensembles out in the open air, on a mountain top, in the forest, fields, desert, by the ocean, along the road... So after reflecting on this again and the nature of such an ensemble, where it could perform and where there'd be an audience open to it, at the top of the list of venues came Roulette, having played there numerous times and knowing that something like this would undoubtedly fit right in there. Over the next few days I began really processing this energy, imagining the event so vividly, picturing something like a huge gymnasium for everyone to bounce off the walls from, swinging on ropes, springing all over the floor, lifting, throwing, tumbling, climbing and using all the various apparatusess... It wasn't about me, but about Us.

Shortly after returning to New York, before proposing anything to anyone, I received an email out of the blue from Roulette director Jim Staley, informing me I'd been nominated for one of their annual Jerome Foundation commissions. What a synchronicity! And so that was that... FREEDOM CHOIR! as I chose to call it, could now be realized! What a joy to contact everyone to put such a thing together! I believe in pure improvisation 100%, as both a compositional means and a purely energetic, spontaneous-intuitive spiritual one, and wanted to give us this chance finally to come together in such a large scale, such a unique combination of musicians, leading us all into and through this unknown sonic evolution of collective musical forces...

Initially, the thought was to have practically every musician I knew and respect improvisationally to take part in this... But over time, the sound really came to me to have just saxophones and drums, and to be the only brass player - to not only be able to get lower than the other horn players, but to be able to do something sonically and spacially on top and within the sound which I've realized from so much practice outdoors in nature and industrial environments. Saxophonists and drummers have been the most influential to me from Jazz, and to have such a density of this to explore was to me absolute Paradise, with neverending possibilites. All of these personalities and styles coming together created an enormous, styleless body flying through time. The sound of this harmony was unlike anything I'd ever heard before.

The concert took place on November 1st, which, after it was booked, I discovered the profound coincidence that it was also All Saints’ Day and The Day of the Dead.

The following recordings were graciously mixed and mastered in the highest quality by the folks at Roulette. I am forever grateful.


Ben Gerstein, trombone
Tony Malaby, Jonathan Moritz, Chris Speed, Andrew Bishop, Ohad Talmor, tenor saxophone
Darius Jones, Michael Attias, Tim Berne, Loren Stillman, alto saxophone
Randy Peterson, Ches Smith, Dan Weiss, Mike Pride, drums


[an audience member in the balcony for this first set sent me this poem which she wrote about her experience there. It was a wonderful understanding to receive unexpectedly months after the performance...]


Ben Gerstein, trombone
Tony Malaby, Chris Speed, Andrew Bishop, Jonathan Moritz, Jeremy Viner, tenor saxophone
Michael Attias, Loren Stillman, alto saxophone
Randy Peterson, Ches Smith, Mike Pride, drums

* Personally, I felt the second set was even more open. Second sets are very important, especially with improvised music! And in this case especially, it could not have happened without having gone through the experience of the first set... But three of the saxophonists and one of the drummers had to leave at intermission, so there was more space, different interaction, flexibility, and the bodies and stage were really warmed up, there was even more movement, and just so much to continue further and further, neverending really...