Program Notes for Bones
Bones, arranged by Aaron Otheim for members of the Racer Sessions
Featuring Abbey Blackwell (double bass), Natalie Hall (cello), Andrew Swanson (alto sax), Neil Welch (tenor sax), Cameron Sharif (piano), and Aaron Otheim (keyboard)
For the last couple of years, I have had the privilege of participating in the musical community surrounding Seattle’s Racer Sessions. Since launching in January 2010, the Racer Sessions, meeting weekly at their namesake Cafe Racer, have strived to nurture an environment in which musicians of all backgrounds and persuasions may gather and freely improvise music together.
It has been exciting to witness, over the course of more than a hundred evenings, the evolution of individual playing styles and collective sensibilities. Even within the scope of a single improvised piece, a miniature evolution takes place as players continually adapt to meet the needs of the music. This sometimes calls for sacrifice—subverting one’s own voice in order to support the collective voice—and other times it calls for anarchy—refusing the governance of any other musicality except one’s own. A dance around these two poles takes place in every improvisation; each step dictates the birth, life, death, and rebirth of musical sound.
Out of this evolutionary process has emerged a lexicon and a style characteristic of this community, codified to the extant that the resultant music might often be mistaken as the works of a single composer! And yet the “composer” here is collective musical intuition, powered by the growing knowledge each person has of the way that others act and react with sound. This knowledge opens up countless possibilities when writing for improvisers, allowing one to incorporate the sounds and behaviors of distinct musical personalities into one’s compositional palette.
Tonight’s presentation is a tissue sample of sorts charting two years of musical growth that have been cultivated at the Racer Sessions. I am honored to share the stage with five musicians from the Racer Sessions whose “sound identities”—to borrow Duke Ellington’s apt label—have inspired tonight’s piece, Bones. It is a series of structured improvisations tailored to frame the way in which each person represents themselves sonically. The music you will hear is just as much theirs as it is mine.
—Aaron Otheim, May 2012