The little things: Impromptu jams unleash magic

Greg Howard, John D'earth, Matt Weiss, Jamal Milner
at Gravity Lounge
Sunday, November 28

It's the little things in life that bring one joy. Things like the squirting sound of cheese popping out of the side of an empanada: It sounds just enough like a bodily function to make me snicker like a second grader.

Or even better, the look on my three-year-old daughter's face when I catch her getting into something she knows is off limits. I want to punish her, but she looks so adorable gazing up at me that I reach down and give her a hug. Somehow she understands that she got off easy, but the next time she's headed for "time out."

Yeah, the little things, the stuff you miss unless you really pay attention. They're happening all over. Especially with the local music scene. At least once a week I read about a some spur-of-the-moment / semi-planned collaboration. Lucky for us, this city is filled with killer musicians. When they get together (even for an impromptu jam), something cool is bound to happen.

On Sunday, November 28, one such jam occurred at Gravity Lounge. Chapman Stick player Greg Howard performed with trumpet player/composer John D'earth, drummer Matt Weiss, and guitarist Jamal Milner. These guys are not complete strangers. They've jammed together in various incarnations, but never as a formal ensemble. As a result, their collaborations are a cross between innovative improvisation of jazz standards, a few regular originals, and pure sonic experimentation.

Because of the unarguable caliber of each of the players, watching them is as much a lesson in music theory as it is pleasurable. I often imagine the unconscious thoughts running through D'earth's head as he solos, "Okay, kiddies. Here are five ways to subdivide this rhythm... if you play close attention, you'll notice I've added two accidentals to the scale (including a flatted fifth), that when played over this bar..."

It helps that he makes it all sounds so sweet– even when playing his tutorials on a penny whistle (which, in addition to various other fantastically odd wind instruments, is part of his arsenal).

Yes, at times the jam session seemed academic if you think of the musicians using this ensemble as a way to experiment. Because of this, the outcome is not always meant to be agreeable to the ear.

At one point, Greg Howard warned that they were about to play a new song. A few choppy moments notwithstanding, the intervals of clarity were breathtaking. Witnessing a song come to life right in front of me– the errors that give way to new ideas... the new ideas that complete the original foundation... the search for a way back to the theme... the reunification and completion of the thoughts– made me feel privileged to be in the room.

Sometimes with music, the magic and joy aren't always in the finished, polished product. For me, it's just as much about the nuances of the journey.

I have no doubt about the talent of these four musicians– just as there's no doubt in my mind that I love my daughter and enjoy an occasional empanada. But, as with them, it's the imperfections of growth and the comical subtleties created spontaneously that make every-once-in-a-while performances like this one "perfect."

Gravity jam.