Brian Hendrickson: The Roost Playback OOT Style
A Sense of Play: On the OOT Trio’s 8/14 Performance at The Roost’s 8x8x8 Series, Sundays at The Projects
It began imperceptibly, a jangling from saxophonist Tracy McMullen rummaging through a tin lunch pail of random metal objects; drummer Rob Wallace adjusting, readjusting his stool, arranging his incomplete skeleton of a set—snare drum, hi-hat, a disassembled bass(?); Hal Onserud’s double bass rising quietly in the background to yawn as if just
waking up. All the mundane chaos of musicians finding their bearings on the stage. Which is exactly what the OOT Trio wanted the audience to think. Then rethink.
As something bordering on organized chaos—undeniably intentional, for lack of a better word; momentous—arose from the various cranking and ratcheting apparati, foot shuffling, bells, I found myself uncontrollably giddy. That’s right. I do my best to wear my masculinity on my sleeve, but I was giddy—maybe not schoolgirl giddy, but pre-sexual kindergartener loose on the playground giddy. I glanced over my shoulder through the dark deepened by The Projects’ pitch black walls, accented only by graffiti catching stage light, at the audience around me, all grinning as foolishly as I was. How could we refrain? We were watching grownups lost in play. Organized chaos, wherein the only perceptible organizing force was the occasional refrain from McMullen’s saxophone, or often an incomprehensible mantra muttered by Wallace through a vuvuzela. But mostly the “organization” was an intuitive fluidity negotiated between musicians, each riffing off the other. Like teenagers flying in a stolen car through the midnight streets of a dead town, they were testing what the rest of us would let them get away with. Where our ears would let them take us. And the audience’s foolish grins were all telling them, “Drive.”
I am not an aficionado of improvisational or experimental jazz. As a poet, I live and die by the integrity of the line. And when I play, I play seriously. I demand your attention. I will make you work. But on Sunday night, listening to, watching, relishing the OOT Trio at play, I was reminded that experimentation isn’t always pretentious. Be it a song or a poem, we often brush off what doesn’t immediately make sense to us, assuming the composer is intentionally talking over our heads—as if we’re being forced to listen to some elite club’s inside joke, and we’re the butt of it. Much of the false dichotomy of stage/page poetry arises from this central insecurity. We demand to “feel” the words, sounds, images right away, meaning we demand that they make the kind of sense to us that we are conditioned to expect. But the end result of such an unwavering demand is your-way, right-away, fast food art. And what could be more pretentious than demanding that everything always make sense to you? On the other hand, what could be less pretentious than pure, unadulterated play?
I’m not saying meaning-, sense- and music-making have no place in art. Sometimes we just have to tell it like it is. Truth must be spoken to power. The curse must be thrown, the lie given to the liar. And the latent energy of form must be harnessed through a devotion to craft—not just when we resist, but also when we celebrate. “To every thing there is a season,” says the author of Ecclesiastes. Personally, I’d like to more often give myself permission to play with abandon, knowing by watching the OOT Trio that all my years of seriously studying craft should sufficiently inform the choices I intuitively make. I want my audience, whether stage or page, to be reminded of what it’s like to be children again, to find value in harnessing their full creative potentials unbounded by the need to make themselves understood, but also to appreciate the almost imperceptible intonations of a very adult devotion to craft underlying my seemingly unbridled commitment to the moment and all its possibilities. I don’t know how in the hell I’m going to do this with any success. The OOT Trio made it look and sound easy, but that’s all part of the illusion. Regardless, I’d like to give it a try.
Even the littlest bit of the OOT Trio’s adventurous sense of play would go a long way in shaking up our various poetry scenes here in Albuquerque (my poetry included), and the current partnership between the Local Poets Guild and The Roost in hosting the 8x8x8 series is the perfect catalyst for just such a shake-up.
(Thanks Brian for this!!! Brian was also the featured poet kicking off the OOT performance… Next week Bob Reeves and Sari Krosinsky open for THin Air Trio at 7:30 pm on Sunday August 21 $5 cover and venue is The Projects at 3614 High STreet NE, just east of edith, north of candelaria, through the garage doors…)