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Mark Whitecage: Free Music with Purpose

By Published: April 16, 2004
"So I did, I made a crystal that was very out of tune because I didn’t have the machinery to cut the metal. The way I cut my steel, they didn’t pick up all the vibrations equally, so some notes would be really loud and others really soft, and they would have their own patterns, which I liked; it was different. So we explored that; I spent a few years doing that, I even dragged them down to the old Knitting Factory one time.

“I still play one of them with [clarinetist and partner] Rozanne Levine’s band, Chakra Tuning,” concludes Whitecage, “I use one of the sculptures I’ve saved. The rest of them, they’re just too much to carry. I have one recording that I never released, with Gerry Hemingway playing my sculptures and drums, Mario Pavone and Joe Fonda on bass, and Rozanne playing the sculptures and clarinet.”

Focusing on a Solo Career

By the early ‘90s Mark was leading his own groups, including Liquid Time, whose self-titled release garnered positive critical attention, and featured a young Dave Douglas on trumpet. Unfortunately, work for the quintet was hard to find, so Whitecage began a trio that featured bassist Dominic Duval and percussionist Jay Rosen. The trio, ultimately named No Respect, continues to this day. “Dominic has an absolutely vast knowledge of music,” says Whitecage, “he knows almost anything you’d want to play. We don’t need to rehearse, although we spent a year rehearsing in the early days before it dawned on us that we didn’t need to.”

Free Music With Purpose

Emerging as a leader, Whitecage began to develop an approach that combined free playing with sketches, basic roadmaps to give his groups jumping off points for extended improvisations that still managed to stay somehow true to the source material. “Everything is there but the return,” explains Whitecage. “I’ll write the beginning. For example, I have a piece called ‘End Piece,’ and all I did was write the beginning, you never go back to it. When I was playing with Anthony Braxton that’s what we’d do when we’d play standards and he was playing piano. We’d take any standard and play it but never go back to the head, we’d do everything we could with the tune and then start another tune and do the same thing.”

The majority of Whitecage’s ensembles avoid the use of chordal instruments. “The thing I don’t want to play is the chords,” Whitecage says, “because one chord leads to another chord and then you play it again and it leads to the same chord. But I can play the same tune six days in a row and be totally different each time I play it, because I’m building my chords not from the pattern, more from the melody. I can always hear the melody when I am playing, no matter what I’m playing. And Dominic [Duval] does too, it’s almost like telepathy, we could be away from the melody for eighteen or twenty bars and all of a sudden we’re together again, at a different place in the head.

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