Michael Bisio: Stepping Into the Limelight
By the early '90s I was occasionally making forays to the east coast for various small Hits, and in 1993 made my first west coast tour with Charles Gayle. In Seattle, during this time, I met a remarkable man, Craig Johnson. Craig loves this music, to watch Craig listen is to know why you play. Not coincidentally Craig is also the first person to have recorded Joe McPhee. Craig was gracious enough to arrange an introduction which led to a 1995 Earshot concert featuring Joe, Stuart and Loren Dempster, Eyvind Kang and myselfa landmark recording released on the Deep Listening label as Common Threads (DRAM, 1995). For me, it was the beginning of a truly inspiring, profound and productive period. To say Joe has been a major influence is an understatement. In 1996, Bob Rusch invited us to record duo; Finger Wigglers (CIMP, 1997) was the result. On the strength of this release, we toured the mid-Atlantic and Southern states in 1997. While driving through one of the Carolinas we saw a sign that read: "Zebulon 30 Miles." Unaware of any other implications it seemed a destination in space and was the inspiration for our second duo CD of the same name. Zebulon (CIMP) was released in 1999. Since this time I have had the honor of recording with Joe more than a dozen times and more importantly, have had many opportunities to share his musical vision.
Michael Bisio (left) with Stephen Gauci (right)
The dawn of the 21st century saw more opportunities in the east and beyond. I was invited to play Diedre Murray's chamber jazz opera, Running Man, for the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lennox, MA, and traveled through France with Joe McPhee and the World Bass Quartet, a continuation of Joe's commitment to the music and spirit of Albert Ayler. On 9/11/2001, I had the unique and emotionally rife experience of recording music not four hours after the planes crashed into the World Trade Center. The Joe Giardullo 4tet was scheduled to record that day after a short NE tour. Band members included Joe Giardullo, Joe McPhee, Tani Tabal and me. We met at exit 19 of the New York State Throughway, and headed to the studio in almost complete silence. Joe G. wisely abandoned his plan for the day, instead he asked us to play what was in the air. The results can be heard on the frighteningly beautiful Shadow and Light (Drimala, 2002).
For the next couple of years, a lot of my musical activity on the east coast centered on Joe Giardullo's Quartet and Joe McPhee's Bluette. The Bluette was a two-bass, two- wind unit with Dominic Duval, myself, Joe G. and, of course, Joe McPhee. During this period, there were concerts at the Guelph Jazz Fest, Vision Festival, Merkin Hall and others. Both of these ensembles are well documented through the efforts of Drimala and CIMP.
Back on the west coast, I continued my collaborations with some wonderful artists like Michael Vlatkovich, Rob Blakeslee, Wally Shoup, Greg Campbell and Bob Nell. There are probably a dozen recordings from this period on various labels including the Bob Nell Trio's Soft and Bronze (Plechmo, 2004) and John Heward's Let Them Pass (Drimalam 2004).There were also singular and beautiful collaborations with Oluymei Thomas, Charles Gayle, and Saadet Turkoz, among others. In 2003 I was awarded an Artist Trust Fellowship; late August, 2005, I made the move east.
AAJ: And at this point your own group became a large part of your focus?
MB: Yes. My current quartetwith Jay Rosen, Avram Fefer, and Stephen Gauciwas formed in January 2005. Bob Rusch arranged a CIMP date for January 17 and 18. The high temperature in North Country reached negative 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The result, Connections (CIMP, 2005), aptly named by Bob Rusch, is a very special record. The degree of communication and commitment to the music is astounding. This session set the standard for this band which has been exceeded by these wonderful artists every time we play. Five years and four CDs later it is still getting better. A side note: the improvisation, "Basic Deconstruction," ends with the sound of my bridge collapsing and sound-post falling. I believe this to be the only time this sound has been documented.
AAJ: Tell us a little about the other important associations you formed in this latest period.