An Evil Clown and a Leap of Faith

Karl Ackermann By

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"I don't have a half-speed for music, if I do it, I'm all in..."—PEK

If the Evil Clown record label is prolific on a per capita basis, then its founder is exponentially more inexhaustible. David Peck (aka PEK) founded the label—at first, unbranded—and its roots date back a little more than twenty years ago to Cambridge, MA. The musicians under the label could best be described as a "collaborative collective" and in various formations turn out twenty-five to thirty albums each year. The core collective under Evil Clown is Leap of Faith, which when expanded to the Leap of Faith Orchestra includes players from Metal Chaos Ensemble, String Theory, Turbulence and Mekaniks. The common denominators in these collectives is the presence of PEK in each, and a completely unorthodox approach to creative improvisation. An unfamiliar listener, dropping into an Evil Clown recording may find themselves submerged in world of musical anarchy but there is a hidden order behind the apparent mayhem, as we will see later. By PEK's own admission, this is ..."demanding music with a very limited total audience...."

PEK was born in Sacramento CA in 1964, his family moving to Chappaqua, New York when he was two and then back to northern California seven years later. Raised on a musical diet that went from Dave Brubeck to Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa, his early years were an eclectic mix of influences. A saxophonist from the time of elementary school, he studied clarinet and piano as well but didn't take music seriously until later in life. As a high school senior in 1982 PEK says, "I have a vivid memory of hearing for the first time the album Tin Pan Alley (ECM, 1981) by Jack DeJohnette. Chico Freeman and John Surman play saxophones in a very free style with lots of altisimo register playing and multi-phonics on this album. Although I had been playing saxophone maybe 6 years at this point, I did not realize that these kind of sounds were possible on my instrument. Hearing these sounds eventually led me to read all the available literature I could find about free jazz and post-modern jazz history which in turn led me to Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Anthony Braxton and the Art Ensemble Of Chicago. Art Ensemble of Chicago was particularly important to me since it established a precedent for very broad palates and woodwind multi-instrumentalism. Roscoe Mitchell is clearly a primary influence for me." PEK abandoned music altogether while attending UC Davis for mathematics, a discipline that would later partially inform his music. As restless a student as he was a musician, PEK moved on to UC Santa Cruz to study philosophy and fell in with a group of musicians that set him back on a path toward music -this time, with a more focused discipline. A former student of saxophonist George Garzone, he moved to the Boston area to attend Berklee College of Music in 1989. In my interview with PEK, he stated that in the years following Berklee his exposure to diverse styles of music grew: ..."my interests are very wide and I specialized in fairly unusual music including modern and post-modern classical (especially after 1950) and world music from all over, but with special attention to the far east where the music is structured very differently than typical in the west. I also became very familiar with the history of free-jazz and post-modern jazz." In fact, PEK had played with William Parker and the late free jazz trumpeter Raphe Malik in his early music career and later with Joe Maneri and Mat Maneri.

A pivotal force in Leap of Faith—and other Evil Clown projects—is Glynis Lomon. Playing cello and aquasonic (a bowed metal instrument) as well as providing wordless vocals, she is a graduate of Bennington College where she studied with the renowned musician and composer Bill Dixon, performing and recording with the trumpeter throughout his later career. Lomon has also played with the best of free jazz and avant-garde, including Jimmy Lyons, Cecil Taylor, Butch Morris, William Parker and Joe Morris. It was through Masashi Harada that PEK and Lomon began their association.

Harada, a Japanese born multi-instrumentalist studied both vocal techniques and percussion in his native country and later moved to Massachusetts where he studied piano with Avram David. Harada also has an impressive resume having recorded with bassist Barre Phillips, Mat Maneri, and Joe Maneri and had performed with Cecil Taylor's trio in 1990. PEK and Lomon met when both were part of the Masashi Harada Sextet in the early 1990s. It was here that PEK and Lomon networked and developed an appreciation for extended techniques, multi-phonics and microtones that would become tools in their own group. The two honed their far reaching technical skills taking them into the Leaping Water Trio (originally with Lomon, Harada and violinist Greta Buck), a precursor to Leap of Faith whose 1995 debut included Lomon, PEK, trombonist Mark McGrain and occasional guest artists.
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