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The Grizzler Big Band: Dave's Not Here

Gordon Marshall By

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Dave Gross, Andrew Eisenberg, Steve Norton, et al.
November 12, 2010
Private Loft, Fort Point Channel
Boston, Mass

A giant, three-pound onion ring keeps growing. "Now, it's four pounds!" says the announcer. "It seemed like an overly heavy onion blossom," musician Angela Sawyer said. "It was in a cartoon on Adult Swim in 2002. It was called 'Sea Lab 2021.' It was a remake of an older cartoon and it was very flippant. And they used to have fake commercial breaks. One of them made fun of Applebee's." Angela's forgotten what they called it, but she gave it her own name, "The Grizzler." "Grizzle" happens to be master alto saxophonist Dave Gross' nickname. It was only natural, when Gross asked Sawyer to come up with a name for his pioneering, entirely free big band, that she would come up with "Grizzler," a name that has indeed stuck, as the band itself has.

left to right: Joshua Jefferson, Dave Gross, Polly Hanson, Lou Cohen, Luke Muldof

I: The People

Sawyer is the point woman for The Grizzler Big Band. Over its two-year history, it has had its ups and downs, its ins and outs: in particular, one of its great virtues has been to blur the line between inside and outside art. Its performances, featuring the best of both new and experienced local artists, had their gems and also their fatal flaws. No one ever really knew if they would be a success in conventional terms in the long run. It was the perception that their role was other than, arguably greater than, perpetuating an ideal of aesthetic success.

On Friday night, November 12, 2010, Grizzler perfected its formula—anti-formula, to speak accurately. The 13 piece ensemble made a series of plays, putting the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, and then more, for an ultimate chalk-up in the winning column. Andrew Eisenberg (known to All About Jazz readers as Flandrew Fleisenberg) hosted the event at his Fort Point Channel loft in South Boston. Andrew has a heart the size of Eric Dolphy's , which he put into his percussion work in the performance, which happened to fall on his birthday. The night was divided into six segments: four small-group pieces book-ended by two full ensemble recitals.

"Grizzler is a fun show to see," said audience member Josh Harris. "You never know exactly what it's going to be. It's what I like about improv. Everyone in the band has certain areas they work in, but I feel like everybody, when they're working in Grizzler tries to bring something outside of their normal vernacular into the pieces, which makes it interesting and exciting." He continues: "There are so many people that they're not all going necessarily to pair off into smaller groupings, so you hear duets from people you wouldn't likely hear duets from otherwise." There are micro-units within the larger. Does it always work? "I think so, more times than logic would dictate. And they set so many new boundaries for themselves, that they really can do anything in the context of the ensemble."

Grizzler has contained utter neophytes, but also veterans and legends. Jed Speare is an electronics artist and member of Grizzler. His Cable Car Soundscapes (Folkways, 1982) is a classic of the field-recording genre. In the night's performance, he played laptop computer, one of the few non-acoustic contributions. However, he managed to produce sounds that blended seamlessly with the latter, sometimes even sounding uncannily like a bass clarinet. "My sounds originate from field recordings," said Speare. "To a greater or lesser degree I work on them and then I put them out. By the time they're out there, I don't remember the origin. The transformation of sound is also a self-transformation."

Michael Rosenstein is a veteran jazz critic, now associated with the publication Signal to Noise. Tonight was his debut as a musician. In addition to playing both full ensembles, he performed in the third small group. He played a prepared electric bass laid on a table. "I was basically trying to think about how to play off of what people were doing, and then play against it at the same time, being conscious of trying to find similar timbres to what [snare drummer] Jack Callahan was doing, taking what was the acoustic nature of what he was doing and tweaking that and cracking it a little bit with the electro-acoustic stuff; and then thinking what [trumpeter] Forbes Graham was doing with craft, and more staccato broken things—and fitting what I was doing in around that as well."

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