Monterrey to Woodstock

Last night I had the pleasure of playing with guitarist Omar Tamez and drummer Harvey Sorgen at the Rondout Music Lounge in Kingston, New York. Tamez, as I mentioned last week, is a superb guitarist/composer who plays mostly free jazz and jazz improvisation. His roots are indigenous Mexican (Mayan) and his musical education began with his father, composer/poet/painter/philosopher Nicandro Tamez. Although many of his father’s compositions employ graphical notation that has to be interpreted by the performer (who is also often instructed to construct melodies from loosely defined scales and modes), the elder Tamez didn’t refer to the performer’s activity as improvisation.

Although Harvey Sorgen plays the drums as if there’s no tomorrow, he always means to serve the situation at hand. He’s as “at home” playing the music of Nicandro and Omar Tamez as he is playing with the groups MaMaGe 3 or Hot Tuna. Musicians from as diverse aesthetic corners as vocalist Kate Bull, pianist/composer Jeffrey Michael Stevens, and bassist John Lindberg regularly perform with Sorgen, who wholeheartedly champions their music in the guise of fan and promoter/producer to the rock ‘n’ roll hoi polloi of Woodstock, where he makes his home. As part of his tireless pursuit of quality, he took Omar to several of the high-end luthiers living in Woodstock to secure samples of their best instruments for an upcoming concert and recording with trumpeter Herb Robertson, trombonist Steve Swell, and bassist Joe Fonda.

Besides being a pleasure and an honor to play with Tamez and Sorgen, it was a lesson in stylistic melding and genre hopping. They’re both tireless music researchers and technical masters of their instruments with huge palettes to choose from in their improvisations. We played two sets, the first was one long improvisation and the second lasted for three tunes (Pat Metheny’s “80/81,” an untitled blues probably written by Omar, and a short free piece initiated by Sorgen). When one of the more inebriated “drop ins” suggested that we play some dance music, we called the performance short and I packed up to drive home to New York. The venue has just recently established a creative music policy and, although they would have liked us to play longer, were fine with supporting our effort to educate the public (if you want to listen to dance music, go to a place where dance music is being played).

One of the great things about playing music like this is how the performers leave the concert with new eyes and ears. Although Sorgen and I have known about each other for a while, we had never played together before (that I can remember, anyway) and we both found ourselves playing things we normally wouldn’t in a “free-jazz” setting. Part of that was each of us just seeing what the other would do when presented with an impromptu “motive” and part was the discovery of what we can do well together. This was coupled with Omar’s playing, which is strongly informed by the music of contemporary Mayan culture near his native Monterrey, Mexico. Omar told me in an interview that I conducted with him on Wednesday that free improvisation is an essential part of their ancient traditions.

Music like this, while fleeting in its repeatability, is unforgettable in its immediacy. While this statement might seem paradoxical, it was driven home when we returned from a fairly long break after our first set to see that most of our audience of blues musicians and business people were still there, waiting to hear what we’d play next.

Things like that give me hope!

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