Standing Room Only: Out of Your Head Collective at the Windup Space, June 15
The Out of Your Head Collective puts together a new combination of musicians for an improv set every Tuesday, and perhaps what keeps that format fresh week after week is the curators’ refusal to stick to a formula when assembling the one-off ensembles. That was amply demonstrated this week, with the trio of Dave Ballou on trumpet, Eric Trudel on saxophone, and Liz Meredith on viola. That all three musicians stood on the stage, no one seated at a drum set or a keyboard, felt more unusual than it probably should. But it functioned as a handy visual metaphor for how untethered such an arrangement was: no percussion or big multiphonic or amplified instruments to fill out the mid-range or
demand one’s attention, leaving all three players on an equal plane.
Perhaps that setup is how “free” improvisation should always be, but at times the musicians themselves appeared somewhat daunted by the task. Their first hour-long set went in fits and starts, pausing for an applause break and beginning a new improvisation every few minutes, a little more frequently than feels usual at Out of Your Head. Meredith occasionally set down her bow and plucked her strings, and Trudel took out the reed of his instrument and blew through it by itself, even tapping on it as percussion, but for the most part the trio didn’t go too far out. Occasionally Ballou and Meredith would lock together for a lovely snatch of a melody, but for the most part the musicians listened intently to each other, treading lightly when another explored an idea. In one especially intriguing moment, Trudel played a low, swooning series of notes that sounded something like a cartoon character crying.
But one of the strengths of the Out of Your Head format is that each week’s combo gets two sets, with a nice long break in between in which the players have a chance to take a breather, maybe have a drink at the bar and loosen up, or think of how they want to end the night. And this week that break appeared to invigorate the trio for the shorter second set. There were still no loud outbursts or shocking epiphanies that you get with the best improv sets, but as always with Out of Your Head, there were enough unique textures and sounds to make the overall journey worthwhile.