One of the realities in improvised music is that it s no longer the exclusive domain of jazz. Many skilled improvisors began their musical explorations in other genres--rock, classical, electronic, pop, noise, blues, etc. This has been the case for two decades within the narrow confines of "improv" music--a term & classification of music that remains iffy at best. But confusion aside, the musical potential of bringing these divergent musical threads together has made improv vibrant. So, to that end Exo was conceived. The musicians, all experienced improvisors with backgrounds in different styles of music, were assembled and told to play without stylistic limitations. Just prior to our first rehearsal I cautioned that this wasn t going to be a jazz album, or pop, or rock, or electronic, or classical--but those elements were to be used if that is where the music went. And that s what improvisors understand--how to listen, nudge, shift and collectively move the music forward. I also understood that there could be some potential friction as differing vocabularies came into play. The hope was to create something new--a complex episodic music with small and large ensembles. The decision to mix small & large groupings was part of the vision--what musicians played within both situations was totally spontaneous. And within the larger units, as a participant, the sound was huge and engendered a response of "Wow--where it THAT sound coming from?" Even now, after repeated listening, I m not sure how certain sounds were made or who made them. And that s the beauty of spontaneous music making. Exo documents that experience--designed as a single piece of music with multiple parts, it was meant to surprise both participants and listeners alike. While the project took only a single session in the studio, its roots go back 10 years when Bivins and Belcher played in the Unstable Ensemble. Three tours & three cd s on the Family Vineyard label document those years. Bivins relocated to North Carolina and pursued projects on the East Coast. Belcher remained in Bloomington and pursued projects with many of the musicians on EXO--they, infact, have logged years of playing together in a dozen sub-groups. But it was introducing Bivins into the mix that insured the unpredictable. And that was exactly what was wanted. - Marty Belcher
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