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Pure imagination—COLLAR CITY CREATEOLOGY by Peter Aaron

Since the band is comprised of three of the upstate jazz scene’s most masterful musicians—Troy bassist Michael Bisio, guitarist George Muscatello, and Kingston percussionist Dean Sharp—it’s no surprise, really, that Collar City Createology, formed in 2008, is fast becoming one of the top units in modern improvised music. On its downloadable, self-titled MJB Records debut, the trio spins yard upon yard of spellbinding art, presenting a wide range of intriguing sounds with supernatural clairvoyance. Sharp, who also plays in Kingston’s Trio Loco, is by far one of the busiest deep-thinking drummers around, having worked for the last few decades with everyone from Carla Bley to Rick Danko; Muscatello made his name with Capital Region saxophonist Brian Patneaude; and Bisio, who recently answered a few questions via e-mail for Roll, has played with such leading lights as John Tchicai, Andrew Hill, Joe McPhee, Charles Gayle, and Marilyn Crispell.

How did Collar City Createology come together?

I used to go to [Albany jazz club] Justin’s to listen to and sometimes sit in with the Brian Patneaude Quartet. George and I met on the bandstand, and there was very good and immediate chemistry. This is not so unusual between artists but when we discovered we were both Troy natives it added another dimension. It may not seem like a big thing, but throughout my entire career I had never improvised with a fellow Trojan. Dean and I met through our other shared interest, the Bob Gluck Trio [both are members of the trio]. When George and I were discussing drummers, Dean’s was the only name that came up. He is integral to the sound of Collar City Createology, equally and masterfully adept at color and time. His individuality is simultaneously bold and inviting.

About Collar City Createology’s debut CD, you’ve said that the works “are not ‘free form’ but are freely formed by the individual and creative consciousness (and subconsciousness) of the artists involved.” Can you expand on this?

The pieces are not totally improvised; there are heads, themes, motifs, whatever term serves best, usually heard at the beginning of each piece. Four compositions are in the head—solos—head format, except solos are often group improvisations. “Eel Annod” is different. The only time the composed portion is heard is at the very end, the “out head.” Each performer is asked to create everything leading up to that point by manipulating the written material in any way that occurs to him, to create a strategy and follow through. For instance, I started by subtracting notes from the melodic material to create bass lines. All this is, of course, in the service of the music, and only presents a possible path, hopefully the road less traveled. “Times That Bond” is built on the rhythms of some of my favorite tunes, slightly disguised. The performers pick their own pitches, tempo, articulations, and so on. I wanted three solo versions of the same piece going on simultaneously. This worked surprising well in creating a form determined by each artist having absolutely equal input. But one piece, “CX3,” however, is totally improvised.

It was in Seattle that you yourself made your name. When did you return to Troy, and what was it that brought you back?

I returned to Troy late in the summer of 2005. Although I could not say enough good things about Seattle, it was an idea that had run its course for me. After 30 years on the West Coast it was time to come back. There are a wide variety of professional and personal reasons. I have for the last 15 years or more been spending more time traveling, New York being a frequent destination, so let’s say access [to New York]. My son is a graduate student at Columbia University; he also did his undergraduate work there. I get to be around him more, a very good thing. All of my immediate family is still in the Capital Region, and it is a wonderful thing to be able to spend time with them again.

In light of CCC’s instrumentation and your duo recordings with violinist Eyvind Kang, you seem to especially enjoy working in strings-dominated settings. Are you perhaps more comfortable with such ensembles due to your classical background?

I have a definite affinity for strings. The shading of pitches, various articulations, and techniques string players use are certainly part of me. Even my very first LP Ours (CT Records, 1983) had a violinist in the front line, along with a trumpet and saxophone. Eyvind is also on Covert Choreography (Cadence Jazz Records, 2002), along with trumpeter Rob Blakeslee, pianist Bob Nell, and drummer Ed Pias. The same personnel appear on Undulations (OmniTone Records, 2000), with the great violist Jim Nolet replacing Eyvind. As for guitarists, there only are a couple with whom I have had long-standing relationships. George Muscatello is wonderful, and within the context of CCC, he plays in a very orchestral fashion. You seem to have hit on something I was not aware of, thank you.

As a bassist, your style has been compared to that of Charles Mingus, Charlie Haden, and Ornette Coleman bassist David Izenzon. Were these influences? Any others listeners may not have picked up on?

Yes, all the bassists you name have had a profound effect on my music, and I’m honored if anyone can hear some part of them in me. So many great bassists have inspired me, being able to spend so much time with Buddy Catlett was really a gift of immense proportions. Johnny Dyani, the great South African bassist, never ceases to thrill me. Henry Grimes covered more styles of jazz music in the 1960s than any other bassist, always with remarkable artistry. A final name, recently added to the list, is that of Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Check out his Jazz Sounds of Africa (Prestige Records, 2003). Wild!

What’s currently on the radar for you outside of CCC? Any new projects or releases? What about Dean and George, what else are they up to?

There just so happens to be a plethora of releases [Bisio appears on] in 2009. Six in the last couple of weeks alone: my quartet’s Live at Vision Fest. XII (Not Two Records); Joe McPhee’s Angels, Devils and Haints (CJR Records); Old Dog’s By Any Other Name (Porter Records); the Jack Gold-Molina Trio’s Colored Houses (Soldisk); Tomas Ulrich’s Cargo Cult (Cadence Jazz); and my and Nicole Peyrafitte’s Whisk! Don’t Churn! (Ta’wil Records). In the compositional realm, I am waiting on funding for a new large-scale work called “Memoirs of an Early 21st Century Beat,” a “fictional autobiography” for saxophone choir, piano trio, and one percussionist/conductor. I’ve actually started some sketches. One piece that will eventually become a movement of the larger work is “Eel Annod,” which made its debut on the Collar City Createology album.

Dean is managing to work on projects at his studio, Elbo Room, and writing and recording music for film and video installations, most recently for L.A. film composer Jim Lang, and providing music and guidance for dance classes at Bard College. George is completing a recording project of his own and is a professor of guitar at Skidmore College, as well as one of the busiest freelancers in the Northeast.

In addition to the jazz world, you’ve also worked a lot in the classical field. What is it about playing classical music that informs your jazz side, and vice versa?

I learned about the instrument and ways to organize thoughts and emotions from classical music. Jazz taught me the transcendent power of music, how music feels. The ways each can feed the other are obvious, but not mutually exclusive. In other words, learning about your instrument and organization can certainly be done through jazz, and learning how music feels can be accomplished through classical music. This was just my path. Most importantly, I learned how to love music through all the great musicians who have touched my life, regardless of genre.—R

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