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Most Welcome Sounds: Tom Rainey Trio Kicks Off Season 6 of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares

No music stands were needed on Thursday, September 14 as the Tom Rainey Trio launched Season Six of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares. The cluttered, but homey barn at the Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen was full of extra amps and instruments, but full-blown improvisers travel light, with no written notes in sight.


The veteran drummer Tom Rainey, along with his fearless collaborators, guitarist Mary Halvorson and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, gave a spirited, telepathic, 75-minute lesson in creative tightrope walking. No net needed.

The band, which has recorded three albums to date, was in the midst of an 11-city U.S. tour when they touched down at June Millington and Ann Hackler’s magical space, far from everywhere. They had completed seven concerts, with three to go.


We talked over dinner about some of the other gigs on their itinerary, presented by plucky, cash-strapped, die-hards like Paul Lichter in Portland, Maine, Mark Christman in Philadelphia and Bernard Lyons in Baltimore. It was inspiring, yet a little disconcerting to think that this brilliant, constantly evolving American music, revered everywhere on the planet, survives in the States on the backs of a few, grass-roots organizations.


I wished I had the opportunity to hear the Trio a second night, wondering how different the band sounds concert to concert. At IMA, the group would settle on a motif, only to have it pass away. Sitting eyes closed in a stuffed chair in the back without sightlines, it felt like a dream where images and the feelings they evoked scroll by with little time to analyze or reflect. The meaning that emerged from three deeply listening musicians was coherent and revelatory.


There was a moment towards the end of the evening that did have me craning my neck to try to decipher the sound. A meditative, yet curious Buddhist-like chant emerged from the mix. Was it a voice, a voice through a horn, an effect through the guitar, or coming from on high? No matter, it was transcendent.


Halvorson’s role in the threesome was the most varied. At times, she provided ambient drones, elsewhere walking bass lines, at other points a skronked rock vibe. Her sound, utterly her own and devoid of clichés, continues to impress. Even those who have yet to warm to her unique approach, have to give it up; she is doing exactly what is required of all artists: synthesizing the past in service to a present of her own making.


Laubrock has been through Jazz Shares with her own stellar Quintet (Tim Berne, Ben Gerstein, Dan Peck and Tom Rainey) and Andrew Drury’s Content Provider (with Briggan Krauss.) On Thursday she played soprano and tenor saxophone in equal measure, equally well. Like Halvorson, Laubrock has managed to not sound like any of her contemporaries, showing no interest in becoming the next Joe Lovano.


Tom Rainey (not to be confused with NEPR’s Tom Reney) is simply one of the most accomplished living jazz drummers. As we were preparing for the concert I started to pull recordings featuring Rainey. The pile was large and important, and included some of Tim Berne, Tom Varner, Fred Hersch, Drew Gress, Kris Davis, and Tony Malaby’s best work. The perennial sideman, in the last seven years Rainey has started to lead bands. His light touch as a leader, and his sensitivity on his instrument, allows ideas to flow and be heard.

“Authentic acts tend to get noticed amid the fakery and correctness on which postmodern culture thrives.” This statement from Adbusters’ Field Guide to a New World Order rings true for those of us who live outside the mass consumption of popular culture. The 60 people lucky enough to find themselves inside the IMA barn, even those unprepared for the Trio’s free expression, reveled in the impulse to create genuine, personal, authentic musical statements.

Marty Ehrlich, extraordinary reed player, music scholar, storyteller and friend, returned to the Connecticut River Valley on December 16 to perform with his trio at the Blue Room in Easthampton, MA. T

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