Aaron Bennett, tenor saxophone
John Finkbeiner, guitar
Mark Clifford, vibraphone
Tim Perkis, electronics
Lisa Mezzacappa, acoustic bass
Jordan Glenn, drums
This set of music is what happened when I let Italo Calvino and his Cosmicomics stories fully inhabit my mind for a year. I found his fictional universe an ideal place to hang out in as a composer—it’s a space of boundless imagination, infinite generative possibility, fierce intellectual curiosity, and just the right amount of irreverence and weirdness to rescue it from being cute. He reminds me over and over again of the wonder and playfulness of the creative act, and I tried to transfer some of the intoxicating energy of his prose to my music, and to how the musicians in the band interact. Calvino’s stories about the cosmos, the origins of the universe, and the evolution of humans and creatures geek out about Big Ideas, but they also freak out when those Smaller Human Impulses—our neuroses, desires, silliness, pettiness—get the better of us. His words are delicious and his imagery sets all your neurons firing at once.
The more I read and re-read, and composed and re-composed this music, I realized the Cosmicomics were feeding me new ideas about musical form, proposing new relationships between instruments and musical personalities, suggesting novel structures we could all navigate together as an ensemble.
I don’t think you need to know the stories to get into this record, but here are some of the sparks from Calvino’s stories that inspired the sounds you hear here:
The Soft Moon seeks to reconcile the coexistence of the earth and its moon, two seemingly incompatible bodies made of grossly different stuff.
Solar Storms is a love story about a solar flare who travels to earth to be with her beloved, but is driven away from the town where they live by an angry mob, enraged that her powerful electromagnetic energy has disrupted their TV reception. The Distance of the Moon is a feminist parable about a woman from earth who jumps onto the moon with her harp, and refuses to be rescued by any man, choosing instead to live alone on its crusty, milky surface.
The three Signs pieces are realized through conducted improvisations that explore the futility of communication across vast expanses of time and space. Crystals channels the tensions between symmetry and asymmetry, and questions the idea of perfection as an objective ideal. Our protagonists in The Form of Space are falling in space together, seemingly infinitely, without any indication of how fast or how slow—perhaps on parallel paths that will never meet. Depending on who you are falling with, that is either a curse or a blessing. All at One Point describes the moment when all matter in the universe was compressed into a single point in space—everything changes, forever, when someone casually suggests that maybe there could be a bit more room....
The Aquatic Uncle is about going backwards to go forwards: a curmudgeonly fish refuses to evolve onto land, as is the rage; in the end, he reaps the rewards of his stubbornness as the allure of his unswerving sense of self eclipses the dull ambition of the landlubbing strivers. Blood, Sea is a breathless account of the moment in man’s evolution when we went from being free creatures that swam in the sea, to becoming beings ruled by the ebbing and flooding desires of the sea swimming inside of us—our blood.
I am so grateful to (Bay Area heroes!) Intermusic SF, the Zellerbach Family Foundation and Bird & Beckett Books for helping bring this music into the world; and for all the care and commitment Aaron, Mark, John, Tim and Jordan brought to the music as we found our way through Calvino’s far-out and beautiful world.
Berkeley, CA January 2020
released February 1, 2020
Recorded by James Frazier and mixed by John Finkbeiner at New, Improved Recording, Oakland CA.
Mastered by Myles Boisen at Headless Buddha Mastering Lab, Oakland, CA.
Photo by Eric Vogler (band) and Palle Dahlstedt (moon).
Artwork and design by Dan Nelson.
Ever since I heard A Lesson Earned on a Denver radio station one Sunday night, 20 years ago, I have been following this group in their many iterations, and I will be interested in hearing anything they do. This one does not disappoint. m13g9