Meditations on Music: Dave King Trio

To start off Spring Term right, the Dave King Trio played a show to the eager and intrepid ears of Lawrence University students on Monday, March 28 at 8 p.m. The trio features the superb talents of drummer Dave King—known for many projects, most notably the Bad Plus and Happy Apple—as well as bassist Billy Peterson and Lawrence’s own Lecturer of Music and pianist Bill Carrothers. Other than Peterson, I have had the chance to hear the other artists in different settings including both concerts and recordings. I am always excited to see Carrothers play because I never fully expect what he will do on stage. King is the same way, although I have not had the chance to see him nearly as much as Carrothers. In addition to their spontaneity, both musicians brought their well-known goofy personalities to the stage—an attribute rarely seen in concerts that are put on by professional musicians.

The fact that none of the pieces in the set—save the last tune before the encore—were announced beforehand contributed to the overall looseness and relaxed ambience of the concert. Typically, jazz combo concerts at Lawrence rarely have programs and most verbally introduce the songs, but it was a refreshing change to go into each tune and just let myself become immersed in the music without any preconceived notions that may come with knowing what tune they were playing. This technique was especially effective with this show because the trio played quite a few standards, but due to how they played them, the songs were not always immediately identifiable. It was clear that the trio recognized the art of taking a simpler idea—the standard—and making it their own by transcending its original form and inserting their own voices so strongly that in the moment it may not even sound like the standard at all. There were many moments in the show when I briefly recognized the tune only to be whisked away into a completely different collage of sounds.

I never knew what to expect with these brilliant artists’ music—and that goes beyond where they went as a trio. If I just focused on one of them, the experience was completely altered, challenging me as a listener. When listening to just Peterson, for example, I was continually astounded by what he was playing. It was disorienting at times, in the best way, because it almost did not make sense as he was playing it, but after a line, I thought, “Oh, I can hear the logic and underlying idea behind that.” My awe only grew as I asked myself if I would be able to guess or assume what the other two musicians were playing if I isolated Peterson and found that my answer was a quick no. I continued asking myself this question with the other musicians as well throughout the concert.

I experience an indescribably good feeling being at a concert that challenges me this much to think about what is going in my ears, how it bounces around in my brain and hopefully seeps out as I play. While this concert was certainly a learning experience that made me think incredibly hard, it was also just plain fun, which, unfortunately, is uncommon. There often seems to be a great divide between intellectual concerts and enjoyable concerts. Many jazz concerts can be incredible to witness but feel stiff and uptight to the audience. Other concerts, such as hip hop or rock, may be fun, but there is good chance the audience is not thinking that hard during them.

However, the Dave King Trio is a special group because they tread in between, putting on a show that not only made me laugh my ass off, but also made me sit at the edge of my seat, shaking my head in wonder, transfixed by the music while also thinking about how I could work the techniques into my own music. I enjoy pretty much every concert I attend—I go to most because I know a bit about them, and if I do not, I can usually glean at least one thing from them—but there are very few that I love in the moment and leave me itching to play as they end.

Of course I felt this way about this concert. How could I not? It is not everyday I see a grown man pick up two talking “E.T.” toys as instruments and stretch the limits of jazz music with his good friends. Thanks to Dave King and his trio, my mind and ears are continuing to open to all the possibilities that come with being a jazz musician. Sometimes I get in a rut practicing scales, licks and the like, and that can really put a dent in my musical psyche. I feel like my playing gets too built on routine, and at those moments, I’ll miss the spontaneity and freedom that jazz can provide. Experiencing concerts such as this one reignite that passion I have for expressing myself through the rich art form of music and really remind me of its importance.
Goofy, incredible and inspiring are some words I can use to quickly capture the concert. All that is written above can capture it a bit better. But what captures the concert best are its short moments of wild amusement and the way I felt immediately after them. These moments are gone now, and it is near impossible to write about them after they have happened, but I am left with the imprints. Those imprints alone are enough to fuel my desire to seek out not only more concerts like this one, but to also create my own experiences by myself and with friends. Moments like these only push me forward and continually inspire me as a musician, and I am thankful for artists like Dave King, Bill Carrothers and Billy Peterson for helping me live them.