The other night, I drove down to the arts district of Los Angeles to check out a project I saw posted on Facebook. It described an event called “VISIBLE SOUND,” featuring Vinnie Colaiuta and some well-known session players from L.A., who would be performing as artist Tom Reyes, aka The SUSH., created an on-the-spot piece of art.
The idea sounded awesome. A real-time collaboration, no second takes, no cleanups on the canvas. It would be what it would be, and the audience would experience it first hand. Like live theater, with a tangible finished product.
Reyes has been exploring this process since 1991, collaborating with jazz musicians all over the world. His nickname is an acronym for Subjective Understanding Subconscious Heterodox. You’re gonna have to hit Google for that last word, which I did, and got this:
“…not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs…”
I’d call that fuel for just about any artist. When you dissect the four words in SUSH, you really do find ground zero for Reyes and what he wants to explore. If there was ever a perfect music style for offering him a ride, jazz would be it. And if there was ever a perfect drummer for steering that bus, it would be Vinnie Colaiuta.
I’ve known Vinnie since 1980, although our paths do not often cross. Like so many, I’ve followed his artistic journey and have worked to emulate his own explorations, particularly with polyrhythms and odd meters. He has always been – irrefutably – light years ahead of the pack when it comes to bending time. You stare, shake your head, and wonder how anyone’s neural pathways could even begin to hope to fire in such an extraordinary manner…
And then you contrast that with Vinnie playing a backbeat with Sting and realize there’s also a timekeeping human, sitting right there in front of you… dialing it down a bit, but being ever-present with every single rest and note.
This was gonna be good…
The evening’s event was held in Art Share L.A., a 28,800-squarefoot downtown gallery on 4th Street, surrounded by various arts-related projects and activities. The small theater within the gallery was basically a large room with seating for about twenty or so people, and plenty of standing room.
I found a seat near the front row to get a good view of Vinnie and SUSH. They were joined by bassist Doug Lunn, who often works with Terry Bozzio in his Out trio, and keyboardist Jeff Babko, who currently plays on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
There’s nothing like an intimate setting to bring you inches away from artistic truth. It’s also a nice cocoon from the ever-swirling madness of Los Angeles (something I could use a great deal more respite from, actually). I was already grateful for having seen the Facebook post, and I was truly looking forward to seeing and hearing where Vinnie would take things…
I took a few pics and quickly posted them on Facebook but didn’t want to be too nose-down once the show began…
The band came out to warm applause, and Vinnie started playing first. There was no downbeat; there was just “go.” SUSH entered after a minute, applied a healthy glob of blue paint to his hands, and began arcing them across the canvas as the guys played. There was no hurry. It was a roughly forty minute conversation of styles that merged elements of jazz, Latin, funk and tribal into a sonic and tactile event.
The description I could try to provide would pale compared to the actual moments, but I can tell that you Lunn and Babko were a perfect fit to Vinnie in this context and that his improv chops were as on their game as ever – particular his subtle snare drum shadings and brushwork. The complex interplay of tastefully placed polyrhythms was equally rewarding, because the more you hear them used in a musical context, the better you understand how to do so.
We spoke briefly after the show, but I did not really interview him about all of this, because I didn’t want to make it a work night. I was most grateful for the opportunity to simply meet again and say hello after many years, and I thanked him for his performance and for displaying such vibrant and honest energy with his fellow musicians. It was incredibly refreshing to hear Vinnie speak with such passion about a project that he was clearly very proud to be a part of.
I believe now more than ever that jazz drumming needs Vinnie Colaiuta and his take on this sort of improv. I see so many young drummers just cranking out videos, seeking to become YouTube stars with chops, and following a non-threatening video performance path.
Far better that you should strip yourself bare and lay it all out on the stage. Far, far better that you leap, dance, spin, and balance it all out. If you do, you’ll find yourself in the truly live moments. You’ll step out of your comfort zone and explore. In doing so, you’ll keep the process of exploration alive, which is ultimately the goal for any art.
It’s awesome that Vinnie is doing this, reminding the drumming world of his jazz roots and the value of revisiting them. I definitely think we need art like this, moments in real time, to renew and refresh our view of the world and how to live in it.
Playing is about living, something our cell phones and social media bombardment often makes us forget how to do. If you explore a little of that every day and step into the mix rather than just watching it, you’ll feel yourself breathe.
SUSH will be releasing a documentary soon on the VISIBLE SOUND project (www.visiblesound.org), and I encourage you to check it out. I also encourage you to consider the following notion…
In his classic 1982 book, Megatrends, author John Naisbitt used the expression, “high tech, high touch,” predicting that the more technologically advanced we became, the more we would need organic contact with humans to balance things out. In 1999, Naisbitt wrote an entire book about the subject (and you gotta love the German version book cover).
Couple the notion with this classic Bruce Lee quote, and hopefully you too will honestly and fearlessly explore what your art is really about and not run into a light pole while checking emails…
“Let the spirit out — Discard all thoughts of reward, all hopes of praise and fears of blame, all awareness of one’s bodily self. And, finally closing the avenues of sense perception, let the spirit out, as it will.”
– Bruce Lee