This essay by Dickson Musslewhite
was originally printed in the
liner notes of Dig the Sound Live.

I once saw the Meicht Group with an unsuspecting crowd of sweaty, twenty-something clove cigarette smokers who were slightly curious at the sight of a couple ofmusic stands and the instruments--the unusual quartet of a trumpet, reeds, guitar and drums--and relatively content to sip their beer and talk about the opening act--Counting Daisies or something like that. Then the older Meicht spanked them with a shrill clear sustained blast of his trumpet accompanied by a hard flourish on the drums by Brendan Dougherty. Nobody can clear a room like the Meicht Group.


Of course, they should have stayed. Meicht music isn't easy music. It is full of contradictions and paradoxes. It is sincere, naively so sometimes. It is ecstatic. And if you listen to it, it is entirely convincing. The crowd that remained that night, not a crowd naturally sympathetic to...well, anything but pop, alternative and swing, had gone from chatty to intensely hushed as they literally leaned in at the still spots to hear the frantic metallic scratchings of Jameison's guitar and the sustained sounds of Seth's tenor. There aren't that many jazz bands these days that venture out to address the great unwashed. (I've seen The Meicht Group preach to the converted at the Knitting Factory and that's an equally inspirational, but entirely different thing.) I think what won the audience that night was the mere conviction of the members and their raw, at times very raw, talent.

What you hear on [Dig the Sound Live, SCR 53402] is a band trying to blend and openly reintegrate their influences in search of a new music, four guys trying to get at the core logic of sounds. But it's more than an investigation into the quality of sounds. As with any music that is exploring the form on a fundamental level, what emerges are the basic but essential questions: what is music, what is the form of music, why is music, why bother? Without the groove and harmonies with tonal implications to gloss over those issues, the audience is challenged to create its own definitions, or to walk out the door.

As an endeavor, it is Romantic with a capital R, an attempt through perpetual re-evaluation and perpetual-composition to escape a cultural history, the groove, and strike an authentic relationship with the self. It's a sincere, straight ahead, seemingly naive, approach to the world when everyone else tends to deal in ironic double meanings, and take an ironic stance towards the artistic bargain. And it is long awaited.


Like their post-50's precursors, the Meicht members busily deconstruct and reconstruct the harmonic and rhythmic habits of more conservative jazz forms. But what is different than other free improvisers is that they bring to this endeavor a deep familiarity with a similar undertaking, 20th-century classical composition and performance, including some of the relatively more obscure quarters like the work of Luigi Nono.

They improvise composed pieces. Watch or listen to their music and you are witnessing a performance that is simultaneously analytical and creative. Their performance is an analysis of their original text--a remaking of the text. With the classical background their performance defies the easy distinctions that usually shape the discourse on free jazz, the ideas laid perhaps most succinctly by Amiri Baraka in "Hunting Is Not Those Heads on the Wall". The simple polarity of the Apollonian, the analytical, the formulaic, versus the Bacchanalian, the organic-emotional doesn't fly with the Meicht Group, because the Meicht members are working out of both modes at once. They analyze the existing text as they move into the improvisations. There are choreographed moments. Sure, there are milestones, but as with any journey it isn't so much the destination that counts as the getting there. And the results can involve comprovisations with sources as disparate as Albert Ayler and Arnold Schoenberg.

Despite the compositions, there's always a palpable struggle to establish a form in the improvisations. And because the struggle for form is complicated by the fact that the four people on stage can only communicate with their instruments, their music sometimes sounds and looks like an argument. One Meicht member might settle into a repetitive figure, however temporarily and the others will follow for a short duration and then begin to quarrel with the tempo, the sound, the logic of it. At times, what seems to be happening on the stage is a kind of argument. Atonal...arrhythmic...dystopic.


Take the second piece [on Dig the Sound Live, SCR 53402], basically a discussion between recorded and live sounds. Performing with and against the sampler, which emits a layering of sustained E-naturals, the players of the three pitched instruments struggle to characterize the frequency. The live instruments play around with the note, tease it apart, dress it up, try to serve it to the audience. Sometimes they're in sync, sometimes deliberately out. When they play with the note, they jump into a dialogue about harmony and obviously all of the bigger, philosophically weighty issues implicit in that dialogue, and any dialogue whatsoever, on structure. It ends with the two Meicht's and Ledonio searching vainly for the pitch. But they can't find it, and unable to end with a unison statement, they end instead with Seth playing a D, Aaron a D-flat, Jameison an E-natural and E-sharp and the sampler still emitting the E-natural. The sound that's delivered to the audience is more than disconcerting, it is nigh-on post-apocalyptic. That night, as the final gesture of the piece, it left the audience silenced and just a bit awed.

As you listen to [Dig the Sound Live, SCR 53402] what you are hearing is the development of a true ensemble, you are hearing four people seriously listening to one another. And, as I discovered the night that the Meicht Group made an audience of ambivalent music fans heel to a strange otherworldly sound, anything that makes people stop, sit down and truly listen, has got to be a good thing.

©1999, Dickson Musslewhite