So I find myself laughing out loud at spontaneous rhythmic combustions‚ amazed at witnessing musical telepathy and by how three distinct musical voices come together to make a new sound. The Vorcza Trio: it's some damn fine music. What I find most intriguing about Ray Paczkowski is the fact that he sounds like nobody else I've ever heard - and so does the Vorcza Trio. I leave the club baffled by the musical experience I just encountered‚ with the analytical side of my brain beginning to ask questions and trying to categorize this trio's sound. The committee in my head begins to wrestle until I come to ease and conclude with: Life is beautiful when music like this exists.
Ray is also a member of the Trey Anastasio Band which‚ well‚ it's the Trey band and they're sick. I had the opportunity to sit down with Ray in between the release of their double live album Plasma and their upcoming tour.
Mike McKinley: I just listened to the Trey Anastasio Band live album Plasma...
Ray Paczkowski: I really like it. It's got a lot more of the delicate kind of things we were doing on it and not as much of the ripping things we were doing. Like "Plasma" and umm... I can't remember the names‚ it's a problem (laughter)‚ and "Every Story Ends in Stone." That's a great tune and I really love the lyrics.
MM: I think it captures a lot of subtleties of what the band does…
RP: Yeah‚ it comes across. It's a great band and great players. When we were rehearsing for the last tour it was obvious that everyone knew how to play with each other. At that point we got through all that stuff and everyone knew what they had to do and what could be done. Once that was taken care of all the improvisation could just happen. It was a very efficient operation at that point. It wasn't like‚ "What is this music exactly?" Everyone dealt with it and it was great.
MM: I caught at least one show on each tour and I noticed with each passing tour the band seemed to be much more relaxed and much more comfortable with the material‚ and everyone seemed loose and ready to make it happen.
RP: Yeah‚ everyone was much more comfortable with the material and with this tour hopefully it will be even more so. You can't finesse things unless you're completely confident and comfortable with the material. We might play a tune three times and it still might not be really clear what it's about. But that's part of the beauty of improvisational music or when there is improvisation within music: there's the unknown. You can either be tentative about it or you can jump right into it. If it's a working band and everyone knows that's going to happen‚ then everyone comes along. I live for improvisational music and that's what I was saying about those Jacob Fred (Jazz Odyssey) guys; they just go all out and it's really great. That's either going to work or it's not. Cyro (Baptista) played with Herbie Hancock for years and he said the great thing about that band was each night they would go out and put it all out on the line. Out of five shows‚ two would be horrible‚ to the point that people would leave. Two would be really good‚ two would be terrible‚ and one out of every five would be this moment - this event - music that has never happened on the planet before. And that's what everyone was there to get at‚ but it would take playing five shows to get there. Then‚ the whole thing would start over again. And that's the thing with the Jacob Fred guys‚ or any musician who's willing to go for it‚ but you can be limited by trying to play something a certain way because you know it's going to work. You'll end up with a decent show.
MM: I think there's a time and place to appreciate music that's played the way people know it‚ or in a way that people can sing-a-long with and so forth. What Brian Haas (keys) from Jacob Fred was telling me‚ is that in terms of improvising he doesn't believe in safety. That's his thing as an improviser - safety is boring. I think that's where the real shit comes out‚ and even the spiritual side of improvising comes out when‚ like what you were saying‚ on night five something epic happens on stage. You let it all hang out and put it all on the line…
RP: And something just clicks. It's a beautiful thing. I think every musician strives for that and understands that aspect of the music in one way or another. And some bands go for that every night with the result that you miss the trapeze bar and fall and crumple into the dirt (laughs).
MM: From my perspective you have to expect that when you see a band - you know these musicians might fall on their faces.
RP: That's part of what you want to see though. Not seeing them fall on their faces‚ but seeing them putting it all out there. We (Vorcza) did this gig in Montpelier the other night and a friend of a friend‚ who's never seen the band before and he's a musician‚ said after the show that is was like alchemy. It's like a bunch of wizards or scientists making something from something else that shouldn't be made (laughs). It's this little miracle‚ and when the music really happens‚ it totally happens.
MM: I remember talking to you before about playing in the Trey band where you describe the improvising as a train coming at you.
RP: Yeah‚ because there are so many people and to have Russ Lawton playing drums and Tony Markellis playing bass - now that's the train it's a beautiful thing. It just gets trucking along.
MM: On the other end of the spectrum is the Vorcza trio where I believe the analogy was not like a train‚ but more like a sports car.
RP: (Laughs) Yeah‚ the sports cars. The train/sports car analogy - that's totally my analogy and I don't think the other guys would use it. There are great things to both aspects and they happen depending on the scene‚ the venue; both those things happen. Like this gig we just played down in Montpelier (Charlie O's)‚ we've played there seven or eight times and it's got to be one of my favorite Vermont gigs. It's this bar that's been there forever; it's got low ceilings‚ and it's just got this energy to it - like let's play some rock n' roll. So with Vorcza‚ in terms of improvising‚ we can play this really heavy thing and see where it goes and you can improvise off of that. If you can take the train and turn it into the sports car then you've done the ultimate cross-over thing‚ I guess (laughs). It's the elusive game of the joining of jazz and more popular music; I think Vorcza does that sometimes. It's funny‚ I guess I'm talking this way because the band has been discussing this lately‚ you know‚ like‚ "What exactly are we?‚" as far as in a business‚ goal-oriented sense or focus‚ like‚ "What are we trying to do?" So the answer has always been we're just doing our music and that's been good enough. So lately we've been discussing focusing on one thing or the other and it's turning out that it's still just the music; it's us doing our music. It's funny because we'll play jazz gigs‚ like this room we just played in Portland‚ ME‚ and it's a room where 150 people come to hear jazz - more on the avant-garde side. It was a great show‚ I mean you have people coming to hear jazz because of this great promoter who puts on these shows‚ and we didn't play "Stella by Starlight" and there wasn't a piano there - there was nothing traditional about it‚ or anything jazz about it considering it's a jazz venue. We just did our thing and it went over extremely well. There was eighty year-old people there enjoying it as well as sixteen year-old kids having a great time. They all got the same thing from it. And that to me says that something is getting across and I think it's the alchemy of it. You improvise everyday‚ people improvise everyday‚ and it's just great when you pull it off (laughs). When you're improvising you're being yourself and its natural‚ like any conversation that you have on a daily basis. When you get your car fixed and you go to pay the guy you don't have this plan in your head about how you can pay less. If you do then I don't even know what to think about that (laughs); but you improvise. Sometimes you pull it off and when you reach that level of communication that can leave you feeling something for days‚ and doesn't even necessarily matter what the outcome of the conversations is‚ you know? I think that people instinctively want to hear that in music and want to see you pull it off. I want the end product at the end of the night to be where people collectively feel the music was beautiful in itself.
MM: That's funny‚ I remember hearing Wynton Marsalis saying something along the lines of‚ you have to improvise in life everyday‚ and if you can't improvise you're going to have a hard time surviving (laughing). Something like that...
RP: I think that's really true - if you don't improvise you don't survive. Or you're just puzzled by the world as it's going by and everyone seems to be having a good time (laughter).
MM: You enter a situation and you feel it out and make stuff up…
RP: Yeah‚ it's a new situation and if you approach music that way every time you sit down to play it's a different experience. It's a new day and this has never happened before. That's the tricky part because I could hear Rob (Morse) play a bass line and I could play something that I've played before and that works well or I could just forget about that stuff and just play. That's the trick‚ and it's a great gift - those great musicians that can hear all the subtleties of one or two notes. I think players are unique from where they come from and what moves them. If you grew up with Tango‚ that's going to come through you. With the improvisers of today I think it's much more prolific because you don't have to play within the realm of rock‚ jazz‚ or pop to get a gig. In the past it seemed that if you liked jazz you would play jazz with the hopes you would eventually get a gig at Blue Note‚ or something like that. I think that doesn't apply anymore‚ at least to younger musicians.