(Telescope note: This article was originally written in May 2012. It was never published.)
The drummer crosses his arms. And as the sax and the bass continue to work off each other, the drummer sits in contemplation.
But what does he think? What keeps him from the rhythm?
He grabs a nearby piece of paper, glances at it, but doesn’t read it. He tosses the piece of paper to the side and it drifts toward the bass player’s foot. The bass player does not break his concentration. The fingers on his left hand work the top of the neck with furious, angry passion. With his right hand, he grabs a nearby bow and crashes it into the screaming tonalities of his four heavy strings.
The drummer continues to stare straight ahead, arms akimbo now. His face is etched in stone.
Oblique Orchestra, one of Cleveland’s most renowned free improvisation jazz groups, is holed up in the dying days of a local coffee joint. If one happened to walk in on the place in the dead of winter, perhaps late 2011, for instance, one would see an array of artwork on the walls. Some would have called it “garbage.” Some would have been right.
In the coming weeks, the place will be converted to a taco stand of sorts. And, as the rumblings among the regulars put it, there ain’t gonna be no wedding. No more jazz, they say. No more noise.
At least not the kind of noise the audience is privy to tonight.
The drummer, who one might mistake for an ancient gargoyle, lifts a stony arm and lets a well worn brush caress the snare. The sound is barely perceptible. No doubt the bass player heard it, though. He may be lost on some other plane altogether, but as his fingers tackle the e, a, d, g, he’s still tuned into the jangly meanderings of his comrades. The drummer’s brush, the sax player’s gentle coo.
Before long, however, that sax player’s gonna melt the wind. His tone is smoky and it calls to mind visions of dark alleys, undocumented meetings with people who have no names. It’s sultry, this ascending lack of structure. And the audience is on in the secret, whatever it is.
In the near future, the bearded priest sitting next to me will quietly choke: “That was incredible.” With a certain eye, one would discern a stray tear on his cheek.
And as the sax and the bass continue to wail against each other, it’s time for more hard drink. It’s time to get lost again.
If there’s one thing that these cats can teach us – and it’s not altogether clear if there even is that one thing – it’s that the only way out is in.
The only way through this mess is to dive right into the ecstasy of it all and enjoy the fallen fruit. Coffee, tacos… It doesn’t really matter what the others do with their time.
The jazz of life will go on.
Listen, the drummer’s tap-tap-tapping the hi-hat now. And isn’t that the beating of your heart?