the le duo – Boogaloo for Improvisors

An album written and recorded over a few days in the winter of 2016. Liner notes/essay on the whole project below.

JB Ledoux: Drums
Adrian Benoit: Guitar
Adam Ploof: Rhodes and synth
Gahlord Dewald: Bass

What’s going on with liner notes nowadays? It seems that, if they’re there at all, the trend has become to to make them as unintelligible as possible so as to require high level security clearance to decipher who played the guitar. Call me wistful, but I miss the days of esoteric retellings of what went into making the music we listen to. Well, this is our album and we can tell the story how we want to. However, in the interest of remaining relevant I will begin with the words of our band leader:

“boogaloo for improvisors is the next logical step in the constantly changing musical language of the le duo, who’s output of the last decade mirrors the creative interests of “the founder”, Poppa Walnuts.”
PW

a few words on iNprov, the idea of inclusive open improvisation that forms the core of what thld has tried to accomplish for the last decade. the idea borrows heavily from malcolm goldstein, who, during a mind/changing performance in burlington years ago, remarked that there was no such a thing as free improv; nothing is free, everything is informed by the things around it. open improv was therefore a more accurate term. but within this open improv existed the idea that academic music knowledge was needed, that you needed to know theory in order to create. this is where the inclusive nature of iNprov comes in. thld realized that everyone has something to offer; there is a rhythm, a timbre, a melody in all people. we want and need for people to express themselves, and we provide a framework to make this happen. you do not need to create before you destroy.

It took some time to get us all together in the same place at the same time. Probably more accurate would be to say that it took our band leader a while to break away from his other responsibilities. Having a baby can really make scheduling things a challenge apparently. Who would have known? During the months leading up to the recording of this most recent album by the le duo we tossed dates, stylistic ideas and inspiring records back and forth. Despite the challenges of getting things off the ground, whenever the project came up in conversation it was clear that there was a lot of enthusiasm to make it happen. I suppose it was only a matter of time.

A couple of years prior I had gotten up early on a Saturday morning, grabbed my small blue synthesizer and ran down the block to meet the rest of the le duo at a local coffee shop. It was the earliest gig I’d played and probably will remain so. JB, our intrepid leader and the band’s namesake, had invited me to join him and the rest of the group he’d assembled to play a short set for the birthday party of a much beloved music venue in town. That set, played to a room full of bleary eyed, coffee drinking townies led to a winter residency at the same venue. We made it a goal that winter to give each show a unique identity. By spring we’d written some pieces, learned some others and forged some solid musical connections.

The air in the South end was warm for November when I showed up at Gahlord’s studio for the first night of recording Boogaloo for Improvisors. That initial session was devoted mostly to set-up of course. Running cables, adjusting mics, turning knobs. By the time we were locking the door for the night JB was feeling good about the way the drums were sounding. Gahlord and I headed off to catch some palette-cleansing, ambient electronic music at a nearby college. The stage was set.

Though we had had months to write material for this session, almost all of the music recorded that weekend was conceived, written, rehearsed and performed on the spot. This sort of arrangement tends to be a little risky. Whether it was out of a desire for spontaneous creation or just having too much on our plates to prepare stuff in advance I felt that we all embraced the situation. I’d credit our productivity as much to having an effective combination of personalities as to a “git-r-done” work ethic. Each piece came about of its own process, but familiar themes gradually developed as we discovered ways to transform the barest musical idea into a rough arrangement leading finally to a complete take.

Elmer’s Van was built around a cyclical riff introduced by Adrian. I can only assume the inspiration for the title came from the dead car battery that delayed recording that second day. After some initial improvising with the idea we took a brainstorming break. I remember grabbing a sheet of faded yellow drafting paper and sketching out a crude sort of timeline. We talked over the proposed arrangement, crossed out some parts, added others and at some point in that process Gahlord imagined up a unison melody part to tie it all together. After rehearsing the piece a couple of times and making a few adjustments we were ready to record. We probably only played two or three complete takes. After listening back, JB – in proper band leader fashion, made the call. We had one in the bag and it was time to move on to the next. Or maybe it was time for dinner. I don’t really recall the exact order of operations, but I do know that at some point there was a slice of blueberry lemon cake.

That first day was really revealing for me. Sometimes the creative process can be very plodding. A grind where ideas are tried and discarded and the things that stick only reveal their form after several headaches and late nights. This was not that sort of project. It felt as if we were yanking ideas directly from our collective imagination into the physical world. Like dreaming in reverse. If this all sounds a bit grandiose, it’s because of an attempt to convey how excited I think we all felt at the end of each day we worked on the album.

The remaining songs came together in similar fashion, though each with their own flavor and dynamic. A moment that stands out in my memory is Gahlord, Adrian and I creeping through the long corridor that leads to the studio. We had stepped out to give JB some privacy while he recorded his 2:04 drum solo that begins the album. After what felt like an appropriate amount of time we tiptoed down the hall and back to the door. We discussed in whispers if the occasional clattering we were hearing was JB working out ideas or just messing around waiting for us to get back. We took a chance, popped open the door and found out that, true to the spirit of the le duo, the drum solo had been laid down first take without any fuss.

The le duo had already existed for some time long before my first encounter with the group at that coffee shop a couple of years ago. Listening back to past albums it’s quite remarkable the sonic ground that has been covered. I think it’s fair to say that Boogaloo for Improvisors is quite a departure from the clangorous free jazz of His Inner Psychic Energy and the shifting atmospheres of Water of the Sun. The spirit of unrestrained creativity however is as strong as ever and common threads abound. Regardless of whether this album is viewed as a waypoint along some line of evolution or just another destination for the restless wanderer that is the le duo we are all proud of this album. For me the experience of making it has expanded my views on the possibilities for group collaboration and how to approach the creative process. To put it more simply – I’m psyched to play more music with these people.

-Adam

released January 21, 2016

Recording Engineers: Adam Ploof and Gahlord Dewald
Mixing Engineer: Gahlord Dewald
Mastering Engineer: Greg Davis
Cover photo: Mira Steinzor

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