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 No  Net sessions and other large groups

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No Net was a series of seven weekend workshops of improvisers I organized from 2004 to 2005, with a significant pre-history of two groupings I've included in the No Net history. Now after ten years it seems like there are reasons for beginning the project again, mainly the interest and availability of more players than ever before, and their skill in handling large ensembles. The difference is that these are not weekends--today few can afford to spend an entire weekend playing music together.

The series of seven groupings of around nine players each were held in Philadelphia, specifically at the Spring Garden Music house, by then the residence of free improvisers exclusively. On the third floor is a large room with rich acoustics, and enough space to accommodate players for the entire weekend. Playing began on a Saturday noon and continued through Sunday night, with breaks for eating, socializing, and sleeping, and for a public performanceat least one of the nights.

The music we came up with differed from one No Net to the next, depending on the players and instrumentation. But the main result was a form of improvisation in which playing is informed more by listening than by technique, musical concepts, or the desire to make a good impression, as often found in solo playing and performance. Our starting point was a music of quiet dynamics--at times barely a whisper, joined by sounds from the street below-- sustained textures and spaces, and a slower pace than was normally associated with free improvisation. If the foot-tapping beat or pulse is often hard to find in free jazz, here it is non-existent, at least slowed to the length of a long breath. This kind of music focuses on the sensuality of sound, exploring and opening the imagination of the players and listeners.

I had been interested in large groups since the eighties, occasionally putting out calls for all sax players in a city to come together for a concert or session. I called those Saxophone Soup--the idea being that the sound of the saxophone alone would be a unifying element. (In 2015 after a long hiatus I organized one in Philadelphia--eleven saxophones in a huge, "wet" acoustic, which produced a near-deafening roar (here). In 1984 I invited musicians to perform in the First Annual East Coast Free Music Festival, and the next year came the second. In the early nineties, while living in Boulder, I organized several weekends called “Improv Campout” in Questa New Mexico, at the home of some musician friends, drawing from the Front Range and the West Coast. Also there were sessions in Boulder that included as many as twenty-five people not distinguished as “musicians, dancers, artists” but simply coming together for a full afternoon of free play and expression—sound, visuals, movement, words. These went in very wild directions, both frightening and exhilarating, as psyches were let loose and dramas were constructed spontaneously. There was no pressure to do anything, so people participated to the extent they wanted, which was fully.

I later made attempts with large groups of musicians in Philly and NY, but these became free-for-alls without subtlety or musical value, in my opinion. If only one person thought of it as a blowing session the entire group would be compelled to go that direction. After this I felt the need to restrict numbers and select players who could be attuned to something like a large group composition, but relying on the players' ability to do this without suggested or imposed direction.

In 2000, while on tour with saxophonist Bhob Rainey, I organized a session of nine Bay Area improvisers which accomplished this. It was recorded and then released on John Shiurba's Limited Sedition label. (Later that spring Rainey went on to organize the BSC in Boston, which unlike No Net was a band with continuous personnel.) The number felt dangerously close to producing cacophony, so it was an experiment to see what would happen. The recording was made and released by John Shiurba on his Limited Sedition label as the Jack Wright Large Ensemble .

It was followed by a weekend in Boulder/Denver in July 2002, where I began to see the value of musicians coming together for more than a performance or a recording session; just for playing. Eight players came, and since many were coming from a distance--Seattle, Salt Lake, Chicago, Questa, and Minneapolis--it made sense to make a weekend of it. It was recorded by Bob Falesch and an edited version made by Aaron Hansen and available online here.

After I moved back east in 2003 I was inspired to bring the large group idea to the east coast largely by the four-day No Idea festival in Austin Texas in which I participated in April 2004 (and later helped finance by paying for a double CD of that name, now out of print). I was impressed that the first night of the festival most of the audience consisted of the other players, making it more like a session of players in rotation than a conventional performance. After a couple days of playing in different combinations we grew musically, and in our sense of community. As it happened, by the end of the weekend the festival moved to Houston, where we were able to take that culmination of listening and playing to a significant audience of non-players, who responded beyond our expectations. The evolution meant that the end of the festival was far more free-flowing than the beginning, as happens on the best tours. Even the most solo-oriented player became an equal contributor to the group.

I saw from this how a large workshop could be a completely different kind of event than a festival, not the conventional spectacle but a rewarding playing experience for the musicians. Each gathering would take a different configuration of players through a process of discovery, each one an idea of where the musical imagination could go. And when we put ourselves in front of listeners for a performance, they would get the benefit of a fully centered group of players, for we would not be distracted by our conventional performing selves.

In the original statement of intent I used lower-case music as a guideline--sparse, quiet, and with possible "empty" space. I soon found that I didn't feel the need to point to any known aesthetic. This is not for every player, but those I invited also wanted to go in the direction of careful playing, not fearful of making a wrong move but taking care about what we do and carving out a space where spontaneity can yield connected playing. This is where we can first discover and then drop our sense of what makes good music—or a good impression. Improvisation is not about “good music”, for once it’s found it’s gone. The public may not know this but the players do.

I organized these weekend sessions for my own musical benefit, which is to play in a focused and strong collective atmosphere with just the right people. This has included professionals, but oriented as they tend to be towards performance they are often not the ones who will fit into this kind of situation. The project was neither social work on my part, nor the promotion of an avant-garde concept, nor an advertised workshop. Musicians—we--need time for ourselves, for our playing and personal relations, a time focused on what we do musically and not to satisfy anyone else. The social pressure is heavy on everyone these days, especially the young, to be performers in every aspect of their lives. Musicians are expected to personify the performer and only that, as if we were creating music first of all for the needs and demands of others. As a result, the ratio of sessions to performance has become way out of balance, with sessions dependent on the prospect of performance.

No Net was not about achieving the successful performance--the audience count and applause, the money gig “next time”--but as if we could play one extended session our entire lives. This is what the No Net weekend approached, broken up by periods of boredom with the playing, meals, talk, sleep, and walking around the neighborhood—then coming back with something fresh, bold and intimate. Given the extended time, we created an atmosphere where we disrupted the unspoken rules and expectations we inevitably set up between ourselves and were confronted with a new, even destabilizing situation. I make no claims for what we accomplished in a conventional sense, for as a player I know how difficult and rare it is to be truly open to the sounds of others—and I mean absolutely everything that happens--and to respond with humility and without judgment.

I consider No Net broadly as an outgrowth of Spring Garden Music, which I created in 1982 to express a vision I had of a player-based community that was widespread and open, yet personal and dependent on musical choice. It is not a membership or contact/resource organization with goals, functions, and a progress chart, but based solely on actual playing and friendship. Playing with others, simply enjoying each other through the pleasure of sounds, wherever they come from, is like letting the other reach around and play one’s own instrument. Of course, we must work hard on our own, face our limitations and push through technical challenges. But that is not yet the music, not the quality and excellence that music can be.

The reason I stopped organizing No Net after 2005 is partly that I became disillusioned as I saw musicians turn away from open group improvisation towards career and closed, performance-oriented groups. Free improvisation lost much of the elan it had around 2000 and was beginning to lose some of the organizers who had struggled for it on the East Coast. It would soon be the work of those who clearly saw it had no great future in terms of media presences and careers, at least not the kind of community that No Net gathered.

Now, as of 2016, it seems to have entered a new phase, where groups of experienced players are again possible that have the quality of listening and adventure of the No Nets. The most recent grouping was eight players in April 2016, listed below, most in Philadelphia. A high quality video recording is available here

The players:

March 7, 2000 Mills College, Oakland CA

Jack Wright, saxophones
Matt Ingalls, clarinet
Bhob Rainey, soprano saxophone
Morgan Guberman, contrabass
Matthew Sperry, contrabass
Tom Djill, trumpet
Ron Heglin, tuba, voice
John Shiurba, guitar
Karen Stackpole, percussion

July 12-13, 2003 Boulder and Denver CO

Jack Wright - Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Contra-alto Clarinet, Piano, Trombone
Aaron Hansen - Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Eb Clarinet, Short Sax, Calls
Gust Burns - Piano
Davu Seru - Percussion, Piano, Contrabass
Jonathan Fretheim - Viola, Voice
Michael O’Neill - Guitar, Voice
Bob Falesh - Metapiano
Ben Wright - Contrabass, Baritone Tuba, Saw

July 17-18, 2004, Philadelphia

ten of the following appeared the first day and nine the second:

Ricardo Arias, balloons, NYC
Mike Balistreri, bass, Albuquerque, NM
Dan Blacksberg, trombone, Phila.
Dan Breen, mechanical electronics, Baltimore
Charles Cohen, buchla music easel, Philadelphia
Mazen Kerbaj, trumpet, Beirut, Lebanon
Paul Neidhardt, percussion, Baltimore
Anna Troisi, electronics and amplified objects, Bologna, Italy
Vic Rawlings, cello and electronics, Boston
Nate Wooley, trumpet, Jersey City NJ
Jack Wright, saxes, Easton PA

The concerts were described in the fall issue 2004 of Signal to Noise as "a festival resplendent in great moments."

Aug. 21-22, 2004 :

Gust Burns, piano and tapes, Seattle
Bryan Eubanks, sax and tape recorder, Portland OR
Andy Hayleck, amplified gongs, Baltimore
Michael Johnsen, electronics and saw, Pittsburgh, PA
Andrew Lafkas, bass, NYC
Evan Lipson, bass, Phila.
Toshi Makihara, percussion, Phila.
Gregory Reynolds, alto sax, Seattle
Jack Wright, saxes, Easton PA

April 10-11, 2005

Gust Burns, piano, tapes, Seattle WA
Andrew Drury, percussion, Queens, NY
Evan Lipson, double bass, Philadelphia (Spring Garden House)
Carlos Santiago, violin, Philadelphia (Spring Garden House)
Dave Smollen, percussion, electronics, Philadelphia (Spring Garden House)
Ben Wright, double bass, Questa NM
Jack Wright, saxes, Easton PA

April 17, 2005--Rotunda Concert

Mike Bullock, double bass, electronics, Boston
Gust Burns, tapes, Seattle WA
Tucker Dulin, trombone, electronics, San Diego, CA
Chris Forsyth, guitar, Brooklyn, NY
David Gross, saxophone, Boston
Andrew Lafkas, upright bass, Queens, NY
Catherine Pancake, dry ice/cymbal percussion, Baltimore
Nate Wooley, trumpet, Jersey City NJ
Jack Wright, soprano and alto saxophone, Easton PA

June 18-19, 2005

Alban Bailly, guitar, France and currently Philadelphia
Andrew Dewar, soprano sax, Middletown CT (Weslyan)
Tom Djll, tpt, Santa Cruz, CA
Michael Johnsen, electronics, Pittsburgh PA
Chris Mueller, cello, St. Louis
Morten Nottleman, drums, The Hague, Netherlands
Mark Sarich, cello, electronics, St. Louis
Jack Wright, saxes, Easton PA

August 20, 21

Jonathan Chen, violin, Middletown NY
Rob Dietz, computer electronics, Bloomington IN
Andy Haleck, saw, bowed cymbals, Baltimore
Leonel Kaplan, trumpet, Buenos Aires Argentina
David Kendall, computer electronics, Los Angeles
Rachel Thompson, violin, Middletown NY
Jack Wright, saxes, Easton
Jonathan Zorn, analogue electronics, Middletown NY

Dec. 16-17, 2005

Maria Chavez, turntables, Brooklyn
Bryan Eubanks, electronics, Queens
Andy Hayleck, saw, Baltimore
Bonnie Jones, electronics, Baltimore
Andrew Lafkas, double bass, Queens
Wade Matthews, clarinet, flute, electronics Madrid, Spain
Paul Neidhardt, percussion, Baltimore
Jack Wright, saxes, Easton

April 12, 2016, Rotunda Concert, Philadelphia

Bob Marsh double bass and electronics, Pueblo CO
Jack Wright saxophones, Easton
Ilan Gold double bass, Phila.
Ben Bennett percussion, Phila.
Elizabeth Meredith viola, Baltimore
Alban Bailly cello, Phila.
Zach Darrup guitar, cello, Phila.
Mick Ricereto, B-flat clarinet, alto clarinet, Phila.

June 4 and 5, 2018, Third Annual East Coast Free Music Festival, Philadelphia

Ben Bennett, percussion (Philadelphia)
Ed Cho, guitar (Easton PA)
Patrick Crossland,trombone(Baltimore)
Zach Darrup, guitar (Philadelphia)
Joel Kromer, modular synth(Bethlehem PA)
Evan Lipson, double bass (Chattanooga)
Toshi Makihara, percussion (Phoenixville PA)
Andrea Pensado, electronics and voice (Salem MA)
Ron Stabinsky, piano and electronics (Wilkesbarre)
Matt Tomlinson, bass guitar (New Philadelphia PA)
Jack Wright, alto/soprano saxophone (Easton PA)
Walter Wright, electronics (Lowell MA)


for more info email
Jack Wright