When The Bilderberg Jazz Arkestra takes the stage tomorrow evening for their first full-length concert performance, they will do so with no preconceived ideas as to what sounds they are about to produce.
Combining elements of jazz, world music, rock and roll, trippy movie soundtracks and out-of-this-world expressionism, Sarasota’s avant-garde, experimental jazz outfit consists of multi-instrumentalists Mark Zampella (guitar, coral sitar, bass, keyboards and horns), Paul Louis (bass, keyboards, kazoomaphone, tongue drum, kalimbamaphone and yelling) and Doctor Nik – aka William Pearson – on various horns, woodwinds, train whistle, ukulele, kalimba, electronic wind instrument, pig and even his beloved Droid cell phone.
Channeling their collective creative spirits on the eve of Halloween, The Bilderberg Jazz Arkestra will conduct their musical alchemy at 525 Kumquat Court, home of WSLR 96.5 FM. Tickets are $5 and proceeds benefit the community radio station.
The show will begin at 6:30 p.m. with longtime WSLR supporter Capt. Wayne Genthner reciting poetry as early arrivals are treated to two variations of goulash (or in this case ghoul-ash).
The Bilderberg Jazz Arkestra will strike their first notes around 7 p.m. and play a one-hour set followed by a short intermission and an anything-goes open jam that the public is invited to participate in. Folks are encouraged to dress in costume and bring an instrument so they can join in the aesthetic process that will be recorded as a digital live album — as are all Bilderberg performances.
With personal expression serving as as the evening’s main motif, audience members will have access to paint and a pair of art easels so they can express themselves on a community canvas, inspired by the sounds of Bilderberg. The paintings will then be auctioned off during the intermission, with the proceeds going to WSLR.
The Oct. 30 show will give the trio a chance to stretch their legs, expanding and expounding on the 23-minute Lumpytunes! Live experimental music showcase performance that marked the band’s public debut and resulted in the live album Myth of the Bent Earth.
The musicians take a similarly spontaneous approach during the weekly Thursday evening recording sessions that have produced eight studio recordings since the band’s inception in June — a musical canon that includes The Tyranny of Consecutive Integers, Gourd Helmet, Blue Moon Syndrome, Hawaiian Krumpet Variations, Fear of a Noble Goat, Forgotten Songs From The Future and Collected Early Works.
With more time on stage and a larger canvas to work with, Tuesday night’s show will see a wider variety of instruments in play. Slide projectors flashing a sequence of 200-some art class images and a movie projector screening an obscure art-house film will further enhance the mind-altering, multi-media, pre-Halloween experience.
Be warned: This is not music for the sonically faint of heart, as squealing horns, guitar feedback, counter-melodies, anti-melodies and ever-changing rhythmic pulsations meld with soothing bass, guitar and horn lines that all combine to conjure up adventurous echoes of John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Nels Cline and Bill Frisell.
How Do They Do That?
You may be asking yourself: How in the hell does a band get up in front of a room full of people and play a show when they have no earthly idea what they’re about to play?
Zampella , who also serves as the Arkestra’s band archivist, producer and graphic artist, explains it like this: “We are free-form jazz. The band requires us to very much stay present in the moment. Since we don’t have worked-out material, we can’t settle into autopilot playing a song we’ve played a bunch of times.
“It’s very reactionary. What I play is going to be dictated by what Paul plays and it’s a symbiotic relationship because it works the same way for him — what I play dictates what he plays and it’s a three-way thing because Dr. Nik is responding to what we’re doing as well.
“It’s being built and composed in real time … which is exciting. You have to stay on your toes. You never know where the tune is leading because it’s filtered through how we’re feeling. If we have a lot of energy, we’re going to play more up-tempo, upbeat stuff. If we’re feeling kind of mellow, we’re going to play mellower stuff. The thought is that it’s going to be different every time we play.”
For Zampella and his Another Roadside Attraction bandmate Paul Louis, The Bilderberg Jazz Arkestra provides a creative outlet that lies far beyond the confines and comfort of traditional rock and roll.
“As musicians, we have set patterns in our heads we play, but in the past year I’ve tried to break myself of a lot of those habits. I started playing scales in different positions that I’m not used to, and that gives me different note choices that I wouldn’t normally go to automatically. I’m trying to break myself of those automatic patterns. I really try to come at it without any preconceived notions of what it’s going to be,” Zampella said.
Dr. Nik said his role in the band is “to participate with my fellow bandmates exploring the realm of the waveform and trying to find the note that’s never been played.”
He said the feeling created by the song title and the mood of the moment determine his choice of instrumentation: “Whenever I play, I let the moment speak for itself. I know the instrument, and even if I didn’t know the instrument I’d get to know it right then and there. It’s all about spontaneous combustion of notation.”
In addition to being an avid fan of bluegrass music and rock and roll from the 1960s and ’70s, Dr. Nik credits previous experiences performing with a medieval/Renaissance band and accompanying belly dancers on the double-reeded bombard for providing with him with a musical foundation that incorporates the contrasting rhythmic patterns of Eastern and Western civilizations.
With a rich cultural background that includes puppetry, painting, theater work and set design, Dr. Nik is all about the creative process: “Anything that can be, will be … I don’t put restrictions on my life, I let other people do that for me. I’m an extension … outside of me. I am a creator, that’s what I do.”
Summing up his thoughts on this new musical adventure, Dr. Nik said, “We’re very excited about it because every time we play it’s new terriorty that we’re exploring, and that’s fun. It’s a lot of work for not a lot of money, but money doesn’t dictate it here — what dictates it here is turning people on to a different way. Whether they like it or not, that’s up to them. Once I create it, it’s out of my hands … no restrictions.”
Is There Anybody Out There?
As for how they came up with that crazy band name, Zampella said, “Paul and I were having a conversation and I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a jazz orchestra. I thought it would be fun to name the band something with ‘jazz orchestra’ in it, and then Paul said ‘Bilderberg Jazz Orchestra’ just because it sounds silly.
“The Bilderberg Group is one of these conspiracy-theory kind of things … They first met at the Bilderberg Hotel in Holland back in the early 1950′s, this group of a hundred or so hyper-rich people that get together and decide how things are going to go in the world … and they’re very secretive, so it’s just ripe for conspiracy theorists.
“I was also listening to a lot of Sun Ra at the time, so I thought of ‘Arkestra’ as a nod to the Sun Ra Arkestra — plus, nobody else has that name, so it’s easy to get a website for that one.”
When asked where a band so far outside the musical norm might find work in Sarasota, Zampella said, “I see this as a special event band. We’re not going to be playing in a bar. I see us playing at art gallery openings, private parties and benefits … that kind of thing.
“Jazz has a narrow audience to begin with, and what we’re doing is this avant-garde offshoot. We’re testing the waters. I don’t know what kind of audience there is for this kind of music in this town. If we lived up in New York there’s probably a couple clubs we could play in The Village.
“I’d like to think there’s an audience for it … it’s interesting, it’s cool and it’s different, and I love jazz. Who knows, maybe there’s other jazz-heads in town that will say ‘Hey, I dig this, nobody is doing that’ … or maybe people will just throw stuff at us.”
Catch The Bilderberg Jazz Arkestra in concert Tuesday, Oct. 30, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at 525 Kumquat Court in Sarasota. More information on this show is available at the WSLR website.