Exploring the possible with Alejandro Escovedo and Church on Monday

ACL-Jan10
Photo by Todd V Wolfson

If I were to wish for anything I would not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye, which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility? – Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Possibility. It’s my favorite word. Musicians, especially those who employ improvisation, understand it. Church on Monday, the brainchild of saxophonist Elias Haslanger which has grown into a brand of its own, began with possibility and continues to thrive on it. Our Monday residency at living room-sized The Continental Gallery on South Congress in Austin, Texas is our laboratory for refining music in our book and exploring new territory, at Elias’ masterful direction. As we all, including the many faithful attendees of our gig, say to each other, it’s not only a great way to start our week. It’s an essential one. I think that is because pushing boundaries, even within the simplest of song structures — finding new intricacies in the execution of a rhythm, in the phrasing of a melody, in the evolution of an improvised solo — bathes us in that fragrance of possibility. And possibility is a most empowering concept. It’s doesn’t promise anything. It doesn’t start with narrowly defined expectations, thereby setting us up for failure. It lets us take flight.

Alejandro Escovedo (photo by Todd V Wolfson)
Alejandro Escovedo (photo by Todd V Wolfson)

Last night, at the culmination of a week of intense rehearsals, I and my Church on Monday bandmates (Elias Haslanger, Dr. James Polk, Jake Langley, and Daniel Durham) joined rock song-writing legend Alejandro Escovedo and members of his Orchestra in a performance before an enthusiastic near-soldout crowd at Austin’s ACL Live Moody Theatre. Peter Blackstock wrote about it here in the Austin American Statesman. Alejandro has been a passionate supporter of Church on Monday since it’s inception, and approached Elias about collaborating for his third annual ACL Live performance — concerts which are known for pushing even Alejandro’s extended boundaries each year. On our personal, more local scale, it reminded me of Sting’s post-Police collaboration with well-known jazz artists that led to his 1985 release, Dream of the Blue Turtles. Our collaboration had that kind of spirit to it, with Elias and Alejandro choosing less-played material from Alejandro’s vast library and our work in bringing a Church on Monday vibe to the music. It worked because both Elias and Alejandro know how to inspire and direct while trusting the individual musicians to collectively find the new heart of each piece — the heart beating for this particular collaboration. It all came together last night in an experience ranking among the most memorable of my musical life.

Elias Haslanger (photo by Todd V Wolfson)
Elias Haslanger (photo by Todd V Wolfson)

One of my favorite books is The Art of Possibility, by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander whom I interviewed in 2006. They talk about a set of practices for creativity in all human enterprises, at the heart of which is this deep embrace of possibility thinking. They talk of “telling the WE story — the story of the unseen threads that connect us all, the story of possibility.” They call it the Alchemy of We, and their book includes many stories of lives enriched by this idea. I think the Zanders would have loved how the ideas they champion were on display last night as musicians and audience opened their hearts and minds to new sounds, interpretations, and expressions. The uplift so many described feeling after the performance was evidence of it.

EliAndPolk2CROPED
Dr. James Polk (photo by Todd V Wolfson)

This moving collaboration with the great Alejandro Escovedo, and my membership in Church on Monday, remind me of why I love being a musician. Beyond the thrill and joy of the music, the experience itself continues to offer new lessons on concerning myself simply with being the best me I can be. Dr James Polk, Church on Monday’s soulful center, talks about just being true to yourself and not trying to be another this or that. “We already have those. We need the new that is you,” he once said to me. He is so right. Following his lead, resisting the temptation to compare myself to others, I discover who I am and what my contribution is. Then, bringing this un-fractured spirit to a collaboration, I feel whole and free to pursue again, and again, the possible.

I’m honored to have been a part of last night’s concert with a group of truly inspiring musicians. Here is the band:

  • Alejandro Escovedo (lead vocals/composer/co-musical director)
  • Elias Haslanger (tenor saxophone/composer-arranger/co-musical director)
  • Dr. James Polk (Hammond B3 organ)
  • Jake Langley (guitars)
  • Daniel Durham (bass)
  • Scott Laningham (drums)
  • Susan Voelz (violin)
  • Brian Standefer (cello)
  • Karla Manzur (backing vocals, lead)
  • Emily Hello (backing vocals)
  • Grace Park (backing vocals)
  • Betty Soo (backing vocals)

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