|By Caley Cook|
Circumvention Music jumpstarts San Diego's improv music scene
A trumpet shrieks through a speaker propped up against the wall.
Then, just a few minutes after I enter the room and sit in a comfy rolling chair, a saxophone oozes from one note of sex-crazed, humping weakness to another, lodging itself soundly into the mood of the evening.
This is an icebreaker-done freewheeling improv-jazz-style-and it's the weirdest thing I've ever heard.
Maybe it's not that Nathan Hubbard and Jason Robinson's music is so weird, per say. It's just that it's set up within such aching normality.
Leaning against the side of the building that houses the Trummerflora performance space in Mission Hills, Hubbard is lipping his beer while Robinson finishes up a conversation on his cell phone. It's a strictly normal scene in the Average American Joe sense, punctuated by the normal street noise from Washington Ave. and the normal suits walking home from their normal day at their normal offices.
Perhaps its this aberration among the routine that makes the music so abnormal. Gone are the fence-hugging, chain-smoking, bar-doddling contradictions of normal American rock. Gone are the images of average jazz radio temptresses donning the requisite black dress and the usual strappy shoes. Gone are the broken-home, road-poet jazz stereotypes.
Left in this vacated place is La Jolla-based Circumvention Music and its two freewheeling, albeit normal-looking cohorts.
"We're a big paradox," Robinson chuckles. "We love this music and we're trying to build an audience in San Diego, but people have to hear it first."
Hubbard and Robinson are the lifeblood of the improvisational and experimental music that circulates in San Diego. The music is disseminated by Trummerflora, a performance collective, and through Circumvention and Accretions, the record labels. Through all three parades an endless cast of working ensembles and their players: Cosmologic, Donkey, Return to One, Skeleton Key Orchestra and Wormhole to name very few.
The musicians-Hubbard, Robinson, Hans Fjellestad, Robert Montoya, Gustavo Aguilar, Michael Dessen, Marcelo Radulovich, Marcos Fernandes and infinite others-make up the revolving Mickey Mouse Club of the San Diego improvisational music scene. Hubbard is head mouse.
In 1998, Hubbard surfaced with his own saxophone-centered solo project and had nowhere to release it. In a no-risk jazz music industry-both locally and nationally-he says, creation gets caught up in the cogs of "market research." What results are best-of albums that recycle the same old John Coltrane hits year after year. As good as those hits sound, Hubbard wanted to give rise to an outlet for creative music to "circumvent" the regular market cycle-thus, Circumvention Music was born.
When Robinson moved to San Diego to continue his music education at UCSD-he is currently finishing a dissertation for his doctorate-he met Hubbard, a drummer, and immediately formed a musical bond in the band Cosmologic. This music, they say, is all about the bonds it creates.
"People see this music as an anti-social kind of thing from the ivory tower above," says Robinson, "but this sound is based on interaction."
"This is a social sound," agrees Hubbard. "All we want to do is create a documentation of being in one specific place at one specific time, and there are so many things that are just waiting to be documented."
The current surroundings of the Trummerflora performance space have more of a mildewed college-theater feel than the pulsating musical freeway that it really is. "It's hard to believe that there is a vibrant concert series based in this room," Robinson admits.
But the artist-run structure of Circumvention and their dedication to supporting and publishing improvised music is more than enough motivation to create something new each day, say its directors. The Circumvention website lists seven releases spanning just a few months.
Hubbard seemingly never gets tired of drumming on many of these releases. On disc after disc he is wailing the crap out of all sorts of percussive devices. The soles of his shoes are even worn to a thin round.
"I feel very fortunate to be part of the San Diego scene," says Robinson. "Right now, there is so much happening and everyone involved in Circumvention or Accretions or Trummerflora is individually and in their own right very serious about this music and what they are creating."
"You can't put this stuff on a record label," continues Hubbard. "The [record executives] would be tapping the table and saying, "Soooo, where's the hit?'"
"This is such a labor of love," says Robinson. "Money doesn't enter the picture."
You have to love this music to make it. Rushing and flowing from one note to the next, three or four or five instruments often pile on top of each other. Sax and trombone and bass and bells and drums and flute and shakers and electronics and guitar and trumpet and piano all leap into the air headfirst and land, sprawled out in a huge heap, just waiting for someone to mentally organize their mess.
This music is weird, without a doubt. But the weirdest thing about it isn't the beats or the instruments or the timing or the volume or even its players. The weirdest thing about the whole scene is that this music is flourishing in San Diego and nary a soul knows about it.
Visit www.circumventionmusic.com or www.trummerflora.com.