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Can Three Shamans From New York Help Conjure A DIY Scene in Erie?

Three Shamans (clockwise from top left): Herb Robertson, Phil Haynes, Ken Filiano (photo by R.I. Sutherland-Cohen)

This week I’m taking a Thanksgiving break of sorts. Instead of my stated project of documenting the northeast Ohio scene I’ll cover something notable that’s happening in my old hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania: a concert Saturday evening headlined by New York improvising trio Three Shamans at Erie’s Grounded Printshop on a bill that also includes New American musicians from Syria and an experimental trombone and percussion duo.

If this sort of thing sounds vaguely familiar, it should. To those of us of a certain age, the notion of improvising musicians from New York playing in an old industrial building that has been repurposed as an art studio will evoke fond memories of the landmark series of concerts at Clayspace that brought artists such as Anthony Braxton, Ronald Shannon Jackson and the new music ensemble Relâche to Erie.

Those concerts, the brainchild and artistic legacy of John Vanco, were presented by the Erie Art Museum, one of the city’s preeminent cultural institutions then and now, but Saturday’s concert is a more DIY affair with the “Y” in the form of Ethan Hayden.

By day, Hayden works for Erie Arts & Culture, another cultural institution for sure, but Saturday’s concert is an outgrowth of his side gig as a composer, instrumentalist and founder of a record label based in Erie that specializes in an emerging genre that’s so vast and capacious that it resists naming.

Is this the beginning of a trend?

Hayden thinks it is and is doing everything he can to make it so. And because he comes from Buffalo’s teeming new music community, Hayden can see things that might be invisible to members of the sometimes insular Erie scene.

He acknowledges that the Erie experimental music scene is tiny, but sees that as a feature, not a bug. “What’s really exciting is if we expand ‘scene’ to mean more than just what the musicians are doing, but also to include what traditional artists, New American artists, spoken word artists and visual artists are doing, then I feel like the scene is much larger and more diverse in terms of lived experience,” he said. “What’s really exciting about Erie is that the small size encourages collaboration in a way that you might not get in a city like Buffalo where there’s so many musicians [that] you didn’t ever need to collaborate with a visual artist.”

Erie might look like a major metropolitan area from the vantage point of drummer  Phil Haynes, who is one of the Three Shamans along with trumpeter and keyboard player Herb Robertson and bassist Ken Filiano. Haynes, a longtime fixture on the New York scene, currently lives in tiny Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where he had been artist in residence at Bucknell University for many years.

Playing in Grounded Printshop, for years the headquarters of the Mayer Construction Company, might feel like a homecoming of sorts for Haynes. In the 1980s, the drummer turned a long-vacant corner drugstore into a DIY creative space, anticipating by several decades the shifting of jazz’s center of gravity from Manhattan to Brooklyn. It was there where he first played with Robertson.

“He moved into my neighborhood in Brooklyn and we ran into each other in front of a movie theater after a morning matinee, and it’s like, ‘Yo!, Come over to the corner store. We’ll play some duos,” Haynes recalled. “And let me tell you, when he came over, even though I had been associated with free players, it was the first time in my life I ever played what I thought was truly free music. [With] Herb , it’s more of a spiritual, almost shamanistic point of view. He can make music with anything.”

Filiano ran in the same musical circles and was soon brought into the fold, The three have been creating together for about 25 years. It’s the kind of intuitive, non-hierarchical music without fixed melody, rhythm or chord changes that can carry you away if you enter its space with an open mind.

It’s the kind of music that Grounded founder Ashley Pastore absorbed when she was a graduate student at the Cleveland Institute of Art in the early aughts. “At that time, there were a lot of noise shows in these DIY spaces,” she said. “It felt very collaborative and exploratory, and that’s what I wanted to recreate at the print shop.”

If Pastore–and Hayden–succeed, you can credit hard work, vision–and perhaps a strategic application of some shamanistic magic.

Three Shamans with The Watan Band and f-f-f-f-Faulty Tower Saturday, Nov. 26, 8 p.m. at Grounded Printshop, 1902 Cherry St., Erie, Pennsylvania, $5-10 suggested donation.


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