There are many reasons to pursue the life of a professional musician, but doing a van tour of the Great Lakes in January is not one of them. Yet Chicago percussionist Tim Daisy could barely conceal his delight at piling in the van and driving across I-90 for a concert with his longtime pal Ken Vandermark at Convivium 33 (I previewed it here).
“t was the first time I started driving around the country since the—quote/unquote–end of the pandemic,” Daisy said by phone from Virginia where he was vacationing. “We show up, there’s a nice audience, the music goes well, there’s a beautiful vibe, and I kind of had the sense of like, “Ha! We’re back to touring. We’re back.”
The experience was so positive that on Friday, Daisy will be back at Convivium 33 for another concert presented by the Cleveland Uncommon Sound Project, this time with his exploratory chamber ensemble Vox 4.
Readers with long memories and a taste for musical adventure might recognize this project as the one that appeared as Vox Arcana at Now That’s Class in 2015. By that time the trio of Daisy on drums and marimba, clarinetist James Falzone and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm had been together for a half-dozen years, launching expeditions to the musical interzone between notated and improvised music.
Lately, Daisy, the ensemble’s primary composer, has added other musicians into the mix, the latest being violinist gabby fluke-mogul, a player who seems to be turning up everywhere on the improv scene in New York and beyond.
Daisy heard the violinist in a duo setting with bassist Brandon Lopez, another recent CUSP artist. “It was lovely,” Daisy said. Fluke-mogul appeared on a concert series that Daisy helped to host where, he said, “I got to interview gabby and also hear gabby play solo, which really knocked me out. So when the opportunity came up and I knew I was going to do this project again, recording session and a couple of concerts, I thought I would reach out to gabby.”
Adding another string voice to the longstanding percussion/clarinet/cello formation opened new compositional and improvisational possibilities the ensemble. “This cello/violin pairing is something I’m so in love with because there’s just so many possibilities with textures and various sounds,” Daisy said. “And I love strings so much.”
As of this writing, the new Vox4 had never played together, but the joy of mutual discovery is at the heart of the ensemble’s remit. Vox’s music can unfold in long, patient paragraphs reminiscent of composer Morton Feldman, a teacher of Lonberg-Holm’s, and it can leap into animated conversation at a moment’s notice. In the spirit of improv theater’s “yes and” technique, nothing is excluded.
“The one thing that sets this group out from some of the others I work with is that some of the ideas that I’m trying to assimilate come from the world of John Cage and Earle Brown and all these modern classical composers that I’m so interested in,” Daisy said.
“I’m interested in through-composed music as a listener but as someone who’s forming ensembles, I want to have the element of improvisation,” he said. “Some of the pieces for Vox might be 75% written material, [but] there’s still the 25% that’s open to interpretation, not just interpreting themes, but interpretation via improvising and how that can knock around things.”
“Improvisations often take time to mature in their own sound world,” said CUSP managing director Stephan Haluska, a harpist who played with Daisy in Chicago last month. “Working with Tim was very easy. He’s just such an energetic enthusiastic guy.”
Credit that attitude to Daisy’s love of the musician’s life.
“When I’m at home with my kids all day, I’m like, wow, it would be nice to be in a van touring the country. And then when I’m out on a tour, you have a really great gig and it reinforces that thought that this is wonderful, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”