A handful of local musicians are attempting to have their names etched onto the roster of American jazz innovators by joining in the long tradition of improvisational musical dialogue. These Isla Vista and Goleta residents actively participate in a biweekly sonic experiment, which is slated to take place on the first and third Thursday of every month at the BIKO House – located at 6612 Sueno Rd. – from 8 to 10 p.m. During their gatherings, they intend to build a living-art space in which experimental music genres can spontaneously grow and evolve. I witnessed one such event at their inaugural meeting on Thursday, Oct. 19.
The last session included four particularly experimental musicians – Colter Frazier, Ralph Lowi, Rob Wallace and Rami Gabriel – who performed under the name Sokkyo. During the course of the evening, Sokkyo literally deconstructed the music they were playing, an act epitomized by Wallace disassembling his drum kit throughout the performance. He used different knobs and screws on the drums themselves to create percussion, as well as an assortment of objects which he ricocheted off of the drums: scraps of wood, bells and a corrugated plastic tube that changes pitch when whirled at different velocities. Frazier somehow managed to conjure up molten-brass-demons from the bowels of his saxophone, stylistically alternating between Coltrane-esque virtuosic solos and the squelching moans that must score Charles Mingus’s nightmares. Gabriel caught the stray noises emanating from the other members and crammed them into an echo chamber that he then affected with the same distortion, overdrive and reverb that he used on his electric guitar. Last, but not least, Lowi was shredding the upright double bass. All elements of the band operated separately of each other as participants in a dialogue, but together as a group to communicate to each other and the audience their special brand of experimental music.
Experimental jazz is a bit of a misnomer in the case of these fellows and their aims. However, there were times in the performance when an isolated selection of the noise, taken out of its context, could hardly be called jazz – and some may argue that the term music itself would not even apply. It certainly could not be fit into the popularly held conception of jazz as swing or dance music. That is not to say that the musicians in Sokkyo are not capable of playing the standards, or recreating the music of the jazz giants of past eras. I have seen each of them excel at this in other venues, but this experiment was something entirely different. The members of Sokkyo are all professional musicians but are not solely limited to jazz; other musical projects these musicians are involved with fall under the genres of punk rock, indie, folk and gypsy jazz – and even Middle Eastern music. Rather than recreate what was considered innovative in the past, these young men want to make jazz music that is new, hot and alive today.
As Colter Frazier noted, “We are trying to let go of that framework – improvising without the constraints that jazz brings along with it – just trying to get away from labels or expectations and improvise to see what happens.”
The members of Sokkyo and founders of the Thursday experimental music night at BIKO are also interested in creating a local venue for all sorts of experimental music – not just jazz – that can continue to be a source of inspiration for other local musicians.
“It’s not so much about our band, as getting a venue and a place together to perform experimental music, and check out what people are doing in this style of music,” Frazier said. “We’re hoping to build enough of a scene that all kinds of people will be there and want to play. This has a potential to be a really cool thing because there’s nowhere in Santa Barbara where people an perform this type of music.”
While Sokkyo has played around Santa Barbara before – they held a weekly show at Reds Caf