By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The song--or whatever it is--doesn't really begin or end so much as it's there and then it isn't, a melody rescued from an aimless groove with little more than raised eyebrows and subtle nods, almost imperceptible cues. A skittish drum beat, marking time and abandoning it, is joined by a pulsating bass line, then one guitar and another, nibbling at the edges without taking the bait. A lazy trumpet, there but not really, suddenly becomes agitated, making its presence felt by spraying high notes over the top like shrill machine-gun fire, chasing the drums and bass into the distance. The five musicians in the room, collectively known as Sivad, looked each other in the eye, and there it was, a song they had neither heard nor played before. And then it was gone again, perhaps forever.
Well, not exactly. The song, "Wake Up the Fish," and five others like it can be found on Sivad's just-released debut, Solar Verbs, but you'll never hear the band play it at one of its infrequent concerts--at least not all of it. Though bits and pieces may emerge from time to time, none of the songs from Solar Verbs will ever appear on a Sivad set list, mainly because there isn't one. The band--Karl Poetschke on trumpet, guitarists Tony Chapman and Daniel Huffman, bassist Chris Perdue, and drummer Dana Sudborough--doesn't have any real songs, only a few ideas that serve as a backup plan, something to return to when nothing else is working. Everything else is written on the spot, in the moment, each note a surprise and every song an adventure.
"We'll just get up there and go for it," Poetschke says, on the phone from his home in Boulder, Colorado, where he moved at the beginning of the year when his wife found a new job. "It's a lot less goal-oriented than I think a lot of people are used to. It's more about the process of making music, rather than working up songs to a particular goal, and then having that goal put out there every single time. I love to hike and stuff like that, and it's always the journey that's pretty exciting for me."
Even when Sivad went into Dave Willingham's 70 Hurtz Studio in Argyle in November 1997 and February 1998 to record its first album, the band didn't bother to work anything out beforehand. The group simply got together as it always did and let the songs happen when they wanted to. Often, Willingham sat in the control booth wondering when he was supposed to be recording, as simple warm-up sessions turning into incendiary jams that lasted the better part of an hour. The members of the band took the pressure off Willingham by recording everything, starting the tape when they entered the studio and stopping when there wasn't any tape left. Poetschke and Sudborough sorted through it later in Sudborough's home studio, Seductive Groove Productions, picking the best moments out of many good ones and leaving enough on the cutting-room floor for at least another album.
"It wasn't too hard to pick from the stuff we had," Sudborough recalls. "We liked most of the stuff we had, but we didn't want our first album to be two 30-minute songs. The hard part was picking and choosing what parts we wanted to include on our first album. I think we still plan on releasing a lot of the stuff that didn't get released, possibly editing that as well, like we did with this album."
The album Poetschke and Sudborough found amid the stacks of tape, Solar Verbs, is a collision of jazz and rock and everything in between; there's a reason Sivad thanks Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix in the liner notes. The album is exactly what you'd expect when a band that includes Comet's former guitarist (Huffman), a trumpet player who made ends meet playing at Sambuca and Soul Caribe on weekends (Poetschke), and a drummer schooled in Cuban and South Indian rhythms (Sudborough) plays the tops off their heads. On "19 Census," a duel between Poetschke's trumpet and guest Dave Monsch's saxophone is broken up by a squealing guitar solo that disappears as quickly as it came in. The nearly 17-minute "Dream Canyon" is what you'd imagine the long-lost jazz album Bedhead recorded to sound like, a song that shouts in a whisper. It's perhaps the best example of Sivad's purpose--for a group of musicians to hit upon the same idea all at once.
"There's a lot of musical conversation going on, like we're all playing, listening to each other, kind of expanding upon what each other person is doing," Huffman says, sinking into a chair in his Fort Worth garage apartment. "We've talked about it as being almost psychic in a way." He pauses, reconsidering. "I don't want to say it's like magic or anything, because anybody can improvise music. I think we've played enough together to where we understand each other. We each have tensions. One person might be really happy, and another person might be stressed out from whatever they're dealing with, and all of those elements come together. Sometimes, more interesting things happen that way."