By Jim Schutze
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Knowing how competitive musicians can be, you'd expect an artist to be more protective of his work and ideas. That doesn't seem to be an issue in the Trio. This openness is reflected in their performances as well.
"I like playing with them a lot because they're not pigeon-holed into one given style," Hamilton says. "Since we've all played numerous different styles and Earl and Dave are so involved in other formats, we've never been just a jazz trio. So it's much more open. And the personal relationship is very similar. In that I'm a little bit older than them, sometimes that will have some sort of bearing on things, but with these guys it doesn't. We accept each other as good buddies; it's not just a working relationship. And that affects your playing in being able to be loose about everything. We can go into a rock format, we can go into a free format, we can play straight-ahead bebop, we can do a crazy sort of raga thing. Everything's just real flexible, and we always seem willing to go where it's taking us."
Harvin agrees. "A lot of time we don't have set lists when we play live," he says. "I'm sure there have been times where it's kind of comical at the beginning of the show when we're sitting there just sort of looking at each other, like a chess game, waiting to see who's going to move a pawn first. We don't know what we're going to play, but somebody's going to start playing something, and whatever it is, we're going to figure it out."
The group's relaxed, almost carefree, approach to performing captures the interpersonal relationship shared by Hamilton, Harvin and Palmer, too. Where bands--be they rock, pop, jazz or otherwise--have a hard enough time lasting through the years when the band is the focus of their career, the Trio has weathered eight years through some of the most ridiculous circumstances. Both Palmer and Harvin are working musicians, alternating employment between session work and tours that keep them away from home. Hamilton is the director of the Jazz Guitar Center at the University of North Texas. All have had or currently have other original projects as well. For a while, Palmer was living in California. The Trio has even been referred to as Harvin's "side project."
"It's a miracle that the band stayed together all those years, but it took a lot of hard work and sacrifices on everybody's part," Palmer says. "But it's really paid off, and I think we're in a really good head space now."
That good space is being one of the more musically adventurous and singularly recognizable outfits in the state. "The comical thing about that is that the band has evolved over so much time, because in a way this band came together almost by accident," Harvin says. "These days, I almost lament the fact that it's called the 'Earl Harvin Trio,' because it'd be kind of cool if it just had some goofy band name. The reason why it's called that--and I'm not trying to play the modest guy or anything--is because it wasn't even a band to start with. I just booked gigs with people I liked to play with 12 years ago around town."
Those early days also included saxophonists Shelley Carrol (who just released his own new record, A distAnt stAr) and Chris MaGuire, bassist Drew Phelps and keyboard player Ted Cruz, when the "Earl Harvin" nameplate appeared in front of "quartet" and "quintet" as well. A few years passed before it became the core group that appears so musically cohesive onstage today.
"Basically those people that I liked to play with ended up getting narrowed down to Fred and Dave, and it was a band," Harvin says. "Nothing about it was ever really conscious. The only thing that was conscious was that I wanted to have some people around that wanted to play some music that wasn't just wedding-band standards. And it just kind of ended up, because of people moving around and doing other stuff, being Dave and Fred and I playing as a trio. And at that point Fred and Dave started bringing in some of their own music."
Writing and performing original music as a unit was the first step in the evolution of the band. Because they created their material, they became very familiar with it and each other, and it incited an atmosphere for more intuitive improvisation.
The band's next evolution was triggered when Palmer started playing the Rhodes electric piano. "That was really just out of convenience," Harvin says. "We had always enjoyed playing to both a jazz and rock audience, so we'd end up playing in places that didn't have an acoustic piano. But how are we going to play Trees? There's no piano there. So Dave started playing Rhodes, and that became part of the band's sound. And eventually he started looking at it not as a minus and began expanding on it. He could put it through a delay box or a distortion box and start fucking with it. And I think that is the big jump in the band that really started honing our sound."