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MP3 CKW Trio - The Is

Acoustic post-modern Jazz which uses sound mass, circle music, non-western scales - but aside from the parts that most clearly reflect composition and improvisation, the music here hopes to stand outside (and then sometimes inside) traditional boundaries.

11 MP3 Songs
JAZZ: Free Jazz, JAZZ: Weird Jazz

Liner Notes:

... an indefinite suspension of the possible, the is.

from "Getting Lost"
by Laton Carter

When making music, I''m sometimes asked which "style" this group plays in. Do we favor straight-ahead jazz, free jazz, through-composed, West Coast, East Coast, uptown, downtown? The truth is, I don''t really know. In trying to answer the question, I might list some techniques I''m interested in - sound mass, circle music, the use of non-Western scales - but aside from the parts that most clearly reflect composition and improvisation, the music here hopes to stand outside (and then sometimes inside) traditional boundaries. Ornette Coleman answered the question best: "This is our music."

The musicians in the trio make the style of our music. Classically trained cellist and composer Alex Kelly has an eclectic background that involves both free-improvisation and circus music. Drummer Andrew Wilshusen comes from the domain of "jazz," but is always exploring new paths and beats in music. It is my great pleasure to make music with both of them, and I hope you enjoy the results.

Mondrian en Amérique

The Dutch painter Piet Mondrian moved to New York in 1940 after living his previous twenty years in Paris. Recognized as the founder of Neo-Plasticism, Mondrian''s work in this "movement" adhered to a rigid form of abstraction, the rules of which allowed only for a canvas to be subsected into various sized rectangles, and then filled with color using a strictly limited palette. This performance attempts to reflect Mondrian''s use of pure line, space, and color juxtaposition.


This performance is the result of experimenting with an augmented scale (which utilizes a # 11 and 5). I love that this scale can yield major, minor, and augmented triads. To go along with such flexibility, we have used a flexible tempo.


Lawrence of Arabia called the lost city of Iram, or Ubar, "The Atlantis of the Sands." Iram, the "City of Towers" in the Quran, fell into a sinkhole that was created when an underground limestone cavern collapsed. According to legend, Iram was destroyed during a natural disaster about C.E. 100 and was buried by sand. This song is a musical tribute to the buried city.

(Three Headed Yogi Seal)

This song title refers to an ancient Indus script that has never been deciphered. The script was written above a male diety with three faces, seated in a yogic position on a throne. The trio symbolism of the script naturally suggested itself for our resulting free improvisation.


R''izhii is the name for the red-haired clown in Russian circuses. A possible precursor to the Auguste clown, R''izhii is known for foolish behavior and tripping and falling gags. With exaggerated make-up and movements, this is the zaniest of clowns. The performance here was originally intended to be a free improvisation, but somehow everyone turned their ideas toward a tune Alex had previously written for a circus, and that we had recorded some months earlier.

Alex in Wonderland

When Alex could not come up with a title for this composition of his, Andrew and I came up with one, imagining Alex playing as if he had reached another world. This tune uses a form of AAA''BB''CdA, and each major section features one of the members of the group. The A section is for cello, the B section is for tenor sax, and C features percussion.


This piece uses a four-note cell for its structure. We restricted ourselves in this performance to using only the available notes from the cell, but allowed the freedom of playing them in any order and with any tempi. Another section expands the four notes into a hybrid mode, which is based on a major scale, but with an augmented 4 and a minor 6 and 7.

(Da Yun He)

In the year 605, Emperor Yang Guang of Sui Dynasty started construction on the Da Yun He (Grand Canal), which is now the largest man made river in the world (1115 miles). At the end of the book Lu Ding Ji (The Deer and The Cauldron) by Jin Yong (Louis Cha), the hero Xiao Bao (Trinket) escapes his troubles with his seven wives during a storm on the Da Yun He. This territory piece (territory II BC D) was inspired by that part of the book.

(aka 21st Century Blues)

This piece uses a form known as circle music, which Dr. Cindy McTee introduced to me in the late 1980''s when she wrote a circle music piece for Sue Bancroft, my bassoon teacher at the time. Essentially, circle music uses phrases that can be played at any time and in any order. For this performance, I took short phrases from blues tunes in the jazz idiom, and then modified them, while still hoping to keep their shape recognizable.

Spirits (territory I F FD)

Like Da Yun He, this piece uses a "territory" technique. A soundscape or soundmass is used as a general territory to improvise on. George Crumb is the looming spirit here.

Marchin'' Home

The construction and performance of this piece is based on a melody line very similar to a Julius Hemphill composition entitled "Fifteen." After a long journey, it is always good to come home.




CKW Trio''s approach to acoustic post-modern jazz allows for a freedom of emotional expression. With solid grooves and explosions of energy and sound, CKW Trio''s music reminds one of the music being played by Ken Vandermark and John Zorn''s Masada. The instrumentation is similar to Julius Hemphill''s trio; woodwinds, cello and percussion. CKW trio plays in a cutting edge jazz style making use of modern forms like circle music and experiments with time and rhythm. They use various non-western scales and sounds as central points for launching into improvisations. This adventure in jazz is created by the unique ideas of the members of the group and can be heard on their new CD, The Is, available here on CDBaby.
The multi-instrumentalist Michael Cooke heads up the group, with his aggressive tenor saxophone style. This Louis Armstrong Jazz Award winner mainly plays tenor, but you will also hear him play soprano and alto sax, flute, bass clarinet, bassoon and percussion. Michael started playing jazz in High school where he played for homeless shelters in Atlanta. A cum laude music graduate University of North Texas, Michael has played in Europe, Mexico and all over the United States. Relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area, he is striving to develop his style and has recently started studying Larry Ochs'' "Radar" composition techniques. Denise Berardini of the San Francisco Beacon describes Michael''s "talented sax flowing out color and tone with such feeling I haven''t heard in quite a while. Michael plays with such dimension and flavor, that it sets his sound apart from the rest." Uncompromising, fiery, complex, passionate, and cathartic is how the All Music Guide labeled Michael''s playing on "Searching" by Cooke Quartet and "Statements" by Michael Cooke.
Cellist and composer Alex Kelly is currently completing a D.M.A. in Cello Performance with a secondary area in Composition from the University of Oregon. As a cellist, Alex has performed throughout the United States and Canada for the past ten years. In the past three years, he has premiered almost one hundred solo and mixed chamber works. His versatility is demonstrated in his variety of styles, which range from renaissance to romantic, from avant-garde to pop. He has studied Baroque cello and performance practice and has improvisation experience with acoustic and electric cellos. In the Pacific Northwest he is known for his performances with a variety of ensembles, including the new music ensemble "100th Monkey," a free improvisational group called "The Knotty Ensemble," a tonal improvisational group called "Confluence," and a jazz funk group called "The Freedom Funk Ensemble." In San Francisco he is known for his performances with the "New Pickle Family Circus", "Iron and the Albatross", and as co-creator of the "Starr Spectacular".
Whether drumming with avant-garde or Coltrane influenced jazz groups such as trumpeter Eddie Gale or recording his own improvisations, Andrew Wilshusen is always seeking to explore the boundaries of music. His keen ears and fluid coordination make him a drummer whose rhythms, which range from minimalist colorations to polyrhythmic tirades, always perfectly compliment his band mates while propelling them to new heights of their own. His drumming has been referred to as heart-felt, communicative, explosive, and highly imaginative.

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