Music obviously serves many purposes, from the stuff you like because it makes you dance to songs that you feel someplace deep in your gut. There exists, however, music that becomes less about an outside catalyst for feeling and more about the processes at play in its creation. Such music can become more participatory or, perhaps, more educational; it requires a higher level of focus or understanding and can extract more energy to appreciate in meaningful ways. But it also has the power to be revelatory and eye-opening. The Glass Key Trio rests on the cusp of just that.
The trio consists of local heavy-hitters Jeremy Bleich (guitar), Casey Anderson (bass) and Loren Bienvenu (drums), each known for varying projects from jazz and rock to avant-garde composition, but each is beyond-talented and in search of something more than simple time signatures or played-out licks. For the new band, Bleich, Anderson and Bienvenu have conceived a strange combination of folk, gospel, spirituals, ragtime, jazz and experimental curiosities, all without adhering too intensely to any one, and without an easy means to genre-fy. Still, they pull from enough of the familiar as to sneak in the freer elements of their compositions without the listener really even noticing.
"I started writing some of these tunes in the '90s," Bleich says wrly, "but I just never did anything with them." Bleich is perhaps best-known locally as the composer for Wise Fool's annual Circus Luminous acrobatic event but, for his personal writing, tends toward the more avant-garde. This exists within Glass Key Trio's work right down to its core, though alongside certain compositional necessities is a commitment to improvisation.
Experimental might be a great term if it weren't so loaded. "Composing can be really funny," Bleich says. "You can take it very seriously or you can play games with it, and I have this funny relationship with jazz because I was more into the world of free-playing, and it can be hard to live in the jazz world unless you're interested in staying in 'that' box."
Bleich enlisted Anderson, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music in Boston and a celebrated improvisationalist in his own right, after last year's Circus Luminous for which Anderson served in the band. "Jazz is a quirky vehicle for improv, but a sweet one," Anderson explains of his own contributions to Glass Key Trio. "I think it's scratching at something more intimate and sincere and the interaction between people. I think people want to see musicians either go on a journey or go along with them for that journey, and if I'm magnetic enough about how I present that, I know I've got them."
For Bienvenu's part, percussion is minimal yet vital. He plays with time and tone in a way that might otherwise feel masturbatory, but beneath Anderson's almost exotic bass work and Bleich's wild guitar movements, it provides structure and drive without getting in the way. "It's a hard thing to do as a drummer, but to Loren's credit, he has an incredibly keen sense of keeping the dynamic range while still pushing the music," Anderson says.
Thus far, recordings are sparse, though Bleich did provide some rough cuts recorded at his studio in Chupadero. The songs are strange yet familiar, with roots in finger-picky guitar that vacillates between feeling jazzy and moody to almost Middle Eastern takes on Spanish-style strumming patterns. With Anderson's own composition and improv layered beneath this, there's an unspoken trust at play that's obvious. "It's an organic process, for sure," Bleich assures. "I kind of decided on this idea of working through styles, and it's easy to get up and play free—it's invariably more fun."
Both guitar and bass are acoustic and, for the upcoming show at San Miguel Mission, the band plans to go without amplification of any kind. This should prove interesting, or at least captivating—like when someone whispers and you have to lean in to hear them properly. Regardless, with the improvisational angle, it should certainly be unlike anything else you've heard of late.
"For me, it's never been about a destination," Anderson adds. "It's about the walking, and if you can walk with your friends, all the better. We're talking about exploration, and that's key: Whatever vehicle we're using to materialize [the music], it is driven by that fuel of exploration."
Glass Key Trio:
8 pm Saturday May 5. $10-$20.
San Miguel Mission,
401 Old Santa Fe Trail,