I have been thinking about trios and why I love them. It drew me to ideas of consciousness and listening that relate to language. I think that we listen most in duos when it comes to language; it’s not impossible to listen to more than one person at a time but I’d say generally, in any gathering, we listen to many people one at a time. Of course conversations are chaotic and no one obeys the rules, but all the same there seems to be a kind of binary structure that you could associate with language: speaker/listener. Of course, improvisation is chaotic and no one obeys the rules, but I think the trio is a fantastic place to learn how to listen beyond the duo, so that you can play in any mess of any description encompassing as many improv warriors as the mind can imagine.

The reason I bring this up was that I was thinking that in any conversation there may well be moments where we swerve out of listening, it’s no crime, but that this is a kind of intrinsically duo modality. In the trio you can zone out too, or in the symphony orchestra, I’m sure, but the fading of attention in language processes I think may imprint onto our listening facility as musicians, so that we may struggle to listen to sound as a whole process and focus on individual voices too much. This brings up issues of structure and vocabulary that are I think at base linguistic in a way that may not be helpful to music improvisation, in that they bring conceptual processes associated with a preconceived structure, language itself. Blimey.

Well fuck all that. My image for the trio is the Ouroboros, the snake with its tail in its mouth, symbol of continuity and rebirth. There is a kind of wave that can flow around a trio where we can learn to listen to the whole wave and respond to it, rather than listening to our colleagues and co-conspirators as individuals in turn, separated by our attention. From this lovely circular motion we can extrapolate into bigger, more populous waves, until a crowd sound becomes possible. This explains my complete commitment to the liberation of all people through music: it invites them into the wave.

Keith Jafrate – January 2015

In Praise of Trios
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