Hybrid moments: Improvisational sextet Liberated State search for new sonic combinations

Global and hybridized: The band’s intuition, creativity and chemistry help the musicians tell their stories. Photo by Frank Zipperer Photography.

who: Liberated State
where: Lexington Avenue Brewery
when: Friday, Nov. 9 (10 p.m. $6. lexavebrew.com)

There are two competing theories about the effect the Internet has had on art and culture. One suggests that the availability and accessibility of any specific sub-sub-sub-genre makes it easier for consumers to become more discriminating and narrowly focused on their tiny corner of the artistic spectrum. The other claims the opposite: The increased access and availability to artistic ideas opens the culture to wide-reaching mixtures of styles spanning time and geography, in a way the world has never seen before.

Local sextet Liberated State sides with the latter. In a press release for the band’s Nov. 9 performance at Lexington Avenue Brewery, Liberated State co-founder Jason DeCristofaro said, “The group's mission is to create a new global and hybridized music for the 21st century, combining elements of various musical sound scapes.”

The avenues to that “global and hybridized music” are mapped by the diverse backgrounds of Liberated State’s contributors. Vibraphonist DeCristafaro brings a background in classical composition and jazz improvisation, and apart from the band, teaches music theory, sight singing and world music at Brevard College. Trumpeter and co-founder Sean Smith plays in the Greensboro-based Afro-beat band The Brand New Life, which he joined after leaving the Asheville band Afromotive. DeCristofaro and Smith compose Liberated State’s entire repertoire, but, DeCristofaro affirms the band’s democratic approach. 

“Sean and I compose all the music for the group, but it’s the ideas of the musicians, and what they do as improvisers and collaborators, that makes it such an organic and exciting group project,” he says. “The music Sean and I write is notes on a page. The reason it comes to life is because the group has some fantastic musicians.”

Tenor saxophonist Matt Getman, bassist Danny Iannuci and drummers Micah Thomas and Isaac Wells (a relatively recent addition), he says, are all irreplaceable contributors. He praises their intuition and creativity, their chemistry and communication. “We all try to be storytellers,” DeCristofaro says. “That’s really what a great soloist does, and that’s something we’re all attempting to do … It’s very intellectual at times, but it’s hopefully also a very emotional experience.”

The origins of Liberated State trace to a local jazz jam in early 2010, where DeCristofaro and Smith met for the first time. After a run through Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly,” the two realized they shared a similar approach to making music. When they realized each had composed pieces that didn’t fit neatly into any existing projects.

“We came to the realization, it’s just easier to call it hybridized music because that gives us the liberty to just do whatever we want creatively,” DeCristofaro says.

In a formation modeled after Miles Davis’ Second Quintet (which included pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Tony Williams and saxophonist Wayne Shorter), Smith and DeCristofaro recruited Getman, Iannuci and Thomas to fill the roster. Wells joined more recently, adding to the band’s polyrhythmic world-music impulses.

So far, hearing Liberated State has been a live-only prospect, and even that has become a rarity. Smith having moved to Greensboro, Liberated State hasn’t played a gig in more than a year. Only a few recorded documents of the band exist, streaming online at Liberated State’s ReverbNation page and on YouTube. There are no studio recordings, at least not yet.

“Because the music is based in improvisation, it’s very much about the temporal experience,” DeCristofaro says. “It’s very much about going to a live show, and the only time you’re going to hear that is at the show. That’s not to say we haven’t considered recording or putting out an album, but I think right now we’re still trying to explore all the possibilities as a live band.”

While Liberated State is perhaps most deeply rooted to its jazz formation, the music quickly veers from tradition. “We’re technically not a rock band, we’re technically not a jazz band. We’re not technically a world band,” DeCristofaro says. “It’s really an anything-goes kind of aesthetic.” And, indeed, he cites Impressionist composer Claude Debussy as readily as he mentions Motown, Persian music and Afro-beat arrive in the same breath.

Part of his excitement for playing in Liberated State stems from what DeCristofaro sees as the freedom afforded by the Information Age, to cross aesthetic boundaries to form new musical combinations. Combining genres, he’ll concede, isn’t a new idea — it’s been happening almost as long as there have been genres to combine. But what is new is the volume of new ideas, all with the opportunity to be heard.

“We live in a time now when it’s understood and expected for things to be freely interchanged and mixed up in a way that wasn’t before,” DeCristofaro says. “It’s no longer unacceptable to take elements of five different musical styles to create a whole new unique genre. That’s something we’re really trying to be a part of.”

Bryan C. Reed is the online editor at Shuffle Magazine, and a regular contributor to MAGNET and Paste.

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