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The Brooklyn guitar/drums free-jazz duo The Moon has been distinguishing itself in the crowded New York jazz scene and garnering critical acclaim for its intense and raucous, yet articulate performances and charged, inspired recordings, including its latest album on 577 Records, Good and Evil.
The duo fuels its primal, adventurous sonic assault with both eclectic musical sources, like late-’60s psychedelia and 20th century classical music, and an instinctive sixth sense. It breaks free from the often-insular NYC environment, eager to travel the nation and cross oceans in order to explore both externally and internally, including a recent trip to Morocco to collaborate with local musicians.
Guitarist Adam Caine and drummer Federico Ughi answered some questions via email for The Pulse in advance of their May 26 concert at Barking Legs Theater.
The Pulse: What are your expectations for a successful concert?
Adam Caine: I just want to play my ass off. And I’m grateful for an audience that brings its own energy.
Federico Ughi: I would say that usually, if by the end of the concert everybody in the room comes together to some sort of understanding, that feels good to me.
TP: Do you have any improvisational strategies or philosophies?
AC: I play by intuition as much as possible. “Don’t play what you practice, don’t practice what you play,” Paul Smoker used to say. Smoker is a phenomenal, underrated trumpet player in my hometown, Rochester, NY. So I’m intensely prepared, but spontaneous. At the same time, it’s important to let a musical idea grow within the context of an improvisation. I’m interested in creating something that feels compositional. This demands a lot of focus.
FU: When I improvise, when I play in general, I try to listen to what’s happening around me as much as possible. I try to listen to “the room” as a whole. I try to feel the people around me, musicians and audience. I try to get a sense of their feelings. I learned this from [free-jazz saxophonist] Daniel Carter. Another element very important to me is following my instinct, in the moment. This usually tells me what to play next. I’m trying to stay away from premeditated strategies and clichés as much as I can.
TP: Describe your musical relationship with each other.
FU: When we play together, especially if it’s The Moon, I feel like we are in the same sonic dimension, in the same part of the sound structure. As the music develops, we follow each other into the various parts of the improvised composition, like a unit, as one sound monster with one body and two heads. I think that this is only possible with hours and hours of playing and hanging together. It’s one of the aspects that I really love in music making.
AC: I think a musical relationship is as much about hanging out as it is about playing. We’ve been on the road five times, we’ve been to Morocco, we’ve played together with Daniel Carter, Connie Crothers, Jimmy Halperin, Abdullah El-Gourd; some of the greats. It all informs the duo. We trust each other.
TP: What were the highlights of your Morocco trip?
AC: It was incredible to play almost every night with Abdullah El-Gourd and Dar Gnawa Du Tangier. They were so welcoming and interested in what we were doing. They are highly skilled practitioners of a deep musical tradition, but very open to jazz and improvisation.
TP: What would you say to a person who believes that free-jazz is just noise?
FU: Some people think that Jackson Pollock’s paintings are just dirt on a canvas.
TP: How do you see each other’s strengths?
AC: Federico is real—he plays with a lot of feeling. He has a tremendous sense of timing, which of course is what you want from a drummer. He is incredibly dynamic and has the patience to let a musical structure grow. Though we play “free” music, we almost always have a pulse happening—a groove, or jazz time—and Federico is responsible for a lot of that.
FU: Adam knows how to listen. He can rock the house but he’s also a very sensitive player. He’s also crazy, which is a great gift.
The Moon, May 26, 7:30 p.m., $5. Barking Legs Theater, 1307 Dodds Ave. (423) 624-5347, barkinglegs.org.
This Memorial Day event will be preceded by a free Chattanooga Improvisors Collective open jam session at 4 p.m. and an outdoor potluck at 6 p.m.