When Constance, John, and Tom met in Tom Desisto's professional studio in Woodstock, New York, in December of 2011, they had never improvised as a trio before. Yet their very first track, created within minutes of their arrival, became the title track of their first CD, Excitement Within the Trojan Horse, and set the trio's pattern:
Completely improvised works, musically and dramatically fueled by years of performing widely-differing genres
Bold instrumental technique
Confidence in the great beauty, accessibility, and power of the sounds of contemporary music
Profound concentration on their music while recording, with no editing or fixing afterwards.
Two other Chemical Composition CDs attest to the staying power of these principles: Uttered Fast but Without Haste, and Notes Are Rain, Timbre Is Snow, a collaboration with the Shakuhachi player Jeffrey Lependorf.
CONSTANCE COOPER, composer/improviser, began working as an improviser with the FirstAvenue Ensemble at Merkin Hall, Princeton University, and The Kitchen in the 1990s. She then received first prize in the 2002 Gustav Mahler Competition (Austria) for her Acrobat, a double concerto with improvised solo violin and cello parts. A commission from the American Composers Forum led to her multi-movement Coming From Us, with new string-instrument hand-positions, bows, and notation (Cadence/Quixotic 5007). Her improvisatory pieces for organ, synthesizer, and bass Repaying Sin-Driven Senators by Not Thinking About Them were completed during a residency at ArtOMI. She received her PhD in composition from Princeton in 2003. http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/constance-cooper/id36603071
JOHN CACCIATORE After attending the Westchester Conservatory of Music, the percussionist John Cacciatore proceeded with a long and diverse musical life that has played a major part in the development of his signature arrhythmic style. Along with live concert performance, summer theater, and studio work, he has been a partner in recording and production with Steve Katz, the Grammy and Emmy nominee Peter Denenberg, and the Grammy winner Rory Young. Also known throughout the New York area as a vocalist, songwriter, guitarist, and choir singer, he has spent more than a decade volunteering his time and musical talent comforting hospice, nursing home, and hospital patients, leading him to write, produce, record, and donate a collection of songs for hospice organizations entitled Behind Sacred Walls.
TOM DESISTO is a composer, producer, sound designer, guitarist, arranger, and audio engineer. His credits include two Emmy nominations plus an art director’s award, and range from serious music, jazz, rock, pop, dance, and children’s records to music for film, advertising, and theater. He created a recorded score for The Room of My Life, a theater piece based on the poems of Anne Sexton. Tom collaborated with the composer Geoffrey Armes to create another recorded score, Golden Harp, for the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, where Desisto and Armes also improvised live in performance, playing midi guitar and acoustic piano. He frequently contributes music to the Linda Diamond/Anna Sokolow Dance Theater in Woodstock, NY. He has lent his talents to a variety of clients including CBS Television, Jonathan Demme, Ben E. King, NASA, Mattel Toys, and Children’s Television Workshop. www.desistomusic.com
JEFFREY LEPENDORF, whose operas and chamber music fuse unabashed lyricism with deep literary and historic exploration and a pervasive wit, is also a certified master of, and creator of new repertoire for, the shakuhachi (a traditional Japanese bamboo flute), who has his own honorific, “Koku” (“empty nothingness”), given him by the Kinko shakuhachi master Yoshinobu Taniguchi. His music has been performed around the globe—literally: a recording of his Night Pond for solo shakuhachi was launched into space in the shuttle Atlantis on May 15, 1997 and remained for a year aboard the Russian space station Mir. Born in 1962 in Philadelphia, Lependorf holds a doctorate in composition from Columbia University. He is Director of the Music Omi International Music Residency Program and also shares the executive directorship of two beloved literary organizations: Small Press Distribution and the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. www.jeffreylependorf.com
As a teenager trying to understand the ways of the world, two mysteries continually presented themselves to me: sports cars and jazz. The reasons why anyone would devote themselves to these endeavors completely eluded me. My experience with sports cars was the following: they were much smaller and more fragile than the big American cars I was used to. They cost more to purchase and more to repair. They all had dents in their hoods from the higher American cars backing into them when they parked. And they were always being broken into. Why would anyone want to become involved in this?
And jazz: what were these guys doing—I couldn’t understand it? It was not the norm played on the radio. It was not the best selling type of music, and the musicians themselves could hardly ever find work. Why would anyone want to become involved with this?
I would readily have ridiculed and dismissed both these endeavors had it not been for one inescapable factor: all the people I respected—all the people who were smarter and more experienced than I loved these two things. To dismiss sports cars and jazz would be to negate the esteem I held for these special individuals. No--if they liked it, there had to be something there. I was missing something, and to handily dismiss these endeavors would be extremely pompous of me. And so I asked “What do you like about sports cars?”, and I was told “Just drive one.” I did, and the next day I sold my American car and bought one, and have never looked back.
And so it is for Chemical Composition—when I was asked “What do you like about them?” I simply said give them a listen. Give them a listen and they will quite likely always have a place in your hearts. They are among that small group of artists who continue to push the boundaries of music—who dare us to learn more about the richness and definition of a musical experience. Just as the invention of the camera forced artists to abandon the pursuit of realism in painting, modern musicians have been exploring the place of melody and harmony in music, and daring to discover what type of musical experience can be attained by abandoning melody and traditional harmony. Can a musical experience exist without melody and harmony?
Chemical Composition joins the ranks of those committed to making a musical statement that avoids traditional harmony and melody. The group is comprised of three unique and experienced musicians: pianist Constance Cooper, percussionist John Cacciatore, and guitarist Tom Desisto—musicians well versed in the tradition of harmony and melody, but who are nonetheless committed to creating an alternate type of musical experience, and showing that “free music” requires as much discipline and rigor as any other form of music. Improvising musicians have always referred to what they do as “having musical conversations” with other band members; turn on Chemical Composition and learn how that conversation can be conducted without an AABA foundation.
Reviewed by Irwin Leibowitz
Dr. Leibowitz, a licensed psychologist as well as a jazz musician, wrote Essays in the Psychology of Music and Art for his college-level course, "The Psychology of Music and Art." He is a contributing columnist to Just Jazz Guitar Magazine. Some of his own jazz material is included in a volume of Chuck Wayne transcriptions for solo guitar.