The story of The West Edge Trio
notes by Axel Mundi
The members of The West Edge Trio met at an espresso cart under the Monorail in Seattle in 1985. Electric-bass player Stuart Gregory had been in and out of a dozen or so local rock bands since coming to the Northwest in 1983. He had begun to find it difficult to get into a group after his primary musical interest had become chanting to a minor Buddhist deity in Japanese. Tenor saxophonist Dave Christos, an ex-postal worker from the Bay Area, had moved to Seattle about ten years earlier after having been fired for allegedly offering sax for hire through the mail while on duty. He had been ekeing out a living as a session musician for what he called New Age Elevator projects. Finnish cellist Fron Kristenborg, having paid her dues in the New York avant garde scene since coming to the United States in 1974 at the age of sixteen, had recently arrived in Seattle hoping to get into a grunge band. She was working as a sales clerk at Nordstrom Rack. The three hit it off when they found that they all had amplifiers and that they all liked quad tall lattes.
They began jamming in a storage garage Gregory was renting (and living in), playing as loudly as possible in keeping with the local tradition. Before long they had taken the name The West Edge Trio because, as Christos put it, “we always felt like the music scene here was about to fall into the Puget Sound”. They hooked up with a sound engineer who was working at the local college station, and with his help began playing at open mic and new band nights, sharing the stage with a variety of flannel-clad thrash groups. Their style, which tended to consist of twenty- or thirty-minute improvisations on compositions by group members, quickly earned them a reputation in the local music scene as a group to avoid being billed with. Still, they were noticed by local New Music promoters and soon were being invited to play at arts venues where people actually bought season tickets and had wine and cheese during intermission.
A local indie record producer, Steve Fiskar (heir to the Fiskars scissors fortune), who had recently become even richer by selling a Seattle grunge band to a major label, met the group at the Alligator Clip Cafe. He asked them if they would like to make a record for his new label, Before Fading Out Records, which he hoped would establish the Northwest as the new center for intellectual art music. The three leapt at the chance, after leaping at a local music business lawyer. They spent the next three months in a retreat center on the Oregon coast, composing two hours a day, sleeping in a yurt, and eating brown rice and tofu. They emerged with about two hours-worth of pieces written specifically for their instruments, and which were no more than ten minutes each.
Recording sessions for this album have become legendary not only (nor primarily) for the musicianship produced by the group, but also for the roster of rock, jazz, and classical musicians who showed up to watch the three at work. They began to receive offers from newly rich grunge-rockers to appear on their albums, and from regional film producers to write soundtracks. Gregory, Christos, and Kristenborg seemed unphased by these offers, focusing all their attention on their own recording process. The album, which the group had decided to call Fear Of Hemispheres, was completed in the summer of 1987.
At that point things began to go awry. Fiskar, always looking out for his own future as well as his band's, decided that the music was too good to put out on a local label, even his own, and he took off for New York and Los Angeles to shop the group to a major. While on the road he was arrested for possession of a controlled substance and found himself embroiled in the legal system, unable to promote his product. Meanwhile, West Edge had been playing shows locally to advertise their new music. This led to tension among the three as Kristenborg developed a drinking problem due largely to the endless free drink tickets the clubs gave the band, while Gregory and Christos began a rivalry for who should be the frontman on stage. Their performances gradually became more like free-for-alls than the disciplined playing that had been in evidence in their recording sessions. A couple of skeptical reviews in the local press caused their audience to swell, but unfortunately not with the kind of listeners who could actually appreciate what they were trying to do with their music.
Ultimately Fiskar was cleared of his charges and Kirstenborg went into treatment. But the momentum had passed and the album remained unreleased. Disheartened by the whole experience, the members of the group drifted apart. Stuart Gregory, who had become enthralled with gamelan music, moved to Bali, where he still lives. Fron Kristenborg went to Austin, Texas and got a job in the offices of South by Southwest. She has occasionally appeared on albums by Indie and Tex-Mex bands. Dave Christos, as Steve Fiskar put it, "fell into a hole in his head and never came out." He eventually became interested in video production and now makes music videos for Seattle bands.
With the release this year of a newly remastered version of Fear Of Hemispheres by Northwest musician Axel Mundi on his own label, there is renewed interest in the story of The West Edge Trio. Mundi says he got in contact with all three members of the group (he found Gregory, in Bali, via Skype) after hearing the original tapes at Steve Fiskar's house. Fiskar and the three group members gave him permission to put out the CD. He hopes he can convince Christos, Kristenborg, and Gregory that the time is right for a reunion and maybe some new recording sessions at his studio in Kitsap Peninsula. "There's nothing like old New Music for inspiring new music from old musicians," said Mundi.