On any given day, many of us don’t leave the house without a GPS or maybe a navigational app. If we’re setting off on an especially important trip we’re careful to prepare ourselves with a downloaded map and directions. We turn a blind eye – or a deaf ear – to the charms of adventures off the beaten path.
Luckily for listeners, members of the leaderless group TranceFormation--pianist Connie Crothers, bassist Ken Filiano and vocalist Andrea Wolper--have thrown such caution to the winds: They regularly embark on their musical journeys without charting their way in advance. The music presented here is 100 percent live, 100 percent improvised.
Of course, when people have been doing this a long time—these three made music together in different combinations for years before TranceFormation played its first gig in 2006—they’re such experienced adventurers they don’t need much in the way of navigational tools. “It’s such a high,” Crothers says. “There’s nothing like flinging yourself into something you know is the unknown.”
The trio takes its name from “getting into the trance mode” when they play, Filiano says. “Not just us, but the listeners as well. I believe that the potency of music comes to full realization when it is received by listeners who are in the moment, too.” There’s also a sense of transformation, of an upending of expectations. “The sounds and sonic structures we get into during the free stretches transform themselves throughout the improvisations—and we (the players and listeners both) can get expectations transformed by the arrival of sounds that can be contrary to the expected.”
For Wolper, “It’s all about listening and feeling. Everything I do is a direct result of what Ken and Connie play. I never really know what direction the music will take. It’s not reactive; it’s instant by instant. I’m not remembering the last instant or thinking of the instant that follows.”
As Filiano puts it, “Being in the moment is where the freest and most honest expression exists; this is what I believe.”
The spontaneous composition, focused in-depth improvisation, the interplay and telepathy, how they get here from there feels like magic happening between trusted and nimble collaborators. Vocal parts of “The Same Moon” and “The Things You See in New York” flow like well-rehearsed readings. Thoughtful and thought provoking, comforting and challenging, these words—more like hip fairy tales than lyrics—were conjured on the spot by Wolper, and could be parts of conversations many of us would eagerly dive into.
But there’s no mistaking TraceFormation for a singer’s group. Over the course of their careers, each member of this accomplished and experienced threesome has developed a strong individual musical persona. In TranceFormation, the players experience something akin to a merging of identities that allows for greater spontaneity and more intuitive expression. “We’re not suppressing our individualism with TranceFormation, we’re jumping out of it,” Crothers says. “That doesn’t mean the individualism doesn’t exist, but it’s not where the focus is.”
The opening notes—who will play them is often determined simply by eye contact or a nod—are the jumping off place from which the fun begins. And TranceFormation is great fun. It’s not unusual for listeners or band members to let loose with grins or guffaws during gigs, perhaps over a mid-tune change of direction or a sublime moment of synchronicity. After countless sessions, the three still startle and delight one another.
The intimacy of this performance, the communication, the intuitive understanding, the surprising twists and turns are an adventure for the ears and the imagination. If the players put themselves out there this honestly, what listener can afford to be less open? With TranceFormation, the journey is the destination. – Elzy Kolb