Despite the two rows of chairs on and in front of the stage at the Rotunda, only one musician emerged after presenters Dan Blacksberg and Nick Millevoi made their introductions last Sunday afternoon. As trombonist Connor Przybyszewski played, a few other musicians appeared — percussionist Ashley Tini with a few cymbal crashes, Julius Masri adding synth blurts and drones. Over the next 15 minutes, 17 different players came and went, some wandering through to interject a single noise, others sticking around to add to an accumulating swell of unpredictable sound.
That was just one piece of several at Sunday’s inaugural performance by the Archer Spade Spectrum Ensemble, each one using different techniques to guide the wholly improvised sounds of the large band. Archer Spade began life as the duo of trombonist Blacksberg and guitarist Millevoi, longtime friends and collaborators. The pair added concert presenters to their titles with a series of shows featuring music written for them by a variety of composers, along with other like-minded artists.
They became curators and organizers as well with last summer’s Spectrum Festival, which brought together more than a dozen local musicians to spark new collaborations and ideas in the Philly improvised music scene.
That effort continues with this month’s Spectrum Ensemble Sunday Matinee Series, which continues over the next three Sunday afternoons at venues around the city. “After the festival there was too much camaraderie and connection between all of us to not develop that further,” Blacksberg says. “It’s primarily developing as an ensemble, but we both want it to be more than that. It’s a group of people, it’s a community, and it’s an opportunity for the people within the ensemble to build new groups among themselves.”
Each show in the series will present a different way of looking at the ensemble, each in a different neighborhood. Following the debut of the entire group last weekend, this Sunday’s show in South Philly will subdivide the orchestra into a variety of large and small combinations. Later shows in Germantown and Fishtown will present pre-existing groups containing members and impromptu smaller combinations.
The idea for afternoon performances came from composer/saxophonist John Zorn’s ongoing series at his New York club The Stone. Realizing they could catch a show there and still have time for dinner before playing their own gig, Blacksberg and Millevoi became excited by the prospect. “We spent the whole day not shutting up about how cool that was,” Millevoi recalls. “We’re not competing with bands playing at a bar or somebody’s friend’s party. It’s not traditionally the way something like this happens, but this is an experiment to see if there’s a reason why not.”
Blacksberg adds, “For music to be experimental, the way you organize it also needs to be experimental. We’re just trying to go bigger and different.”
If you go
The Archer Spade Spectrum Ensemble Sunday Matinee Series continues Jan. 10, 17 and 24 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10. For more details, go to Archerspademusic.com.