Everyone Orchestra makes Aspen debut Thursday night at Belly Up
November 22, 2013
It could be said that John Kadlecik has had the ultimate gig in improvised music. Since mid-2009, Kadlecik has been the lead guitarist in Furthur, a post-Grateful Dead band that includes the founding Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir. For more than a decade before joining Furthur, Kadlecik was the guitarist — the Jerry Garcia role — in the tribute band Dark Star Orchestra. There was a structure to Dark Star — the group faithfully recreated past Dead concerts, song for song — but within that framework, Kadlecik was able to spin his guitar solos as the mood struck him. No fan would have expected him to resurrect a note-for-note Garcia guitar line; that would have been against the rules laid out by the Dead themselves. While for many the Dead are a relic of the '60s, and the idea of a band paying tribute is hopelessly nostalgic, the scene is patently robust. In mid-September, Kadlecik was improvising his guitar lines before some 9,000 fans a night during Furthur's four-night stand at Red Rocks.
The latest project Kadlecik is part of isn't playing on such a big stage. But the improvisation gets cranked up to the maximum. When Everyone Orchestra makes its Aspen debut Thursday night with a gig at Belly Up, Kadlecik and his bandmates won't have a set list prepared, or songs to play, or even chord progressions to follow. There won't even have been rehearsals. Everyone Orchestra, founded in 2001, takes an almost entirely improvised approach to performance. With drummer-turned-conductor Matt Butler leading the way with hand gestures, rhythmic body gyrations and notes hastily written on a whiteboard, the group takes the stage with virtually no preconceptions about where the music will head. Even the make-up of the band itself is fluid. More than 600 musicians, most from the improve-heavy jam-band realm, have taken a turn in Everyone Orchestra. Thursday night's show features Kadlecik, fiddler Bridget Law from the folkish Colorado band Elephant Revival, keyboardist Steve Molitz of Particle, two members — Steve Adams and Lebo — from ALO, and vocalist Sunshine Garcia Becker, a mate of Kadlecik's in Furthur, but not a relative of that other Garcia.
Much as Kadlecik craves the opportunity to create music in the moment, he sees structure as a necessary element of music making. "I always believe improvisation needs structure as a contrast," he said from his home in Maryland, not far from Washington, D.C. "That's a reason I fell in love with Grateful Dead music — the authentic roots connection, and the completely abstract, spontaneous things they did along with that."
In Everyone Orchestra, the arrangement is minimal; the musicians don't even discuss before a show what musical directions might be on their mind. "We're all composers in the moment. That's what this is all about," Butler said in an interview with The Aspen Times. But while the structure is close to invisible, Kadlecik finds enough of it to satisfy him.
“Improvisation is built into guitar. It’s got its own doorway into it that is more readily accessible.”
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"You have a conductor. You have Matt Butler," Kadlecik, a 44-year-old with a quick laugh, said. "He gives us guides to build improvisations around. They can be as specific as 'Funk in E-flat,' or as vague as 'Flowers growing,' just an image to try for."
Growing up in various Midwest cities, Kadlecik studied classical violin. He found the classical form tilted far too much toward rigidity.
"I wanted to know about improvisation. My teachers didn't have anything for me," he said. He found what he needed in the guitar. "Improvisation is built into guitar. It's got its own doorway into it that is more readily accessible."
In recent years, Kadlecik has developed an interest in African drumming, which drew him into the community of drum circles. It has proved to be a useful gateway to Everyone Orchestra. "I got into Everyone Orchestra and see a very similar approach. But applied to a rock band," said Kadlecik, who first performed in the ensemble two years ago, when Everyone Orchestra played a Grateful Dead-related benefit at the Fillmore in San Francisco, and also was part of a recent three-show run through New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Kadlecik seems to take full advantage of the freedom afforded by the fully improvised gigs. In Furthur and Dark Star Orchestra, he occupies the odd position of channeling Jerry Garcia while simultaneously being in the moment. Everyone Orchestra loosens him from any Garcia connection. Not that he's looking for an escape from his forebear. While Furthur will be taking off all of 2014, Kadlecik will tour as a member of Phil & Friends, bassist Phil Lesh's ensemble that focuses on the Dead's repertoire.
Perhaps the thing Kadlecik finds most intriguing about Everyone Orchestra is the absence of rehearsal. "Any other band I was in, going back to high school, you have to rehearse the structure parts," he said. "With this, the structure can be improvised on the fly. When Matt gives us the firmament to build on, we're all surprised. It becomes like comedy, like sketch improv."
Butler finds a strong element of humor in what Everyone Orchestra does. His contribution: a typical conducting outfit of a funked-up tuxedo jacket and top hat. "I love humor and the humility that comes with that: 'Let's make deep, spiritual music — and then do something ridiculous," he said.
Kadlecik finds that a sense of humor is absolutely necessary, given the circus-like, without-a-net goal Everyone Orchestra is aiming for.
"Everyone has to be comfortable with falling on their face in front of hundreds of people," he said. "You have to be able to say, 'Hey, wasn't that funny?' And then move on."
Thursday night at 9:30