Liner notes for M.O.B. Trio: Loose (OmniTone 15004)
"Looseness" lives in the eye of the beholder or, in the case of the M.O.B.Trio and quoting a title from a classic '70s Dewey Redman album, in the "ear of the behearer." Self-dubbed "The Tightest Untight Band," M.O.B. leaves space and harmony — looseness — implied for the behearer's ear to supply. Interplay operates on two levels: molecularly, like Brownian motion exciting and informing nearby particles; and macroscopically, like a dance hall of sweaty partiers dancing with purposeful abandon, purposely boogying to get down and enjoy each other's company.
"When we play with that kind of abandon, the shit's miraculous; everything comes together, and something happens that none of us expected or could even dream of happening," bubbles bassist Bob Bowen, the "B" in M.O.B. Not "abandon" as in frenetic or uninformed or even "free" in a "free jazz" sense, abandoning melody or harmony or time, but rather uninhibited, loose.
M.O.B.'s cohesion derives from these three consummate improvisers also being skilled composers. Like the context-rich works of Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman, M.O.B.'s compositions are informed compositions, encoded with the germ of improvisation, setting the stage for in-performance phenomena.
"When we get out of the written parts into the playing parts, you hear composers thinking," explains tenorman Ohad Talmor, the "O" in M.O.B. "That switch is always there — whether it's turned on or off, it's there. Either people turn the switch for the composer-mind on or not, and I think that's what's great; there's a combination of the two when we play. It dives in and out of that thing."
Both Bob and Ohad have formal degrees in composition (respectively, from the University of Dayton and the Manhattan School of Music), and drummer Matt Wilson (yes, the "M") has been writing since high school and contributes original compositions to many of the bands with which he performs.
"I think it has a lot to do with being carefree about it," adds Matt. "I think that's the mark of people just walking in and standing there naked and not worrying about it. And that's a real thing to get over: you can't walk away from a gig like 'We failed' or 'We succeeded'; you just have to walk away going 'We played.'"
And each of them has done exactly that, deeply and widely, outside of the collective M.O.B. Trio. Matt leads his own internationally acclaimed touring quartet, plays with the Dewey Redman Quartet, works as one of the most in-demand sidemen in bands ranging from Lee Konitz to Fred Hersch to Cecil McBee, and appears on over 65 recordings. Ohad fronts his own 4tet and 7tet (featuring Lee Konitz), collaborates in Full Circle Rainbow with trombonist Christophe Schweizer, and credits appearances with Chris Potter, Dave Douglas, and Blondie's singer Debbie Harry, as well as many leading European jazz musicians, including pianist Joachim Kuhn. Bob works with his other joint trio bowensacksweiss with Thelonious Monk Competition finalist pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Dan Weiss, and he counts John Hicks, Kenny Werner, Mark Murphy, Joe Lovano and James Moody among his sideman appearances.
Even with such wide and diverse territory, playing in M.O.B. titillates each member. They write for each other and the aggregate ensemble with playing and hearing in mind — a process they refer to as "M.O.B.izing."
"As far as I'm concerned, it starts with the aural imagination — the sound — that they all get," reveals Ohad. "They have such a specific sound. Bob is not limited to four strings — he had to play five — and he's got that big, fat sound, and Matt's got that beautiful, dark sound on the drums."
Bob's "Funk Assembly" typifies the group's wide openness. "We're not just talking about swing or Latin; we're talking about all sorts of kinds of grooves and all sorts of kinds of feels, and incorporating them and using the instruments that we have to be expressive in what ever kind of rhythmic feeling that we're talking about," comments Bob. "I wrote that with that in mind. Just to have a new backbeat, you know, some kind of funky stuff happening."
"Proxy," proclaimed by the group as "destined to become a 'M.O.B. classic,'" illustrates the groove convocation. "It's a very original tune, too. I love the writing," Ohad acknowledges. "It's got different sections; they're very different, yet very unified. Then they feed off the improvisation in a myriad of different ways." It's a tune M.O.B. performs at every gig, and it's one that can sound radically different every time they perform it.
Melodies pervade M.O.B.'s looseness — quasi through-composed strata, spasmodic fits of riffs, meandering musings. The lines blur pleasantly between composition and improvisation, but the motifs (and the band's motives) linger long after the band stops playing, even in the pensive, stripped down "S.A.D.," written by Ohad. "I think I was in Europe, and all of a sudden that tune just came to my head," recounts Matt. "I read this book recently with Paul McCartney and John Lennon. They said when they got together to write tunes, before tape recorders, if they couldn't remember it the next day, then it probably wasn't worth remembering."
Which takes us back to "behearing" — another type of abandon where the trio's members allow themselves to be listeners as much as participants in the musicmaking. The spirit behind the M.O.B. sound, colorfully channeled through the trio's instruments, sometimes wells out of the congregation in old time prayer meetin' testifying — as in the rollicking "Slog." Recalls Bob, "when I was coming up as a kid playing, I mean, you had to yell. If you were in the audience and someone played some bad shit, you had to yell." Hear here.