Weird Turn Pro celebrates first record Oct. 13
by Christopher Hislop, Edge
Mike Effenberger, New Hampshire’s keyboard wizard, has been quietly leaving an indelible mark on the music he’s been involved with for years upon years now. The vastness of his resume and his willingness to contribute to musical projects of merit is rivaled by very few. All that said, Effenberger has, more often than not, always been a sideman. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But things changed, however mildly, at the turn of this calendar year when the mighty Eff introduced his new band, Weird Turn Pro – enlisting such Seacoast jazz luminaries as Matt Langley (sax), Chris Klaxton (trumpet), Chris Gagne (trombone), Rob Gerry (bass), and Mike Walsh (drums). Through a series of frequently infrequent gigs, Weird Turn Pro is, for all intents and purposes, the introduction of Effenberger’s very own compositions. Yes, he’s come out of the shadows as a sideman and has propped himself up in the shadows on the side of the stage fronting his own suite of tunes.
Now, ten months after the initial gig, Weird Turn Pro is set to release its debut full-length record, “The Repeatedly Answered Question,” at the Dance Hall in Kittery, Maine, on Friday, Oct. 13.
EDGE caught up with Effenberger to discuss many questions he’s likely been asked before.
EDGE: First things first, I like the description of the band on your brand spanking new Facebook page that declares the band Weird Turn Pro is a nod to Hunter S. Thompson with respect to channeling the value in both chaos and structured process. That said, the band is built upon your “first” stab at writing original material. How much of these tunes are built around a structured composition and how much on improvisation? What freedoms do you grant the band? How did they help flesh out the soundscape that exists within the operative musical loins of this project?
Effenberger: In the interest of honesty, I begged a friend to help me with that biographical text. Writing about my own stuff has turned out to be surprisingly hard and Nick Phaneuf has a good handle on what this music is about, so thanks to him for putting that aspect of the Thompson homage of the name of the band into so few words. There are a few different types of compositions on the record. Some are extremely light with on-the-page instruction, but are rehearsed, then yelled about, then re-rehearsed until they approach the intended effect. Other pieces are much more literal and contain relatively little freedom of pitch but much freedom of time. As far as the role of the band membership in the sound of the band: the music would be either profoundly different or, more likely, meaningless without this particular configuration of people. When the band is functioning well, playing in it feels like something between telepathy and cubism.
EDGE: Building on that a bit, were these “freedoms” explored in the studio, or were they rehearsed to some degree prior to hitting record?
Effenberger: We did get a few trial balloons in via local shows at places like the Press Room (PORTSMOUTH NEEDS YOU, PLEASE COME BACK SOON) and Fury’s as well as some rehearsals. The visions I had of how to achieve certain things in a rehearsal context turned out to change quite a bit in a live context, and some things slid around from that point when it came time to track, as well. Sort of an all-of-the-above as an answer, I guess. Part of the magic of composition is founded on honestly listening to the process that results in actualization: mistakes are a source of inspiration if and only if you yield the floor for them to speak to you, for better or for worse. Conversely, just because something worked beautifully at a bar doesn’t mean it will hold up on a recording. You have to be equally ready to commit to something and to discard everything when that is what’s called for.
EDGE: Weird Turn Pro came into existence back in January. How have things progressed since that inception? How have they stayed the same?
Effenberger: The band has progressed forward not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling toward freedom. That’s not my construction but is entirely accurate to this band’s progression.
EDGE: You’re releasing your debut record, “The Repeatedly Answered Question” at the Dance Hall in Kittery on Oct. 13. What can folks expect? What do you expect?
Effenberger: We’re looking forward to playing this music in a live setting with a great piano for the first time. It will be a first: whenever we’ve played live I’ve played a Fender Rhodes, which I love, but this music was written on and for an acoustic piano, and we’re happy to take advantage of the instrument that has landed at the Dance Hall.
We’ll play a lot of the music from the new record, but we’re recording the next one this winter and will play a fair amount of the new music, too. We’re also including pieces from my biggest compositional and ideological influences ... Jane Ira Bloom, John Hollenbeck, Reggie Workman compositions will all make an appearance in one way or another.
EDGE: Are you pleased with the way the record turned out? Do you ever have a moment – when listening to your own work – where you think, ‘damn, I can’t believe that happened’ (mostly in a positive context)...?
Effenberger: The guys did a killer job with the record, whatever they may tell you. There are some moments scattered across the record that defy my understanding of musical physics. The way that the groupthink in the horns becomes some sort of Greek chorus explaining the implications of the bass and drums, or vice versa, is pretty magical.
Separate from their genius, my primary ‘DAMN’ moment was the first time I heard the Chopin prelude that’s on this record as it was to appear on the CD. I had orchestrated the piece for the band, but then had written it backward so we could play it on gigs that way for a few months before tracking it in that format, leaving out the fact that the piece was going to be played backward on the CD. This yields the original piece forward, but with all backward sounds (I listen to music backward a lot and it’s always at least as good as it is forward). I had loose evidence that the Chopin prelude would probably be great, but to hear causality reversed in the drums while the horns travel through time came out heavier than I deserved.
EDGE: What is the repeatedly answered question?
Effenberger: The record title worked for me on a couple levels. It primarily references Charles Ives’ piece from the early part of the 20th century, “The Unanswered Question,” which I love and which made a variety of good points about the nature of unity, discord, possibility of communication between sides that are not to do with each other, and opposition. In it, there is a sort of timeless hymn-like string orchestra continuum with a question put forth by a trumpet in an unrelated time and key, with a group of winds responding in increasingly disparate ways. All the while, the strings continue to operate with Switzerlandian wanton disregard for both the question and the answer. I am interested in the layers of meaning that juxtaposition affords. There is no reason to restrict ourselves to only agreement or disagreement.
The title also plays into jazz in 2017 overall. The music on this record is at least jazz-ish, or at least couldn’t exist without jazz having first existed. For all its emphasis on contrast and unpredictability, jazz is a music founded on repetition. Soloists play the same chord changes and melodic phraselets over and over and over, chorus to chorus and song to song and record to record, painting instantaneous portraits of themselves and of their perceived realities. There are minimalist influences in my music, too, coming from a perspective that embraces repetition as a form of change (thank you Brian Eno) and examines what happens when things cease to change either for a time or forever. The question is answered repeatedly, not once, or it would be no answer at all.
Also, less seriously, concerning self-funding and attempting to promote an original jazz-like record in 2017: is it worth it despite questionable-at-best interest in jazz compared to other more popular music? I hope that musicians never stop answering that one.
EDGE: What’s the answer?
Effenberger: Yes. (Thank you, Steve Roy.)