Looks like it’s a Six Families affair

by Grant Tillery

While some musicians chase perfection, the members of Six Families believe such a pursuit is a foolâÄôs errand. Because musicians rotate in and out of the ensemble for each show, they find their sweet spot in dissonance and spontaneous harmonies. âÄúPerfectionâÄôs really fast,âÄù band member Noah Ophoven-Baldwin said. âÄúYou canâÄôt really catch him. The dudeâÄôs quick.âÄù Though Six Families formed in 2013, the collective is nebulous and indefinable. The idea sprung from a phone conversation Ophoven-Baldwin and member Tara Loeper had one night, but thereâÄôs no definitive driving force behind the group besides their combined curiosity and desire to explore their music. âÄúItâÄôs thoughtful music, thatâÄôs what Six Families is in to,âÄù Ophoven-Baldwin said. âÄúIt doesnâÄôt really matter what it sounds like specifically; it comes from a place thatâÄôs thoughtful, personal and intentional, and thatâÄôs why itâÄôs nebulous. I donâÄôt want to define it.âÄù Six FamiliesâÄô past shows include performances with the International Novelty Gamelan to performances featuring a two-of-each-instrument pairing (i.e. two vocalists, two saxophonists and such) with written and improvised selections. Many of their pieces are drone-like and feature permutations on a single note, chord or motif. For their upcoming show at Jazz Central this Friday, the collective is tapping the creative juices of Nebraskan composer Adam Zahller (University of Minnesota masterâÄôs student alumnus). Zahller is back in town premiering his piece âÄúPiss Lasso.âÄù The song combines an improvising big band and a soprano chorus who wonâÄôt play with each other until the night of the event. While Zahller is best known for his intricate compositions mislabeled in the New Music genre, âÄúPiss LassoâÄù is entirely unrehearsed and written with the time constraints of the performers in mind. Contemporary music provided a reprieve from the monotony of music school for many members of Six Families. Discovering and playing art music provoked intellectual curiosity and stimulation in a way that 18th-century operas didnâÄôt. âÄúThe theater and dance people were doing really cool shit, and I was a little bit embarrassed of inviting them to my senior recital [because] it felt so irrelevant,âÄù Loeper said. The members of Six Families reject the labels of jazz and experimental music theyâÄôve been pigeonholed into. While much of the crew is versed in both genres, they find avoiding labels makes innovation easier than if they stayed within a set of parameters. âÄúItâÄôs like a hefty apparatus to have to move,âÄù Zahller said of composed music and genre. âÄúIf you want to change orchestral music, thatâÄôs going to happen really slow. ItâÄôs like turning an ocean liner but one rudder wants to go one way and the other rudder wants to go the other way. âĦ What you end up with is, like, Nico Muhly.âÄù Zahller currently bunks in his hometown of Lincoln, Neb., while he travels the country collaborating with like-minded folk. Living in Lincoln is cheap enough to allow Zahller such opportunities. âÄúI donâÄôt know if you were aware, but [for] formalist composers, the golden gates donâÄôt open,âÄù Zahller said. âÄúYou donâÄôt walk out with your diploma onto your private jet, and go like, âÄòOK. HereâÄôs the land of quarter-tone playing oboists that have a six-figure salary and a hot wife.âÄôâÄù However, Six Families received a grant last year from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council that allows their members to earn a fairer wage for shows. The grant money is crucial for them to continue their musical experimentation. âÄúIf you donâÄôt try to provide too much context, people are hungry,âÄù Zahller said. âÄúPeople are curious, and one of the amazing things about people is their capacity to make a story out of something. If you bring them something well-presented, thoughtful and beautiful âÄî even if itâÄôs very foreign to their experience âÄî theyâÄôll make something out of it, if you donâÄôt try to make it first.âÄù