Electro-Magnetic Return

The Electro-Magnetic Trans-Personal Orchestra will perform Saturday, July 28, at 784 65th St. in Oakland.

Aaron BennettElectro-Magnetic Trans-Personal Orchestra (Pax, 2000)

Bennett created this ensemble in the late ’90s, combining abstractly scored music with open-ended improvisation. “Vapor trails of structure” is how pianist Joe Lasqo words it in his blog — such a delicious turn of phrase.

The album is meant to be self-titled, but I’ve given the artist credit to Bennett mainly out of habit. For 12 years, I’ve thought of this CD as being his creation — what’s in play are his band and his scores, after all. It’s a mostly acoustic ensemble, with the “electro” part being fed by John Finkbeiner’s guitar.

Over time, the EMTPO gave way to other projects like Go-Go Fightmaster and Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & Switch, but Bennett has reconvened the Trans-Personal Orchestra recently, with the next performance being tonight in Oakland.

The band will feature six players, with one violin and one cello against three horns (Bennett on sax, Darren Johnston on trumpet, Rob Ewing on trombone) and Lasqo’s piano. One pleasant surprise is that Jeff Hobbs (violin) will be returning; other than Bennett, he’s the only holdover from the 2000 version of the band.

Not that the band requires the same people every time. I just like that little bit of continuity.

But of course, the music really comes down to the choices and abilities of the musicians. Group improvising is an exercise in collaboration and trust, musicians leading one another around blind corners. They don’t have a map, but the good ones know how to blaze a trail.

The album is strings-heavy compared with what you’ll hear Saturday. Two violins and two cellos keep the sound alternating between classical- and jazz-influenced moments: classical, when the strings take over and the woodwinds (Bennett or John Finkbeiner) strike in small curls; jazzy, when it’s just Bennett and a small fraction of the ensemble.

More specifically: The strings and Bennett’s sax (actually it sounds like a bassoon) quietly bubble in an orchestra-tuning-up feel near the end of the piece titled “C.” That’s followed on the album by the introduction to “D”: a cool jazz bassline and some sax fluttering, backed by small plucking and sloping sounds from the strings.

In case I’m making this all sound too cerebral, there’s a passage — I think on the track titled “E” — with Bennett going free-jazz wild with conch-shell-like calls and raspy screams on saxophone against the calmer backing of accordion and tuba. The closing track, “B,” ends with Bennett soloing aganinst Finkbeiner’s choppy electric guitar.

Hear the album for yourself at empto.bandcamp.com. Then you can go see the 2012 edition tonight.

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