These prolific musicians and longtime collaborators co-founded Creative Music Studio with Ornette Coleman in 1972 to encourage students to pursue their own ideas about music. Ingrid and Karl have had incredible, influential careers, performing with dozens of talented musicians including Don Cherry, Lee Kolnitz, Dave Brubeck, Ed Blackwell, Dave Holland and so many others. You can dive deep into Karl’s and Ingrid’s history on their webpages www.patreon.com/karlbergerandingridsertso
The concept of Musica Poetica is based on the idea that most of the music we hear has a kind of language quality, and what applies to communication through language applies also to music, but in a more precise way. Karl says “take the essence of what you're talking about rather than the object of what you're talking about. Essentially when you want to be successful in communicating music, the language rhythm is one of the most important things. You really need to feel what I call the ‘beat for beat attention’ to each syllable in order to translate music so that it can be understood and appreciated. Poetry is very close to music; music is an enhancement that brings in a different element of expression which poetry by itself does not have.”
Ingrid shares, “I studied Indian music for awhile, and learned that singing is telling a story. You don't concentrate on your voice, that's a technical thing you have to train every day. But when you actually then do it, to perform is telling a story. Whether you use words or not, it's very poetic.”
Karl and Ingrid didn’t set out to intentionally be poetic. Karl reflects on “several festivals in Europe where we had reviews which often used the word 'poetic'. I was wondering about that and I thought, 'Oh yeah, they're right - that's what we're doing’”
In Ingrid's work with her singing students, she implores “it is very important that you want to tell the world something, you want to give out to the world, you don't want to just show a beautiful voice. If you don't use words, you can also be very poetic with the way you express it, it has to do with dynamics and the wish to involve everybody, to tell something.”
In 2018 Karl and Ingrid started having Musica Poetica concerts locally in Woodstock, where they’re based, with various players, around the concept of poetry and music the way it's presented on this album. Karl says “it's not like a record where you have a singer and we're accompanying the singer. The poetry and singing is part of the music, and it's an equal voice in the sound”.
For this album, Karl and Ingrid revisited previous works, to reimagine them through the lens of Musica Poetica, including several pieces written by Ingrid.
“I just started, many years ago, writing my own lyrics to songs and it was so much fun.” Ingrid says, “I was always interested in poetry that speaks to everybody in the world, that can help everybody, that has to do with suffering or joy that everybody goes through.”
On the song “Dance with It” - a track from an album of the same name originally released by Ingrid in the 90s - the same lyrics are used but the musicians created a different musical interpretation for it: a 3/4 feeling, waltzy thing.
The track “On and On,” like much of Ingrid’s poetry, is all about the daily street life that everyone is living through. “On and On” means that it just keeps on going. As Ingrid says “We're born, we die, we play music.” On this track, the melody called lines and spaces, which Ingrid & Karl feel could be a really popular song if recorded in a different context and was something that people could actually sing.
Two of the album’s tracks, “White Clouds” and “Sky Gaze” were based on poetry by Italian guitarist Giancarlo Mazzu, who is also a Buddhist practitioner. Ingrid was drawn to his poetry because “I'm also a Buddhist practitioner. It's something that helped me a lot to go through my life. I love the stuff he’s writing, it’s very inspiring. He’s a very beautiful man, very simple, very loving.”
The duo met Giancarlo Mazzu in Sicily in 2018, when they travelled to work with a Sicilian improvisers Orchestra, which is a specialty of what they do. The Orchestra Filarmonica Laudamo is a group of about 30 classical and jazz players combined. This trip, preparing a concert with that group there for a week, was part of what inspired the eventual recording of the Musica Poetica album.
The director of Filarmonica Laudamo, pianist Luciano Troja, subsequently travelled to Woodstock with Giancarlo to record in quartet with Karl and Ingrid, using Giancarlo’s poetry as a base. Those recordings are the contents of a yet-to-be-released album, but from this session, the idea was born to use a few other Mazzu poems on an album called Musica Poetica.
About the influence of Buddhism, Ingrid shares “the most impressive thing about the Buddhist practice was to bring out what you really are and that's only possible if you're in the moment. If your mind clears up from past and future. So it's a constant work, it's actually an incredibly simple message, and that's why it's so complicated. It’s being in the moment, to bring out the child in you. Children don't have that problem, they're here. And they forget immediately and go to the next and go to the next.”
The track “I Was Born Naked” was created around the poem of Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master. Ingrid says the poem is “fantastic because the line ‘I hear the wind in the pines, I get an answer’ is a very deep spiritual message. All the study of Buddhism leads to one thing: Be Here. Be Now.”
“When we lived in Mount Tremper,” Ingrid recalls, “there was a zen center on the corner of our street where we often went, and were close to the zen teacher called Daido. The recently deceased famous jazz player Gary Peacock studied with that teacher for many years. One day he asked him, 'What is meditation really?' and the zen teacher said 'You do what you do while you're doing it'. Being here. Bring out the goodness. In my belief, everybody is good inside.”
“All I want to do is dance - then there would be no ‘I’” - Ingrid’s lyric from the track “Dakini” - is another expression stemming from her Buddhism practice. The words evoke a sense of living in the moment, how to forget the ego and just be.
Karl’s Vibraphone Solo is a piece called “Fragments” that he has been performing since the 70s. It takes on a different form every time because only 5 or 6 notes of those are really defined and the rest is not, so for him it's going through what wants to be played at that moment, each time he performs it.
On being a famous vibes player, Karl shares “It's interesting because this kind of vibraphone solo got me all this acclaim in the media, because I don't play vibraphone like anyone else. It’s not that I'm trying to play different, the reason is I don't know how to play the vibraphone!” He laughs, “I'm a piano player, I studied classical piano, I know the piano in and out. With the vibraphone I purposely never had one lesson, I'd just play it the way I liked to play it. I used to make sounds on it that nobody else does and for that reason I’ve been listed in the Downbeat poll for like 30 years!”
About the Piano Solo here, Karl says “The solo playing I got into lately stems from a gig 10 years ago that we played for Creative Music Studio at Symphony Space in New York. We performed before producer / musician John Zorn that night. He heard our set, and afterwards John came and offered me a record deal. He said he wants 3 records of piano music. I asked him why. John said ‘Well, you don't play piano like anyone else!’ I wasn't really that aware of that because the focus was always on the vibraphone as far as the critics are concerned. So, in the last 10 years I've developed that style more. I wasn't playing a chordal style like most piano players do, I play a counter pointal style which is more like baroque music, just different lines from the left and right hand flow into each other. It's kind of a different sound in its quality and that's what John Zorn wanted.”
Karl continues, “Now I realize that when I sit down and play solo, something really interesting happens with playing these lines, they somehow flow all by themselves, I'm no longer having to think about anything which is very unusual, so I like to work on that. I’m playing more piano right now than I play vibraphone. I’m basically coming back to the piano which is originally the instrument which I studied classically for many years. While the vibe is like a toy for me.”
“I love that title! It's incredible!" is what Ingrid said when she learned the name of the bass solo for this record, “Not My President”. It ends in beautiful long tones, which then almost seamlessly leads into the guitar solo, in a way that connects perfectly. They were not recorded in sequence but it works.
The album closer “Allaba” is based on the rhythm of that word, a tempo piece at the end to release the emotion from the whole album, which is pretty slow in orientation. The idea is to release that energy into a dance. The guitar solo by Alvaro Domene that precedes this track is already based on the “Allaba”composition.