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Dr. Eugene Chadbourne
Houston TX, 23 January 2000

Guitarist Eugene Chadbourne has been experimenting with the integration of improvised music and the country and western song form for many years. His earliest efforts date back at least to the early 1980s. At MECA (Multicultural Education & Counseling Through the Arts) in Houston, he joined forces with trombonist David Dove, harmonica player Walter Daniels, and pedal steel guitar player Susan Alcorn to explore further the possibilities inherent in this union. From many aspects, it was the ultimate phase of the fusion movement that has seen jazz mated with so many other disciplines. Chadbourne has labeled his band the Ernest Tubb Memorial Band in honor of the C&W singer who sustained a career of over 50 years and is a legend in the country music field. Chadbourne describes the band's style as "New Directions in Country Music" or "Avant-Garde, Free Form, Country and Western Bebop". To say it was different would be a gross understatement.

The band was comprised of players from both sides of the fence. Dove is an improvising trombonist who plays both freeform and straight-ahead jazz. His creative energy has also led him into experimentation with electronic jazz. Daniels is primarily from the blues / rock / country camp, while Alcorn is capable of going both ways. Her excursions into the realm of totally liberated steel guitar playing have been extremely ambitious. Chadbourne restricted the music on the program to material by four C&W/Rock & Roll icons—Willie Nelson, Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, and Doug Sahm. He opened the program in typical country style by singing in twangy fashion and similarly strumming his guitar while the band injected a loose mixture of free response. The fence between the two genres soon collapsed into a free-for-all of wild expression, only to fall quickly back in line with verse or an occasional New Orleans beat. When they were free, they were very, very free, but when they played 'in', it was a country music fan's delight. During his respites from the rigid structure imposed by country music, Chadbourne improvised in exuberant style, displaying his lightning-fast touch and maniacal fingering. He mixed the blues as well into the formula, which gave the other artists a different challenge.

Dove sputtered and growled with tones totally diverse from the country rhythms, and Daniels and Alcorn did likewise, yet they always reverted to the country theme and beat. The Doug Sahm piece "Revolutionary Ways" had more rock than country in it, but the collective improvisation reversed the direction. Dove blew a mini freeform concert and Alcorn became almost violent banging the steel bars against the strings in a spontaneous explosion of sound. Daniels wailed emphatically as he responded to this new form of expression and actually was quite adept at finding a niche. The Texas two-step beat, however, dominated a large portion of the program, and although the flights of improvised fancy went far afield, they were generally too short in duration before Chadbourne corralled them all back in line.

Chadbourne is an eclectic musician who appears unwilling to be typecast. He claims the sincerity and sentimentality of country music enticed him to explore the marriage with jazz. On this date, he certainly proved to be a complex musician who refuses to be neatly categorized and filed away. While the program may not have been totally fulfilling for strict devotees of either art form, it unleashed a conversation on the creative possibilities available to an open mind.