The Margaret Explosion's music is infinite, eternally elegant, and mystical. It is a musical journey with no end --- or beginning, for that matter. The Margaret Explosion is slow-motion psychedelia that conjures images and colors. It will awaken things in your head. You will see.
The lyric-free lilt the music offers is a more complex and interesting narrative than found in most songs with words; like thoughts in larval from, before they get fleshed out with consonants and vowels. And in this case the narrative belongs to the listener --- as well the band --- for there is no map, no compass, no divining rod.
The Margaret Explosion set out as the most unlikeliest of things if you consider what the band sounds like now. The quartet --- Peggi Fournier, Paul Dodd, Bob Martin, and Ken Frank --- had secured Friday happy hours at The Bug Jar in October 1996.
"The initial idea before we started playing was we were going to do covers," says drummer Paul Dodd. "But we never came up with any covers and then we had the gig."
"When we sat down to do it we just jammed," says saxophonist Peggi Fournier.
The gig lasted three years.
The Margaret Explosion's home for the past three years has been the Little Theatre Café, where the audience's ebb and flow is contingent on movie times. The band plays comfortably beneath a haphazard symphony of slurps, sips, and the clatter and clunk of silverware and coffee mugs. Pre- and post-cinematic banter adds to the din. Not everyone listens directly. This doesn't rattle the Explosion.
"No, we like it," Fournier says. "We like to be background."
The Margaret Explosion has just released its third CD, Skyhigh.Skyhigh was recorded live in the band's basement studio. And in much the same way the band plays live, the songs were written as they were being laid to tape.
"They were all spontaneous," says Fournier.
"The first time we ever did those songs was when we were recording them," adds Dodd.
"We just count and go," says guitarist Bob Martin. Then he reconsiders: "We don't even count. We just go."
When artists jam, someone typically holds the baton; there is a framework. The Margaret Explosion doesn't have one. It's the blues without the bones.
"We call what we do simultaneous, spontaneous composition rather than jamming," Martin says. "And it's a huge difference."
The key to The Margaret Explosion's exploratory freedom is the fact that its members hang on the one; there are virtually no chord changes. Yet they keep it interesting somehow. The narcotic push and pull of Dodd's drums with Ken Frank's casual camel-in-a-caravan bass walk combine with Martin's lush wash of six-stringed layers that suggest a big, big sky. Fournier's soprano sax undulates like smoke. This is where melody merges with atmosphere.
"Fortunately Peggi's in the band," Martin says. "Otherwise it would sound pretty boring."
And when Martin solos, extant melodies sometime bubble to the surface. It's like faces in the sky; you stare at clouds long enough you're bound to see someone you know.
"If I sorta hear it in there, I'll play with it a little bit," Martin says. "It's kind of a staple of jazz; to quote a melody and move past it. It's very subtle never over the top."
Despite the sonic expeditions and excursions to anywhere, The Margaret Explosion does have a vague idea of what the music requires and how they can keep it fresh.
"There is certainly a pattern to what we do," Fournier says. "I'm sure a lot of people think everything we do sounds the same. We do try to make some variations."
Variations not withstanding, the core Margaret Explosion sound is eerie and dreamy and picturesque. You can thank the minor keys for that.
"It's a very happy minor," Martin says.
The Margaret Explosion celebrates the release of Skyhighwith guest pianist Pete LaBonne and assorted circus performers, Wednesday, November 29, at The Little Theatre Café, 240 East Avenue, 258-0412, 7:30-9:30 p.m., free. Videographer Duane Sherwood will also premiere his video interpretation of the band's tune "4 A.M."