Casper Star-Tribune
Music communicates with ‘a spontaneous dialogue’ in Powell
Star-Tribune correspondent

POWELL - When most contemporary musicians head for the recording studio, they may take weeks or even months to achieve layers of overdubs and polished production.

But drummer Ronnie Bedford of Powell and classical pianist Carol Lian of New York City recently laid down a new compact disc in three days, using Powell High School’s auditorium as their studio.

Drums and grand piano may seem an unusual combination. But that’s not all that’s unusual about this second album by Bedford and Lian. The musicians improvised the entire session. Nothing’s written down or rehearsed. The recording is made in single takes with no editing.

A glimmer of a concept, such as a fly landing on the piano, may set the musicians off on an uncharted route. Lian calls it music close to the edge.

Bedford describes the music they create as “a spontaneous dialogue,” analogues to a conversation in which one person makes a statement and the other responds. After one recording session, Bedford said the results “had me dancing. It was really strong You couldn’t define the beat, but there was a pulse there that you could feel...Most of it is emotional.”

“You want the music to sound fresh and alive,” Lian said. “The form unfolds. It’s not just rambling. It has a beginning, middle and an end. It’s a totally free kind of improvisation rhythmically, structurally and harmonically.” She said nothing is preconceived in the music, but is “a total letting go...It’s of the moment.”

In describing their music, Lian said, “I would say that it’s basically melodic. I think very melodically when I play. I think that Ronnie also plays very melodically on the drums.”

Both Lian and Bedford come from backgrounds of classical training. Lian continues to perform classical piano. But in 1983 she started adding free form improvisations at classical recitals. The addition came in a composition by Lian’s husband, jazz musician and composer Jack Reilly, who created a piece with an unwritten improvisation in the middle.

Bedford has remained active in the jazz world, performing on the recordings and club dates with such jazz notables as Benny Goodman, Buddy DeFranco and most recently saxophonist Benny Carter. Bedford played on Carter’s 1989 release, “Over the Rainbow,” that drew critical praise nationally. But he sees his work with Lian as much different from the traditional jazz improvisation, which is more structured.

Lian and Reilly have known Bedford for 20 years, all three participating about five years ago in a summer jazz camp sponsored by Northwest College. At the camp, Lian and Bedford hit upon the idea of combining drums and piano in improvisations.

Since then, they’ve been performing in New York, Billings, Mont., and recorded their first improvised album two years ago in the Cody High School auditorium. They’re planning another concert in New York next fall and perhaps a 1993 tour in Europe, where Lian has performed.

While Bedford lives in Powell and teaches part-time for Northwest College, he finds it important to continue outside projects.

He moved to the South Fork area near Cody in 1986 to escape the proverbial rat race of New York and came to Powell a couple of years ago.

“For the first year and a half, I tried to put it behind me and I couldn’t do it,” he recalled. “I thought I wanted to be a Horseman, a cowboy. At the time, I wanted that badly. But I faces the fact that I’m a musician one thousand percent. I have to play.

“I have to perform. Teaching goes along with it. I love the teaching. This lifestyle here balances all of the problems you have to deal with in the music industry,” he said.

“It’s very inspiring for me to be here, away from the different kinds of energies you’re going to have in New York,” Lian said.

Those factors contribute to the spontaneity they seek musically. The sound at times resembles a tone poem. At others, it may take on aspects of what’s called New Age music but more rhythmic and without the synthesizers.

Their eyes closed in concentration as they record. Lian and Bedford converse musically. Pulses of rhythm converge like vines that intertwine while still maintaining their separateness.

They offer atypical playing styles. Bedford at times will use the end of a drumstick to wipe sound off a cymbal, much like wiping water off a window. Lian rises from the piano bench to pluck the stings manually, pizzicato fashion.

“I would like to see it evolve to be as musical as possible and as exciting as possible.” said Bedford. He and Lian listen to a playback of a six-minute improvisation, their heads nodding approval.

“It’s definitely a take,” Lian said.

“I love it. Let’s hear a little more,” Bedford said.

<< Back