Though Tres Hongos' three musicians live in cities some people consider big and scary, they look for fun in an even bigger, scarier place: the disorienting expanse of improvisational free jazz. Their 2012 album Where My Dreams Go to Die features Bay Area trumpeter Jacob Wick wheezing atonally into his mouthpiece and Chicago pianist Marc Riordan dicing up chords with Cecil Taylor-like aggression. Along with drummer Frank Rosaly, they also create surprisingly bright melodies and light-footed rhythms.
Riordan spoke with me ahead of the group's Jan. 3 stop at Audio for the Arts, the Madison studio and sometime venue where they recorded part of the album.
"Game Urge" and "Champagne Bayside" were recorded at an Audio for the Arts show. How did the setting affect those performances?
Those are the two really high-energy cuts on the record. I think the live audience affects our energy and our sense of drama more than being in the studio. The studio tracks on the record are a lot more austere and contemplative.
Tracks like "Optimist" are much gentler. Is it important to you to have less-abrasive moments?
One of the reasons we all like being in the band is that it does go anywhere and everywhere. "Optimist" was one of the studio tracks. On the three studio tracks, there's much more of a feeling of solitude…whereas the live tracks we did at Audio for the Arts are a lot more festive.
What can you do in Tres Hongos that you can't in other jazz ensembles?
It's important to everyone in the band that we play in a way that everything is kind of fair game. I'm also a horror-film fanatic, and my goal of late is to sit down with some of my favorite horror soundtracks and try to absorb those. I want to try to get some of that feeling into the music.
In a lot of improvised music, you get feelings of seriousness, and it's very carved out in terms of the emotional content. I think Tres Hongos is cool for us because we can do something that sounds really happy.