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Sample Track 1:
"Boots" from Brooklyn Sessions
Sample Track 2:
"Funk Explosion" from Brooklyn Sessions
Layer 2
Everyone Orchestra, Brooklyn Sessions (Harmonized Records) Musical Conductivity:
Everyone Orchestra Catches the Improvised Moment in Serious Grooves

One part fiery conductor, one part sonic ringleader, he wields a whiteboard, flying fingers, and a knowing, joyful grin. His gestures, expressions, hints, and jotted words get music flowing like electricity through a live wire, uniting musical strangers with an uncanny sense for spontaneous songcraft.

He’s Matt Butler, the force behind Everyone Orchestra, an evolving project that embraces the spontaneity and openness of an all-out improv jam, and the musical athleticism and sensitivity of high-powered conducting. 

Directing a shifting cast of musicians in real time, on the spot, Butler has mastered the art of encouraging skilled musicians to dig deeper, listen closer, and compose stunning songs on the fly. He may wiggle his fingers, point, count instruments in or out, or dash off  words on a small board designed to spark ideas.

Now, for the first time, Butler has taken in-the-moment composition from jubilant live shows to the studio on Brooklyn Sessions (Harmonized Records; May 15, 2012). Butler invited past collaborators—musical friends like drummer Jon Fishman (Phish), keyboardist/pianist Marco Benevento, Al Schnier (moe.), Jen Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band), saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Dave Mathews Band), guitarist Steve Kimock, and bassist Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green), among others—to join him for several days of exploration and co-creation. The results range from hard-hitting grooves that take unexpected twists and turns (“Boots”), to sweet and expansive (“Pensive”), all guided by a spirit that is both liberated and focused.

“It’s a sacred sandbox,” Butler smiles. “The stage, or in this case the studio, is a sacred place to share the music. You’re fully improvising, and the only preparation you can do is to be in the moment, the way an athlete is during a game. Not to withdraw into yourself, but to be engaged, to dodge and throw the ball.”

What Is The Everyone Orchestra? from Peter Hwosch on Vimeo.

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Butler grew up in Oregon, hanging out with classical conductors who stayed with his family. His violinist mother was a founding member of the Eugene Symphony, and Butler got an insider’s view of conducting from maestri like Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Marin Alsop, and radio host and conductor Bill McGlaughlin. “They showed me what a conductor does, how they manifest and embody the music,” Butler recalls fondly.

Butler was also deeply moved by two very different traditions where improvisation played key parts in composition and performance: the rock/jam movement led by innovators like the Grateful Dead, and the gospel community the young Butler got to know through a close friend. He admired their openness and passion, the dedication and inspiration. They shaped his views on improvisation as a field everyone can play on, as a vibrant encounter between possibility and structure.

“Improvisation is something everyone can do,” he notes. “Chops help it sound better, but it’s about not judging and not getting stuck on what’s ‘right.’ There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”

These two threads came together after Butler spent a relentless decade touring as the drummer for 90s jam icons, Jambay. He began organizing open mic nights in the Bay Area, playing drums and inviting others to try their hand at conducting the spontaneous ensembles that gathered. It was fun, but Butler sensed it could be whole lot more.

He decided to start a new project, Everyone Orchestra, and for three years played drums as others conducted.

Then one night, he jumped into the conductor’s role himself. 

“I conducted just to experiment,” recounts Butler, “and a bunch of people said, ‘This is it! This is what you need to do. This is your calling.’ It was like nothing I’d ever done before; I trimmed the chaos out of the previous experience, creating this fun musical environment that also got people on and offstage engaged. I felt that the conductor could be a new musical instrument.”

Soon Butler was brandishing whiteboards, inspiring swells and tight musical turns, and breaking down barriers with the audiences at major music festivals. The stories are legion: there were so many musicians who wanted to get involved at one outdoor festival, the organizers packed them on to two stages and set up a flatbed truck that Butler conducted from. He got diverse musicians—from prog rockers like Adrian Belew (King Crimson) to members of the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars and The Grateful Dead themselves—to take the plunge.

Facilitating other musicians’ creativity isn’t about leading them around by the nose. It’s about teasing out elements and patterns for the whole group, to bring even experienced improvisers to new places. Butler’s approach may elicit deer-in-the-headlights expressions at first, but soon participants find themselves diving in. Singer and trumpet player Jen Hartswick, for example, had a look of pure panic the first time Butler cued her to leap into some lyrics in the studio. But soon she was singing off the cuff with real gusto.

Butler’s main goal is to bring out what’s already there and give it shape. “I’m listening for melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic ideas that are launching-off points, something I can amplify or bring focus to,” he muses. “I’m cycling through the possibilities, so not all the performance is in the same key or tempo. I’m ready for what could happen next, and I can see it in their eyes when musicians have ideas.”

When he catches that inspired glint, he runs with it, finding moments of tension and release (like the bright cascade of horns at the end of “Take Off Your Clothes” or the suggestive polyrhythmic bassline of “Bass Blanket”). Butler strives to give everyone space to dig deep or rock out, and effective solos—from rippling mandolin to raucous guitar—highlight the striking abilities of Butler’s co-creators on the album. The studio provided a new avenue for composition; unlike the stage, Butler had some separation, more repetition, mixing, and minor edits to help shape the album tracks.

“I’m fully subscribing to the moment when I conduct, not to what I want personally from musicians,” Butler explains. “I’m producing the songs from the conductor’s seat, creating a space where musicians can do whatever they feel they need to. And we’ve found we can create beautiful, succinct music through improvisation.” 

<< release: 05/15/12 >>