There's one strange and wonderful event after another in Fewell's pieces — eloquent solo statements, serendipitous combinations of clang and sigh, the beauty of his guitar set across the soundstage from Hofbauer's slightly harder-edged sound as the two support the other players. At times, the bed of complementary guitar sounds acts like a pine-needle-covered path through a shady forest. "I want an environment where there's experimentation but also expectation, freedom but also responsibility. A lot of free music is too free. You're always risking whether something is going to happen or not."
Fewell splits his time between Boston, where he's been teaching at Berklee since 1977, and summers in Europe — he and his wife have a home in Bergamo, just northeast of Milan, that serves as a base. He and Hofbauer often work as a duo (as on their standout 2008 CD, The Lady of Khartoum), and he continues to work with Tchicai. One of the many interpersonal felicities of Variable Density was Fewell's dragging son Alex — a rock drummer now studying at Berklee — into the studio. Fewell recalls driving around with Alex, then 16 or 17, and listening to the legendary free-jazz drummer Milford Graves on the car stereo. "He asked me, 'Hey Dad, do you have to know how to play drums to play like that?' It was a good question!"
Fewell does have friends and fans who miss his old music. "Was my true self when I was playing with Fred Hersch and Cecil McBee on Blue Deeper Than Blue? Yeah, at the time! But I didn't throw out melody in order to create chaos. For a few of my friends, this is already too far out. But they're looking for that other guy to come back, and I don't know if he is."
GARRISON FEWELL'S VARIABLE DENSITY SOUND ORCHESTRA | Cambridge Family YMCA Theater, 820 Mass Ave, Cambridge | 30 January at 8 pm | $15 | www.cambridgeymca.org
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