Wednesday nights, six unique musicians manage to take minds off coffee and cake and bring them into a more introspective and fun atmosphere. They call themselves the Respect Sextet. Getting their seemingly serious name from an Adam Sandler routine, it’s obvious that this is no ordinary bunch. Not only is their name a contradiction, but so is their idea of music as a paradox. They believe that music needs both the serious side — specifically, playing an instrument — to balance the fun, comic side that draws people into the more charming, light-hearted musical personalities.
The members of the group include Josh Rutner on the woodwinds, James Hirschfeld on trombone, Eli Asher on trumpet, Red Wierenga on piano, Malcolm Kirby on bass and Ted Poor on drums.
Many of them didn’t start their serious musical training until high school, and some of them on alternate instruments. For example, Hirschfeld started on piano and Wierenga first played trombone.
“Our musical interests always superceded the instrumental interest,” Rutner said.
Being Eastman students, they all agree that they have come from a very traditional background in jazz and instrumental techniques.
Their first strides as a band began in a jazz combo class in school playing repertoire from everyone and everything. Soon they started writing their own tunes, and using improvisation as a major tool.
Now the band relies heavily on their improvisatory skills and has created a goal to never play the same way twice. They have taken chances with music that few groups try to do and have come across as mature musicians ready to play anything, an idea which is outlined by their choice of musical styles.
Their repertoire ranges from jazz classics, blues and klezmer to the Beatles, Bulgarian and Eastern music, and is strongly avant-garde.
The use of toys and experiments with diverse percussive sounds is always proof of their willingness to explore new music. When listening to their music one can’t help but be completely engaged because the musicians themselves are completely immersed in what they do.
The band agrees that even their non-musician fans come back to hear them for that reason. Although their pieces have form, it is never definite. Sections are played without planning order. They also thrive on the idea of equality. Honoring the idea that they work within a group, each member contributes and can signal a change in mood, tempo or a new musical idea.
They look forward to each performance because it is emotional for them. They agree that their favorite part of the whole experience is that they get to play music together as friends.
The future for Respect Sextet looks bright. Each of the members has established a good name for themself both in Rochester and elsewhere. Although they will probably end up in different locations when they graduate, they have talked about getting together for tours and want to continue recording.
Rutner likes to describe the group as “pastiche” which, according to the book “The Scandal of Pleasure,” by Wendy Steiner “is comic, light, low, and shamelessly imitative, whereas classicist purity is democratically diverse and tolerant of inconsistency. It is the clownish face on social justice, a joke with deep seriousness.”
And that is exactly what you should expect if you ever find yourself in Java’s on a Wednesday night between 9 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
Reguero can be reached at email@example.com.