The Lightbulb Trio Project provides an exciting, one-of-a-kind musical experience. As I walked into the cozy, dimly lit and lounge-like venue that is White Horse Black Mountain, I first noticed a one-shoed, one-socked man emitting some sort of drone-like sound on the stage. This is said in good taste, however – a shruti box is another name for the drone instrument from which the sound was emitting, and pushing the bellows of the shruti box without wearing shoes makes control and fluidity a much easier endeavor. This opening scene colored the evening, as The Lightbulb Trio Project exuded light-hearted play combined with brilliant musicianship, intriguing musical devices, and improvisation.

Pianist Michael Jefry Stevens began the opening piece with a single resounding dissonant chord. Trombonist (and the aforementioned shruti box executant) Harold McKinney and saxophonist Jason Moore chimed in simultaneously with various percussive mouth sounds. To the right of them stood percussionist Rob Falvo and a table littered with a conglomeration of various instruments from tambourines to cookie sheets, all resembling a “kit” of sorts. Eyes closed, the musicians seemed to be in tune with one another despite the seeming randomness of it all.

When asked if there was a set list I could follow, McKinney glanced at my anxiously awaiting open notebook and replied, “Well it’s right there, isn’t it?” This translated to, “No – it’s an entirely improvised set.”

Coming from a strictly classically trained background, I have never truly delved much into music of the abstract or avant-garde. I would feel out of place and perhaps naked without a consistent, nearly-predictable meter, key signature, and melody to blanket me while onstage. These musicians, however, basked in the absence of it.

As the evening progressed, the musicians experimented with various playing techniques and methods. Stevens toyed with the strings inside the piano, plucking and scraping them to his internal beat. Percussionist Rob Falvo hovered excitedly with his brushes above his collage of instruments, eyeing each percussive item with a curiosity similar to that of a child trying different ice cream flavors. Both the brass players flirted with notes, trying them and teasing the next ones as they ascended and descended wild scales.

Experimental is not a word that seems accurately to embody and evoke the musicians’ aura. The pianist often set the initial meter, and each instrument contributed a different flavor, tone, and texture without sounding cacophonous. The ensemble as a whole seemed to move together fluidly; toes tapping, shoulders swaying to this invisible pulse that they alone understood as the medium by which their sounds traveled. Each instrument resounded like an individual voice, destined to make conversation with the other instruments like a burst of thought and consciousness.

Michael Jefry Stevens offered comical banter between pieces, never truly classifying them or pronouncing them as one way or another. After the third piece concluded, he remarked, “I’m sure that has a name…, but I just don’t know what it is. That could be it.”

The musicians continued smiling as they played throughout the night, perfectly and beautifully perceiving one another’s outward musings while I, as an oblivious audience member, felt desperately cheated out of a secret no one could tell me…: the secret behind improvisation! When asked about the mentality behind improvising every single piece, McKinney remarked, “If you think of something to play, don’t – wait until something wants to come, and it will most likely be what wants to be heard.” When asked about the cohesiveness in the group, saxophonist Jason Moore remarked, “I just met these guys tonight.” This completely baffled me. The performance made it seem as if they had been friends for years.

The Lightbulb Trio Project is not exactly hum-along material; but if you are looking for a one-of-a-kind experience where strange is crafted from the ordinary, then the Lightbulb Trio Project is for you. Check our calendar for announcements of future concerts in this ongoing series of performances, each involving different guests.