The notion of stylistic diversity within any musical genre is no longer a distinction or bragging right — at least not to the members of Time for Three. To them, it's just a given that stretches from the audiences the boundary-busting string trio performs for right through to artists defining contemporary music in and out of the classical world.
"Music is all about 12 notes, half steps and rhythm that is instinctual in a world where the iPod is a mixture of genres," said Time for Three bassist Ranaan Meyer. "I challenge anyone to find one person, even the most purely musical person in the world, that only listens to one genre. Even if they think they only listen to one, they probably don't. They're probably just unaware that they like more than that."
That explains why Meyer, along with violinists Nick Kendall and Zach De Pue command a repertoire than includes works by Americana giants like Aaron Copland, commissioned concertos and interpretations of songs from such contemporary artists as Leonard Cohen and Kanye West.
The blend brought the three players, who met as students at the Curtis Institute for Music in Philadelphia, to the Lexington Philharmonic for a March 2012 performance. They return for the orchestra's Americana Soundscapes concert at the Singletary Center.
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"We tend to rule our own world with a communal sense of organic development where it's not about feeling restrained," Meyer said. "It's actually the opposite of that. It started from day one when we began to jam. We were just doing it for fun. I never thought it was going to be a profession. I never thought we were going to become a band where we would play a classical piece and then put a bluegrass groove under it, etc.
"We were just being silly at times because we were experimenting. All of a sudden, we were saying, 'Whoa. This actually sounds good.'"
"So Time for Three for 15 years has lived in this sense of incubation where we have a sense of freedom, and that freedom has just created something where we can't even consider going any other way. For us, this is what is normal."
The meat of Friday's concert with the Philharmonic will be the trio's second commissioned concerto, Chris Brubeck's Travels in Time for Three. The composer, son of iconic jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, developed much of the work out of watching and even recording Time for Three in performance.
"Chris and I got together for several days of jamming and just letting the music organically develop. After that, he had the theme of the piece. I remember vividly during the third movement when I started to read my bass part. I said, 'Chris, this is really hard.' He said, 'Dude, you played that. I transcribed exactly the solo you played into my recording device and put it on paper. That came from you.' There were many instances like that, where we were just shocked. It was like, 'Really? We actually did that?' He said, 'Yeah.' So that felt really great, like the piece truly was ours.
"That said, Chris comes from a rich tradition of jazz and American roots music and he really put that into this piece. I'm not sure if he thinks of it this way, but I view it as Time for Three getting in a time machine and going through all these different eras of music of our country, from the Celtic music traditions all the way into the development of jazz and Jelly Roll Morton, etc. as it travels into New Orleans and into bebop, hard bop, funk and almost everything in between. It really is this incredible fusion of modern day American music."
As forward thinking as Time for Three has been, the Lexington concert will also mark one of its final dozen or so performances with De Pue, who will soon depart the group to become concertmaster for the Indianapolis Symphony. His successor, violinist Nikki Chooi, has already been performing on the trio's current tour. The Friday concert, however, will highlight the founding lineup.
"Nikki is the new rookie who is 10 years younger than us and just has this spark and energy. He can, sort of speak, run faster than the two older guys. We're all learning from each other in a new way. It's like going from one marriage to another marriage. We appreciate the times that we've had with Zach, but we're moving on. The differences with us, though, are that these marriages are all amicable."