We Free Strings is a string/rhythm sextet featuring band originator and violaist Melanie Dyer, violinist Charles Burnham, bass player Ken Filiano, percussionist Michael Wimberly, violinist Gwen Laster, and celloist Alex Waterman.
They have been performing at various Denver libraries this week for their Denver Community Residency Project. I had the opportunity to visit the Ford- Warren Branch Library to hear them perform.
I recorded their first 3 songs that they performed, Bayaka/Yangissa which is a Batwasa traditional song, Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love, and Gwen Laster introduced the song Blue Lotus which was dedicated to Geri Allen.
We Free Strings are traveling to different cities via a grant opportunity through Chamber Music America. Chamber Music America sent out announcements looking for bands to perform in non-traditional venues, like community spaces, senior homes, library, places where this type of music is not normally available, etc.
Violaist and Denver native Melanie Dyer said that the grant specified that the music that they play had to be original music. She feels that it’s been a group partnership between Chamber Music America, Bonfils Stanton Foundation, Colorado Black Arts Movement, and Denver Public Libraries to coordinate and support the project, and We Free Strings is grateful for the opportunity, and so are their listeners.
Even though the group has been together for 2 years, this is the first tour as a group for We Free Strings, and they are working on introducing people to the lineage that they came from as improvising strings artists. Denver was chosen as the first city that they performed in because Melanie “made the decision that I wanted to bring this Avant free jazz element to the community that I grew up in, as a way to give back.”
We Free Strings is Melanie’s brainchild, she started writing music in 2011, and she wanted to get together with other string players after stints playing with Salim Washington and trombonist Frank Lacey. After playing with horns she “wanted to get back to being part of strings, that was the impetus of starting we free strings, (whose title of the group came from Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s We Free Kings) I wanted to move from structured music to free music. And introduce elements of that into the playing, it all evolved organically. The group is versed in many different genres.”
“I was interested in stretching beyond standard jazz form, I wanted to have an Avant free jazz element. I called Charles Burham to get the group started, I then contacted Gwen Laster, I met Alex Waterman through Gwen’s group.” Next she went looking for Michael Wimberly because “I heard him playing with Charles Gale on a recording”, she heard Ken Filiano playing live and sought him out. All of this happened in New York even though Melanie is originally from Denver, she moved there in 1981 to study viola.
They are performing at free community spaces bringing it to the people. For Melanie it’s all about bringing great music to the community, and she is very proud that she has been able to bring it to the community where she grew up, the Northeast Denver Community.