On the Spot
Improv tuba master sounds off on Albuquerque's shrinking venue pool
By Thomas Gilchrist
Mark Weaver is a man of two very different hats. In one he is an architect, governed by the strict rules of design and blueprints. But when he switches to the other he becomes a tuba-playing free-improvisation master. Since he doesn’t call himself a jazz musician, it’s hard to nail a genre to the sounds he creates—much of it being on the spot. That’s why in 2000 he decided to open his own record company, Plutonium Records, as an outlet for his work. Run out of his home, the label stands as a safe haven for local improvised music. Six Plutonium releases to date feature the music of several groups he’s played with. Now the Albuquerque native, who plays with groups such as Selsun Blue, The Patti Littlefield and Mark Weaver Duo, and Brassum, has a brand-new release: Brassum: Live. Here, the Alibi talks to the composer/tuba player about his work and the current state of improvised music in Albuquerque.
What informs your improvisations?
Really, life. To me, art is an expression of your spirit, and your spirit is all tied up with your experiences and your environment, and the things you hear, the things you see, the people you talk to. I love jazz music a lot, although I wouldn’t necessarily claim to be a jazz player. I love a lot of other things, too. I like Balkan and Eastern European music, and brass music from all over the world—and Ethiopian music from the ’70s, and blues.
Are there sufficient outlets around Albuquerque for improvised music?
No. I mean the places come and go. One of the places I’ve relied on the last few years to play at is in hard times right now, which is the Blue Dragon. It’s been a congenial place for music that’s on the fringes, and is not necessarily what you would hear in a bar, or in a place that has to make money from their music—different creative endeavors and things. [The Blue Dragon closed shortly after this interview was conducted.] Every once and a while somebody pops up and provides a venue, and it seems like it just doesn’t last very long. It’s hard. It’s a labor of love to be involved in improvised music, and things that aren’t popular music.
So is there enough community support for this stuff?
The audience is there because you’ll find them at all the different things that are happening. The right venue is not really here right now. It probably takes the right person to find the right space, and to run it in the right way, to have the right vision. You have to have an open mind, and some things are not going to be very popular. The point of doing it is that you’re germinating artistic expression. You’re providing a place for that to happen, ideally. It’s a delicate balance.
Have you ever considered living in a place like L.A. where there are more resources for musicians?
Well, yeah, I’ve considered it, but I’m hooked on Albuquerque. This is my home. This is where I want to be. I’m addicted to the light, the sunshine, the weather, the desert, the sky. That kind of stuff, it seems to me, that if you’re trying to be an artist, that’s just as important as anything else.
Explore some of Mark Weaver’s projects at Plutonium Records, www.plutoniumrecords.net.
Jill Cohn • indie, singer-