The word “improvisation” can mean many different things to people in today’s musical landscape. Often times the word is associated with complicated jazz solos or something of a similar medium. However, Balance, a contemporary music duo based out of Detroit, hopes to change this idea with intuitive improvisations that create colorful musical textures.
Combining a variety of musical styles in a unique way, Balance is comprised of two of Detroit’s newest emerging stars, Saxophonist Marcus Elliot and pianist Michael Malis. Although the project itself has only been around for three years, Elliot and Malis have been playing together for around 12 years now.
“The idea of Balance is something we’ve always talked about,” said saxophonist Marcus Elliott in an interview with The Daily. “And the importance of balance as a musician, as a person … it’s an element that’s really important to us. So, it seemed fitting to call the group balance.”
The familiarity of the two is apparent through the way they play. Being aware of each other’s playing style is something that allows for improvisation to develop into something great. In this style especially, communication is vital.
After releasing their first album this summer, “the music has gotten a lot more full,” Elliot said. “When you have just piano and saxophone, it’s very raw and very exposing, and so as we play the music more and as the tunes have developed, I’ve had a lot of audience members come up to me and say ‘that sounded like there were 12 people up there … but there were only you two’.” The lack of rhythmic or percussive instruments, typically found in a jazz or improvised setting, has not held them back: They take advantage of their limited instrumentation and create soundscapes that appear bigger than themselves.
The two have big ambitions, like planning to expand the group in the future by adding strings to the ensemble.
“Both of us are composers. I wrote a string quartet for the first time last year, as well as some other pieces that we’re thinking about doing some stuff with,” Elliot said.
The group is big on collaboration, taking the opportunity every chance they get. Some of the future collaborations include projects with some “big names in the jazz world.”
The group is especially excited for this particular performance because of the venue, Kerrytown Concert House.
“It’s a really important space, you know, there’s not really that many spaces, not just in Ann Arbor but really in the country, that allow new music to be premiered,” Elliot said.
Ann Arbor has always been a city that supports new music. From being a pioneer for electronic music through the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music back in the 1950s, to being the hometown of one of the pioneers of punk, Iggy Pop, Ann Arbor has been a place for music of all kinds. Even today, Ann Arbor proudly fosters new music, and Kerrytown Concert House is among many of the places to do so. Founded in 1984, Kerrytown Concert House has always been about featuring new music and providing a space for artists to showcase new ideas.
New music is something special that often times doesn’t get much of a voice, and Balance hopes to change that.
“This is something that will continue to grow,” Elliot said. “We’re going to use this to express whatever we have going on at the time.”