Deconunisms and Luke Polipnick Free Jazz | Q&A

Luke Polipnick is making it all up. He and his free jazz trio, Deconunisms, stress communication but only through music. They won't speak of when to get soft, when to get loud or even when to stop.

Polipnick, a former Lincolnite who just moved back to Omaha from Madison, Wis., will talk at length, though, about his favorite chord. As a jazz guitarist who has gone to college and graduate school for music, he has more than a few chords in his holster to choose from, too. Don't be surprised if his explanation of "crunchy poly chords" gets a little technical below.

After driving back to Madison for a concert on Monday, Polipnick is bringing Deconunisms to Lincoln's Bourbon Theatre on Wednesday at 8 p.m., and Omaha's House of Loom on Thursday at 6 p.m. At both stops, the band will offer a recording of Monday night's performance, already recorded, mixed and duplicated. After the jump, Polipnick talks about how he and his band make uncommon sounds, about what he learned in Wisconsin and his goals for the near future in Nebraska.

Hear Nebraska: Before we talk about your band, I’ve asked this question to a few musicians, and it seems to get a good response. What’s your favorite chord?

Luke Polipnick: My favorite chord? (laughs) My favorite functional chord would be a flamenco chord, with an F5 diad on the bottom and this weird… it’s like an Fsus13. It’s a total guitar chord. Some of the chords I like aren’t functional harmony chords. They’re crunchy poly chords.

Sometimes I’ll play something with the bottom structure of an Db major 7, and the upper structure would be a C major 7. You get all those cross overtones that make the guitar howl. I like stuff like that.

HN: Tell me about a few of the techniques you or your bandmates use to create sounds that aren’t common.

LP: A lot of it is just note interval relationships, finding ways to play clusters on guitar. But I do a lot with electronics. I have a delay pedal I can get a lot of interesting colors out of. I do a lot with looping. I do a lot of stuff with controlled feedback and different things with guitars to make it a synthesizer or sound generator instead of note relationships.

Sometimes I’ll use three different distortion pedals and different fuzz pedals to get more synthetic kind of sounds. Then I do a lot of things with ambience, reverb sounds. You can get a lot of alien sounds from a guitar with the right sort of reverb.

HN: What do your bandmates do to make different sounds?

LP: We all do things with extended techniques, so instruments like the upright bass lend themselves to that. That means with bowing, changing the pressure of the bow, bringing out different harmonics that way; bowing behind the bridge or the bridge itself.

Our bass player, John Christensen, he’s more traditional and mostly plays pizzicato, and he’s older than Devin (Drobka, drummer) and I. He’s a seasoned pro. He’s a pro jazz bass player, so Devin and I do the really weird stuff, and Jon acts as a melodic and harmonic anchor for what we do.

The drummer, though, has a super broad sound palette. He plays with different stick combinations: He might play with mallets or he has straw brushes that have this crunchy flappy sound. He’ll play different parts of the kit, and find ways to play the cymbals differently. You have to see it to believe it, but he has a huge vocabulary as a conventional drummer, then when you add in all of his extended technique work, it’s really incredible.

HN: What did you learn about music while living in Wisconsin?

LP: I learned that I didn’t know very much. When I left Nebraska, I had finished a degree in composition. I had played with a lot of great musicians and made good contacts. I didn’t have an ego attitude, but I thought I had a solid grasp of traditional jazz and free improvisation.

When I got to Madison, I was playing with Patrick Breiner, a virtuoso saxophonist. I learned that I had a lot of work to do to function in a jazz setting, to contribute anything. He’s a big reason why I went back to grad school to study traditional jazz.

I put my electronics stuff on hold. I was doing a lot of ambient electronic music and noise in Lincoln, and I haven’t picked that back up. But I did learn more about playing the guitar in both a traditional sense and also how to treat the guitar more like a laptop.

HN: Your band is dedicated to communicating with each other. Tell me what you try to communicate in a song.

LP: I think when it’s at its best, free music sidesteps some of the more conscious musical processes. It’s a direct and intuitive experience for the performers and listeners. So it can be tumultuous and wild, if that’s where we’re at. It can also be beautiful. We have a lot of love for each other, and I think that comes through in the music.

This music is tricky to describe because it’s so different every time. We’re going to go on this two-week tour and every show is going to be different because we improvise everything. We don’t talk about what we’ll do, we just play and listen really hard. And you take turns being out in front of the sound, and alternately trying to play a supporting role.

What we’re trying to communicate depends on the moment, so the only thing we’re trying to do is trying not to have an agenda. Just listening and trusting.

HN: What are a few of the goals you hope to reach now that you’re back in Nebraska?

LP: Well, I want to be multi-focused. In Wisconsin, I was trying to develop myself as a jazz musician and improviser. It got pretty heavy, so I’d like to have more fun and not be so serious. I played with Jim Schroeder and Chase Thornburg recently, and that was great.

I want to just have fun, play in rock bands, play some blues. Obviously, I’m a jazz player at the core, so I’ll always pursue that, but I know the realities that here, it’s tough to play just one thing. I just want to cultivate a lot of different projects. I’d like to tour from here, and bring people back here: That’s what’s important to me.

I want to try to put my stamp on things here, though I’m pretty realistic about it. I don’t think that I’ll be some dude who’s on the cover of Downbeat, but I just want to have fun and make people happy with the music I make.


07/18/12 Lincoln, NE Bourbon Theater Rye Room  
  Time: 7:00pm. Address: 1415 O Street
07/19/12 Omaha, NE House of Loom  
  Time: 7:00pm. With Kotchian/Pike Duo
07/20/12 Milwaukee, WI. Jazz Gallery  
  Time: 7:00pm. Address: 926 East Center Street
07/21/12 Chicago, IL House Party Starting Jazz Series  
  Time: 7:00pm. Address: tba. with TBA. Chicago. RSVP to Andrew Trim at
07/22/12 South Bend, IN Merriman’s Playhouse  
  Time: 7:00pm. Admission: 15. Address: 1211 West Mishawaka Avenue
07/23/12 Milwaukee, WI. Via Downer  
  Time: 7:00pm. Address: 2625 N. Downer Ave..
07/24/12 Milwaukee, WI. The Tonic Tavern  
  Time: 7:00pm. Address: 335 S Kinnikinnic Ave.
07/25/12 Minneapolis The Nomad  
  Time: 7:00pm. Address: 501 Cedar Avenue.
07/27/12 Madison, WI Der Rathskeller  
  Time: 7:00pm. Address: U.W. Memorial Union.

Michael Todd is Hear Nebraska's managing editor. He learned the intro to the Joe Pass version of "Autumn Leaves" awhile back and plays it way too much. Reach him at