Ten years after ruin, Debris still stands

By Bob Blumenthal, Boston Globe Correspondent

It’s 10th anniversary time for Debris, the local quintet that made its first public appearance in April 1987. Back then the band included founding members Arthor Weinstein (guitar) and Bob Ross (bass) as well as saxophonist Steve Norton. All three remain, although Ross has returned after a five-year sabbatical. Drummer Curt Newton, who joined in 1989, and saxophonist Jeff Hudgins (1994) complete the current lineup, and all five appear on the new album "Errata" (Eighth Day Music).

Debris is at Mobius (354 Congress St., fifth floor) tonight and tomorrow night, adding spoken word to their mutating new music compositions and improvisations. In anticipation, we sat down with all members save Hudgins (who had a rehearsal), plus assorted spouses and children, for a Saturday brunch conversation about the band’s evolution.

“Bob and I had played rock and other genre music,” Weinstein explained, “and wanted to play music like we were writing in college. I picked the name Debris because our own previous efforts were in ruin. We were more concerned with the writing at that time, and it was a year before we did a gig.

“Once we decided to form a band - hell, to even have horn players - we just made up a list of people we liked and posted it in an effort to recruit members.”

“When I saw that Stravinsky and the Art Ensemble [of Chicago] were on the list, I called,” Norton remembered.

“Funny,” Ross added, “but you were one of only two people who did.”

Over time, Debris evolved to a more open ensemble. “The mode is quite different now than when I joined,” Newton emphasized. “Everything was oriented around the charts at first. Now that the lineup has stabilized, we spend more collective effort deciding where to go next. It takes a long time to grow naturally when you bring different perspectives together - more than just two or three years.”

“A real turning point was when Bob went to New York shortly after Curt joined,” Weinstein added. “We were just a trio then, which was really challenging, and we got more into improvising at that point. Curt became more important, even though he doesn’t bring in charts.”

“No, he subverts them,” Ross joked. What Debris has developed is a fluid, edgy texture, with Norton, Weinstein, and Ross creating structures that vary from brief explosions to more layered developments. “The composer gets ‘first dibs’ at being band leader for his own tune,” Ross explained. When Newton added that “ any one person with a strong opinion has a veto,” Ross concurred that “ strong opinions are our major commodity.”

“Errata” is the fourth Debris album, including one Anthony Braxton tribute collaboration with San Francisco’s Splatter Trio. Like the previous releases, it was issued by an independent label based in another city. “San Francisco and Chicago are two of the biggest cities for this kind of music,” Norton explained, “and Eighth Day supported us totally, covering costs and paying us rather than having us finance the recording.”

“San Francisco and Chicago have clubs specifically devoted to this stuff,” Newton concurred, “and the audience is out of the young, sophisticated group that has grown tired of rock. In Boston, we’re wandering orphans, and it’s more a jazz crowd that comes to hear us.”

Yet local appearances have their rewards. “We did an afternoon gig at Framingham State,” Weinstein recalled, “and a young drummer rushed up to us when it ended. ‘I didn’t know you could do that,’ he said, ‘that you could use instruments that way.’ Experiences like that make your day.”

This story ran on page c16 of the Boston Globe on 03/21/97.

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