The Alchemists | Journey to the East - Live at the Lilypad

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Bob Nieske Dennis Livingston Tom Hall Jerry Leake Matt Langley Randy Roos Facebook page YouTube

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Jazz: Free Jazz Avant Garde: Free Improvisation Moods: Instrumental
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Journey to the East - Live at the Lilypad

by The Alchemists

A spicy concoction of improvised, melody-driven free jazz that weaves together Latin rhythms, Indian beats, chamber music and other far-flung genres into unexpected sound patterns. Tomorrow we travel the Silk Road east to find alchemical wonders. Join us!
Genre: Jazz: Free Jazz
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. The Alchemists Assemble in 12th Century Constantinople (Live)
6:37 $0.99
2. Traveling to a Caravanserai in Cappadocia (Live)
6:53 $0.99
3. Contemplating Sunrise in Aleppo (Live)
4:32 $0.99
4. Bargaining for an Amulet in Baghdad (Live)
6:07 $0.99
5. Scrying Spirit Visions in a Crystal Ball in Bukhara (Live)
4:28 $0.99
6. Drinking a Potent Potion in Samarkand (Live)
8:24 $0.99
7. Collecting Wondrous Minerals in Kashgar (Live)
4:21 $0.99
8. Celebrating a Secret Palimpsest Found in the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang (Live)
8:17 $0.99
9. Discussing Esoteric Philosophies in Chang'an (Live)
8:26 $0.99
10. The Alchemists Present Their Findings to Rudolph II in 16th Century Prague (Live)
3:49 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Click “Read more…” for information about the album, the basis of our improvised
music, band member bios and a review.


Once upon a time … a group of Boston area musicians distilled a band called The Alchemists, devoted to the art of free jazz, genre-crossing group improvisation. Our spontaneous interactions sometimes transcend the boundaries of traditional musical forms, other times giving way to melodic, interweaving lines rooted in familiar rhythms.

Our first album, POTIONS, followed this process: First we recorded our improvisations. Then, after the fact, alchemical sounding titles were assigned to each track. Then a backstory was conjured that linked the tracks to an alternative history framework. Suppose that a group of renowned alchemists from all historical eras was summoned to late 16th century Prague by Emperor Rudolph II to engage in experiments intended to push the boundaries of the craft. Things do not go exactly as hoped. Ah well; perhaps next time. You can read the story at

JOURNEY TO THE EAST brings together the best of our live recordings from performances at the Lilypad, a cozy venue in Cambridge, Mass. As before, a thematic framework for the album was devised, but only after recordings were made. In this sequel, Rudolph sends the alchemists back in time to 12th century Constantinople, where they will join a caravan preparing to travel through Cappadocia to Aleppo and Baghdad. From there, they are to proceed east along a major spur of the Silk Route, stopping at fabled cities in Central Asia and China, from Bukhara to Chang’an (Xian), to gather artifacts and ideas that may prove useful to Rudolph. You are invited to join us along the way.

Follow The Alchemists at

The Alchemists on YouTube features videos from our CD Release Party for Potions:


Tom Hall - Tenor Saxophone (on tracks 2, 3, 4, 6, 7)

Instructor at Brandeis University, where he founded the Brandeis Improv Collective Ensemble; Tom tours widely and has appeared on over 30 CDs; he is author of "Free Improvisation: A Practical Guide” and the host and creator of ImprovLive 365.

Matt Langley - Soprano & Tenor Saxophones (on tracks 1, 5, 8, 9, 10)

Matt teaches at Shaker Road School (Concord, NH) and is on the faculties of the Portsmouth (NH) Music and Arts Center and the Concord (NH) Community Music School. He performs widely around Boston and the Maine-NH seacoast in such bands as In Ears ’n Eyes, Sojoy, Mother Superior and the Sliding Royales and Ourbigband and has recorded with the Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet and the Charlie Kohlhase Quintet, among others.

Jerry Leake - Percussion

Associate Professor of Percussion at Berklee College of Music and faculty member at the New England Conservatory; Jerry is a founding member of the world-music ensemble Natraj and Club d’Elf; he authored eight widely used texts on North and South Indian, West African, Latin American percussion, and rhythm theory. 

Dennis Livingston - Flute, Sopranino and Alto Recorders

As a composer/lyricist of cabaret and jazz songs, Dennis’ work has appeared in four ASCAP-MAC Songwriter Showcases in New York, while revues of his songs have been presented in Boston, Washington, DC, and New York. As a performer, Dennis has been an improvising jazz flutist for many years.

Bob Nieske - Bass

Professor of the Practice in Jazz at Brandeis University and on the faculty of New England Conservatory; Bob’s compositions have been performed around the world by his own groups, The Either Orchestra, Matt Wilson and Jimmy Giuffre 4; he has performed with Charlie Byrd, Eartha Kitt, Dakota Stayton, John Blake, Richie Cole and Larry Coryell and recorded with Alan Dawson, Dave Grisman, Stephane Grappelli and George Russell, among others.

Randy Roos - Guitar

Associate Professor of Guitar and Music Systems at Berklee College of Music, following 14 years in the New England Conservatory jazz department, he has participated in many recordings from Photogenic Memory (Agharta, Japan), George Jinda and World News (JVC) and the Narada label, among others and has composed music for hundreds of television shows, including programs from Scientific American Frontiers and the PBS NOVA series. 


Produced by Dennis Livingston
Edited, mixed & mastered by Randy Roos at Squam Sound, Ashland, NH
Design concept by Karen Moss
Graphic design by John Colan


How does this kind of music happen? By careful listening to each other, quick glances from one musician to another, body language, paying attention to when it feels appropriate to join the music making, play a solo or drop back for a time. To ensure variety, we sometimes began with a certain beat or particular instruments - or no rules at all - always letting the music go where it wants to go.


Jazz CD Reviews: Freedom Now — Tetraptych’s “Tetraptych” and The Alchemists’ “Journey to the East”

By Steve Elman
The Arts Fuse
Aug 30, 2017

Note: Steve’s article opens with an overview of free jazz, continues with a review of the band Tetraptych and then with this review of The Alchemists’ “Journey to the East”:

The Alchemists neatly turn Tetraptych’s formula inside out. Instead of providing open interpretations of written tunes, this quintet offers free improvs that sound like structured compositions.

Flutist Dennis Livingston and guitarist Randy Roos are what might be called the axles of the vehicle. Livingston, son of the late Jerry Livingston (composer of “Blue and Sentimental” and “It’s the Talk of the Town,” just to name two) boasts more than two decades as a songsmith for cabaret and jazz singers, and considerable skills as an instrumentalist. Roos has been a Boston mainstay for more than forty years – he was the original guitarist in Orchestra Luna, has a long teaching career at the New England Conservatory and Berklee, and recently added recording engineer to his basket of skills.

Livingston and Roos jammed at a party with bassist Bob Nieske (faculty at NEC and Brandeis), drummer Jerry Leake (faculty at NEC and Berklee, leader of his own band Cubist, cofounder of the world music group Natraj) , and saxophonist Tom Hall (faculty at Brandeis, cofounder of Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet), and discovered an immediate rapport. After The Alchemists became a performing entity, Hall was replaced by New Hampshire saxophonist Matt Langley but, as the new CD shows, the band didn’t miss a beat.

Journey to the East is the group’s second CD, consisting of ten excerpts taken from their gigs at the Lilypad in Inman Square, with both Hall and Langley in the sax chair. What is immediately remarkable is how coherent each of the ten pieces sounds. In an email to me, Livingston explained that in some cases, Roos edited parts of some performances together but, for the most part, each one of the tracks unfolds as it did during the club dates, with no prearrangement. Only three of the ten end with fadeouts, another testament to the intuitive compositional sense among the players.

Livingston titled the final tracks fancifully, weaving the abstractions of the improvs into a kind of narrative. He says, “Suppose that a group of renowned alchemists from all historical eras was summoned to late 16th century Prague by Emperor Rudolph II to engage in experiments intended to push the boundaries of the craft. Things do not go exactly as hoped.” Each of the following tracks then puts The Alchemists into a different exotic locale – Cappadocia, Samarkand, Chang’an . . . But a listener would be completely justified in making up his or her own story, or approaching the music with no program at all.

Let me take apart one of the tracks moment by moment to illustrate the band’s process: “Celebrating A Secret Palimpsest Found In The Mogao Caves of Dunhuang” opens with Langley on soprano and Livingston on flute. They lead the other players in a wide-open collective improv, but Nieske’s bass quickly establishes a fast walk and some root notes. The others coalesce around what he has suggested, and the track moves forward without a tonal center but with plenty of drive. Livingston takes the lead, with Roos and Langley providing longer lines under his flute as the rhythm percolates. Nieske and drummer Jerry Leake then switch gears, setting up a jerkier feel for a fuzzy Roos guitar solo that builds on a figure Langley has played a few moments earlier. Langley comes back in on tenor, followed by Livingston, and they gradually take precedence over Roos’s guitar. Then everyone drops out except for Langley and Roos, who play a short duet. There is a brief ensemble passage, followed by a second duet, this time between Langley and Leake. Roos establishes an ostinato under them, fills this line out with some chords a moment later, and the pattern becomes a variant on the “Love Supreme” vamp. Langley drops out and Livingston comes back in for a quiet conclusion, with Nieske bowing his bass and Leake playing little percussion instruments. All this happens in a little more than eight minutes.

Each of The Alchemists’ improvs on Journey to the East is like a circus act of music, teasing the listener with suspense about what kind of feat will come next. But, as with Tetraptych, an hour spent with this band leaves an impression that’s satisfying and sound; this is much more than just hearing great musicians being clever. Now, if only they’d get the opportunity to gig more often, you could hear them do their stuff live.



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