January 28, 1998|By KATE COLEMAN

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

click on images for larger version


Members of 2Blue Ensemble, a Hagerstown-based blues band, like to say they have 130 years of playing experience among them.

A Hagerstown attorney by day, Carl Disque has been playing saxophone for more than 30 years. Nicknamed "The Preacher," by his fellow musicians, Disque believes that providence brought the band together.

It started when Bowie, Md., native Pete Lancaster, the man who plays amplified acoustic guitar, harmonica and percussion in a "stompin' box," moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to Hagerstown - a house away from Disque. The pair started jamming in late 1993.


Bass player Arnie Helmick, who had played with Duffy Kessling - now Duffy Kane - and the Black Manhattan Blues, came aboard in mid-1995.

In early 1996, Alan Mason joined the trio. Mention of the arrival of this conservatory-trained electric guitarist, keyboardist and fiddler causes "The Preacher" to get that providence look in his eyes again. Mason moved into the duplex between Disque's and Lancaster's homes.

Bart Lay, a former U.S. Air Force drummer who also had played with Black Manhattan, was recruited and joined up.

Having a say - equal input - is what Helmick appreciates about playing with 2Blue Ensemble. "There's a lot of parity in this band," he says.

Mason says what he loves most is the freedom to improvise.

"I've played in Top 40 bands before where you cover a song, and play the solo exactly like it was recorded, because that's what people want to hear. But with blues, it's 'OK, take off, let's see what you've got.' And I love that, you can play what you feel right then and there. Not what someone else felt," he says.

"Everybody gets a solo," says Lancaster.

A man who sells wheelchairs during the day, Lancaster describes himself as a Jimmie Hendrix-era musician who discovered the blues as a college student.

Lancaster says he can't read a note of music, but he writes and sings and plays the blues. He also loves to improvise. "Creating on the fly" is what he calls it.

He says that Maryland Symphony Director Barry Tuckwell came up to him at a recent gig and said, "You're so lucky. You can just close your eyes and play."

Although Tuckwell declined his invitation to jam with the band, Lancaster was thrilled with the conductor's comment. "He's the maestro, man," says Lancaster.

"I may be the maestro, but I'm not a stuffed shirt," Tuckwell says.

"I envy people in the jazz, swing and blues world. They look like they're enjoying it," Tuckwell adds.

You can see and hear 2Blue Ensemble enjoy playing this weekend in appearances Friday, Jan. 30, at Casey's Bar and Grill in Greencastle, Pa., and Saturday, Jan. 31, at Oliver's Pub in Hagerstown.

Or you can listen to "Decision Gate," 2Blue's first CD recorded in early June 1997 just in time for release at the second annual Western Maryland Blues Fest.The collection includes covers of six blues standards and eight original tunes.

It was recorded in four nights - one or two takes on each song. The band never had played the original material together until they stepped into the studio.

The album may not be as clean or pristine as a highly engineered, polished and patched-together recording could be. But it has the energy, freshness and spontaneity that Disque says accurately represents 2Blue's performance style. They created something as close to what they do live as they could, he adds.

2Blue has sold all but about 10 of the 550 CDs they had printed. They have more tapes of the "100 percent Maryland-made" recording remaining and they plan to have more CDs made.

Disque grins when he mentions that Aaron Whittington designed the CD cover.

Providence yet again? Whittington also lives in the neighborhood.

Is this a blues revival?

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