A wide-ranging band drawing from prog rock, jazz, modern composition, world fusion, and creative improvisation, Ut Gret ("Ut" signifying the lowest note on the medieval music organ and "Gret" an apparent reference to 12th century Barbarian invaders) were formed by multi-instrumentalist Joee Conroy in 1981 in Santa Cruz, California. In 1979 Conroy had moved to Santa Cruz from his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, where his musical experiences had included participation in two groups with Steve Roberts, a drummer who would later switch mainly to keyboards and co-found Louisville proggers French TV. A fan of Gong, Material, the Muffins, and Fred Frith, Conroy managed a record store, worked for Greenpeace, and played in various groups in Santa Cruz before the formation of Ut Gret. Conroy played fretless bass and violin in the band, joined by other musicians including David Stilley (saxes, brass, double reeds) and James Potter (clarinets).
After gigging around the West Coast and lineup changes that saw Ut Gret reduced to the duo of Conroy and Stilley, Conroy convinced his duo partner to return with him to Louisville, and upon their arrival, Ut Gret released their first album, Time of the Grets, in 1990. A mix of multi-track cuts from Kentucky and live sessions from California, the album featured Conroy and Stilley accompanied variously by saxophonist, flutist, percussionist, and world music educator/clinician Gregory Acker and guitarist Misha Feigin, as well as guests including Davey Williams, Eugene Chadbourne, and Henry Kaiser. Conroy and Stilley played in Ut Gret and related improvisational and world music-informed settings until Stilley opted to return to Santa Cruz in 1995, after which Acker and Feigin teamed with Conroy to begin a trio version of the band.
Conroy, Acker, and Feigin would soldier on for a while but more changes were in store for Ut Gret starting with Feigin's departure and his replacement by reedman Steve Good. After a chance meeting between Conroy and his old Louisville music collaborator Steve Roberts in which the two bonded over all things proggy, yet another version of the band would emerge in 1998 with Roberts entering the Ut Gret fold. By the early 2000s the group had settled on a lineup including Conroy, Acker, Good, Roberts, and drummer Gary Pahler, and by 2006 the various lineups of Ut Gret and invited collaborators and guests had accumulated enough recorded material to warrant the release of a three-CD archival box set, Recent Fossils, on Louisville's local Ear-X-Tacy Records label. Recent Fossils included a disc of compositions for gamelan and other world music instruments built by Acker, a disc of studio improvisations, and a final disc featuring a performance of Terry Riley's "In C" at a Louisville tavern.
Next came the album Radical Symmetry, recorded in 2009 but not released until 2011 by UnHeardOf Productions. Highlighted by the 16-plus-minute Roberts composition "Infinite Regress," Radical Symmetry featured Conroy on guitars, fretless bass, electric sitar, bouzouki, and viola, Acker on flutes, saxophones, didgeridoo, and percussion, Roberts on keyboards and trumpet, Good on clarinets and bassoon, Pahler on drums and percussion, James Vaughn on cello, and guests synthesist Denny Whalen and vocalist Dane Waters.
By now no follower of the Ut Gret saga should have been surprised that more lineup changes were in store, and in fact cellist Vaughn, an active bandmember starting in 2007, would leave in 2010. Also departing would be longtime member Acker, with bassoonist/contra-bassoonist Jackie Royce stepping in to add her own unique double-reed flavor to the mix. Acker would be present, however (playing flutes, percussion, didgeridoo, and baritone saxophone), to record at least a portion of Ut Gret's next album, Ancestors' Tale, released by the Italian AltrOck label in 2014. In addition to Royce and Acker, the album featured an Ut Gret lineup of band mainstay Conroy (fretless bass, guitars, Chapman stick, electronics, effects), Roberts (pianos, Mellotron, organ, marimba, vibes, samples), Good (clarinet, bass clarinet), and Pahler (drums). Also appearing on selected tracks were indie rock singer/songwriter Cheyenne Mize on vocals and violin and Sydney Simpson on double bass. ~ Dave Lynch, Rovi