Mik Garrison and Scott Kerr, The Flycatcher, Sunday, May 4

Here's the thing about death: You can't take it back. Some religions say you go on to an afterlife and others say you reincarnate. Some believe in an amorphous state where the dead still exist in some unearthly, yet still detectable, presence.

The cold, hard reality is different. For all practical intents and purposes, when you die, you're gone from what is commonly agreed on as everyday life. What does this have to do with the beautiful, otherworldly music of Mik Garrison and Scott Kerr? Everything.

One of my closest friends died on May 5, 2012. Ernie Gardner was 35 when he gave up and went away for good. The grief has been unbearable and is worse than ever. But what Ernie didn't know (or maybe he did—who am I to say?) was that there's always hope. Life can change. You may have to work hard for it. You may have to work for years for it. The fact remains that for whatever reason, Ernie didn't take that path and his friends and family now live in his absence, with holes in our hearts.

The last thing this music writer wanted to hear on the eve of the anniversary of Ernie's death was music. After all, a case could be made that this extraordinary musician died because he believed the lie of rock 'n' roll. The lie that says the music will take you higher, deliver you from all that ails you and save your soul. Well, my friend is dead. What is music supposed to do again?

If you use Mik Garrison and Scott Kerr as an example, music is freedom. The freedom for Kerr to march around like a crazy person, playing the trumpet and trombone while Garrison yells into a rotary telephone onstage, over live loops of bass, percussion and saxophone. I wasn't the audience, and they weren't the performers. We were a community, being delivered together from that which ailed us. The experience took me higher, not because they played that Sly and the Family Stone song but because they played Sly's "If You Want Me to Stay" instead. After nearly three hours of the duo's painkilling, life-affirming chaos grounded in something far older than me, them, or Ernie, I wanted them to stay and save my soul some more. They were nothing less than a metamorphosis.

That's what music is supposed to do.