Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Vlatkovich Leads Improvisation Trio at C4NM

Trombonist Michael Vlatkovich (from his C4NM event page)

Last night the Center for New Music (C4NM) presented another of its occasional ventures into free jazz improvisation. This session was led by trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, playing in a trio with Steve Adams on alto and sopranino saxophone and Scott Walton on bass. Adams is a member of the Rova Saxophone Quartet and a frequent visitor to C4NM, while Walton appeared fresh from Ask the Ages, the final concert in last week’s New Music Festival, produced by Outsound Presents and held at the Community Music Center in the Mission.

Vlatkovich structured the program as a sequence of six relatively brief improvisations, each given a familiar name: “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” “Why,” and “How.” These seemed to take less time than he anticipated; so he closed off the program with a more extended improvisation called “Why Not?” Over the course of the evening, Vlatkovich explored an impressive number of ways to get sounds from his instrument, including a variety of standard and non-standard mutes (the latter including a CD and a pie tin, both of which added some percussion by rattling off of the trombone bell), playing the instrument without the mouthpiece, and attaching the mouthpiece to the slide detached from the rest of the instrument.

This resulted in a rich palette of sonorities, interesting enough in their own sake to make up for the frequent absence of anything that might be called a theme, tonal or otherwise. Walton was equally imaginative in his bass work, exploring how the strings could be plucked in any number of non-standard locations and using his bow to considerable advantage, particularly when it came to inducing bizarre upper harmonics through sul ponticello technique. Adams tended to be the one member of the trio that held to straightforward approaches to his instrument, although his capacity for invention was impressively diverse.

The overall flow of the evening showed equally impressive diversity. This had much to do with the fact that not all of the playing involved the entire trio. Each performer had his own particular opportunities for extended solo work; and, over the course of the evening, every possible duo combination was explored. Each of these different approaches to personnel seemed to carry with it its own distinctive rhetorical stance. As a result, the attentive listener never felt that any of the pieces (or, for that mater, the program in its entirety) went on for too long.

There is still much to reward both performers and listeners in the domain of full-bore free improvisation.

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