Last night at the Community Music Center in the Mission, the Outsound New Music Summit wrapped up its 18th annual offering with a program entitled Spontaneous. This time the clarifying phrase could not have been more apposite: “a celebration of firey expression and freedom.” Both sets served up free improvisation at its freest, featuring both local and visiting musicians.
Indeed, the opening set amounted to a synthesis of local and remote. Festival Director Rent Romus took that set to showcase his latest project, called Deciduous. This was conceived by pianist Gerard Cox, based in Columbus, Ohio, to be a multiregional effort; and Romus is serving as one of its curators. For last night’s performance he assembled local artists gabby fluke-mogul (violin), Heikki Koskinen (e-trumpet), Lisa Mezzacappa (bass), Tony Gennaro (vibraphone), and Nava Dunkelman (percussion), along with Keith Kelly visiting from Phoenix. Romus himself played several different sizes of saxophone and a bit of percussion.
The set consisted of five Romus compositions, each with a title beginning with the words “Ode to.” Instrumentation varied from one ode to the next, beginning with a duo improvisation with Romus on alto and Kelly alternating between tenor and flute and concluding with “all hands on deck” playing “Ode to the Stone that Became a Mountain.” This last selection was particularly extensive, using both dynamic range and diversity of rhythm to establish the contrast between stone and mountain. This was when the loudspeaker amplifying Mezzacappa’s bass work hit a frequency that resonated with the bench where I was sitting, leading me to wonder if the mountain might be coming up from under me.
What struck me most about the full cycle of odes was the transparency of sonorities from all of the performers. This may have grown out of that opening “intimate conversation” between Romus and Kelly; but that spirit was maintained as the other players contributed to the mix. For example, from where I was sitting I could not see fluke-mogul’s violin work; but I was always aware of her presence in the overall fabric. For that matter Dunkelman’s percussion rhetoric had a transparency of its own, allowing every individual sonority to establish itself through its own sound qualities. “Firey expression” may have been the order of the evening, but there was a seductive delicacy in the way that the flames of Deciduous flickered.
The second set was led by Vinny Golia visiting from Los Angeles with his current trio. The other players were Miller Wrenn on bass and Clint Dodson on drums. As was expected by those who know Golia’s work, the stage was filled with an abundance of saxophones and clarinets of different sizes, along with a contrabass flute added for good measure. While the set clearly consisted of a sequence of individual compositions, those pieces were linked through seamless transition passages, making for a unified overall “suite,” each of whose movements involved Golia on a different instrument.
Vinny Golia and Miller Wrenn (photograph by Stephen Smoliar)
As might be guessed, the contrabass flute was the show stealer. During the composition for that instrument, Golia displayed a variety of conventional and “extended” techniques, allowing the attentive listener to appreciate the full diversity of sonorities. As might be expected (and suggested by the above photograph), watching was as engaging as listening.
For that matter, listening was key to all of the activity taking place on stage. There was never a moment that suggested that any one member of the trio was not aware of what the other two were doing. This was as much an exploration of the full capacity for expression in a trio setting as it was a showcase of the diverse sonorities of Golia’s collection of instruments.