Sunday, August 1, 2021

Evangelista’s “Music for People” in Concert

This past July 17 guitarist Karl Evangelista invited a select audience of supporters to attend the video recording session of Apura. This music originated in 2018 with an album that Evangelista recorded in London, leading a quartet whose other members were Trevor Watts on alto and soprano saxophones, Alexander Hawkins on piano, and Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums. The title is the Filipino word for “very urgent;” and the album was named after the Very Urgent album recorded by the Blue Notes, a mixed-race group of South African exiles active when their country was under Apartheid rule.

The idea of reviving this music for video capture was conceived by Evangelista to honor the spirit of those exiles and to connect the tensions of racial discrimination in the Sixties and Seventies with current activist efforts. In addressing last month’s audience, Evangelista described Apura as “music for people,” qualifying that denotation with the uncertainty of the current times. The resulting video was released on YouTube in Unlisted mode last night. It will be available for viewing until this coming Tuesday, August 3; and specifics may be found on its Facebook Events Web page.

Rei Scampavia, Francis Wong, Lisa Mezzacappa, Andrew Cyrille, and Karl Evangelista performing the “Santo” (saint) movement from Apura (from the YouTube video of the performance)

For this new performance Evangelista was joined by saxophonist Francis Wong and Lisa Mezzacappa on bass. There was also a special guest appearance by Andrew Cyrille on drums. Pianist Rei Scampavia joined the quartet for two of the selections, and saxophonist Patrick Wolff made a guest appearance for the last offering.  None of the pieces that were performed had been included on the London recording session. Execution had more to do with the process of performing than with revisiting past music-making.

That process involved any number of finely-crafted techniques to engage the attentive listener. From the very beginning such a listener would have been struck by the meticulous attention to unison performing by Evangelista and Wong. The somewhat unlikely blend of saxophone with electric guitar almost left the mind behind the ear wondering whether or not a new instrument had been invented. Perhaps that was one of Evangelista’s approaches to evoking that aforementioned uncertainty of the current times. Subsequent “sonorous illusions” emerged later in the program when Scampavia’s piano part was added to the mix.

As those of us familiar with his work expected, Cyrille’s drum work was consistently never short of awesome. I did my best to follow his physical movements in an effort to “parse” his complex polyrhythms. However, almost all of those movements were concealed by his own instruments! The best I could do was attempt to sort out the contributions from brushes and sticks. However, any hypotheses emerging from that sorting process left me wondering if Cyrille had grown an extra pair of arms. Particularly engaging was the extended solo he took during the third movement of the Apura suite, “Isang Bagsak,” which translates into the phrase, “If one falls, we all fall”). That spirit of unity was reinforced in the fifth and final movement, “Sinabi Mo Pa” (you said it), with the unity that emerged in the blend of Wolff’s saxophone work with that by Wong.

Reflecting now on both the performance and the video, I realize just how rich the content of this music was. The morning after the recording session, I found that I could only scribble a few remarks to remind me of what I had witnessed. In was only after experiencing the video that I could fit those early observations into a richer context, and Evangelista should be credited to allow for multiple viewings of the resulting video. Perhaps he will find a way to provide further opportunities for viewing in the near future.