Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Outsound Summit Continues with Two Distinctively Different Approaches to Improvisation

The second concert performance of the 2016 Outsound New Music Summit took place last night at the Community Music Center in the Mission. While the first program in the concert series concentrated on two intense thoroughly composed works, last night’s offerings were improvisations following two distinctively different approaches by their respective groups. One was a straight-ahead approach to free improvisation that served as a memorial for saxophonist Marco Eneidi, who died this past May 24, while the other involved the exploration of the sound potentials of different materials, somewhat in the spirit of compositions by John Cage such as “Water Music” (1952) and “Cartridge Music” (1960), both of which involved chance and/or indeterminate operations but not improvisation.

The Eneidi memorial was based on the recording sessions of his album Hell-Bent in the Pacific, distributed by the Lithuanian NoBusiness Records. Eneidi’s alto work was joined by Vinny Golia alternating among tenor, soprano, and sopranino saxophones and B-flat and bass clarinet, Lisa Mezzacappa on bass, and Vijay Anderson on drums. Last night those three musicians jammed as a trio, using their memories of those sessions as a point of departure. The result was two relatively sustained ventures into free improvisation with Golia alternating between tenor saxophone and bass clarinet in the first and moving from B-flat clarinet to alto saxophone in the second.

There was no questioning the intensity of energy in both of these pieces, but what was just as clear was how the spontaneity was driven by each performer’s awareness of the other two. Often Mezzacappa would establish the rhythmic foundation, plucking her amplified acoustic bass with an aggressive assertiveness that allowed Anderson to explore both alternative rhythms and judiciously chosen silences in his drum work. Mezzacappa also took one major bowed solo, departing from a steady rhythm to use sul ponticello bowing to weave around the upper natural harmonics with a rhetoric that sounded almost like some arcane incantation.

Incantation was also the operative concept behind Golia’s blowing. When Mezzacappa was most solid in her rhythms, Golia could wander into the stratosphere with his. Yet he also had a strong command of the full width of dynamic range, resulting in rhetorical stances that could turn on a dime between reflective and aggressive. Add to that the necessary breath control for multiphonic blowing and any number of awesome bursts of rapid-fire fingering and the result was the sort of uninhibited free jazz that reflected back on not only Eneidi but also Eneidi’s own influences, such as Cecil Taylor.

The exploratory approach to improvisation was taken by Thomas Carnacki, a group with a rotating cast of participants initiated by Gregory Scharpen and named after the fictional occult detective, who was the protagonist in a set of fantasy stories by William Hope Hodgson written in early twentieth-century England. Rotation of performers also implies rotation of resources. Last night Scharpen himself was at the controls of his electronic gear, providing input both from a violin and by vocalizing into a microphone. Both Cheryl E. Leonard and Gregory Hagan spend most of their time eliciting sounds from non-musical objects. Leonard has long been interested in playing objects collected from the natural world, and last night she seemed to be working with fossilizations of sea life found in the course of beach-combing. Most of Hagan’s objects were metallic, but he also had a violin. Indeed, both Leonard and Hagan used bowing techniques to create many of the sounds they produced. The remaining performer was Sheila Bosco behind an electronic keyboard that had been programmed to trigger a variety of different natural and man-made sounds.

The overall effect was one of a vast landscape, not unlike some of those large paintings or a slow-pan cinematic capture of an extensive terrain. The overall dynamic level was, for the most part, subdued. This facilitated drawing the ear of the attentive listener to subtle details, as the eye is often inclined to do when dealing with a very large image. Only towards the end of their set of a single continuous session did the group as a whole summon up an intense crescendo from which they could then recede into a silence in which their natural sounds gave way to ambient ones.

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