Thursday, July 27, 2017

Introspective Free Improvisation from a Trio of Colleagues

The opening set in the second of the five concerts being presented by the Sixteenth Annual Outsound New Music Summit focused on the free improvisation techniques of Collette McCaslin. Alternating among pocket trumpet, soprano saxophone, and percussion, McCaslin brought together two additional musicians with whom she has accumulated past duo experiences. One of these was Amy Reed, working primarily on guitar and occasionally vocalizing; and the other was percussionist Mark Pino deploying objects that complemented McCaslin’s percussion choices, only one of which involved a drum.

On both trumpet and saxophone McCaslin tended to spin out long lines that sounded more like incantation than melody. One might almost say that her capacity for free improvisation arises from an almost mystical connection with her instruments (including the percussion at her disposal). In that context both Reed and Pino responded by establishing the environment in which her ritual-like activities could unfold.

Reed was particularly imaginative in the ways in which she could use her electric guitar to establish sparse pointillist textures. This amounted to a refreshing change from the accompaniment rhetoric of harmonic progressions, but it also established ground rules according to which microscopic attention was as essential to her background as it was to McCaslin’s foreground. Pino then augmented the background with similar microscopic attention.

Each of Tuesday night’s pieces presented by the Usufruct duo tended to unfold over an extended duration, suggesting that the two performers gave equal attention to an overall plan and inventive improvisation within that plan. The pieces in last night’s set were, for the most part, shorter in duration. One might almost say that each was on the scale of a nineteenth-century lyric poem with the trumpet and saxophone evoking a poet’s voice without necessarily homing in on the poem itself. The entire set was relatively low-key and introspective, another way of establishing a complement to Usufruct’s rhetoric. However, if the players themselves were introspective, the music still reached out with its own subtle powers to engage the attentive listener.

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