May-25th-2003, 12:11 PM
This one disappeared into digital limbo along with those other mistakenly deleted threads awhile back, so it's more "old news" than a current review. But it also got bumped from the print version of All About Jazz-Seattle, so here 'tis again:
2003 Seattle Festival of Freely Improvised Music
Saturday, February 22, 2003
Polestar Music Gallery, Seattle
Tom Djll, Bhob Rainey and Jack Wright
There’s a famous quote that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” It might be augmented to “writing about freely improvised music wedded with extemporized painting is like building a home that conveys a dance of perpetual (e)motion.” Impressions, feelings, gut reactions… These seem to be the only viable approaches in attempting description of an essentially indescribable experience.
The premiere of ARTKOAMIA at the Polestar Music Gallery as part of the 2003 Seattle Festival of Freely Improvised Music provided some enormously rich stimuli for the emotions, intellect and senses. Texture, movement, color, dynamics, humor, passion… It was a journey more about the process than the destination, more about the moment than the end result. A path that wound its way through a variety of landscapes… A trail that branched off, snaked through the deep woods, paralleled a rushing river, climbed a steep ledge alongside a waterfall and eventually – in good time – rejoined the main and ascended to the apex for a panoramic view of the pilgrimage. Sculpting sound and “silence,” line and perspective…
ARTKOAMIA joined the talents of University of Washington Professors Emeritus Stuart Dempster and William O. Smith with those of painters Renko Ishida (a.k.a. Suiren) and Virginia Paquette. The collaboration was subtle and direct, Zen-like in its natural balance. Open, searching, nonjudgmental… A majority of creative music aficionados in the Pacific Northwest are likely already well aware of the wide-ranging yet clearly focused musical worlds of Dempster and Smith. Beyond category, outside parameters, in constant flux… With maturity comes wisdom. With veracity comes unforced expression. Biographical and discographical information is available at: http://faculty.washington.edu/dempster/ and http://faculty.washington.edu/bills/index.html.
Visualize: Renko Ishida Dempster, born and raised in San Francisco, she inherited Japanese aesthetics and Buddhist philosophy from her parents. After moving from San Francisco to Seattle, Suiren studied at the Factory of Visual Art and the University of Washington School of Art, where she maintains an affiliation with Lambda Rho. Her prior work includes costume design/construction for theater pieces. In February of 2000, she had her first solo exhibition at the Northwest Asian American Theatre's RAW Gallery. The following spring, a selection of her work was exhibited at Commencement Art Gallery in Tacoma and later that year she presented an installation – Dream-Time-Pieces – with her husband, Stuart Dempster, at Seattle's Jack Straw New Media Gallery, works inspired by a 1999 trip to Australia. Since early 2000 she has performed with movement, sound and visual arts collective ROOM.
And further conjecture: Virginia Paquette, an M.F.A. graduate in painting from the University of Washington who has worked and exhibited internationally, continues to investigate more processes and media, and currently is exploring the possibilities of public art (http://www.arts.wa.gov/progAIPP/Uplo...2Paquette.html). Attracted early to the gesture and improvisation of abstract expressionism and performance art, Paquette has continued to traverse this avenue, most recently in performance installations with Smith. As Victor H. Mair’s translation of the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu states so eloquently:
“Human beings are
soft and supple when alive,
stiff and straight when dead.
The myriad creatures, the grasses and trees are
soft and fragile when alive,
dry and withered when dead.
Therefore, it is said:
The rigid person is a disciple of death;
The soft, supple, and delicate are lovers of life.
An army that is inflexible will not conquer;
A tree that is inflexible will snap.
The unyielding and mighty shall be brought low;
The soft, supple, and delicate will be set above.”
Flexibility and suppleness are at the nexus of this concord of pan-stylistic art. Remove the masks of cultural conditioning; drop the pretense of what is accepted and what is shunned, and excise preconceptions about “hipness” or fashion. Art, life, music and dance, ritual, contemplation, work, play…
The opening: pointillistic probes in aural space, murmurings and questions unanswered. Motion and stasis, paint cans shaken, mouthpieces examined and explored, brushes contemplated and arranged, white space considered. The two visual artists behind the sound gatherers, relishing the moment, a separate wall-hung white paper scenario awaiting each and a center panel for interaction, Paquette on the left behind Smith, Suiren on the right behind Dempster. Pigments stirred, colors considered, textures assimilated, movements appraised, light and darkness assayed, Yin and Yang spiraling… Suiren moving gracefully, a brush dance, black on white. Paquette moving slowly, also black on white, the sound of brush on paper providing gentle percussion. It’s too bad that a snapshot couldn’t have been taken, freezing the minimalist grace of the panels at this early juncture.
Trombone and clarinet – divorced from their customary roles in “jazz” or “classical” music – moving toward an equipoise, a conversational convergence, a probing of each instrument’s inherent limitations, a search to transcend those limitations. Trombone mouthpiece alone, then Dempster’s didjeridu-like multiphonics, Smith’s range and control impressive, the trombone with plunger mute, then overblown clarinet pushing outward with “little instruments” alongside – bottles, whistles. Suiren adding a subtle splash of pale red to the b&w work-in-progress, with the clarinet sounding uncannily like a Japanese wood flute and Dempster holding long, long tones on open trombone. Paquette also adding pale red to her panel, and the overtones between trombone (now muted) and clarinet creating a dense wash of sound, at times conjuring up the illusion of electronic manipulation, embouchures and acoustic instruments alone providing some of the same effects generated by a ring modulator. Suiren impressionistic, Paquette expressionistic…
As Smith decreased the density and opacity with a Tibetan singing bowl, Dempster reached deep to the seat of emotion with an expressive segment on muted trombone, his phrasing beautifully mirrored by Suiren’s brush dance. Then, an extraordinary vignette with Smith – at first – appearing to play two clarinets simultaneously. The limited sight lines at The Polestar Music Gallery made it difficult to see exactly what was happening at this point. A little neck craning soon revealed that he had disassembled his instrument and was playing the bottom half alongside the top half, truly a remarkable feat of extended technique, with the resulting sound somewhat similar to a combination of B-flat and alto clarinets, enormously rich and compelling. Dempster next moved to the back of the performance space through the audience with a small scraper that appeared to be a ceramic “fish” and spread the vibrations over the heads of each row of audience members as he slowly walked back to his instrument table. Splatches of red… He repeated the journey, this time with a seashell, also using it as a scraper until he rejoined Smith and raised it to his lips. Breath, resonance, primal and timeless… The interaction with Smith’s magnificent tone in the chalemeau register wove an ancient yet modern skein. A musical shamanic journey… An assortment of mutes were then used with the clarinet, including what looked like an aluminum chicken pot-pie pan that provided an eerie percussive metallic rattle as it was held to the bell.
A droll dialogue between partially dismantled instruments culminated in an extended and hilarious duel of mouthpieces with a well-placed belch from Dempster that elicited much laughter, providing a fittingly waggish coda to ARTKOAMIA’s offering. Color, balance, spirituality, merriment, dexterity…
The second portion of the evening’s presentation seemed a bit anticlimactic, but perhaps the juxtaposition with ARTKOAMIA’s inspired and inspirational performance is at least partially to blame. It might have created more of a lasting impression had it been programmed first instead of second. But then, freely improvised music is essentially about the here and now, and each individual listener likely had/has his or her own personal take on the experience.
Tom Djll, Bhob Rainey and Jack Wright released an acclaimed collaborative CD in 2000, Signs of Life. Djll and Wright toured the Pacific Northwest in 2001 with bassist Morgan Guberman and Wright was here in 2002 with Bob Marsh.
Born in 1957 and based in the Bay Area of California, Djll studied at Berklee College of Music, Colorado College, The Creative Music Studio and Mills College. He holds a M.F.A. in electronic music from Mills and was awarded the Paul Merrit Henry Prize for Composition while there. He studied with Lester Bowie, Anthony Braxton, Alvin Curran, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, Pauline Oliveros, Frederick Rzewski and Leo Smith. Since 1980 he has performed with Eugene Chadbourne, George Lewis, Miya Masaoka, nmperign (with Rainey), the Splatter Trio, William Winant (including John Zorn’s Cobra) and Wright. Current projects at the time of the Seattle concert included Brassiosaurus, John Shiurba’s 5X5, Squiggle and Trio Aurizon. An acknowledged innovator in the use of extended split-tone techniques and multiphonics on trumpet, Djll comes across on stage as something of a trickster, a canny manipulator of sounds-you-never-expected-to-hear-on-a-trumpet, a magician who uses valves and breath rather than smoke and mirrors. He is just as likely to invert the horn and blow into the bell rather than the mouthpiece, or turn it upside down and exhale over the bottom of the valves, as he is to actually form notes by applying his embouchure to the mouthpiece.
Boston-based soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey was born in 1972. He holds a M.M. from the New England Conservatory, where he studied with Joe Maneri and Paul Bley. He has worked solo, with the BSC, Djll, Axel Dörner, Kevin Drumm, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Mat Maneri, Gunter Müller, Le Quan Ninh, nmperign with Greg Kelley, Eddie Prevost, Gino Robair, Wright and John Zorn. His distinctive approach to the curved soprano fuses both traditional and extended technique, strongly influenced by the microtonal explorations of mentor Joe Maneri. It’s interesting that – at least in this particular trio setting on this particular occasion – Rainey (by far the youngest of the three musicians) came across as the one most grounded in more “conventional” methods of tone generation. Not to say that he didn’t stretch the horn’s range with some potent overblowing and created long passages in the extreme high register notable for their clarity, precision and bird whistle-like flights. Or that he utilized muting with his knee that evinced a spectral veil. Or – on one occasion – dismantled the horn and applied a powerful column of air to the lower half, sans neck and mouthpiece, that created a refracted inflection otherworldly in its essence. Pacing and dynamics are central to his concept and he often moves so deliberately that the surface may seem almost static.
Originally from Philadelphia (born in 1942), saxophonist Jack Wright has lived in Boulder, Colorado since 1988 but currently plans on moving back to the East Coast. His route to free improv was a circuitous one. Wright’s mother was a piano teacher, and he was surrounded by classical music as a child, singing in church choirs and in choruses. At age ten he began studying alto saxophone privately, developing an interest in jazz, and lists Johnny Hodges and Paul Desmond among his boyhood heroes. He gave up the idea of playing jazz while in high school, turning instead to academia, studying European history in college and grad school, and later teaching ancient and medieval history. During the Vietnam Era at the close of the 1960s he became a full-time radical political organizer. It wasn’t until 1979 that he became interested in free-form improvisation. Since 1983 he has played throughout Europe and the U.S. both solo and with John Butcher, Chris Cochrane, Djll, Axel Dörner, Thomas Lehn, Bob Marsh, Joe McPhee, William Parker, Rainey, John Russell, Wally Shoup, LaDonna Smith, Roger Turner and a host of others. Readers interested in more details about his background – and insights into his reductionist aesthetics – are directed to Dan Warburton’s fine article in issue number 27 (Fall 2002) of Signal to Noise, www.redroom.org/documentation/wright.html and http://www.springgardenmusic.com/sgmhome.html. He’s been referred to as the “Johnny Appleseed of free improvisation” and called himself “a wild Dionysian revolutionary.” Lyricism and darkness commingle in thoroughly intriguing ways. Singing without words, poetry divorced from language. As Hayden Carruth wrote in Sitting In, “Language is a bugaboo: get rid of it. If the poet is stuck with language anyway, as is obviously the case, then let it be merely notative or, better, transparent; that is, a sign pointing toward the real, inexpressible inner poem, or a lens revealing it.” Wright plays his saxophone as if he’s constantly reinventing the instrument, discovering old things to say in new ways, new things to say in old ways. There’s no trace of posturing or premeditated conventions. The intellectually rigorous dryness could be perceived as a slightly wavy mirror image of the so-called “cool jazz” sensibility of Desmond or Konitz in a post-Parker (Evan that is) world; an approach to free improvisation more meiotic than additive. The frameworks for expansion he created this evening through cycle breathing provided a fulcrum that never wavered: an anchor in a stormy sea more plenary than advenient. He concentrated most of his attention on the tenor, but also provided a thoughtful segment on what appeared to be a straight alto.
ARTKOAMIA might be equated with a fragrant hardwood blaze in a living room fireplace, Djll/Rainey/Wright with anthracite ignited in an airtight stove.