Friday, January 18, 2008

Turn It Up

The music at ST has been growing steadily louder all week, and I’d be getting worried if a group called Fake New Age Music Band, slated for Saturday night, didn’t promise a timely ebb.  It started Tuesday night when flutist Rob Piilonen and saxophonist Colin Fisher, two members of the curatorial team at Leftover Daylight, launched a CD of their Whisper project – quiet music by guys who rarely play quiet music.

I’ve listened to (and played with) Rob and Colin a ton, so it was interesting to hear them improvise within the confines of a concept defined primarily by quiet dynamics. I was struck by how, for the few pieces they played together to start the evening, they used essentially the same kind and intensity of gesture as always, just with the volume turned down. Rob punctuated repetitive, quasi-harmonic motives with tiny blasts of untempered sound, while Colin clucked and wuffled tiny shards of musical potential in a continuous, energetic stream. It was clear how utterly consistent these two are, taking cues from each other in turn, finding useful solutions to workaday musical problems. Guests Joe Sorbara, Aaron Lumley, Nilan Perera and I joined Whisper for a cheerful round robin of music that, if not always quiet, was certainly more methodical than typical ad hoc playing.

The first set on Wednesday night – part of Christine Duncan’s Element Choir residency – was comparably methodical, but was brought brilliantly to life by the sheer spirit of those involved. Vocalists Duncan and Sienna Dahlen (who also did some looping and processing of her voice) were joined by bassist Scott Peterson and local wizard of miscellany, Michelangelo Iaffaldano. I’d guess that this is a new working ensemble, gauging from the success of the music and the enthusiasm in the aftermath from the group members. The unquestionable highlight was Christine’s ripping, wordless blues-belter solo midway that (despite her head-cold) energized what had been, to that point, a lovely but rather staid opening to the set. Regardless, the internal dialogues in particular between Scott’s bass and Michelangelo’s… uh… stuff kept plenty of momentum throughout.   Truly top-tier improvisation.

I am enjoying Christine’s choir residency tremendously, since it embodies all of the things I’d imagined the residencies could do. Despite lots of turnover in personnel week to week, there’s a core of singers with whom, through the consistency of regular performance, Christine is forging a very warm and responsive rapport. The music is markedly better each week, to my ears, as Christine refines her skills as a conductor and leader – ‘encourager’ would be an apt handle.

The mix of Christine’s university-level students and enthusiastic amateurs (in the literal, French sense) in the group is a functional one that blends chops and spirit nicely, and allows for healthy and enjoyable blend of whimsy and earnestness. Everyone’s clearly having a splendid time, but nobody doubts that music-making is the real task at hand, which Christine makes absolutely clear by her presence alone. I’m amazed that more haven’t come out to hear this remarkable group so far. To evoke the best of jazz brochure rhetoric, this group is simply not to be missed.

Expect a follow-up from Kyle Brenders’s lively (and extremely loud, upping-the-ante) Double Trio set last night (Thursday) in the next little while.

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