Friday, September 23, 2011

Concert Review: The Hexaphonic Three, Plus and Minus – Chapel Performance Space at Good Shepherd Center, Seattle, 9/16/2011

I’ve been busy for the last week or so, and just gotten my computer back from the shop, so these next couple of blog postings are about a week late…

First in a series of concerts and musical events was the concert by The Hexaphonic Three Minus One With Guests. The title of that band needs a little explaining: The Hexaphonic Three originally consisted of (in alphabetical order) Ryan Burt, Bruce Greely, and Mike Sentkewitz. One of the three, Ryan, left for the San Francisco Bay Area, leaving the Hexaphonic Two; they then played a concert with several other musicians, making the Hexaphonic Six. See, the math isn’t really all that difficult.

What they play is a little harder to figure out. Bruce plays (bass) clarinet and Mike plays bass – these two low instruments (both sometimes playing much higher notes) are used in a kind of minimal jazz mixed with the avant-garde. When I say “minimal”, I mean without a lot of “frills”: relatively quiet, austere music with many silences; jazz with an aesthetic more along the lines of Feldman and Cage than Dizzy or Miles. However, getting together with other musicians, the result can be much louder, or more bluesy, or whatever…

Bruce and Mike started this particular concert with a set of unnamed duets (at least no one announced the names). Mostly these were for the two bass instruments (and their sound was rich and resonant in the cavernous performance space of the Chapel); however, there were a couple of pieces with different ensembles. For one, Mike put down his bass in favor of a frame drum (which he played with a completely non-rhythmic accompaniment – a welcome change from the usual role of this instrument); for another, he played solo bass over a layer of scraping, rustling percussion sounds provided by his own feet on a bed of leaves and sticks that he’d brought along and strewn on the stage. (When he put these on the stage he muttered, “The Hexaphonic One making a mess…”, and he commented to me later that he was playing his back yard as an instrument.) These pieces were, for the most part, quiet and contemplative; short bursts of sound suspended in the silence created by their own echoes.

For the end of the first set, they brought on their first guest: me. Thus we were the Hexaphonic Three again, but a different Three than the orginal. We played a ten-minute or so free improvisation (bass, bass clarinet, and piano). Generally I tried to play material that was similar to what we’d played in the studio a week ago (more on that later), with a lot of “inside the piano” techniques, drones, clusters of chaotic high notes, and roaring bass trills – a break in the silence that had been created by the duets. Bruce added a lot of Coltrane-like screeches and wails (and an occasional melodic lick), while Mike mostly supported my piano with similar ostinati alternating with “effects”. I think it worked pretty well overall, though my playing was perhaps a little stereotyped from what I’d played in previous sessions.

The second set brought in the other guests, expanding to a quintet (minus me), with South (percussion/trumpet), Donna Schmidt (violin), and Joel Schmidt (percussion/mandolin). A Highlight of this set was Mike’s composition “Canyonlands”, a beautifully spacious piece based on an understated (or sometimes unstated) ground bass and reminiscent of Oregon (the band, in their earlier style). Another highlight was an actual blues tune (again written by Mike) with hints of Celtic Music, Klezmer, and Country. South (the percussionist) added a lot of humor to the set with stage “antics” that were really not antics at all – they were a definite part of the music – such as slowly shuffling around the stage with a chair full of bells (they would ring quietly and sometimes fall off of the chair with a surprisingly quiet clatter). She also played a delightfully arrhythmic drum solo that included dropping the drumsticks on the floor. Twice.

So this was the first of three concerts I attended this weekend (!) More on the others in the next two or three blog posts, and I’ll write more about that recording session too…

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