Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Concert Review: Monktail Creative Music Concern – Chapel Performance Space at Good Shepherd Center, Seattle, 3/9/2012

Titled after Thelonious Monk and I don't know what else, this was a long (nearly three hours!) and varied concert in three sections (i.e. two intermissions).

Part One: Gust Burns Trio

Silent music, in the tradition of some of Gust’s earlier collaborations and the “Number Pieces” of John Cage. Barely audible harmonics and toneless sounds from the (almost) amplified viola; unidentifiable, quiet field recordings of hums and thumps on the edge of consciousness; individual notes from the piano or hushed echoing “percussion” from the piano pedals (without pitches); all started and stopped within a framework of stillness. I asked Gust after the performance if the piece had used time brackets; he said no, it was all composed. However, it appears to have been composed according to some kind of formula to create silence (as opposed to the “standard” method of creating tension and release). Very beautiful; it went on for 45 minutes (in three sections differentiated only by slight differences in the timbres chosen) but it could have gone on for much longer.

Part Two: Bill Monto Sextet

The opposite of Gust Burn’s music: loud, brazen, in your face. Strange otherworldly hums and drones began, then, after about thirty seconds, exploded. 1 trumpet, 3 saxophones of various sizes, and one bass clarinet alternated improvised solos and thunderous ostinatos with classically inspired piano interludes. This was a “free jazz” medley (and sometimes a free-for-all), but it also gave a rather different impression: somehow it remained melodic even in its most abandoned moments and never lapsed completely into the (intentional or not) cacophony that often marks the genre. Near the end, one of the piano patterns started sounding familiar (before the other players took off on another group improvisation), so the whole 35-minute set was obviously planned to be circular – ending somewhere near where it began.

Part Three: Compositions by Steve Paris

Piano pieces in the manner of Lou Harrison; a gamelan for piano that (in this case) was supposedly derived from chance operations. The “sound” of the music was in complete contrast to its origin; my guess is that the scales and melodic fragments (and their combinations) were what were derived by chance, not the individual pitches or durations. Quite pretty.

A raga with overtone singing, again derived by chance operations (in this case, the harmonium drone – a major second – and the scale, were made by throwing dice). Beautiful, meditative; something of a different spin on the extended musical silence that Gust Burns had presented to begin the program.

Two pieces written for (and performed by) “Crystal Beth”. This is one of several alter-egos of clarinetist Beth Fleenor (another is “MegaBeth” – I’m waiting for “AlphaBeth” and “AustraloBethecus”). In this case, the irony is in the drug reference; one certainly couldn’t play such intricate music while strung out on drugs. Both pieces used improvisations over loops (the part that was composed by Steve Paris); the first was entirely instrumental and the second added Ms. Fleenor’s signature vocal pyrotechnics: jazz vocals that looped over unexpected (and very subtle) beat-box. Sometimes pretty, sometimes charming, sometimes quirky, this was a new look at the (by now no longer experimental) style of looped minimalism.

Altogether an interesting, beautiful (and long!) program. I’m looking forward to seeing more by this Seattle experimental music collective.

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