Jazz em Agosto 2008: Days 4-6

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Just as Jazz em Agosto has a tradition of starting with a bang, it usually ends the same way
Days 1-3 | Days 4-6
Jazz em Agosto
Lisbon, Portugal
August 7-9, 2008

After a break of three days, the Jazz em Agosto theme of extensions continued into the second weekend with programming that often hinged around the thematic idea of generations, featuring recent associates of Anthony Braxton in two bands—the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet and the trio Memorize the Sky—and the Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet, a band in which the tenor saxophonist has for a decade drawn inspiration from younger musicians, most notably Mats Gustaffson and Ken Vandermark.

Day 4: August 7

Day Four started with a screening of Misha Mengelberg Afijn, an engaging portrait of the Dutch pianist with directors Jellie Dekker and Dick Lucas in attendance. As well as being a window on Mengelberg's music and unique personality, it was an introduction to the impact the Fluxus movement and neo-Dada had on the rise of the European jazz avant-garde in the 1960s and '70s. In the manner of Jazz em Agosto programming, it picked up on notes from the preceding weekend, wherein Mengelberg had appeared as accompanist and commentator in the film Eric Dolphy: Last Date. The best moments came in the contemporary compositions with Mengelberg's finest instrument, the ICP (Instant Composers' Pool), including input from Ab Baars, Toby Delius and perennial partner Han Bennink.

That night the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet launched its set with a piece called "Miscellaneous," both title and piece a key to Bynum's aesthetic, which employs symmetrical and asymmetrical elements to develop hives of contrast. Bynum was joined in this group by Matt Bauder on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Jessica Pavone on viola and electric bass (though on this night the electric bass went unplayed), drummer Tomas Fujiwara and guitarists Mary Halvorson and Evan O'Reilly. The guitarists are in a sense emblematic of Bynum's patterning, even visually: Halvorson plays a classic jazz archtop with a sound and approach that's a radical updating of Billy Bauer, Tal Farlow and Johnny Smith—fleet, resonant and densely involved; O'Reilly uses a solid-body guitar and an assortment of foot pedals to create a sustained ensemble voice that was both orchestral and electronic.

What's most arresting here is the way that Bynum's weave of composed and improvised elements keeps summoning up interstitial stage textures long abandoned to jazz history. Thus a sudden harmonic maelstrom of voices can give way to one of Fujiwara's animated polyrhythmic solos (odd shades of Gene Krupa) or Bauder's athletic equivalent to Charlie Ventura's "Bop for the People." Bynum himself managed to create sequences of shifting trumpet timbres, ranging through a host of mutes (including a bowler hat) and approaches that touched on the "jungle" effects of Ellington trumpet colorists such as Bubber Miley, Arthur Whetsol, Rex Stewart and Cootie Williams.

The second half of the group's performance was given over to "WhyExplicities," a long suite dedicated to Anthony Braxton from a forthcoming CD called Asphalt Flowers, Forking Paths. Bynum's compositional practice does not derive directly from Braxton's—he clearly has his own developing methodology—but he has learned what is perhaps at the core of Braxton's thought, which is to use composition to create contexts in which improvisers and certain traditions (free jazz) can again create surprise for players and listeners alike.

Day 5: August 8

Day Five began with critic Bill Shoemaker moderating a panel on The Changing Scene, matching Taylor Ho Bynum and Mary Halvorson with Barre Phillips in an engaging discussion of the ways things have changed— from mentoring to economics—for musicians taking up careers in jazz in the roughly four decades that separated the participants. While Phillips could recall a world in which an array of non-jazz musical work presented itself to the apprentice, Bynum could cite current Ivy League tuition fees.

The trio of Memorize the Sky is unusual in several regards. Saxophonist and clarinettist Matt Bauder, bassist Zach Wallace and percussionist Aaron Siegel have been working together since student days in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the '90s, so it's an unusually longstanding musical relationship. Different still is the trio's music, which runs counter to anything you might expect from a tenor-bass-drums trio: Memorize the Sky is insistently minimalist, practicing a style more likely to appear in Europe—French, German and Swiss models come to mind—an approach emphasizing sustained sounds with minimal movement and a consistent blurring of acoustic and electronic elements. The dominant group mode is a beautiful drone, repeated bass tremolos, the repeated rub of a large horizontal bass drum, a tenor saxophone with circular breathing and odd oscillating tones and percussive key-pad noises, sometimes augmented with electronics. Siegel's use of the bass drum was particularly deft, serving as a resonator for numerous small instruments.

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