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March 2007

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Rova Saxophone Quartet at Cue Art Foundation

The inventive fusion of free jazz and 20th Century modern classical new music has been the way of the Rova Saxophone Quartet for exactly 30 years. This anniversary was celebrated February 9th at the Cue Art Foundation, whose at the time bare-walled gallery space hosted the California Bay Area group. From right to left, Larry Ochs (tenor, sopranino), Steve Adams (alto), Jon Raskin (baritone, alto) and Bruce Ackley (tenor, soprano) performed six varied selections. "Point to Line to Plane to Sound (inspired by abstract artist Vassily Kandinsky), "Sqat Rave Rot Ax (a band anagram) and "Glass Head Concretion all used the instrumentation of soprano, baritone, alto and tenor. On the former two numbers, Ochs' tenor was the main protagonist against the three-horn harmonic interplay. When two middle altos were flanked on each side by tenors ("Jukebox Niggum and the concert closer "Jukebox Afro Balkan ) the dynamics became more focused. Becoming less about four separate horns than about their blended sound, the result was a new breed of reed. Empathetic waves of volume and sounds flowed momentously through the suite-like soundscapes of each composition. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the performance was how the subtleties of silence were collectively communicated even as the horns were playing, the adventurous sound sculptors proving that silence, after all, is as much sound as not.

Stefano Bollani at Columbia University Italian Academy

Pianist Stefano Bollani's affiliation with Italian countryman trumpeter Enrico Rava has lasted a decade and produced nearly a dozen CDs. But with his new Piano Solo (ECM), Bollani continues to set himself apart as a player whose "expect the unexpected motto was on full display February 6th at Columbia University's Italian Academy for a lengthy though never dull solo set. His concert—as on his CD—quietly opened with "Antonia," moving beyond the recorded version by segueing into "Body and Soul." This standard featured a Bollani hallmark—an active, strong left hand which intentionally drags the tempo, intensifying the rhythm under his right hand's melodic lines, making for a very personal delivery of anything he puts his mind to. Also from the new release: the reflective original "Promenade ; the South American "A Media Luz," transformed into a multi- movement piece with Bollani experimenting percussively on the piano's strings; Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," the ragtime tradition updated without becoming blasphemous; and the standard show tune "On The Street Where You Live," whose resemblance to "I Could Write A Book demonstrated Bollani's Rollins-like knack for finding a common thread between different melodies. For encores, Bollani calls for requests and strings them together: "Black Coffee," "Blackbird," "'Round Midnight and seven others utilized "Rhapsody in Blue as a thread that kept what would otherwise be a novelty medley flowing.

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene

Henry Kaiser at Columbia University and Downtown Music Gallery

Henry Kaiser is well known as a versatile guitarist who has worked with an array of musicians including Derek Bailey, Fred Frith and Wadada Leo Smith. But he's also a research diver and filmmaker and on February 12th at The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Kaiser got the rare opportunity to combine his various occupations. As part of the university's Undergraduate Scholars Program, Kaiser was invited to speak about his trips to the South Pole with the US Antarctic Program and brought along a guitar, amp, laptop, photos and video (including footage from an upcoming collaboration with legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog). He played bright ringing lines and distorted leads over looped backgrounds while projecting the underwater polar footage, narrating and taking questions. As the icy water gave way to a surprisingly lush ocean-bottom meadow, he played sprightly triplets, showing a perspective on an isolated part of the world that few would have without having been there.

The previous night, Kaiser presented another free show (in a week that also saw him doing two nights at The Stone). At Downtown Music Gallery, Kaiser played surprisingly soft and subtle duets with violinist Jenny Scheinman. Though both have San Francisco roots, it was the first time they'd performed together, and after an initial feeling out of terrain, they began pushing, building off the drones and improvised themes they found across their ten strings.


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