Last June, running into Harris Eisenstadt at Line Space Line surprised me. His itinerary had him in the Bay Area, but with a distracted look he told me that the bassist he was scheduled to play with found death riding his bicycle to work. Matthew Sperry played with Tom Waits, David Byrne, and Anthony Braxton, as well as a host of projects with unusual names in the Bay Area. Nearly five months after Sperry’s untimely passing Eisenstadt and Jesse Gilbert organized a memorial concert that doubled as a benefit for his wife and young daughter. Held at the obscure Fancyland in Silver Lake, the show attracted enough people to fill the small room. Top LA improvisers donated their performances and treated the audience to exhibitions that ranged in feeling from introspective to flat out thrilling.
Gilbert acted as MC and appropriately opened the evening with a track from Sperry’s cd of improvised solo bass. The selection featured extended techniques, creating many sounds not usually associated with the bass. At times it sounded electronic, other times percussive, and still other passages featured high notes out of the range of conventional bass. It became obvious how he ended up with this crew.
Dan Clucas initiated the live performances with a solo trumpet improvisation. He began with long tones, and played some notes so softly as to be barely audible. Even as the piece built it remained a meditation. He employed mournful vocal effects before building to a dramatic finish. Next, a quartet that recorded as a quintet with Sperry. Eisenstadt played drums and percussion, Scott Rosenberg played reeds, John Shiurba played prepared electric guitar, and Gilbert sampled and recycled sound on his laptop. The four sound scientists conjured new worlds of tone. Shiurba used different devices to alter his electric guitar, as Rosenberg experimented with unassembled parts of his flute. Eisenstadt scraped, rubbed, and tapped his drum kit, and Rosenberg switched to squawk and honk tenor. At one point he tried playing parts of the tenor and flute combined. Eisenstadt muted his instrument with towels, and Gilbert continued generating atmospherics, zips, blips, and sonic contexts. Given Sperry’s freethinking on bass, his inclusion in this group seemed obvious.
The Man in Black, Vinny Golia, gave a brief recital on contrabass flute, an instrument that when assembled stood taller than Golia. The body is fingered vertically like a bassoon. He explored the depths and multiphonics of the instrument and wove odd primal melodies with greater fluency than one expects on so unwieldy an axe. Andre Vida followed with a solo tenor improvisation. His smears, insinuations, and note bending recalled Joe Maneri
Cory Wright and Chris Heenan took the stage to duet on bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet, respectively. Heenan’s proficiency grows on the challenging reed. Their performance featured a pleasing pastiche of textures and tones. Rosenberg joined on contrabass clarinet and shattered the meditative mood of the first piece with his sonic enthusiasm. Heenan and Rosenberg played longer tones to Wright’s virtuoso runs. Golia returned to the stage with his contra alto clarinet, and entered blowing fleet phrases. Heenan coaxed a wide range of tones from his instrument. The four deep reeds had lots to say, and created a compelling ensemble sound reminiscent of the Master Musicians of Joujouka with high wavering sustained tones. An entire evening with these four would be quite a stimulating event.
The musicians, many of whom played similar memorials in the Bay Area, made sure Matthew Sperry went on his way in style. While the context reminds one of the fragility of human life, it also reaffirms the endurance of human creativity.