Minnesota Sur Seine 2005: Intercommunal Music on the Mississippi
The third day of the festival found listeners with two sets of duos at the Black Dog Café in lower-town St. Paul, starting with Corneloup and Dominique Pifarély. The two presented a series of contrasts, primarily based on dense scrabble and false fingering from Pifarely's string work, overlaying delicate pinched and bent tones from Corneloup's soprano or hushed and breathy meditations from his baritone. In many ways, their duo flies in the face of instrumental expectationsthe vertical, symphonic squall of a one-man Ligeti orchestra rather than the effects of nimble finger work; husky baritone offering itself in measurement and care, at least until the final piece when resonant blats made short work of Pifarély's efforts at slinky speech. Apparently this was the first occasion of the duo's officially working together, a true testament to the power of their communicative abilities and strength of their individual concepts.
Bass clarinetist Denis Colin (late of Tusques' trio) and bassist Anthony Cox followed, though initially Cox was without contrabass and began the set with an electric, yielding spare linear interplay that, while not particularly inventive, at least avoided the electric's usual pitfalls (a funk line or two did creep in). Colin is an experience, especially in this naked a setting, applying both Lacy-esque cadences and a swaggering, ecstatic bravura to the instrument, something befitting his lanky, swaying frame as he maintained a penchant for middle- and upper-register cries. Cox seemed to deep-six most of the conversational potential of this duo, whether it was through his electric noodling or attempts when on contrabass to out-mass Colin, neither approach exactly sitting well with the deft ecstasy of the bass clarinetist's phrasing for he (like Portal) has that strange ability to make the Dolphy-esque sound completely non-Dolphy.
Benoit Delbecq's second performance of the festival also came on Sunday, in a context that might seem somewhat more 'regular,' as he joined the local electro-acoustic trio of laptop artist Cepia, drummer JT Bates, and James Buckley on bass and electronics in Minneapolis' Soap Factory Gallery. For the set, Delbecq donned the Rhodes and an assortment of samplers and electronic devices. Despite a completely different musical context, Delbecq was still Delbecqbringing forth long, repetitive lines full of rhythmic and phrase-based overlays girded by alternately spare-and-moody and vamp-heavy accompaniment. Electronic beats, those processed hallmarks of drum 'n' bass, become in his hands a tool of phrase, an approach similar to his prepared piano work whereby tonality is subverted for rhythm-based melodic pattern. The lengthy, unrehearsed improvisation that the quartet began with (and which made up most of the performance) was surprisingly free of doldrums, at one point Delbecq's Rhodes and fragmented samples riding atop a lengthy wave in a sort of "Black Beauty for the electro set indeed, for the electronic improv naysayers this might have been a worthy splash of cold water.
The Huss Music Room in St. Paul (probably the best venue of the week) hosted the fourth night of improvisations, beginning with a percussion ensemble centered around Pablo Cueco and the Iranian zarb, and adding JT Bates on his augmented trap set and St. Paul-based drummer Patrice on birembau and assorted hand percussion (Stokley Williams was to be the fourth drummer, but did not showthe music was probably more open as a result).
Cueco began solo, playing three lengthy pieces that in some ways offered insight into the history of jazz percussion. Slung over the knee, the drum's center begets a mass of bass tidal waves, the sides struck with fingertips and wrists keep time much as a ride cymbal, or provide hi-hat and snare accents and as many press rolls as Cueco could come up with. His pedigree includes time spent in Tusques' Intercommunal Free Dance Music Orchestra during the '70s, a group of varying size that nevertheless had as its meat-and-potatoes a battery of hand percussionists, and some of the most phenomenal ones at thatSam Ateba, Guem, and Cueco among the leading lights.
For the fourth and fifth pieces, the trio was in full employ, beginning with Bates in an unaccompanied and highly fragmented exploration that, even when joined by the other percussionists, remained a loose metallic framework (a la Paul Lovens or Tony Oxleyindeed, admitted influences) that markedly counterbalanced the wood-and-skin of Cueco and Patrice.
Poetic Scrap Metal, the ad hoc quartet of Corneloup, Pifarély, Bates and bassist Adam Linz, closed out the eveningand despite the presence of the Fat Kid Wednesdays rhythm section, the sonic maelstrom created by this foursome was far from the free-bop leanings of that band. The roiling stew of the previous day's duo was augmented by one of the most capable and inventive rhythm sections of the Upper Midwest, Bates ever the maniacal wizard often leaving his stool and hovering above the kit like a mad classical percussionist (or a percussive surgeon) and Linz providing the massive, swaying anchor.
The second, and probably heaviest piece began in spare counterpoint, slowly building a series of interwoven lines until midway through (and almost imperceptibly) a rousing swing emerged with a dervish-like violin solo blasting out like Ornette's "Snowflakes and Sunshine over a lickety-split tempo. The third piece offered effects-pedal violin resonance and the hollow masses of Linz' bass and Corneloup's baritone, a swirling mass of drones holding the tension until the group erupted again for a storming closer. One of the most electrifying performances of the week, it was of the type that made one want to stick around the hall afterwards (as many did), the vibrations enough to raise hackles even after the sounds dispersed and the air in the hall a direct conduit to that 'elseness' that great improvisation produces.