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Live Reviews

Minnesota Sur Seine 2005: Intercommunal Music on the Mississippi

By Published: December 16, 2005

Day Four

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 show—the 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 that—Sam 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 Oxley—indeed, 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 evening—and 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.

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