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Live Reviews

Minnesota Sur Seine 2005: Intercommunal Music on the Mississippi

By Published: December 16, 2005

Days Five-Six-Seven

If the idea of 'regular group' seems foreign to the festival, the fourteen-year run of Denis Colin's trio with cellist Didier Petit and Pablo Cueco surely fits the bill. Adding Minneapolis vocalist Gwen Matthews to the ensemble (Colin and Matthews met at last year's sur Seine) provided an interesting detour from the usual Dakota Jazz Club fare, however. On the festival's fifth night, the set began with the trio's take on Eastern European and Iranian folk themes, Petit's cello droning as he let out banshee-like wails along with Colin's bass clarinet, creating a woody minor-key stew. Petit, in addition to wordless vocals, also used the body of his instrument to create percussion duos with Cueco's zarb.

By the third piece, Matthews entered the fray, for a stunning rendition of the Jeanne Lee-Archie Shepp classic "Blasé, Matthews adding not only scatting, but guttural throat singing in tandem with the multiphonics of Colin's bass-clarinet. It is a rarely-sung piece in the vocal jazz canon, and one could not have hoped for better treatment. Though a few of the numbers in the set seemed to try too hard on Matthews' end, "Blasé more than made up for any 'typical' fare.

Another of the projects Rochard has curated as producer is the collaboration of Shawnee poet Barney Bush and Tony Hymas, which has resulted in three albums, the most recent under the Left For Dead moniker. For the fifth night's main concert (the first of this music Stateside), Bush and Hymas were joined by Evan Parker, experimental guitarist Jean-Francois Pauvros and drummer JT Bates (depping for Englishman Mark Sanders, who was kept away by visa problems), in addition to two tribal singer-percussionists in ceremonial garb. Though for some Parker may have been top billing, his role was chiefly as a sideman in the ensemble, fleshing out with his tenor (and, in one lengthy instance, throat-singing) the orchestral aspirations of Hymas and the lyric weight of Bush's stark, meaty poems. Bush's words capture the alienation, confusion and rage that make up the psychology of contemporary Native experience—Hymas' keyboard orchestrations and the power surges from Parker, Pauvros and Bates served as tasteful girding for these massive portraits. Of course, the weight in words was greater than hopeless sketches, brought forth through deft transitions between contemporary Native life and pre-cognitive, super-temporal spiritual experience, a hope that settles over all the pain, and is as much in Left For Dead as it is John Coltrane and Albert Ayler.

Tony Hymas as an acoustic pianist is in some ways heir apparent to the Paul Bley school of ambiguous tonal centers and tempi, and Minneapolitans had the rare chance to hear him unplugged on the next night of the festival, leading a quartet with Minneapolis-based tenor/alto powerhouse George Cartwright (late of Curlew and a force in his own trio) and the Bates-Linz rhythm section. Though it was hard to say how well-rehearsed the group was as Cartwright fumbled through a few of the theme statements, the improvisations were full of fire, Cartwright's screaming tenor glossolalia a thing to behold for sure.

The second set opener sounded for all the world like an outtake from Anthony Williams' Spring record (Hymas has a history with Sam Rivers, who was a mid-60s regular with Williams), a delicately convoluted theme that led into a post-bop/free tightrope piece—Hymas' affinities for Herbie Hancock's 1965 pan-tonal explorations was not lost on this listener. Cartwright contributed an "untitled piece to the proceedings, an off-center yet funky reconciliation of his roots in the South and in vanguard jazz, and it offered him room to stretch his alto legs on a hot salvo of Braxton-inspired jubilant power. Unlike most gigs of the festival (the Colin-Matthews group being the only other exception), playing St. Paul's Artist's Quarter allowed the quartet two sets, letting them open up and peel a significant amount of paint over the course of an evening.

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