If the carved wood paneling, sumptuous drapery and grand piano made the audience at the Goethe Instutut expect a classically leaning performance (May 4th) from pianist Ursel Schlicht and flutist Robert Dick, what at first looked like a piece of metallic modern sculpture but turned out to be a contrabass flute, quickly dispelled that notion. The performance was a release event for the duo's new album Photosphere (Nemu Records) but was only half made up of pieces from that disc. The first of two sets began with Photosphere material. "Faust was a romantic dark melody with Dick on traditional flute, becoming circular and loping with a theme-and-variations approach accomplished through call-and-response counterpoint. "Emergence (Dick now on alto flute) was "co-created and was a more percussive statement, Dick sharply blowing and Schlicht inside the grand with hands and mallets. "Tendrils , not from the album, was inspired by a special attachment Dick created for his flute, allowing him to play glissandi (rapid ascending or descending of scales), a technique not possible on an unaltered instrument. The piece created a fairy tale journey into a dark forest, with slides and slurs moving to airy blowing and overtone whistles and then circular breathing. On the closing "Dark Matter , Dick stationed himself behind the contrabass flute and began quoting poetry made up from spam email. The occasional bass piano notes made the piece even odder.
~ Andrey Henkin
Typically it is not a good sign at an improvised music concert when audience members plug their index fingers into their ears, wincing. But given the extreme vocals and noise-music erupting in the auditorium of Japan Society (May 13th), it was understandable that the occasional listener acted in such self-defense. Titled "New Voices from Japan , the raucous yet riveting concert was a collaboration with John Zorn's Tzadik label and featured the Japanese avant-garde vocalists Yamataka Eye and Haino Keiji joined by like-minded U.S.-based musicians Ikue Mori (laptop), Jim O'Rourke (keyboard), Mike Patton (vocals) and Zorn (alto). There were solo, duo, trio and full ensemble improvisations, cacophonous free play and astute rhythmic interaction. In a vocal solo, Haino sampled his piercing screeches, setting up a rhythmic pattern over which he did further extreme-vocal improv. His mode of expression was almost violent, holding the microphone with white knuckles, his entire body seizing and shaking with his screams. Yamataka seemed to channel some primeval, urgent mode of expression, as if he were a primitive human at the dawn of vocalizing. There were guttural utterances with the microphone in his mouth, passionate screams straight from the id and animalistic calls. The final full ensemble piece was a long, layered and noisy crescendo led by Haino's thrashing, distorted guitar and was a good candidate for what the end of the world might sound like.
Pianist Jacob Sacks assembled a quintet at Detour (May 11th) for two sets of striking compositions and animated group interplay. On the calm "Ballad Opening , a sharply angular melody from Andrew Bishop's soprano sax rose over Tim Flood's bowed bass and Dan Weiss' mallet rolls on cymbals. There was a 20th-century chamber music quality to both Bishop's soprano phrases and the atmosphere as a whole, which felt free-floating as the piano, soprano, drums and Jacob Garchik's trombone sprinkled in ideas over long bass tones. The boisterous "Eurotrash opened with a brassy blast from Garchik, with Bishop on tenor sax joining in for a bluesy, almost mournful vamp that steadily grew into a full-on jam between the two. After bass and drums entered with heavy funk backbeats and the piano with some traditional blues chords, Weiss' crisp, drumming assuredly guided the piece through different rhythmic downshifts. During "White Hat, Too Late , one of the most appealing compositions of the night - soulful, rhythmically complex but never brainy - Sacks showed his penchant for looking over his left shoulder at the rest of the ensemble while playing, always focused on listening as much as speaking and guiding the keen interaction among the musicians. For an added treat during the second set, Sacks peered into the audience and invited singer Yoon Sun Choi up to lend her wordless melodies to interplay of clarinet and trombone in the hauntingly beautiful "Soul Mates .
~ Brian Lonergan