Earshot Aural Snapshots: 2006 Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle, October 27-30
Sound sculptor, composer and inventor Trimpin provided the "Welcome"heard over the building's sound system. The Sonic Extravaganza began in the Great Hall with a fanfare: a trombone choir playing "Happy Birthday" with strains of "When the Saints Go Marching In" mixed in. As they marched offstage and down the stairs, the site-specific presentations began. The ensemble Awesome was in the backstage area of the Great Hall; flutist Jeffrey Cohan played in the Northwest stairwell; Sheri Cohen and ROOM were in the Southwest stairwell; the Degenerate Art Ensemble mixed their distinctive performance-art brew in the downstairs kitchen; Susie Kozawa and Group were in the lobby; and the Tibetan Long Horns were Downstairs at Town Hall.
Audience members were free to wander about as they wished, sampling bits and pieces of various performances or planting themselves in one location if they so desired. I'd originally planned on the peripatetic approach but started downstairs with the Tibetan Long Horns and remained there, soon to discover that I was transfixed.
Although literally worlds away from the marathon, extended ritual music of Tibetan Buddhism, the long horns, shawms (ancient double reed instruments that are ancestors of the oboe), ritual drum and cymbals brought a palpable sense of sacred space to the utilitarian downstairs room. Led by Phursang Kelak Lamaa monk in the Kagyu lineage who now lives in a small monastery in Kathmandu, Nepalthe group also included Michael Monhart and Brian Pertl, who studied with Lama when he taught in the ethnomusicology department at the University of Washington.
Midway through their presentation, Dempster joined them. With Phursang Kelak Lama and Dempster on long horns, Monhart and Pertl on shawms, a powerful incantatory web of sound was woven. Like the Australian aboriginal didgeridoo, the Tibetan long horn relies solely on breath and embouchure to produce its primal resonance. The sheer physicality of the playing technique projects an earthy immediacy, an in-the-moment mindfulness of great power, rich in compassion and healing force. When two or more horns play in concord, the sonic waves reach out to embrace you, as in these meditative and transformational few minutes. Here's a bow to the musicians, the Buddha and the Buddha-nature awakened in those who listened.
A champagne toast to Dempster Downstairs at Town Hall was followed by the main part of the program upstairs in the Great Hall. After everyone had eventually filtered in and found seats, it became evident that it was a near-capacity crowd. Family, friends, fans, colleagues, students and former students turned out in force, paying tribute to a man who contributes immeasurably to the vitality and creativity of the Seattle music world and has done so for 40 years now.
A trombone choireven larger than the one that provided the earlier fanfare opened the program. I was reminded of an avant-garde version of Meredith Wilson's The Music Man: "...76 trombones led the big parade..." There weren't quite 76 of themor, for that matter, a more numerologically manageable 70but there were definitely a slew of sackbutts, a superabundance of sliphorns. From my seat I couldn't get an accurate count (not that it really matters) but I'd estimate between 15 and 20. Hearing that many trombonists play together certainly isn't an everyday occurrence, so it might as well have been four score or more.
An expanded contingent of The Didgeri Dudes next circumambulated through the audience playing plastic pipe didgeridoos, some fitted with lights at the bell controlled by the player. There was also one serpentine Rube Goldberg-ish device that looked like a trap in search of a sink. The superb acoustics in the Great Hall resonated winningly with this breath-and-chops surround-sound experience. The combination of whimsicality and spirituality, fanciful costumes and flashing lights fitted the season nicely with Halloween/ Samhain only two days away.
Contemplative juggler Thomas Arthur was next, accompanied by guitarist-composer Paul Ely Smith. A remarkable performer, Arthur's approach to the art is light years from the machismo flash and dazzle of circus jugglers. It's all about fluidity of motion and a seamless oneness with the music. The parallels seem to be modern dance or Tai Chi rather than acrobatics; this was particularly evident in the second portion, utilizing gracefully-manipulated, flexible wands.
Composer David Mahler offered a "patriotic birthday with circular breathing," a waggish mouth "trombone" salute to the Sound Gatherer. His few minutes were sort of a cross between stand-up comedy and found poetry plus solo piano in a musingly minimalist mood: Victor Borge meets La Monte Young?