Composer Alvin Curran introduced the shofar as a "low tech instrument and his laptop as "presumably high tech at the beginning of his and Bob Gluck's "The Electronic Shofar on February 3rd at Judson Church. That established the evening's agendaa concert sponsored by the Electronic Music Foundation to explore new uses of the traditional Jewish horn. Over the course of three solos and a duet, the composers did what they could with the instrument, which has a range of four or five notes, like a pair of tone shepherds. The pieces developed into a kind of musical game: intone and rest, triggering different sorts of filters or prerecorded sounds. If the point was to explore the possibilities of electronics with the shofar, the discovery may have been that those possibilities are few. The strongest piece of the night was Gluck's "Electric Brew/Shofarrr," an improvisation built around two themes from Miles Davis' Bitches Brew with prerecorded double-bass phrases. That piece built nicely from its disparate elements and benefited from the simple variety of sound sources. The others grew repetitive, making one wish the program had paired the electronic shofar with a MIDI bugle or a virtual dungchen. Oddly enough, the concert might have come off better as a suite rather than individual pieces. The slow, meditative pieces didn't benefit from breaks for applause, even if they did manage to fill the resonant room. The concert was the first in EMF's Lab Series, designed to explore the roles of technology in music.
~ Kurt Gottschalk
Atomic at Nublu
The process by which an atomic bomb functions is called fission: energy released when the nucleus of an atom is split into two or more smaller nuclei. The same process is at work with the Norwegian/Swedish collective group Atomic. On a frigid night easily imaginable in either Nordic country, the group began a short US tour at the clandestine club Nublu (February 6th). For those who know the rhythm section of bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen (of The Thing and The Scorch Trio most notably), the almost hard-bop heads written by the rest of the quintetreedplayer Fredrik Ljungkvist, trumpeter Magnus Broo and Fender Rhodes player Håvard Wiikmay have been surprising. But the strident improvisations born from them revealed the compelling juxtapositions that fuel the group: loud and soft; traditional and outside; beautiful melodies with avant rhythmic propulsion; screeching horns over languorous beats. It is their pliability that lends the tunes, taken from the newest album Happy New Ears! (Jazzland), a certain Dolphy-esque quality of mixing the cerebral and the romantic often found in European jazz. And while Atomic had its moments that were decidedly nuclear, they were presented with a precision vital for maintaining a controlled yet dynamic reaction. The set was performed with projected DVDs of the first Miles electric small groups as backing, an innovative convergence that was deliciously appropriate.
John Tchicai at Birdland
It was somewhat odd to see saxophonist John Tchicai appearing in an extended engagement at Birdland last month, on the same New York trip that also found him at less ritzy but more expected venues like The Stone, Jimmy's and Barbès. This is not to say, though, that he doesn't deserve some ritz. In a career that extends all the way back to 1962, sometimes seeing Tchicai in ramshackle venues has been disconcerting, given his reputation as one of the old guard of the New Thing. But just because Tchicai was to be found at one of New York's bigger jazz clubs doesn't mean that this unorthodox player was going to be anything but himself. Indeed, Birdland on a Thursday night (February 8th) doesn't often feature avant spoken word musings by its headliners or post-bop forms that were quite this open. In a group that featured his tenor (the bass clarinet stayed on the floor), the multiple saxophones of the younger but no less iconoclastic Charlie Kohlhase and guitarist Garrison Fewell, the rhythm section of bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart seemed to be the only nod towards the establishment. But both of these players have long histories of modernism and helped push the collective envelope. The proceedings rarely broached the strident topics upon which Tchicai usually discourses; If a term had to be used to bring in people passing by from the Port Authority, it would be world bop, heavy on rhythms with melodies that looked back to music from a time long before Tchicai's '60s baptism.
~ Andrey Henkin