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Live Reviews

Four Chicagoans Stir Up Musical Turbulence in NYC: Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Ken Vandermark and Jack DeJohnette

By Published: April 27, 2009

A principal factor is the significant deployment of the "dramatic" content, with the actors sitting in a line, facing the audience, as if re-creating a bus ride. Their sculpted gabbling is an important sonic element, and the newness and freshness of this inclusion within the "usual" instrumental palette can't be ignored. The pianist Evan Mazunik decides to steal a faction of Irondale actors, leading them up to the old church's balcony, then stabbing out united vocal calls, initiating a third block of soundpainting activity from above. Braxton is playing Pied Piper with one of the dancers (or "subtle gesticulators" might be a better term). The music manages to be stern and playful in turn. The piece finishes naturally, slightly before the sands run out.

Throughout, the music's personality seems to exist as a composite, rather than a battle of egos between Braxton and Thompson, who must surely be viewed as prime examples of composers who enjoy being in control. The concluding conversation and audience chatback revealed that the pair have found a genuine balance and mutual respect in their collaboration.

Roscoe Mitchell & Pauline Oliveros

The Kitchen

April 18, 2009

At first, the combination of Chicagoan reedsman Roscoe Mitchell and the Houstonite accordionist Pauline Oliveros might feel like an unlikely encounter between player-composers from different spheres. And indeed, this is the case. However, their opening duo piece for this Deep Listening benefit concert soon begins to illustrate some of the common sonic concentrations in their approaches. Oliveros has built up an entire alternative musical industry around her concept of deep listening, a practice that holds much in common with Mitchell's pan-global sensitivity to sounds, from full-lung roaring to fingertip-tinkling. Here, he's persuaded to probe a particular area of his palette, keeping to sparse percussive phrases, which Oliveros munches up into her laptop and disperses around the room's multi-speaker array, using her two foot-pedals and row of effects-buttons. Or, alternatively, this could be the work of the sound-desk team.

Mitchell is also here to receive the third annual Golden Ear award for not being deaf to music's finer sensualities, with the quirkily amusing David Felton cracking non-stop loosening-up jokes, helping the audience relax into a receptive mode for complete immersion. Oliveros returns to lead her Deep Listening Band, the long-running partnership with trombonist Stuart Dempster and pianist David Gamper. All three players are making use of the Expanded Instrument System used by Oliveros in the first set, facilitating maximum control over minimalist gestures. Here, the music is less pointillist, more concerned with layered stasis and sustained drone, particularly when sounds become echoed, repeated and a-washed. Dempster also plays the didjeridu, circulating amongst the audience as he directs his tube to all points, adding another dispersed sound-source to complement the trans-speaker gliding. The experience is necessarily built around thoughtful consideration of slowly evolving details, as opposed to any stirring dynamism.

That action appears to arrive during the after-party, as DJ Oliveros teams up with DJ Olive, the latter delving into the more bangin' sections of his record collection. Oliveros turns out to be quite a reasonable turntablist, scratching in slow motion as she drags out vocal sounds from the deep grooves. It's quite amusing to witness a floor full of disco dancers during a deep listening event, proving that there are many possible ways to flex the eardrums.

The Ab Baars Trio & Ken Vandermark

Joe's Pub

April 19, 2009

Dead on 7pm, the Chicagoan reedsman Ken Vandermark is itching to get started. He's onstage before The Ab Baars Trio, invited as their special guest, and here to continue the work begun on 2007's album collaboration. Newly released is its sequel, Goofy June Bug. This is part of a lengthy US tour, particularly so for a visiting European combo. The Dutchmen step up, and the foursome begin a sequence of pieces that will include reflections on the musical influences of Von Freeman, Stravinsky, Gesualdo and Roswell Rudd. Baars and Vandermark work through all the possible combinations of tenor saxophones and clarinets, finding sympathy in their predilection for a controlled examination of the highest possible registers, always under a steely grip. Even seasoned free music adventurers might wince at the sheer citrus tingle of their keen notes, dotted, cutting, savage and expertly targeted.

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