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Live From New York

Kronos Quartet, Jessica Pavone, Futurist Noise Intoners & The Tori Ensemble

By Published: December 10, 2009
Most of the composers appeared to tip-toe around the intonarumori potential, but Tony Conrad lunged in with confidence, sounding like he was improvising. His curiosity led to a more grizzled approach, as he and Jennifer Walshe shifted from intoner to intoner, pushing to find their limitations. Several works involved singers, mostly arriving from operatically trained quarters and imposing a predictable pomposity. Joan La Barbara felt a closer bond with the machines, however, as she made her own gurgling megaphone calls, vocalising in sympathy with the intonarumori groans.

The stage management provided a challenge, with so many performers and pauses. This imposed a sense of halting uncertainty at regular points in the concert. Some of the composers elected to perform in their own pieces, although Blixa Bargeld's narration wasn't as amusing (or surreal) as he probably intended. The saxophonist John Butcher wove himself into the ensemble more successfully, blowing with empathy. With him, Conrad and La Barbara, the secret seemed to be an innate understanding of the sonic realm of the intoners. They felt comfortable with their interior resonances.

Tori Ensemble Merkin Concert Hall November 22, 2009

This time, the fusion arrives from Korea, although despite the presence of three jazz improvisers, the traditional sound remains dominant. The Tori Ensemble formed in 2007, combining Korean traditional musicians with New York improvisers. The jazzers in question are Erik Friedlander (cello), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion) and Ned Rothenberg (reeds/shakuhachi), although all three frequently adventure in other musical zones. The Korean players are Kwon Soon Kang (vocals), Yoon Jeong Heo (geomungo) and Young Chi Min (daegum/changgo).

The audience, if it wants, can amuse itself by breaking down the compartments between what it believes is improvised or composed, what's Korean or pseudo-Korean, what's folkloric, jazz or new music. Nowadays, such demarcations are becoming increasingly irrelevant, as musicians rove around the globe, as studies become all-embracing and as the public's listening tics become ever more uncontrollable. Apparently, two days previously at Roulette, New York's experimental music haunt, this same ensemble were delivering a set that was probably more free-form in nature. Here, the roots definitely lay in the stately, ritualized sound of Korea.

The evening's suite is The Five Directions Of Arirang, with its sections segueing to make up an hour of music. The individual pieces divide Korea into five parts, considering the local music from each area. For much of the time, Satoko Takeishi and Erik Friedlander were significant providers of an often charging rhythmic drive, but when Yoon Jeong Heo was allowed space, her deeply gutsy low-string twangs held a startling authority. Her geomungo is in a similar family to Japan's koto and China's guzheng, its strings struck emphatically by a substantial wooden spatula. When she was singing, Kwon Soon Kang imposed a ritualistic, courtly mood, and it was left to Young Chi Min to deliver the sharply-thwacked changgo drum parts, alongside Takeishi's sometimes subtly dampened floor-percussion. Rothenberg might be the jazziest contributor, but his features were also informed by ongoing shakuhachi (Japanese flute) studies. The ensemble framework allows ample space for individual expression, and the Five Directions Suite took on a unified character. The only frustration was that too often the pieces were too densely composed, failing to provide a sense of contemplative space to which their source music must surely be accustomed.

Subjectivity is crucial to any experience. In the elevator following the concert, a gentleman (presumably Korean) was visibly moved by the music (this he also verbally stated). Even though his experience doubtless had a very different resonance from that of your reviewer, it was still possible (and desirable) for each audience member to arrive at the music from their own individual backgrounds. Your scribe was more familiar with the improvising contingent, though he has a handful of Korean gigs in his knapsack. Nevertheless, that country's sonics appeared to be present here in hardcore form, even though transformed by a more linear Western style of composition.


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