Undivided: Exploring Consciousness in Ukraine
Philarmony Concert Hall
October 1, 2009
It's been a long time since head-solo-head was the only possible structure for jazz improvisation. Jazz symphonies, jazz operas, unprepared hour-long improvisations, recorded as well as performed live, frequently depart from the conventional formulaic pattern. Another popular form is the suite. The history of the extended jazz suite goes back to Duke Ellington's annual Carnegie Hall concerts with the premiere of Black, Brown and Beige in 1941, inspiring later examples such as Sonny Rollins' Freedom Suite, Max Roach's We Insist! Freedom Now Suite and, of course, John Coltrane's liturgy A Love Supreme. A similar work was presented in Lviv by the quintet, Undivided.
Notably, this ensemble united musicians of different epochs and geographies. Besides the Polish composer-leader clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel, German percussionist Klaus Kugel and Ukrainian doublebassist Mark Tokar joined ranks with American free-jazz legends clarinetist Perry Robinson and ex-patriot Bobby Few, who has long been living in Paris.
As part of a festival of contemporary music the concert proceeding from this recently created project was scheduled for the 1st of October. Posters announcing the concert carried phrases "endeavoring to describe different levels of human consciousness", and the names of compositions evoked human emotions and states of mind: "Love", "Enlightment", "Fullness", etc. All of which brought two possible scenarios to mind: something truly unusual and extreme; a work of undeniable pathos.
The first composition started as two clarinets engaged in a Coltrane-like, modal theme, producing drawling meditative sounds. While soloing, the horns showed different approaches reflecting the individual performersRobinson, yowling and howling, seemed to combine in his playing almost the entire history of the instrument, from traditional to free-jazz. Zimpel's clarinet, on the other hand, sounded more tranquil and restrainedmore European in its approach. At the same time Bobby Few supplied dense chord textures while Mark Tokar and Klaus Kugel maintained a loose pulse, keeping the meter free and flexible.
The next number led off with Kugel's light percussion. But it wasn't long before solo clarinet joined him on a sonorous duet, matching the expressiveness of Kugel's mallets. An unexpected groovy bass riff opened the third piece before piano entered with repeated arpeggio patterns, yielding to the longest solo, with Few flailing the keyboard ecstatically and making harp-like dashes through the instrument's entire register. After long applause, which made even the musicians seem taken back, Robinson and Zimpel engaged in a swinging dialog of cutting phrases, while the rhythm-section played intermittently, leaving room for the clarinets' sonorous interjections. Then, after a short funk interlude, Mark Tokar soloed, combining powerful plucks with resonating vibrato before imitating the human voice with his arco bass. Finally, Kugel settled matters with an authoritative drum solo, ending with sheer artillery fire from his kit.
The fourth part was built around a life-affirming sanguine theme. After a lyrical Zimpel solo on bass-clarinet Robinson played an almost mainstream swing solo but over a free-jazz uneven pulse. The last number began with a sonorous breathy clarinet duo, which changed to a suspended mood rendered by Few and Tokar. Not for a long, however, because as if to provide the expectation of the performance's culmination Zimpel took a solo, playing aggressively, even shrieking. After him Few soloed, using Monk-like elliptical phrasing just before Robinson's solo and a return to the initial theme, which slowly faded away, bringing the whole concert to a calm closure.
Besides displaying superb musicianship, these musicians had something to say: they were successful in expressing their emotions. Compositionally, the flow of the suite's parts was paralleled by a sequence of musical moods, each announced by dramatic accents. Ballad compositions changed to rhythmically-charged numbers, which in turn were followed by passionate, even ecstatic, sermons logically woven into a coherent musical canvas. This performance, the third by this band, showed that the "endeavor to describe states of human consciousness" was realized, to the enjoyment and illumination of all fortunate to have experienced it.