XFest 2010: Real Time Together
Note should be made for the great freeform dancer Joe Burgio, who graced a group including guitarists Chris Welcome and Nick Coella, and bassist Kit Demos. Burgio was the center of this band's energy, absorbing the latter incandescently, and reflecting and flashing it back to the band with movement effortless and indelible.
Saturday afternoon, February 27
Tension among musicians began to dissipate as the fest wore on, which was a good thing in itself, though on occasion it made for less exciting music. That said, the social dimension was also inspiring, and a good reason for why all was so satisfying in the end.
Trumpeter Allen returned with a trio on laptops and electronics. In an inherent struggle for a player of an acoustic instrument, he acquitted himself well, in some cases miming the synthetic elements, then going beyond them and extrapolating the sources into melodic journeys. New Yorker Al Margolis and Bostonian Jed Speare featured on laptops, with veteran Tom Hamilton, also from New York, on electronics. This was a unique set in that its worth went beyond music. The shifting textures and dynamics made for experiments and discoveries not always easy on the ear, but somehow always therapeutic and thought inducing.
Joshua Jefferson on alto sax and Andrew Eisenberg on percussion, known for their Boston duo Skinny Vinny, appeared with formidable, high-profile New York bassist Shayna Dulberger. The trio engaged in astute game of give and take, often with humor. The humor was extended by the two dancers Burgio and Paul Kafka- Gibbons, who engaged in a kind of Samuel-Beckett-like mini-drama, though this proved an unfortunate distraction in the end, as Jefferson and Eisenberg had to give up attention to Dulberger to devote it to the dancersa shame also on account of the great grace the former had on hand to show.
Moshe also reappeared in a new context, a group including Miller and Welcome, and Matt Plummer on trombone. This was a provocative number with shifting beats and dynamics, Moshe again switching between flute and tenor. With the four of them familiar from playing together in New York (though breaking the fest's rule a bit), there was great implicit and intuitive dialogue. Welcome in particular shone with his spare, edgy jabs at his strings.
Emilie Mouchous on electronics and Eric Dahlman on trumpet kicked off Saturday evening. Burgio also made a comeback with another mindful dance accompaniment, with video artist Greg Kowalski providing great, psychedelic visuals on a screen behind the stage. Dahlman sprung a spry lower-case, or minimalist performance that started out jarringly, with interrupted breathing sounding like someone choking on a snorkel underwater, yet pulled through into some tight, effective blues-inflected fragments that mysteriously fit together.
The next two sets did not succeed. In one, the fine New York guitarist Welcome was buried in sludgy noise rock. In the other, a lyrical effort by trombonist Plummer was undermined through lack of cooperation.
Drummer Dave Miller returned next in the context of four electronics-based performers, including Mark Dwinell on monochord. This piece had a slow buildup, with Miller on brushes. In the end, everything coalesced grandly, with the synthesizers building and Miller structuring a fine polyrhythmic coda after patiently following and supporting the piece as it had developed. It was one of those pieces, structuralist in nature, that made total sense only after all was added up retrospectively: the destination was the path.
Angela Sawyer featured in the final set I caught, with Speare, Margolis and Eisenberg returning. The latter three worked around Sawyer with restrained interplay, while Sawyer led with powerful, high volume outbursts on voice and duck calls, challenging the ear to tell which was which, as well as to rethink our notions of the beautiful: Sawyer's Kantian background becomes clear.
Again, the fest as a whole was in addition to a great music event, an ecstatic, intoxicating social affair, with owner Wright always playing the good host, always around introducing people to one another and supporting the musicians in their efforts. Gallery manager Y Sok Woodward cooked a delightful Cambodian dinner. Lowell's pulse is slippery and alive.