All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

42

Big Ears Festival 2016

Mark Sullivan By

Sign in to view read count
Since its beginning in 2009, the Big Ears Festival has always been willfully, unapologetically eclectic. —Mark Sullivan
Big Ears Festival
Knoxville, TN
March 31-April 2, 2016

Since its beginning in 2009, the Big Ears Festival has always been willfully, unapologetically eclectic. Their own self-description is "a dynamic, interactive experience that explores connections between musicians and artists, crossing all musical genres while interfacing with film, performance and the visual arts." Named for an especially perceptive listener—one who may hear things others would miss—it offers interactive workshops, installations, exhibitions, film screenings and surprise collaborations, in addition to a vast array of musical performances.

New Music is the heart of the programming. This year's Composer-in-Residence was Pulitzer Prize winner John Luther Adams. Past guests have included composers
Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich; and performers like Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can, and So Percussion. But past festivals have also hosted alternative rock artists like The National, Swans, and St. Vincent; icons like Television, John Cale, and Silver Apples; and experimental artists such as Pauline Oliveros, Tanya Tagaq, Jon Hassell, Antony & the Johnsons, Fennesz, Tim Hecker, and Marc Ribot. Jazz isn't neglected, but here also the programming leans toward the avant-garde. Despite the intention of crossing musical genres there were a number of shows with a clear genre focus: e.g. Celtic (The Gloaming); Noise Rock ( Sunn O))), Wolf Eyes); and Electronica (Andy Stott, Kiasmos). Not everything is edgy, and it would be possible to have an experience similar to a more mainstream festival.

Day One (Thursday)

Bryce Dessner/Philip Glass/John Luther Adams

The festival begins on Thursday night.The opening event was a concert by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Steven Schick in the grand Tennessee Theatre, an ornate 1920s-era movie palace. Lachrimae , a string orchestra piece composed by The National's Bryce Dessner, was a beautiful, dense, layered piece. It was followed by Philip Glass' Cello Concerto No. 2 "Naqoyqatsi," with soloist Maya Beiser. Beiser gave a riveting performance, but the most striking thing was the wide dynamic range—which recordings rarely capture. After intermission John Luther Adams's Become Ocean occupied the entire second half. The piece won both the 2014 Pulizer Prize and a 2015 Grammy Award for "Best Contemporary Classical Composition." It's easy to hear why: hearing it is a hypnotic, immersive experience, as rich layers of sound wash over you. It ebbs and flows like a natural process, rather than traditional thematic development.

Meanwhile, the Sun Ra Arkestra directed by Marshall Allen had begun their show at a venue nearly a mile away, making hearing even part of it impractical—the first of many unresolvable programming conflicts.

Nief-Norf

The Square Room (the most intimate venue at the festival) hosted the ensemble Nief-Norf, New Music chamber music specialists who took the ensemble's name from a descriptor of strange sounds. This was the first of four performances, a program of Judd Greenstein's A Moment of Clarity; John Luther Adams Dark Wind; Edgard Varèse's Density 21.5; Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Aura; and Steve Reich's Four Organs. A varied program, with Varèse's classic flute solo, Thorvaldsdottir's percussion piece in the round, and the Reich special standouts. The group did not try to round up four Farfisa combo organs, using software organ emulators instead, which probably sounded better than vintage organs would have. It's a minimalist classic, mesmerizing in its simplicity.

Day Two (Friday)

Marc Ribot

Guitarist Marc Ribot played his first show solo at "The Sanctuary," a former church. The stage was set with an electric guitar, amplifier, electronic effects, and balloons on the floor—more on that later. Ribot entered the stage with an acoustic guitar, and devoted the first half of his set to pieces from his mentor, Haitian guitarist Frantz Casséus. He mentioned that the music was written for classical guitar, but he was playing it on steel-string guitar, which was the first and last time anyone in the audience would likely have noticed. In Ribot's hands the music sounded as if it was intended to be performed this way. The selections included the "Haitian Suite," "On Sunday," and another suite Ribot arranged from two published pieces and two manuscripts found in Casséus's notebooks. Beautiful music, brought to life with obvious love.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Detroit Jazz Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Detroit Jazz Festival 2018
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: September 19, 2018
Read Beethoven, Barber and Vivaldi at The Jazz Corner Live Reviews
Beethoven, Barber and Vivaldi at The Jazz Corner
by Martin McFie
Published: September 18, 2018
Read Bryan Ferry at the Macedonian Philharmonic Hall, Macedonia 2018 Live Reviews
Bryan Ferry at the Macedonian Philharmonic Hall, Macedonia...
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: September 16, 2018
Read Live From Birmingham: Dinosaur, Meatraffle, Hollywood Vampires, Black Asteroids & Paul Lamb Live Reviews
Live From Birmingham: Dinosaur, Meatraffle, Hollywood...
by Martin Longley
Published: September 16, 2018
Read Binker & Moses At London's Jazz Cafe Live Reviews
Binker & Moses At London's Jazz Cafe
by Chris May
Published: September 15, 2018
Read 12 Points 2018 Live Reviews
12 Points 2018
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 14, 2018
Read "Odean Pope Quartet at Chris’ Jazz Café" Live Reviews Odean Pope Quartet at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: August 7, 2018
Read "Charlie Parr At Higher Ground" Live Reviews Charlie Parr At Higher Ground
by Doug Collette
Published: August 4, 2018
Read "Vijay Iyer Sextet at The Village Vanguard" Live Reviews Vijay Iyer Sextet at The Village Vanguard
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: May 21, 2018
Read "Lionel Loueke Trio at A-Trane" Live Reviews Lionel Loueke Trio at A-Trane
by Friedrich Kunzmann
Published: February 26, 2018
Read "Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon At The Old 76 House" Live Reviews Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon At The Old 76 House
by David A. Orthmann
Published: January 31, 2018
Read "King Crimson at Lisner Auditorium" Live Reviews King Crimson at Lisner Auditorium
by Eric Thiessen
Published: November 1, 2017