Creative Music Studio Spring Workshop 2017
Full Moon Resort
Big Indian, NY
June 12-15, 2017
There are multiple facets to the lengthy, imaginative musical journey of Karl Berger
and Ingrid Sertso
. Together with Ornette Coleman
, they founded the Creative Music Studio and Foundation in 1971. Their old Woodstock wilderness lodge soon attracted a rolling cast of significant artists, frequently performing in permutations that wouldn't be heard elsewhere. Over the decades, Berger (piano, vibraphone) and Sertso (voice) have devoted themselves to the transmission of their long accumulated concepts of improvisation, and its potential organisation via instant composition, as this process might sometimes be termed.
Besides being a leading instrumentalist, composer and arranger, Berger is a highly skilled, decisive and dynamic conductor, employing his personal system of real-time prompts, and smearing the perimeters around improvisation and composition. The CMS operates regular workshop sessions, convening in recent years at the Full Moon resort, up in Big Indian, which is not too far from Woodstock. Opening Concert, Monday 12th June
The opening Monday night concert of the spring workshop displayed the talents of its guiding artists, playing together in various permutations. It's an initial demonstration of where each player stands, musically, prior to the masterclasses and collective tuition that will follow over the course of the next three days. Full Moon, in the Catskill Mountains, is a secluded encampment of natural quiet, a wilderness haven for the arts, with a particular attention paid to music camps. The Full Moon folks also handled catering for the recent Mountain Jam festival, and will be hosting a King Crimson
camp to tie in with the soon-coming tour by those English prog rock leviathans.
The guiding artists and around 25 workshop participants gathered in the Full Moon reception, everyone introducing themselves, and giving a brief background to their journey towards improvisation. Dinner followed in the converted barn, which was to also serve as the ample space for the week's coming masterclasses. Around 8pm, all of the assembled ambled up the hill to the Roadhouse. This is Full Moon's dedicated venue, complete with bar, stage and in-house sound system.
The Chinese pipa player Min Xiao-Fen played solo at first, with a release of pent-up energy, contrasting the often dignified and gentle nature of this instrument with a forceful approach that's immersed in free improvisation and Delta blues traditions. It's a strikingly aggressive attack, loaded with bent and sliding notes, her palms sometimes spread flat to encompass the maximum number of strings on the pipa's broad neck. She makes sudden switches of gear, from a driving thrash, into spidering clusters.
The New York bassist Ken Filiano
and the Mexican guitarist Omar Tamez
begin with soft, granular bowing and agitated picking. Filiano periodically raises an interest in effects pedals (even though most of his gigs feature a purer bass sound), and he's using these foot-triggerers here, whilst Tamez calls to mind the pliant sound of James Blood Ulmer
. Filiano and Tamez are soon heading towards a straight-running momentum. This duo becomes a quartet, as Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso enter, the former implying a South African sound on piano keyboard, the latter flitting between words and scat. Sertso brings in a narrative sense, something that will frequently govern the structure of the following pieces. She might be considering calling their first improvisation "Dance With Life," a developing phrase in the piece.
There's a further expansion, as tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum
and drummer Warren Smith
come onstage, with Berger moving across to the vibraphone. A classic Blue Note-ed character moves the music closer to the jazz mainline, with Smith playing on a straight drum-kit, although augmented by an extra floor-tom. Mostly, when he's found playing in NYC, Smith favours an expanded tympani set-up. Berger's solo mixes open resonance with curtailed strikes, developing a freer nature. "When will the blues leave? Never!," declaims Sertso, as this Ornette Coleman tune concludes.
Continuing, Smith produces an abstract clatter, and Apfelbaum leads a rugged take-off, Tamez making scything strikes, edged with decorative details, and coming close to a Vietnamese microtonality. The evening's most unusual line-up featured Min Xiao Fen, Tom Tedesco (tabla), along with Berger and Filiano. Min also vocalised, her immense energy setting off a flash of communal fire amongst her partners. This was improvisation with tension, release, heightened empathy and fine detail. Masterclasses & Workshop Sessions, Tuesday 13th June
During her vocal/tuning awareness session, Ingrid Sertso is talking about being inspired by working with the recently departed Pauline Oliveros
: "Use your speaking voice," she instructs her gathering of vocalists, in a circle of drone, naturally finding many levels of tone. Even though most of these participants are not professional singers, no one sounds 'out of tune,' as the cluster gravitates towards a strata of sonic suspension. Then, Sertso vocalises across the top of their layers, or perhaps sideways. There's a very Eastern sensibility to this approach, although 'east' can stretch from Tibetan and Tuvan lands, coming back through to the Balkans. The circle gets tighter, the act of standing closer tending to intensify the resultant sound. It's a kind of organic mathematics, beginning to sound like a Ligeti or Stockhausen vocal work.
"Thinking is too slow for music," says Karl Berger. "Go for what you like, instantly, bringing in the sound that's all around you, it's amazing how the sound comes in..."
Warren Smith is down by the gulch, preparing for multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum's masterclass, taking place soon, up in the barn. The first part of multi-instrumentalist Apfelbaum's masterclass begins with him distributing word- sheets, to be used later in the proceedings. He's talking about the scale as a foundation, either as something to harmonise with, or alternatively, scrape against. As he constructs the ranks, delivering their duties, Apfelbaum introduces the comparison with a Jamaican dub reggae wizard, bringing up the fader on sonic action that is already underway. He instantaneously cues either individuals or spontaneously created groups to rise up, or slip away in the collective spread. He prompts them to enter suddenly, or creep in softly, and incrementally, then he turns his attention to the percussionists, asking them to play busily, but imagining that they're way off in the distance, much quieter than usual.