Ensemble musikFabrik, Etienne Charles, Pulverize The Sound & Ahmed Abdullah's Diaspora

Martin Longley By

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Ensemble musikFabrik
Avery Fisher Hall
July 20, 2013

Karlheinz Stockhausen and Sun Ra must surely vie for the stellar position of most cosmically attuned composer within the bounds of the omniverse. Stockhausen's Licht is arguably his major work, at least in terms of sheer scale. It's a seven-day-long operatic cycle that its composer must have been relieved to complete before his demise. This performance of "Michael's Reise Um Die Erde (Michael's Journey Around The World)" is a mere fragment when set beside the whole sprawl, lasting only around an hour. It's the second, instrumental, act of "Donnerstag," composed between 1978 and 1980. Consequently it's a compacted, highly detailed musical journey, seemingly epic within the bounds of its minutes, but of interlude size once returned to its gargantuan context.

Presented as part of the 2013 Lincoln Center Festival, this was the last of a three-night stint, so was probably the most smooth-flowing of all, particularly as it involved an elaborate staging along with its musical complexities. Cologne's Ensemble musikFabrik already have a sturdy history of interpreting Stockhausen, having given the world premiere of Sonntag Aus Licht in 2008. An assemblage of over 30 players, the palette including flutes, oboes, bass clarinet, bassoons, trumpets, trombones, tuba, percussion, harp, keyboards and strings. The pivotal role of Michael is taken by trumpeter Marco Blaauw. The word "pivotal" is deliberately chosen, as Blaauw spent much of the performance strapped into what looked like an astronaut's harness, set on the end of a gantry that swooped and swiveled as he issued his crisp fanfare statements.

The players were garbed in flamboyant costumes, silver abounding. A gauzy filament front-drop provided a transparent screen onto which were projected glowing curlicues of light and flickering images. Planetary masses slid past the eyes. Blauww rotated and ascended, the motion emphasizing his horn phrases rather than distracting from their essence. The entire flow was held in a kind of meditative stasis as each event unfolded with a dignified, gradual process of sonic tendril-snaking.

Stockhausen's work has always mixed the scientific and the ritualistic, and this piece managed to be precise, pointed and scalpel-sharp to the analytical mind, but without losing its spellbinding aura of an almost pagan ceremony, a dreamlike transmission towards its climax of Michael and Eve, prancing together in a dialogue (Nicola Jürgensen played basset horn), eventually rising up to the stars on a shared gantry. Almost as dark comic relief, a "clownesque swallow pair" of clarinetists shifted attention momentarily to their own capering conversation.

The stage direction of Carlus Padrissa was seductively dominant, but the players dwelled within a luminous firmament that heightened their articulations into a mystical state, totally captivating whilst being supremely relaxing. An immersion in the alternate universe of Stockhausen, who characteristically completed his grand concept by requesting that the audience clad themselves in electric blue gear. The composer would probably have appreciated the closing touch of trumpeters playing goodbye to the exiting crowds, from on high in the outside walkway levels, ensnaring them with a further preparation for the thoughtful journey home.

Etienne Charles
(le) Poisson Rouge
July 23, 2013

If an artist had a dream about his ideal gig, it would be something like this album release party at the Poisson. The Trinidadian trumpeter Etienne Charles was heralding his Creole Soul (Culture Shock, 2013) spinner, promoted by the Revive posse, those prolific organizers of hip jazz'n'groove gigs around NYC. The joint was in full jazz-club mode with all tables occupied, surrounded by a massed circle of standees. Charles is frequently found as a sideman, but now seems set on establishing his own sound, delivered by his own large-scale band. He's now up to his fourth record. The direction is emphatically thrusting towards Caribbean jazz, and the delivery of a thoroughly optimistic sound.

The leader's parents were in the house, and it was his 30th birthday. At least that's what he hinted at, without voicing that dreaded number. Fear of being over-the-hill! Ultimately, these were the makings of a fine night out, with the set only beginning just before 11pm.


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