Mats Gustafsson / Paul Lovens Duo & Leroy Jenkins Solo Diverse Works Houston, TX June 16-22, 2001
The final two concerts of the Pauline Oliveros Foundation's season featured the duo of Mats Gustafsson and Paul Lovens on their 'Nothing to Read' tour, and Leroy Jenkins in a solo performance. Both concerts were held at the acoustically friendly and comfortable Diverse Works, a theatrical/musical/art space located in the warehouse district of downtown Houston. The Foundation's concerts have been gaining momentum by attracting highly creative improvising musicians to the area, and the dual finale for this fiscal year lived up to all the pre-billing.
Viewing a presentation by Gustafsson and Lovens is an intimate experience. While both musicians are capable of being outlandishly bombastic, it is the subtle side of their nature that dominates their sessions. The artists asked that the air conditioning be turned off so that all the nuances of their performance could be heard properly, and although that is a heavy request for Houston audiences, no one complained once the music started.
Using cymbals and gongs as a primary source of percussion, Lovens carved out a delicate channel of sound. He created arrhythmic and rhythmic patterns of sensitive beauty that seemed to hover in the dead silence of the room. There were those moments when he opened up fully and exploded his kit, but the meticulous development of quiet strokes and shimmering clangs were the more dominant aural images. Lovens also used a handsaw to simulate an unusually eerie ambiance. He bowed the edges to produce high- pitched, nearly inaudible screeches and then quivered the saw itself for reverberant effects. Lovens used numerous special effects, and each of them fed into a delicious sound collage.
Gustafsson played an array of reeds, including flutes, tenor, and baritone sax. He also eschewed eruptive blowing in favor of more sensitive artistry. Oh, there were those moments when he and Lovens caused the amp meters to peak, but he also took great care to transform his saxophone into a soft percussion instrument. He accomplished this by using his fingers to click the neck just below the mouthpiece as he tongued and fluttered the reed. Gustafsson used this technique on several occasions, producing an otic mystique that could only be accomplished in a stone-quiet atmosphere. His facial expressions betrayed the intensity inside him. He appeared to be in pain exorcising these exotic sounds from his instrument. Gustafsson also played his flute with its bell buried in the instrument's stand to simulate a bass clarinet tone. His entire performance was a study in controlled dynamics. The empathy transmitted between these two was overwhelmingly evident, and each developed his art in simultaneous, independent, yet perfectly synchronized movements. It was an inspired session of art on the leading edge of creativity.
Leroy Jenkins culminated his stay in Houston with a solo violin/ viola concert. He had spent the earlier part of the week in summer residency with a class of improvising students of MECA (Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts), the inner city haven where young musicians concluded their study program with the string master by executing a composition/improvisation he wrote especially for the occasion. For his solo concert, Jenkins played a series of freely improvised songs where he displayed his wide range of string talent. Jenkins seemed to enjoy taking a fragment of a theme and weaving its notes intermittently into the fabric of the improvisation. He used this technique often, and it allowed the songs to have a frame of reference whereby the audience could relate to the direction he was taking.
Jenkins showed a penchant for flair during his long wanderings. He would subtly break out into an overt demonstration of energetic bowing, bringing several songs to a crescendo in this manner. Every so often, Jenkins introduced a bit of humor into his playing. On one occasion, he produced a disguised opening line of "Red River Valley," and then sprung from that into freeform playing, only to return to the second line from the classic western tune before leaving it for more unstructured realms.
Jenkins alternated between the violin and viola, which kept the program diverse and stimulating. The fuller tone of the viola combined with his energized playing of this instrument gave the viola songs dense body, yet the exhilarating violin passages were equally absorbing in a subtler way. The intense set concluded with the only true song form of the evening -a rendition of Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Jenkins returned for an encore on a piece he called "A Romance," which was an inventive, highly animated string discourse.
A solo concert of this nature is a very difficult path for any performer to take, but it appeared quite natural for Jenkins. He displayed originality and the ability to keep everyone's attention through his imaginative playing, which was much appreciated by the knowledgeable crowd.