October Revolution in Jazz & Contemporary Music 2017

Mark Corroto By

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Claire Chase, a MacArthur Fellow, provided the festival's most participatory experience for the audience. After a set of flute/electronic interactions, she incorporated fifteen volunteers to play triangles, crystal glassed filled with water, and bottles at her cues, ending the set with a performance of Pauline Oliveros's "Tuning Meditation," where the entire audience was solicited to sing varying tones creating a meditation of sound.

Anthony Braxton's solo performance with alto saxophone showed great industry. Where he could have easily delivered a tempered performance, the saxophonist seemed determined to show some mettle. He quickly worked up a sweat delivering repeated patterns and some awe-inspiring upper register circular breathing. His performance begged comparisons to his pioneering For Alto (Delmark, 1969), and was evidence the master is dedicated to pushing his instrument even further. His bebop covers of "Four" and a Thelonious Monk composition gave to context to his approach, allowing the audience to connect the dots even if they had no formal training. Braxton disassembled, then recreated compositions as if writing out a mathematical solution on a chalk board.

Composer John Luther Adams presented a performance of 24 French horns divided into choirs that strolled the Race Street Pier among a crowd of festival goers and surprised Saturday morning walkers and joggers stopping to blow notes that were cued by their mobile phones. In the same spirit as the Oliveros piece, Adam's music incorporated environmental sounds, such as passing trains, barking dogs and the wind. Listeners were given not only a 360-degree sound experience, but one that was mobile.

Saxophonist Tim Berne performed with drummer Ches Smith in guitarist David Torn's Sun of Goldfinger and in his own Snakeoil, which includes Smith, reed player Oscar Noriega and pianist Matt Mitchell. Where Torn's project was a free improvisation session creating something from nothing, Snakeoil builds improvisation upon the complex composition of Berne. Both Smith and Torn gleefully fiddled with electronics and Berne muddying the sound by placing a crinkly plastic water bottle in the bell of his horn. Working with changes in ferocity, the trio incorporated a blown amplifier into the set as if it was the strategy all along. Snakeoil worked with less freedom, yet delivered a more liberating sound. Berne's writing has always unchained improvisers. Here, both Noriega and, especially Mitchell, were given the framework for soloing.

The earliest edition of The Art Ensemble of Chicago was called The Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble. Significant for the fact that Mitchell is the only survivor of the 1960s AEC. This was evident in Saturday's performance when all current members took their cues from and deferred to Mitchell during their performance. Trumpeter Hugh Ragin, drummer Famoudou Don Moye, cellist Tomeka Reid, and bassists Jaribu Shahid and Junius Paul performed without extravagant costumes, spoken word, or the plethora of instruments for which the original AEC was known. Nonetheless, the ensemble did not disappoint as a collective. The highlight was, of course, Mitchell's lengthy circular breathing solo. The septuagenarian has seemingly boundless energy, and he ignited the crowd with a stellar display of technique.

When the organizers booked saxophonist Jim Sauter and drummer Kid Millions, they must have had a premonition of the hurricanes that were to strike the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico and the forest fires that would rage in California. The pair were their own force of nature. Sauter of Borbetomagus performs with a tenor saxophone, but any suggestion it sounds like a saxophone is quickly dispelled, as he runs this horn through an amplifier employing six effect pedals. With Millions churning out a perpetual pulse the sound is not a subtle exercise in endurance, the words "onslaught" and "siege" come to mind. With all the noise the pair generates, time appears to slow leaving listeners feeling as though they are enveloped within a vat of Jello. Their performance was the most tactile of the weekend.


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