singing with the spirit

bobby mcferrin 2

bobby mcferrin

An amusing warning prefaces the current press bio for Bobby McFerrin. It cautions that prolonged listening to the multi-Grammy winning vocal artist “may be hazardous to your preconceptions” and that possible side effects for those embracing his music include “utter and unparalleled joy, a new perspective on creativity, permanent rejection of the predictable, and a sudden, irreversible urge to lead a more spontaneous existence.”

For any other artist, that might seem like a series of fanciful boasts. For over three decades, though, McFerrin has made a mighty joyful noise while resetting the boundaries and roles of what a contemporary vocalist can do.

He might be performing as a one man vocal ensemble, improvising alongside jazz giants Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, vocalizing in duets with piano great Chick Corea, conducting such celebrated orchestras as the New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony, fronting the choir group VOCAbuLarieS or taking to the airwaves with the cheeriest of pop hits, 1988’s Don’t Worry Be Happy.

So it is perhaps in keeping with McFerrin’s sense of artistic wanderlust that his Thursday performance at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville deals with none of those accomplishments. It will instead be devoted to the music of his 2013 spirityouall album, a far-reaching collection of jazz, rock and blues inspired spirituals.

“The idea of making an album of spirituals has been kicking around for decades,” McFerrin explained in a recent email interview. “It just took a long time for the pieces to fall into place. I’ve always wanted to do some kind of tribute to my dad and I’ve always wanted to make an album of songs people could sing along with, songs they could teach their kids. It wasn’t until recently that suddenly it made sense that all these separate ideas could come together.”

The singer’s father, Robert McFerrin Sr., was a towering inspiration. A heralded baritone and protégé of the renowned Hall Johnson, the elder McFerrin was the first African-American to sing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His 1957 album Deep River – in particular, the traditional spiritual Fix Me Jesus – was one of the creative wellsprings his son went to in mining material for spirityouall.

“Both of my parents were such strong influences on me, musically and personally. This album really does reflect my father’s influence enormously. I was a kid when he was working with the great Hall Johnson on the spirituals, preparing to record Deep River. Hall Johnson’s grandmother was a slave and he had very specific ideas about tempo and delivery and how to pronounce certain words, and about the history and emotional impact of the songs.  Listening to them work was a big formative experience. And my father’s versions of the spirituals are just incredible.

“I could never sing them the way he does. I had to find my own way, but his interpretations are a huge influence. Also, maybe even more important, my family always went to church and talked a lot about God. But the only time I really saw and felt my father praying was when he sang the spirituals. Now I try to pray whenever I sing, but especially when I sing these songs.”

The spirit of spirityouall will also carry over into Thursday’s performance in that it will mark one of the few instances McFerrin has played in Kentucky with a full band. While he regularly collaborates with ensembles, including the longrunning jazz quartet Yellowjackets, McFerrin has seldom undertaken an extended tour with a working band of his own.

 “It’s really important to me to keep the music alive and growing and changing. I love working with each and every member of this band. We’ve charted out some beautiful new territory together. Some of my favorite tunes on the album have new life with the touring band – different grooves, different sounds.”

Bobby McFerrin performs “spirityouall” at 7:30 p.m. April 17 at the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St. in Danville. Tickets are $60-$85. Call (877) 448-7469, (859) 236-4692 or go to www.nortoncenter.com.

critic’s pick 318: emmylou harris, ‘wrecking ball – deluxe edition’

emmylou-harris-wrecking-ballIt’s hard to fathom that two decades have passed since Emmylou Harris recast her already regal Americana expertise within the otherworldly ambience Daniel Lanois designed for her extraordinary Wrecking Ball album. A triumph for both artists, the record was a folk project at heart that took music by Neil Young (the title tune), Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Anna McGarrigle, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, Julie Miller and others and placed them in spacious soundscapes. There, echoing chimes of Lanois’ guitar work and the far rumble of percussion by U2’s Larry Mullen Jr. made Harris’ vocals sound alternately spiritual and ghostly.

It’s no wonder then that on a new double CD/single DVD anniversary edition, Wrecking Ball retains a country roots sensibility while attaining a sound that is altogether ghostly. You hear it in the way she makes Dylan’s Every Grain of Sand sound like a comforting prayer, but also in how she captures the depth of two varied but devastating portraits of loss in Williams’ Sweet Old World and Earle’s Goodbye.

“It is of inestimable worth when an artist tells the truth,” writes Welch in the liner notes to this new Wrecking Ball deluxe edition. “To my ear, this is a truthful record, and as such, a timeless one. Nevertheless, it would be an omission not to mention how meaningful Wrecking Ball was in the moment it came out, especially for those of us who were casting about Nashville, trying to figure out the possible relevance and face of folk music at the close of the 20th century.”

Such “casting about” is evident on the second disc of this reissue, which offers a baker’s dozen of demo recordings and outtakes from the original Wrecking Ball. The first is a fully completed version of Lanois’ Still Water that reflects the subtle, contemplative but pronounced tone of the entire Wrecking Ball album. One imagines it was left off the record for the sake of balance, as Lanois’ songwriting was already represented by the gorgeously gray album opener Where Will I Be.

Other delights sport less sheen, like Harris/Lanois demo-style duet versions of Leonard Cohen’s The Stranger Song and Richard Thompson’s How Will I Ever Be Simple Again – tunes that speak to the spiritual unrest, reserved regret and poetic ambience that surround Wrecking Ball. An alternate version of David Olney’s Deeper Well, served up as a slice of back porch gospel, adds further to the insight provided by the reissue.

As a testament to Harris’ restless, rootsy ingenuity, Wrecking Ball is an unrivaled career peak. As an example of the possibilities presented to and by late 20th century folk music, it remains essential listening.

in performance: booker t. jones

booker-t

booker t. jones

Far be it for anyone to suggest that a pop-soul pioneer such as Booker T. Jones should limit the stylistic scope of his music. Having become so identifiable with a distinctive instrument like the Hammond B3 organ over the past five decades has to have made him eager to take a stab at a new sound. Trouble is, stretching out isn’t really Jones’ forte. His performance last night at the new Mercury Ballroom in Louisville underscored that fact.

When the two hour-plus performance addressed the earliest and most recent chapters of his career – specifically, his gloriously cool instrumental soul music with Booker T. and the MGs in the ‘60s and a trio of fine comeback albums that began with 2009’s Potato Hole – the evening was a pure delight.

Looking far younger than his age (69), Jones remains the epitome of taste behind the keys of the B3. Much of that comes from creating clean, soulful grooves out of relatively simple melodies. His classic Green Onions, which was dispensed with six songs into the show, stood as an obvious example. But so did Jones’ 1968 arrangement of Dominic Frontiere’s theme to the Spaghetti Western Hang ‘Em High, which made use of a single melody repeated with a different B3 texture and shading but without any alteration of tempo.

Along the same lines was the show opening Harlem House (from 2011’s The Road to Memphis, the second installment in the comeback trilogy), which let the melody expand and swell as the tune proceeded with Jones’ neatly orchestrated solo. Ditto for a luscious cover of The Rascals’ Groovin’ (fashioned after the MGs’ 1967 version) that basked in silky, lyrical warmth.

But as the performance led to a brief and unanticipated intermission, Jones left the B3 to play guitar and add vocals to an array of cover tunes that became steadily more formulaic. Jones is a capable but unremarkable rhythm guitarist and singer, judging by last night’s performance. Some of the covers he interpreted related directly to his career, like the Albert King blues favorite Born Under a Bad Sign, which Jones co-wrote and recorded. Others didn’t at all, like a sluggish, static take on Purple Rain. The covers parade was especially ill-timed, too. With Thunder Over Louisville starting just a few blocks away, the audience began to thin. By the time Jones returned to the B3, as much as one-third of the crowd had bailed on the show.

What a shame. Jones has fashioned a masterful, profoundly recognizable sound over the years and a fine recording catalogue to go with it. While he has every right artistically to stray from those sounds and songs, most of his detours last night were lessons in selling himself short.

more jimbo, please

jimbo

jimbo mathus.

As varied as his music has been – from the vaudeville swing of the Squirrel Nut Zippers to the roots-blues of the all-star South Memphis String Band to the raw, rambunctious rock ‘n’ roll of his current Tri-State Coalition – there has always been a singular stylistic core to the music of Jimbo Mathus.

“All of my songs are folk songs at heart,” said Mathus, who returns to Lexington for a Sunday performance at the Green Lantern with local blues/soul pros The North Side Shieks opening.

But the folk inspirations that Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition summon on their new Dark Night of the Soul album often possess a restless, rocking quality. He hammered the songs out during extended recording sessions at Dial Back Sound Studio, located near Mathus’ Taylor, Mississippi home. The studio is operated Bruce Watson, label manager of Fat Possum Records, who also served as producer for Dark Night of the Soul

“I went through a process of writing about 40 songs with Bruce.’ Mathus said. “I wrote the songs, but he came and listened to the demos I would create. Bruce really edited this thing down for me.

“I think people are going to be pretty surprised when they hear this. Some of the subject matter is a little darker, a little heavier. There is a song about a lynching on there called Fire in the Cane Brake. The title track is a song about what would happen if the earth was ending. Of course, there is some good old rock ‘n’ roll and some freewheeling stuff, too.”

The more protracted recording approach for Dark Night of the Soul differed in design from the whirlwind sessions with producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel for Mathus’ previous album, White Buffalo. But Mathus said that working with Ambel and Watson in such different settings has added greatly to the Tri-State Coalition’s maturity as a band.

“Roscoe wanted us to be a lean, mean rock ‘n’ roll machine with very few overdubs. The sound was very streamlined but we learned so much about being a band from him. Sometimes when I think I’ve learned it all, I meet somebody like Roscoe. We just performed live in the studio and it was a great experience. We were done within about three days time, having just piled up in a room with no headphones, no monitors or anything. It was just live.

“With Bruce, recording was spread out over about a year. I had the luxury of coming in every two weeks with a handful of songs and sketching out ideas and trying things. Some of them turned into some of the key pieces on the record that I would have never envisioned showing the band just because I thought they were too eccentric. It was just a different experience. Both are great producers, though.”

Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition will perform at 9 p.m. April 13 at the Green Lantern, 497 W. Third. Call (859) 242-9539.  

In performance: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

bruce

Bruce Springsteen. Photo from Shore Media

“Are you ready to go home?”

That was the question posed by Bruce Springsteen, 64 and still full of rock ’n’ roll fervor, as his performance Wednesday night at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati hit the three-hour mark. The Boss certainly had every right to think everyone was. He and his battalion-sized E Street Band (18 members, but without the services of longtime guitarist Steve Van Zandt) had already hammered out a show full of the stamina and urgency that would have landed lesser artists in the ER. But there were still two songs to go before Springsteen called it a night. Both were covers bearing the emotive and stylistic duality that also distinguished the original material that drove this exhilarating but exhaustive performance.

The first was the Isley Brothers soul staple Shout, which the E Streeters injected with the same summery joy that pervaded Springsteen’s Waiting on a Sunny Day and Hungry Heart earlier in the evening. Then the band was dismissed leaving The Boss onstage with a pump organ to close with a mantra-like version of Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream, a song Springsteen has made his own over the last decade. It revealed a meditative ambience that fueled the darker, more topical immediacy of his the original American Skin (41 Shots) during the show’s second hour.

One of the many fascinations of a Springsteen concert remains the ability of these extremes to sit so naturally next to each other. For example, Roy Bittan’s clear but quietly dramatic piano lines propelled the dark parable Lost in the Flood (a gem from Springsteen’s debut 1973 album Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ and one of the night’s biggest surprises) but didn’t miss a beat as The Boss followed with the romantic epic Because the Night. Ditto for how the heartland anthem The Promised Land set up a New Orleans street parade version of Pay Me My Money Down that sent nearly all of the E Street Band’s auxiliary members (including a vocal trio and quintet of horns) to the front of the stage.

Of course, none of this properly sums up Springsteen’s still-outrageous command as a physical performer (shown by his crowd surfing journey from half-court on the arena floor early in the evening), raconteur/street preacher (an odd but hysterical story about automatic toilets that prefaced a seriously gospel-esque Spirit in the Night) and sobering protest singer (an electrified The Ghost of Tom Joad with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, a recent E Street draftee).

So, no. Even at the end of this 3¼-hour celebration – which opened with the brass and percussion rumble of High Hopes and included no intermission or encores – no one was ready to go home. Mind you, everyone – audience and artist – appeared wiped out as the clock hit 11. But that’s what great rock ’n’ roll does. It continues to nourish your consciousness long after your body tells you to split.

in performance: dublin guitar quartet

dublin guitar quartet 2

dublin guitar quartet:pat brunnock, michael o’toole, tomas o’durcain,brian bolger.

The breadth of the repertoire running through last night’s performance by the Dublin Guitar Quartet at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville suggested something of a global sprint. The concert touched upon composers from Estonia, Hungary, Cuba and the United States. Curiously, the purely Irish entries by guitarist David Flynn (a DGQ alum) and the instrumental rock troupe The Redneck Manifesto proved to be the least indigenous sounding items in the program.

What this technically dazzling but sometimes stylistically stymied performance wound up emphasizing wasn’t so much a set of geographical references, though. Instead, it better approximated a study in how contemporary classical structures – especially minimalist and post-minimalist designs that explored interlocking, cyclical melodies and the often astonishing harmonies they created – transferred to an acoustic guitar group.

Two fine examples were a pair of abridged Philip Glass string quartets – two movements from Company and another three from the sublime (and, given its absence of mention in the program notes, unplanned) Mishima. Both wonderfully captured the haunting lyrical splendor Glass weaves out of sparse, repetitive melodic variations. The quartet discovered the works’ subtle drama, too – right down to the light counterpoint that seemed to make the music float in mid air.

The Redneck Manifesto’s brief Soundscapes Over Landscapes was less intricate but just as musically involving. The quartet let the tune unravel in sheets of melodic fancy before acoustic power chords and the closing percussive slaps by three of the group’s four players on the bases of their instruments summoned the piece’s rockish but curiously non Irish sounding foundation.

From another world entirely came Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, a three part composition for 12 guitars performed last on solo electric guitar by the DGQ’s Pat Brunnock and a well orchestrated tape of accompanists. As a technical exercise, it was astonishing with Brunnock working in and around a symphony of clipped, stuttering melodies. So deft was his execution that during the first half of the 15 minute piece distinguishing the live music from the recorded accompaniment was almost impossible. That created some icy stagnancy until the criss-crossing melodies finally grew together, as they did in the more organically presented Glass pieces, allowing harmony to win out.

critic’s pick 316: ronnie lane, ‘ooh la la: an island harvest’

ooh la laJust the fact that a major record label even remembers Ronnie Lane stands as a modest triumph. That it scoops together a collection of singles, album tracks, concert recordings and more for an anthology like Ooh La La: An Island Harvest – is, in modern pop terms, a freakish commercial anomaly.

Lane co-founded The Small Faces (of Itchycoo Park fame) in 1965 before the band morphed into simply The Faces (the troupe that cemented the careers of Rod Stewart and Ron Wood) at the dawn of the ‘70s. By 1973, Lane had had enough. He walked away from The Faces, retreated to a farm on the Welsh-English border and re-imagined pop music as a vehicle for carnival style whimsy – a mixture of Dylan-inspired wordplay, traditional folk settings built around acoustic strains of mandolin and strings and a reedy, soulfully imperfect singing voice with a boozy spirit that was undeniably rock ‘n’ roll.

In the early ‘90s, Lane was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and staged two huge all-star benefits on both sides of the Atlantic that not only raised considerable funds for MS research but set the standard for high profile benefit concerts years before Live Aid.

He lived out his final years in Texas and Colorado before succumbing to MS in 1997 at age 51.

Ooh La La (coincidentally, also the name of Lane’s swansong album with The Faces) reverts back to a more innocent time when Lane and his Slim Chance band roamed England with a sort of countryside dancehall sound. The duality of that music is reflected here in two versions of Anniversary – the 1974 original recording that matched Lane’s restless lyrics with a tasteful sweep of strings and a previously unreleased alternate take that borders on pub style honky tonk.

From there, Ooh La La runs from the beautifully orchestated Slim Chance gem The Poacher that seemed to speak directly to Lane’s post-Faces mindset (“I’ve no use for riches and I’ve no use for glory”) to a killer eight-song BBC set from 1974 full of the folkish charm and delightfully rag tag delivery that defined Lane’s best work. The set, as well as the album, ends with Ooh La La’s title track – an ode to youthful naivety that remains a loving postscript for a forgotten rock renegade who spent so much of his career merrily outrunning stardom.

the new sounds of dublin

dublin guitar quartet

dublin guitar quartet: pat brunnock,brian bolger,michael o’toole,tomas o’durcain

Before a single note or an ensemble melody was played, the members of the Dublin Guitar Quartet had established a vision for the music they wanted to play.

Though conservatory trained, the four guitarists – Brian Bolger, Pat Brunnock, Michael O’Toole and Tomas O’Durcain – had little interest in a strictly classical repertoire. Instead they looked to the works of such established modern composers as Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Arvo Part.

“There was a consensus even before the first rehearsal,” said Bolger by phone from his Dublin home. “There was a particular curiosity we had. The question was, ‘What would the music of American composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass sound like on guitars?’ It hadn’t really been done. Also, ‘How would a guitar quartet that specializes in contemporary music fare?’  So we kind of saw a guitar shaped hole in the contemporary music scene.”

But that fascination led to a deeper challenge – adapting and arranging compositions that were never intended as guitar pieces. Works by Reich, Glass and Part, and other modern classical composers have been adapted for numerous instrumental settings, but never for four guitars.

“I suppose we’re kind of limited in a certain respect in that the music of people (contemporary composers Mark-Anthony) Turnage or (Alfred) Schnittke, music that is very idiomatic and has lots of special techniques, doesn’t really work. It doesn’t make the translation. The music of Philip Glass and Steve Reich and Arvo Part translates the same way that the music of Bach translates to the guitar. It’s really kind of melodic and harmonically oriented, so it works well that way.”

The lengths the Dublin Guitar Quartet travel in a finding a new voice for contemporary music can be found in its arrangement of Eastern European composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s Musica Ricerata, which will be featured in the group’s April 2 performance at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville. The piece was originally written for piano before being reworked for wind and even saxophone quartets. All of the incarnations figure into the version the Dublin Guitar Quartet will perform.

“Ligeti is mostly known for his soundtracks,” Bolger said. “His soundtrack music was used in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, so people might recognize him from that. But Musica Ricerata is from earlier in his career so there is more explicit melodic content and more traditional things going on. It’s quite a jolly piece as well but still very modern. It kind of sticks out in the set a little bit, but it’s nice to have that variety.”

Did someone say variety? The Danville performance will also include music by Cuban composer/guitarist Leo Brouwer, former quartet member David Flynn (whose Chimurenga is a tribute to famed South African artist/activist Thomas Mapfumo) and the Irish rock troupe The Redneck Manifesto along with works by Part, Reich and Glass. The latter also figures highly in the Dublin Guitar Quartet’s recent recording activities. Its forthcoming album is devoted to guitar arrangements of Glass’ string quartets.

It all represents a marked progression from the music – what little of it there was – Bolger heard at home during his youth.

“Growing up, we only had two records in the house. One was the 1812 Overture – that really famous recording that explained how they made the cannons on the B side. The other was Cabaret. Those were the only two records in the house for a long time. Then I hit my teens and it was Metallica and thrash metal. I kind of found the guitar that way. I also liked a lot of post-rock music such as (Louisville’s) Slint and Tortoise, stuff like that.”

“It’s important for us today to find a common kind of message for any listener and not have an overemphasis on anything. When you overemphasize, you kind of sell yourself short. I like to mix things up and keep them changing so there is something there for everybody.”

Dublin Guitar Quartet performs at 7:30 p.m. April 2 at the Weisiger Theatre of the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St. in Danville. Call (877) 448-7469, (859) 236-4692 or go to www.nortoncenter.com.

the band montreal

kevin barnes

of montreal chieftain kevin barnes.

Sometimes the key to unlocking a band’s potential is allowing it to operate fully as a band.

That hasn’t always been the case with veteran indie-pop fave of Montreal. For over 15 years, it has worked as a nom de plume of sorts for Athens, Ga. song stylist Kevin Barnes. Onstage, a company of musicians would journey through myriad pop styles, from party funk to psychedelia to glammed up Brit pop and more. In nearly all other respects, though, of Montreal was a very singular vehicle with Barnes writing and recording nearly all the band’s music on his own.

Now, with a fascination for vintage folk-rock fueling his current songs, Barnes has decided to relinquish some of his command. For his recent Lousy with Sylvianbriar album, he enlisted a new musical team not as a mere foil for live shows but as the basis for a fully functioning band.

“It felt like a new chapter in my career,” Barnes said. “I turned over a lot of people that have been with me for awhile and just moved in this new direction. I’m very excited about it. I think it has breathed new life into the project.”

“The influences this time are mostly from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I wanted to make a record that was similar to that in a sense, as far as the way we went about recording and how I went about writing and teaching people parts. I liked the idea of getting other

people involved and having it be more communal and collaborative. But I also wanted to work really quickly, as in the course of just a couple of weeks. As a result, we were making all these spontaneous, creative decisions on the fly and just not laboring over it in a way that I have been laboring over the previous records.

“Basically, I just wanted to follow the blueprint of those records that I love – the Bob Dylan records, the Neil Young records, Leonard Cohen records, Grateful Dead records – all the records that were an inspiration for this record.”

Getting into the mindset of that music, however, required some distance – specifically, a pilgrimage to San Francisco, the epicenter of late ‘60s counterculture.

“I really wanted to get out of Athens and be somewhere new, somewhere that was kind of exotic and mysterious,” Barnes said.  “I’ve always been a huge fan of the beat poets and writers and, of course, the hippie scene from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. San Francisco is so interesting and so culturally and ethnically diverse. The architecture is amazing and just the way the city is laid out is really inspiring. I hadn’t spent that much time in San Francisco before, so I didn’t really know exactly what I was going to get out of it. But some sort of voice was calling me there and I just trusted my instincts. I lived for about three weeks in this rented apartment and wandered around and observed people. I read a lot and wrote a lot.”

With the groundwork for Sylvianbriar complete, Barnes was faced with the challenge of allowing his songs to develop with a new of Montreal lineup – vocalist Rebecca Cash, drummer/vocalist Clayton Rychlik, keyboardist Jojo Glidewell, pedal steel guitarist/bassist Bob Parins and guitarist/mandolinist Bennet Lewis – as opposed to by himself in a studio.

“It was difficult at first just because the group of people I had been working with… we were really close. We travelled the world together and had all these ups and downs together. So to basically move on and start a new life without them created a lot of tension and a lot of pain that definitely affected our relationships, which was inevitable. But at the same time, it’s exciting to feel like I’m moving in this new direction and dropping all the baggage of the past to move forward. So it’s kind of a bittersweet situation, I guess.

“For me, it’s all about the present moment and what I hope to accomplish in the future. I don’t really care at all about the things I’ve done in the past. That might seem kind of strange or whatever. But for me, it’s all about not looking back and just thinking, ‘Okay. Now what? Now what can I do?’ So I’m in a good place right now because I’m discarding stuff. Even Sylvianbriar, in a way. I’m just trying to move forward from that into some new area.”

of Montreal and Ortolan perform at 10 p.m. April 1 at Cosmic Charlie’s. 388 Woodland Ave. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 309-9499 or go towww.cosmic-charlies.com.

in performance: ballister

Ballister-3-by-Lasse-Marhaug

ballister: paal nilssen-love, fred lonberg-holm and dave rempis. photo by lasse marhaug.

It began in a state of willful chaos and ended with a beat of golden silence. Everything in between played out last night like a heated family conversation by the free jazz trio Ballister at the University of Kentucky’s John Jacob Niles Center for Traditional Music.

A turbulent ebb and flow fortified the 75 minute set’s three untitled improvisations created by saxophonist Dave Rempis, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The first started like a clasp of thunder with the three stepping briskly into a fractured, high volume brawl that placed Rempis’ scorched alto lead at its center. Built around all that was the deconstructed chamber backdrop Lonberg-Holm designed by tapping out notes on the neck of the cello with his left hand while his right simultaneously added more sustained rage with a bow. Subsequent solos would formulate a hint of a sustained melody before Lonberg-Holm let the music mutate with assorted pedal effects.

One had to be a traffic cop to monitor all the changes that followed – like Rempis’ switch to baritone sax and an ensuing, elemental, groove executed on brushes by Nilssen-Love that slowly built itself into a furious boil. Whispery sax/drums dialogue, a percussion solo on cymbals played by mallets, two more sax changes (back to alto and then on to tenor) and a full-tilt trio rampage brought the 35 minute improv to a conclusion that was as unsettled as the opening.

The second improv downshifted the set’s drive, but only slightly. Its introduction returned Nilssen-Love to mallet percussion that faded to a quiet rumble even as bowed cello lines percolated under his playing. Rempis’ baritone sax squall later led into another trio skirmish before a clean swipe on the cello strings by Lonberg-Holm brought the improv to a finish that seemed to surprise and delight his bandmates.

An overall quieter chat dominated the final improv of the evening. A rustle of percussion devices that included a half-empty water bottle and an alto sax solo that beautifully opened into a fully functioning wail highlighted the music’s unusually harmonious flow.  Then everything evaporated into a momentary coda of silence that was as breathtaking as all of the fascinating interplay that preceded it.

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