Somewhere in the midst of a lengthy inaugural improvisation earlier tonight at Mecca existed a junction where the music created by three unlikely instrumental components met and vanished into space. By that, I mean it became impossible to tell where one idea began and another ended. Or meshed into another. Or harmonized. Or, in some cases, revolted.
The participants were two reed players that doubled on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone – Keefe Jackson of Chicago and Christoph Erb of Switzerland. Between them sat cellist Tomeka Reid, also of Chicago, whose vocabulary of plucked, bowed and tapped sounds served as the closest thing this Outside the Spotlight performance had to a mediator.
For the most part, the three players improvised independently, pausing only long enough for Jackson and Erb to switch instruments. Initially, the reeds were delivered through pops and percussive punctures over cyclical sounds on the cello that simulated fractured chamber accents in some passages and strident shotgun blasts of sound at others.
Then came moments where the instruments would mesh in almost accidental fashion, from the cello arpeggios Reid stewed under Erb’s bass clarinet colors early in the program to the sinewy support the two players (with Erb on saxophone) played under Jackson’s clarinet mediation at the show’s conclusion.
With the exception of heated exchanges at the onset of the third of the concert’s three untitled improvisations, the music retained a spacious, unhurried feel. Then again, the entire performance slowly shifted in shades of tonal color, pace, and temperament. Just as soon as you grew even modestly accustomed to Erb’s oscillating runs on clarinet in the program’s second improv, the music was passed to Reid and then decelerated, as if exhaling, into a quiet, brief solo before disappearing altogether. The cumulative sounds were as fascinating as they were indefinable.
Opening the evening was a brief performance of more orderly and orchestral improvs from the University of Kentucky Free Jazz Ensemble. Initially triggered by electric bass and brought to a thundering halt by harmonium-style keyboards and a massive drum clap, the set offered a nicely textured – and, at times, almost pastoral – quilt of flugelhorn, bassoon, percussion and piano. Oh yes, one improv began and ended with a chorus of coughs – a suitable compliment to the wintry tone of the music.