in performance: anteloper/josh berman

josh berman.

Outside the Spotlight quietly celebrated its 15th anniversary last night with a double bill performance at the Farish Theatre that showcased two disparate – and, at times, almost conflicting – versions of the improvisational music scope that has long been the thrust of the concert series.

First up was a sublime solo cornet set by Josh Abrams. For roughly 45 minutes, the Chicago instrumentalist and composer offered a striking sampler of tunes (most of which came from his 2015 album “A Dance and a Hop”) that underscored a fascinating balance between blues and bop related compositional lines and free improvisation. Distinguishing works like “Hang Ups” and “Time” was a rich, lyrical tone that often darkened and expanded as it stretched into appealing, atmospheric registers before softening as resulting phrases splintered upon re-entry.

There were times Berman added punctured honks of airy resonance and an instance where a small, thin sheet of metal was held to the bell of the horn to create a rippling, percussive effect. Mostly though, what was most arresting was the subtle immediacy of the performance. Berman was clearly working without any preconceived playbook of solos and ideas. His improvisations, though assured, were wonderfully complete and spontaneous reactions to the tunes’ fully composed sections. The audience responded with a level of studious quiet so sustained that the mere taps of Berman’s fingers on the horn could be heard as he played.

A second set by trumpeter Jaimie Branch and Jason Nazary – billed collectively as Anteloper – was considerably more problematic as both artists doubled on analog electronics that weighed down their performance almost from the onset.

Branch is a gifted improviser on the horn, but with the exception of a few brief instances late in the duo’s hour-long set, she offered only fractured trumpet phrases repeated over the electronics with minimal variance. Ditto for Nazary, whose workmanlike playing revolved around succesive rhythms that gave little insight into any kind of soloing demeanor. There was an allure to some of the more sinuously textured moments the two created. But with a single, uncredited piece taking up the entire hour, the electronic ambience of the music became burdensome and static.



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