As Outside the Spotlight performances go, tonight’s solo trumpet outing by Jacob Wick at the Homegrown Press studio was way, way outside the norm – even for a concert series that prides itself on predominantly improvisational musical adventures.
The set was only 30 minutes in duration but was something of a Herculean effort. During that time, the Mexico City-based Wick (a veteran of past OTS shows with Jason Ajemian’s band The High Life and the industrious trio Tres Hongos) played a single improvisation piece based around a hushed, cyclical and punctuated motif that was less a manner of musical expression and more an extension of breathing. Initially, it was repeated like a mantra with sudden but subtle bursts interrupting the monologue the way a cough would when one is talking. But the overall flow of what came out of the horn was never interrupted.
At about the 12 minute mark, there was brief – as in extremely brief – instance where the see-saw expression approached the expected musical tone of the horn. Then it subsided into a run of static, but incantatory sound. In some instances, it formed disassembled bits of auditory accents. In others, Wick warped the trumpet’s voice into a mesh of flatulent, scorched and eventually corrosive voices.
How musical all this was, even to ears practiced in the more free form playing of OTS concerts, is a tough call. There was, however, enough of a meditative feel to the improv that commanded one’s attention throughout. But there was no debating what an astonishing technical display this was. Whatever breathing technique Wick employed gave the illusion that he was playing this minimalist-style experiment without stopping – without even a discernible or prolonged exhale, for that matter – for half an hour. It wasn’t a gimmick. It wasn’t some freakish trick. But it wasn’t like any other musical exhibition I’ve witnessed of late, either.
A footnote: through the years, OTS shows have seldom settled on a single performance home for any extended period of time (the current Mecca studio being a possible exception), preferring instead a rotating lineup of available venues. This was its first outing at the Homegrown Press studio on North Limestone. The vast array of paintings that surrounded the small stage created a dialogue with Wick that existed quite separately from the music, one where visual art and live performance existed in a mutually complementary setting. Here’s hoping OTS lands there again in the future.