Posts Tagged ‘Ars Nova’

Barry Altschul’s Swinging Freedom with 3Dom Factor

January 15, 2013

Drummer Barry Altschul Opens Ars Nova’s winter-spring 2013 season with a storming set at Philadelphia Art Alliance.

Barry Altschul

Barry Altschul

It’s been a while since I’ve seen drummer Barry Altschul live.  In the 70s and 80s he came through Philadelphia all the time, powering bleeding edge improvisations with the Sam Rivers Trio, The Anthony Braxton Quartet and others.  I first heard him on Paul Bley’s Scorpio, fueling Bley’s synthesizer improvisations with deft subtlety.

Jon Irabagon

Jon Irabagon

None of that power has been lost in the intervening 30 odd years.  Coming into the Philadelphia with his 3Dom Factor Trio, you would’ve thought you were back in the basement of the Empty Foxhole Café in West Philadelphia.  Even though this was in the 3rd floor loft of the more gentile Philadelphia Art Alliance, the music was no less powerful.

Joe Fonda

Joe Fonda

Joined by tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon and bassist Joe Fonda, they essayed a handful of tunes, stretching them out in extended improvisations and solo showcases.  Despite his avant-garde lineage, Altschul was always a musically inclusive drummer and he brought his trio through storming freefalls like “Be Out S’Cool” with Ibragon’s muscular tenor bursting with overtone squeels and belches.  But they just as easily slipped into the slow ballad “Irina” with Fonda plucking a slow blues.

It was a relatively short set at one hour, but it felt perfect, especially with their rousing closer.  Halfway through Carla Bley’s “Ictus” with Fonda’s sprinting bass line and Irabagon’s increasingly impassioned tenor run I thought, “This has to be the closer.  You can’t come back with anything after this.” And they didn’t.

Barry Altschul's The 3Dom Factor

Barry Altschul’s The 3Dom Factor

Altschul turned 70 on January 6 and he’s just put out his first album in over 25 years as a leader,  The 3Dom Factor, on the Finnish TUM Records.  It’s a strong set of Altshul originals and Bley’ “Ictus,” and it shows this trio to good effect, especially Joe Fonda whose double bass got a bit lost in the unamplified performance at PAA.  On the album however, he’s a counter-weight to Altschul’s shifting rhythmic pivots and rim-shot flourishes as they rotate like a carnival Scrambler.

This was a strong opener as the first concert of Ars Nova Workshop’s Winter-Spring season, providing yet another link to the jazz experiments of the 1960s and 70s.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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Agnes Obel leads Philly Concerts This Week.

June 10, 2011

Concerts You Should See in Philly This Week

Henry Threadgill performed a nice, if overly cerebral set in the second of Ars Novas AACM series.  He showed you can still be out there and hit a groove.  I just wish he did it more often.

Dustin O’Halloran-He fought bar noise, fire engines and freight trains to bring a set of delicate ambient chamber music to life, even with a slightly tacky upright piano.

Zoe Keating-Mesmerizing set of looping cello works and charming stage patter.  We had her in the studio the next day and you should hear that in July!

*****Agnes Obel*****
Roscoe Mitchell
Joan LaBarbara

*******THIS WEEK*********

Friday June 10 5PM
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The iconic avant-garde singer  performs Morton Feldman’s Three Voices.  A rare opportunity to hear one of the amazing voices and vocal conceptualists of our time.

Ars Nova
is having a blowout of seminal artists from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, or less cumbersomely, the AACM.  This is where the soul of the Ars Nova Workshop resides, in the sounds generated in the 1960s and 70s by musicians creating new paradigms for jazz.  It spans two weekends in different venues.  All worth catching to discover music that’s exhilarating and exploratory.

Roscoe Mitchell

Saturday, June 11, 2011 – 8:00pm
German Society of Pennsylvania’s Barthelmes Auditorium
611 Spring Garden Street
This could also be one of the best in Ars Nova’s AACM series.  The Art Ensemble of Chicago veteran brings in musicians like saxophonist Evan Parker and vocalist Thomas Buckner along with the S.E.M. Ensemble, a large avant-garde performance unit.  Go To Ars Nova for More.

Sunday, June 12, 2011 – 8:00pm
Settlement Music School416 Queen Street
Philadelphia, PA
Mitchell returns the next night with an entirely different group that includes Hugh Ragin, on trumpet and guitarist Spencer Barefield.   Mitchell can create music that is maddeningly cerebral or joyfully ecstatic. Go to Ars Nova for more.
Monday, June 13, 2011 – 8:00pm
The Maas Building1325 Randolph Street
Philadelphia, PA
The Maas Building1325 Randolph Street

Note the phrasing.  Threadgill won’t be at this one.  His music will be performed by the Collide Saxophone Quartet.

Weds. June 15
Tin Angel
I am still enthralled with Agnes Obel 6 months after making her album, Philharmonics an Echoes CD of the Month.  We had her live on the show this year and she’s a performer who draws you into her intimate chamber songs.  This is a rare chance to hear this Danish gem live in Philly. Check out my review of this haunting CD.

Monday June 20
Sellersville Theater
British prog rockers back from the dead to relive the daze of “Easy Livin'”

Instant Joy with The Instant Composers Pool Orchestra.

April 4, 2011

Instant Composers Orchestra’s Joyful Noise at Christ Church Neighborhood House 4-3-2011.

Han Bennink of ICP Orchestra

When you’re talking about avant-garde jazz and free improvisation, joy is often left out of the mix.  You get aggression, exuberance, chaos and hushed, meditative space, but rarely is there simple joy.  That is, unless you attended one of the three nights that the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra played in Philadelphia.  I saw the last show on Sunday, April 3 and wished I’d caught the previous two.  A 10 piece ensemble, the ICPO is put together around pianist Misha Mengelberg and his time-twisted compositions, with a couple of Thelonious Monk tunes tossed in.

Put the names Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink in a group and you have some expectation of what to expect, although you still might not expect Bennink to come out, toss his drum chair around, then eventually grab it and sit next to a ruminating Mengelberg,  whereupon he began playing a pizza box (large) with drums sticks and brushes, creating swing grooves and angular moves.  Eventually the rest of the ensemble emerged and moved through a program that spun from atonal explorations to swinging ensemble arrangements, ecstatic solos to moments that almost had a Glenn Miller Orchestra feel.

International Composers Pool Orchestra in rare repose.

The ensemble executed it all with pitch perfect intuition, with composed moments melting into improvisation, improvisation coalescing into composition.  Through it all, there was showmanship aspect to the group, whether it was Bennink mugging at his drums, all the while keeping a rock solid pulse, or barrel chested trombonist Wolter Wierbos who looked like a circus roustabout, blowing plunger solos across the string trio.  No doubt, the penchant for comic shtick and tuneful interludes comes from an original founding member, the late-Willem Breuker.  Elements of the Willem Breuker Kollektief could be found all over ICPO.  Michael Moore could be playing an overblown alto solo one moment, then segue into a New Orleans strut the next.

Sunday night was the last of a three night stand produced by the Ars Nova Workshop, the organization that has single-handedly  made Philadelphia an out-jazz oasis.   They played to a full house and after listening, you could understand why this little known group might be gaining a following outside of core avant-garde afficionados. There is a place where accessible jazz and freaked out improvisation can converge and it happens in the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra.

John Diliberto ((( echoes ))) 

Heaven is Torn Asunder by The Celestial Septet.

February 24, 2011

Two storms collided when The Celestial Septet hit the International House stage on February 22.

This was a rare meeting between the Rova Saxophone Quartet and the Nels Cline Singers.  They put out a CD last year, The Celestial Septet, but this show, produced by the Ars Nova Workshop, was their first live public performance.  And it was a monster.

Rova is a long-lived ensemble who started in 1977 playing a music steeped in complex compositions mixed with furious free improvisation.  The Nels Cline Singers are headed up by Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and they play their own complex works mixed with equally furious free improvisation topped by Cline’s, expansive, electronically altered approach to the electric guitar.   Together these ensembles played a music that ranged from Hendrixian forays to Coltrane like “ascensions” with nods to Forbidden Planet, Albert Ayler and Raymond Scott.

The opening piece, “Cesar Chavez,” set a deceptive mood of contemplation as drummer Scott Amendola looped a tom-tom that  sounded like rolling thunder just over a distant horizon.  But as Rova’s saxophones began intertwining in elongated counterpoint, energy built as tension released around Cline and Amendola’s scrapping haunted house effects and the horns agitated into a slow, abstracted Albert Ayler-like blues. The storm had arrived.

The Celestial Septet played long tunes that shifted through many moods.  There were no grooves to speak of and rarely even a pulse as Amendola shifted liquid colors against Rova’s saxophones.  On “Trouble Ticket,” they alternated between a deconstructed Looney Tune and a romantic Hollywood theme.  A gurgling baritone sax solo from Jon Raskin and a wild alto workout from Steve Adams led into a crosstown traffic intersection before Nels Cline finally stepped out from the background, with a muted, chopped and diced solo.  Rova seems to be a leaderless band in that everyone changes roles directing traffic, counting down beats and designating configurations.

It often felt like The Nels Cline singers were just back-up musicians to Rova.  But on “Whose to Know” (which I misheard as “Ooze to Know”) they finally stepped out on one of the few tunes to hit a pulse of a groove.  Nels Cline ripped into a mutated rock solo that bent through his effects boxes, whose knobs he obsessively twisted, building to a screaming crescendo that recalled Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” Woodstock performance.  It made me want to hear more of that sound which I had heard in full effect when The Nels Cline Singers played Johnny Brenda‘s last year.  (Read review). That foreshadowed the climax when Rova entered and created a fury of horns like the National Anthem meeting Coltrane’s “Ascension.”

The final piece of the concert, unnanounced, was a curious work.  The horns slowly left the stage to the Nels Cline Singers who orchestrated a random array of effects and sounds, gradually leaving just Scott Amendola’s alien bloops and bleeps from his electronic and looping devices.  It was like a transmission from outer space, recalling Bebe & Louis Barron’s score to Forbidden Planet and maybe Sun Ra in his final earthly home (Philadelphia).    As the signal settled in, you could hear the bleating horms of Rova emanating from the back of the theater as they walked to the front,  slowly converging on the signal.  They huddled like members of scattered lifeforms gathering around a foreign object, having alien dialogues that basically sounded like “What the hell is that?”  Once they figured that out, they gathered back in the front for one more blowout of pulsing free jazz with a Herculean tenor solo from Larry Ochs.”

The Celestial Septet’s performance was epic in length, dimension and depth.  Rova can assume a hymnal stance of subtlety overlayed lines like a Gregorian hymn and they can also channel a wilder gospel in saxophone supralingua dialects.   There were occasions when the music begged for a little swing, a touch of groove or maybe just a steady pulse from hyper-active bassist Trevor Dunn or Amendola.     And you can never have enough Nels Cline.  That kind of balance would probably come from more performances.  But if this is how they sounded on the first gig together, their last concert,  which will be Sunday, February, 27th in Baltimore, should be even more revelatory.   You can see their remaining tour schedule.

Hopefully the Celestial Septet will gather a little more frequently than Halley’s Comet.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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