What I did on my summer's first weekend (part 2)

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#1 Sat, 1997-06-21 23:39
Alan Saul
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What I did on my summer's first weekend (part 2)

(continued from part 1, of course)

Anyway, after a day of watching my daughters' softball games and packing and such things, it was back to the musical delights for the Ken Vandermark 5 and Thurston Moore's trio. This concert wasn't free, but wasn't overpriced. It took place at the big Reform Jewish Temple (Rodef Shalom) in town, a nice spot where there have been several good concerts over the past few years. The crowd waiting outside on the unflinchingly sunny and hot solstice evening was extremely young (I was way way out on the tail of that distribution, anyway) and seemed in an excellent mood. I was pleasantly surprised to see Cecil Taylor and Dominique Duval walk up, and I asked Cecil if he had seen the Silent Tongues piece (he hadn't). Ken Vandermark and company played a beautiful set of mostly highly controlled pieces, with the show-stopper being a dirgish composition (Fences?) featuring Ken on bass clarinet and ? on trombone, with ? on cello and Kent Kessler on bass providing moving accompaniment. I hope somebody can provide a decent review. I didn't take notes and can't seem to remember anything special right now, but I enjoyed the music immensely.

During intermission I asked Mr. Taylor if he'd like to see the sanctuary, which is a spectacular room. So I took him and Mr. Duval back to see it and had a very nice time, though I wish I had been able to remember more of the history, especially about the architect, who designed the building around the turn of the century as his chef-d'oeuvre. Cecil talked about visiting the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (I think) and seeing how Sufi musicians did their thing. I hope, but rather doubt, that his hosts in Pittsburgh took him to see other sights, it seemed instead that he was on his own. I didn't try to question him about anything for fear of being annoying, but the subject of his concert in Santa Monica in 1974 came up tangentially because in discussing the tradition of presenting good music in this temple I mentioned that Andrew Cyrille (and Oliver Lake and Reggie Workman) had played there a couple years ago. Cyrille had told me then that the 1974 concert was a fiasco but didn't elaborate. Cecil explained tonight that George (Wein I presume) wanted him to play solo, but he felt he had to have Cyrille, and wound up paying him himself. He said that George started to come out (presumably to express his anger that he had brought the drummer along) but that Maestro Evans (Gil, who opened the concert) stopped George and told him to let it be. And it was.

Well, George's organization is still hiring Cecil Taylor, but his programmer is now Lance Goler, to whom all the credit is due for bringing in great musicians for the past few years. It occurred to me during the Ken Vandermark set that it might be interesting to try to promote an Eric Dolphy thing next year, when the jazz fest will coincide with what would have been his 70th birthday. My highly preliminary idea is that Nathan Davis (who worked with Dolphy in 64 and is quite a devotee, and who has run the jazz program at the University of Pittsburgh for many years) could host the affair, they could bring in people who played with Eric (e.g., Max Roach, Mal Waldron, Herbie Hancock, Richard Davis, Donald Byrd, ...) and people interested in his music, get Vladimir Simosko to give a lecture or something, show some videos and artifacts, and perhaps promote the release of a previously unissued concert from 1963 that should be coming out on Blue Note. I want to develop the idea and propose it to Lance, so would appreciate as much feedback as possible.

Finally, Thurston Moore, William Winant, and ? closed the evening with a lengthy set that I'll try to describe since most people probably aren't familiar with what they do. Moore used electric guitar and the associated circuits, and the two percussionists played mostly trap sets and to some extent supplementary percussion instruments and some electronic effects. All 3 musicians played percussion, really, with Moore using various extended techniques to delve into an array of sounds that he modulated rhythmically. For the first part of their set Moore stood up and used the guitar primarily in ways that I've seen before (at least variants on those ways) though, again, these were all extended, unconventional ways of playing. The accompanists were largely playing together matching each other closely and matching Moore quite well. They had lots of dynamic range, long periods of sort of ambient sound (probably not the right terminology) during which my mind tended to wander (which is not a comment on the music per se, though I guess it didn't absolutely demand my attention), and buildups to sustained passages of high energy playing. There was a lot going on, but it got somewhat easier to follow when Moore got down on the floor and played all sorts of things on and away from the guitar, while the drummers spent more time away from the drums (part of the time Winant was down on the floor at the back of the stage where I couldn't see what he was doing, but he made neat organish sounds as he moved a microphone across something). The best part was when Moore used the amplifier with the microphone up against it and tilted then dropped it to produce these great sounds like a really cool crash cymbal. The percussionists picked up on it well, and Winant started playing on his gong with triangle mallets and picked up his crash cymbal and threw it around the stage. This was actually one of the most memorable moments from the whole weekend, though I'll probably lose whatever credibility I might have had among my more traditional-minded friends for saying that. Definitely worthwhile music, though not easy for those of us not familiar with it to groove on. The huge SRO audience loved it, and seemed to appreciate it though I suspect they were, to generalize, even less familiar with it than I. I have no more idea about that though than why David Sanborn is the big draw at this festival.

It's all a mystery of the fun sort.

Alan Saul saul+@pitt.edu