Monday, September 24, 2007

While the Gettin' Is Good II: Out On A Limb Finale - 9/23/07

When the Bough Breaks: an appropriate enough title for an ending, or maybe it's just a literal reference to what inevitably happens when enough people get out on a limb; the bough's gonna break. This is not a bad occurrence, it's just a playful way of noting the temporal element of music. Out On A Limb was initiated by guitarist Brandon Ross as an opportunity for musicians to go past the comfort of their root system and hang out on the less developed (and more gravity sensitive) limbs of their artistic practice, to get into the metaphor for a moment. So artists who don't typically play solo or a cappella had a chance to do so and push their own envelopes. Even something as good as the experiment that was Out On A Limb had to come to a close, and I'm glad I got to be there.

The finale of guitarist Brandon Ross' curated music series at the welcoming Williamsburg music spot that is Rose Live Music, ended tonight with a conduction of an ensemble comprised of the series' solo artists, by none other than musician and composer Lawrence D. Butch Morris (pictured above left). Morris is the originator of conduction, a musical process or engagement, wherein conductor (in this case Morris) and musicians collaborate to express an idea or series of ideas or musical motifs through directed improvisation. The night's musicians were Stomu Takeishi (acoustic bass guitar) Carlo Vutera (tenor voice) JT Lewis (drums) Charles Burnham (violin) Timothy Hill (vocals), Melvin Gibbs (electric bass), and Brandon Ross (acoustic guitar).

No pictures because this gig had some serious intimate lighting, deep reds and burgundies, and it was too intimate to use a flash. No one there who had a camera used it; the energy just wasn't havin' it, if you know what I mean. Sometimes a moment has to live on somewhere other than in a captured image.

Morris came out dressed entirely in white, baton in hand and began the series of cues that communicated specific music gestures to be performed. In that the musicians seemed to have a lot of freedom. But I wasn't exactly sure what parameters they had agreed upon regarding pitch, timbre, duration, although when Morris wanted a unified ending, or a uniform silence that was clear.

I should really just talk about the music because otherwise it's like attempting to chart a graph of frequency/sound events over time, and that's something of a fool's errand in this context. It doesn't really help expose or unpack the creative possibilities available through conduction.

Let me start by saying that I missed Brandon Ross playing with Stomu Takeishi, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey as For Living Lovers, last night at the Williamsburg Jazz Festival, and my, my, am I feeling regret, although I really did need a break from the train (Ross pictured left). Stomu Takeishi really is a wonder, fully committed to the conduction moment, plus he has that interest in timbre that warms my heart and fascinates me, is passionately able to walk out on the tightrope of that limb, and plays acoustic bass guitar (he also plays electric) which is one of my favorite instruments--although I come to it from the sound of Mexican conjuntos which is definitely different than what was happening here (Takeishi pictured right). In much of the set Ross was the backbone, along with violinist Charles Burnham, and vocalist Timothy Hill. Morris would have Ross set the pitch and/or rhythm and go from there. Or he would have Burnham set it and proceed forward with Hill. Or start with that front row (Vutera, Burnham, and Hill) and add and attenuate from that upper-frequency foundation.

In one of the more spare compositions Takeishi set the tone and rhythm, giving considerable color to that skeleton that Morris then began to flesh out with the rest of the ensemble. I had only heard Burnham live once previously when he played both solo, accompanying himself on voice, and in a group with Ross backing up Cassandra Wilson during the Lance Carter Memorial Benefit for the Jazz Foundation of America earlier this year. Burnham's appearance in that setting was truly moving, but only gave a relatively small sample of all the musical voicings he has at his disposal. I was truly stunned. Just his arco work had at least three voices, let alone the interesting stuttering glissando, which moved from a slight stutter (but not with staccato intonation, it was more like stuttering butter if you can imagine such a thing, ha!) into a gliss run, and repeated. There was also some pizzicato work (index finger only) with full tone, this was all un-mic'd and often competing with the other musicians (Burnham right, with the band Odyssey). I knew of Lewis and Gibbs' work from Harriet Tubman, along with Gibbs' various projects as a sideman and producer (he also has work from his other current ensembles, Melvin Runs the Hoodoo Down, JFM, Elevated Entity, and the Punk-Funk All-Stars on his MySpace page) and Ross' work from his solo releases and the aforementioned Harriet Tubman. Timothy Hill was probably the biggest revelation (Hill pictured left). I had never heard him before and his vocal technique knocked me out. At certain instances I didn't even know it was him producing the sounds because of the placement of the sound in the room. It turns out that along with being a singer-songwriter Hill is a pioneer in harmonic or overtone singing, and skilled in Tibetan chanting technique; music writer Robert Palmer deemed his technique in this realm "virtuoso." Hill is also an original member of David Hykes' Harmonic Choir. Morris pulled all sorts of sounds from Hill, and it was fascinating to witness Hill manipulation of timbre, the density of sound in space (from thick and concentrated in the space immediately in front of his body to more diffuse and suffusing the larger space).

Morris employed Lewis a bit more sparingly at the beginning and pulled more from him as the set went on, with accents and fills, having the drums initiate unique musical gestures more so than continuous rhythmic elements. Something similar occurred with Gibbs although his presence was felt more throughout the set; it was only clear to me how sparingly he was playing when he suddenly cut into a muscular polyrhythmic moment at one point in a composition. (Gibbs pictured left) Conduction is a wild ride, not for the faint of commitment, and in this instance when Morris had less time to spend with the musicians than is typical (I believe this to be approximately 1 week or 50 hours), even someone experienced in working with him might be riding by the seat of their pants as a breathless, but smiling, Takeishi indicated as he departed from the stage. (JT Lewis pictured right, photo: Dennis Meckler)

It was a priceless evening (and for only $10!). I'm so glad I went and that Rose Live Music has made a space for some compelling experiments in performance. I hope that won't be the last time I get see some great musicians sauntering out without a net.

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