Friday, February 8th 2008
Chapel Performance Space
Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle WA

The Seattle Improvised Music Festival is now in its 23rd year and continues its tradition of presenting excellent and creative music. I’ve gone on and off to the festival since about the year 2000 and have regularly attended it the last three years. It has really been presenting music right up my alley for the last couple years under the directorship of Gust Burns. The festival this year continued in that vein and has expanded to an even more ambitious then usual six days. Presented over two weekends the first half was this weekend and featured a stellar lineup of local and visiting musicians.  The first two nights were at the gorgeous Chapel Performance Space and the third night was at Gallery1412.

I was at work of course on Friday and it was the ever popular dash home, cram some food and brave the traffic to get to the Chapel before 8pm. Luckily it all worked out and I was there a good ten-fifteen minutes early.  I chatted with a couple of the guys there I knew and then a bit after eight the lights went out and the show began.

Gregory Reynolds solo

Gregory Reynolds is an expat Seattle-ite who now makes his home in New York City. He makes it back out here now and again and I’ve seen him at a number of shows, including last years No West festival.  The sax has kind of been making a comeback into modern improvised circles. For the longest time the most recent developments in improv had seemed to leave the sax behind with only John Butcher really adapting to its more quiet, spacious, introspective nature. But in the last two-three years there has been an increasing number of saxophonists who have moved into this territory. Reynolds has carved out a space in this landscape that owes little to Butcher and is if anything more amendable to collaboration.  Tonight though he opened the festival solo and put on a really nice sound oriented show. There is often a tendency, especially in solo horn performances that use extended techniques, to run though a catalog of techniques. For some reason it is hard to craft a performance that has the feeling of a real piece. Reynolds here did display several techniques from his toolkit but did an admirable job of creating a space and flow that had direction and a form of structure.

He began with these tongued bursts of air and let this develop for quite some time. The physical variations in this added a subtle depth and the extended use of the technique set this up and the first movement in the performance. This was fairly typical, he’d work with several techniques but really explore them and let them vary and thus did not exhaust his bag of tricks but even more importantly it creates this sense of structure. The next part utilized a tin can in the bell of the horn and circular breathing for a nice low rattling effect. He let this go till and the minute changes in his breathing patterns would add little shimmies, breakup oscillations and generally keep things interesting. After this he removed the can, sounded one of those pops from the beginning of the show almost as a transition and then moved on to blowing across the mouthpiece of the sax for a very quiet, breathy sound. This built up until he was playing the sax again, perpendicular to the audience, leaned back with the sax parallel to the ceiling so he could allow a pure stream of air though it. He varied this continuous, windy sound enough so that it never fell into just a drone but was a series of long delicate tones. He ended the piece by picking up a little electronic devices about the size of a keyring that produced a rhythmicy static buzz. He then got up, walked through the audience to the back of the room up the side and then returned to his seat.  He intimated at first he play another, but changed his mind and that was it. A really nice solo set that shows Reynolds abilities at wringing interesting in an interesting way on his instrument. Looking forward to his duo and trio sets on Sunday for sure.

Jozef van Wissem / Jean-Paul Jenkins / Jeffrey Allport trio

Jozef van Wissem plays the lute, which is pretty uncommon in improvised music circles. I happen to quite like early music and thus am rather a fan of the instrument and was looking forward to how he’d put it to use in this context.  He sat middle of the stage with just himself, a chair, the lute and a footrest. Plus a book of sheet music at his feet. To the left of him was JP, whom I’d also first seen at No West this year playing acoustic guitar with effects and various objects. On stage right was Jeffery Allport my favorite PNW percussionist playing a floor tom, a snare and a variety of cymbals, metal bowls and various objects.

Jeffery more or less kicked things off by bowing the metal trusses of the floor tom with such a continuous pure sound I thought it was an electronic sound from JP. JP did begin to add a subtle amplifier hum kind of sound to the tones and Jozef assessing this picked up a slide and began plucking a note and then running the slide on that string. Allport brought the levels up a bit by bowing both of the metals bowls that were placed on top of his drums which had a much rougher feel from their movements and the collisions of the similar tones. JP began eBow his guitar add another layer to the tones and Jozef switch to playing various spaced out broken chords.  In general this is kind of how it went, JP and Jeffery seemed in a great report and it was like Jozef was just kind of fiddling about, mainly playing broken chords, plucked strings and a bit with the slide. The most brilliant part of this first piece was when Jeffery ran two rubber mallets  over each of his drums creating this deep moaning tone almost like some strange machine wearing down. To this JP still eBowing his strings was muting and manipulating these strings with a bow generating this staccato buzzing sound. In this midst of this Jozef seemed almost like his was practicing, working out some figures. It was as if some guy was practicing lute in the corner of some strange factory.  The piece ended with a long silence before they decided they weren’t playing anymore.

They played  a second, short piece which was mainly quiet muffled plucked notes from JP and more of the same lute work from Jozef. Jeffery during this one did mostly bowed bowls but also some rubbing of the surface of the drum with dowels. Not quite as interesting as the first piece it still had a nice tentative feel to it and some interesting textures made up of the dueling strings and abstract percussion.  Overall this trio didn’t entirely work I think, but in a way that was interesting as it was like a fantastic duo of JP and Jeffery with random lute music thrown in.

Tetuzi Akiyama / Jozef van Wissem duo

The evening concluding with the longstanding duo of Tetuzi and Jozef. Actually they each played solo and then they did a duo.  Tetuzi played for about fifteen minutes solo and it was solidly in Relator territory. Really quite nice even though he’d been playing that way all night. He moved from spare with a decent amount of space to an almost melodic segment toward the end. Probably my favorite bit from Tetuzi this evening. For his solo Jozef seemed to be playing from his book of sheet music, but it was odd at first almost like he was working out a piece he hadn’t played before. He’d play a chord, pause look at the music and then do another one. The next piece he played was a very familiar sounding tune, definitely something from the traditional lute repertoire. This was really solid, clearly one he’d played a lot.  He did one more piece that could have been improvised as it seemed more like his playing from earlier that evening – plucked notes, broken chords more spacious. All in all he played less then fifteen minutes, closer to ten I’d say.

The final bit of music for the evening was the duo of Akiyama and van Wissem. They’d played a lot before and have recorded a couple of albums together. The performance pretty much sounded just like the two of them had been all night. Tetuzi playing spare Relator-esque notes, muffled plucked and the occasional chord, van Wissem sticking with is broken chords and a bit of the slide.  There was one section in the middle of this where they broke into a traditional lute tune with Tetuzi doubling the melody. I’d heard this one before for sure but I can’t quite place it. This was my favorite bit of the duo as it was very sure but interesting sounding as the lute wasn’t really in tune. So they melodically gelled but the variance in pitches creating a level of variance that was interesting. For the rest of the set it was kind of back to the earlier style with perhaps another composed section that had Tetuzi in more of an accompanying role. Overall the music was nice – pleasant sounding but nothing super engaging.  A mellow way to end a fine evening of music.