There’s something always happening at the Angel City Jazz Fest. While not the biggest fan of free/avant garde jazz, I always enjoy every show that I see. So, why does music that doesn’t grab my ears on records seem so fascinating in concert? I think it’s like the Indy 500: you don’t necessarily want to just listen to it, but you’ll gladly attend just to watch all of the danger.
Saturday night at the filled Zipper Hall, two big names of the freer side of life delivered completely diverse styles of outside sounds. Both were described by mc Jeff Gauthier as “Masters, educators, composers, and instrumentalists.” Hang on tight!
Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith opened the evening leading his 17 Silver Orchestra that included saxes, violins, percussion, electronics, electric guitar, and, of course video art. Of the latter, a screen of various themed scenes interspersed with panoramas of the band and artwork served as a backdrop to a series of three highly imaginative pieces.
The first, “Crossing On A Southern Road,” the brass delivering a six noted theme with a slow buildup of strings and reeds creating a suspenseful tension until electronics and computer effects stored up to a cataclysmic climax before the Bartok-like strings and quite harp settled into a restful conclusion. Backed by slides of Occupy Wall Street, the following “Occupy the World for Life, Liberty and Justice” featured a three noted them and response plaintively trodding along until a collection of percussion, reeds and electronic created a crying avalanche of smoldering sounds, with Smith climbing to the top of the heap with an open and muted horn that cried, groaned and bellowed like a desperate cry from a man drowning in quicksand. The finale, “Mt Kilimanjaro,” was dedicated to the long distance running bassist of the band, John Lindberg, who bowed his instrument in a fiendishly intense way that resembled the striding, gasping and sprinting of a runner, as he encountered sonic hurdles, sign posts, rhinos and elephants that were supplied by the band in terms of chirps, chops, and occasional eruptions. Finally reaching the top, bass and band closed with a celebratory sigh. A fascinating 60+ minutes.
For his first performance in LA in over 20 years, musical visionary and pioneer Anthony Braxton lead a trio that was quite Spartan in comparison. As Braxton switched between alto, soprano and sopranino saxes, he delved into electronics as a background with a computer and used the trumpet/trombone of Taylor Ho Bynum and voice of Kyoko Kitamura to present just under an hour’s worth of a piece called “Falling River Music. “ Between episodes of entering new electronic background themes into his computer, Braxton used circular breathing, tonguing and slurring on each horn to mix clear as Mediterranean Sea long tones combined with growls and relentless howls as he’d exchange between leading on a solo or freely improvising in unison with voice and horn. Ho Bynum at times played with open trumpet, seared through a mute, and even used a hat to drape over the bell to create variously divergent tones as he squealed, scrawled and scrapped out themes and wide brush strokes of audio audacity. Kitamura’s classically trained voice created wordless free flying vowels, consonants, syllables, clicks, clacks, hiccups and tonal leaps that were kept together with a faultless tone and dynamic clarity.
So much of the time it seemed like the music was stopping, starting and honking like a Neopolitan traffic jam, with no observable direction, yet Braxton used hand gestures like a third base coach to signal and guide the various movements, so you had quick hairpin turns, staccato chops and voracious flutters meandering in and out, but having a place to either stop or let another member of the trio take the forefront. The kinetic and ricocheting sounds were guided into a final pastoral rest as Braxton’s sopranino closed with duck-like squawks and Ho Bynum’s trombone fluttered like a pigeon returning to its home. Breathtaking and mind stretching in many levels, it made for a welcome return for a giant of the “free” world.