Friday, August 30, 2013

Jumbotron Jam

Yesterday Michael and I went up to Chicago to visit our new-found and long-dead friend James Tissot, and to hear a concert played by Jack DeJohnette, Muhal Richard Abrams, Larry Gray, Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill in Millennium Park, that was part of the Chicago Jazz Festival.

The concert had its high points, since all the musicians have an overabundance of musical imagination, and its low points, because sometimes when jazz musicians improvise using minimalist repetition as a starting point, the repetition can become, well, repetitive. I was most impressed with Larry Gray, an exceptional Chicago-based bassist and cellist, who I heard last night for the first time. I was also found Jack DeJohnette's inventive use of percussion sounds really stimulating. There was one point when he used a microphone to capture the pitches of a few suspended cymbals.

Roscoe Mitchell, who is an extremely impressive saxophone player, came with a battery of wind instruments, including a bass recorder and, of all things, a modern-pitched baroque flute. Henry Threadgill supplemented his impressive saxophone playing with a bass flute. I appreciate the use of those instruments, but I was not impressed with the results.

The concert had items of visual interest, and because our visual imaginations were stimulated by Mr. Tissot's work (across the street, literally), my eyes were quite open. This was my first time in the interesting-to-look-at Geary-designed Jay Pritzker Pavillion, and the first time I have ever been to a concert where I could see the musicians in real life and on a huge video screen at the same time. I'm not sure if it was my imagination, but I think that I could even hear some of the music coming out of the instruments themselves. But the huge array of speakers took care of most of what I heard.

The huge video and audio presence made me feel less like I was at a concert and more like I was watching a broadcast of a concert. It was a strange feeling. I did not like the fact that my attention went to the illuminated shiny object hanging above the actual musicians.

I enjoyed the fact that there was a very large and attentive crowd at the concert (a rare experience for me). Many audience members followed the traditional jazz protocol of clapping at the ends of solos, but since the length and structure of solos did not have the usual points of reference that jazz musicians use (there was a lot of free improvisation), it seemed as if solos ended when people in the audience decided to clap. It was odd, and sometimes annoying, particularly when one of Larry Gray's really interesting solos was cut short by someone in the audience who felt like letting him know (in a very loud way) that he liked it.

I also noticed an odd phenomenon. Much of the music was not metric: DeJohnette was certainly playing rhythmically, but his rhythms were not regular and did not fit into the standard duple-type meter people bob their heads to when listening to jazz. I noticed a bunch of head bobbing in the crowd, but the regular motion (i.e. the "beat") was different for different people. You could say that everyone was dancing to a different drummer, which seems appropriate for a five-person collective free improvisations.

After the concert we had coffee with a fascinating person Michael knows from the blogosphere, which was great fun.

1 comment:

Stefan Kac said...

Forgive me if you know this already, but just in case, I want to say that the way to catch these musicians is with their working bands in out-of-the-way places. I was not at this particular concert, obviously, but I have to say that it took me a bit too long to figure out that the kind of experience you're describing is the rule, not the exception, when it comes to the week-long clusterf*** jam sessions that most jazz festivals have become. I would bet that the musicians found the whole thing equally unfulfilling; in any case, I KNOW that their classical peers would never tolerate such things.