Last night HurdAudio took a pair of ears to the annual New(!) Music Festival in Ventura. This was the 17th(!) such festival curated by Jeff Kaiser and my second time experiencing this long running endeavor. With two spaces at City Hall and eleven acts spread out over 10+ hours this was an ambitious undertaking for the '06 edition. The music ranged from rough to tightly polished with so many ideas rippling underneath each sonic expression.
Performing "random acts of poetry" throughout the day was Dottie Grossman. There was a wonderful sense of humor and poignancy to her words. Her intelligence, wit and presence wove a unifying thread through a diverse range of creative expressions. Her readings were received warmly and I hope this isn't the last time her words make waves across my mind.
The Wayne Peet Trio was the highlight of the experience for me. I've been a fan of Nels Cline through recordings over the years. I'm even more of a fan after hearing him play live. He has a great range of guitar techniques - including numerous "extended" techniques - that forms such an exhilarating and cohesive sound. And in the context of these Wayne Peet compositions his presence added an important layer to these simmering, groove-heavy compositions fluent with both melodic focus and careening sheets of free improvisation. Wayne Peet leads this trio from the Hammond organ as he supplies his own bass lines with his left hand and Russell Bizzett rounds out the trio with some great drum work. Adding to the sonic texture during episodes of free improvisation Wayne Peet also performed on a Theremin running through a Kaoss Pad effects processor. The sound of that left hand hovering in the air to coax the frequencies and the right hand on the touch pad to shape the real-time manipulations of that siney source was a perfect compliment to the overall sound that provided a timbral extension of the overall sound of Hammond organ, electric guitar and drums.
The Mentones was another revelation. Jeff Kaiser introduced them as the "most smokin' band on the pfMentum label" and that was hardly an exaggeration. This blues band packed the most physical punch of any act over the course of this festival as they locked in on some hard edged grooves and built up some thick sonic textures. Steuart Liebig leads the band with his 6-string bass and Tony Atherton performed some of the headiest sax solos of the day. This quartet is rounded out with Joseph Berardi on drums and Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica. (That sax and harmonica is a wicked combination.)
The Choir Boys, Jeff Kaiser's own group, presented an acoustic set of Glasses - a suite of compositions inspired by the different shapes of drinking glasses. I was fascinated by drummer Brad Dutz as he added some great percussive color with his bare hands on the trap set and frequently pounded upon the block he was sitting on to add a great booming sound (accompanied by the rattling of whatever was inside). I'd love to hear what this group does with electronics added to their sound.
I have particular enthusiasm for the duo of Michael Vlatkovich and William Roper as they performed a set of "insanely difficult compositions and improvisations for trombone and tuba." The atrium of the Ventura City Hall is acoustically well suited for the sound of these low brass instruments as they filled this large room with something sonically beautiful. My ears were drawn to the compositions of Michael Vlatkovich as there was something beautiful in the way they were so cohesively structured. He indicated that these compositions were structured by names and poetry as he uses the words to derive his musical materials. I've heard many text-derived compositions before and they rarely retain the sense of poetry and humanity that was audible in these pieces. I'm going to have to give these works another listen and possibly follow up with the composer to figure out how he gets this sound out of text sources. He is on to something that I've been reaching for in my own difficult relationship with text and music.