Sunday, January 11, 2009

Shades of Composed Improvisation

Thomas Helton/Carol Morgan & Janel Leppin/Anthony Pirog @ The Red Room, Baltimore, MD
Saturday, January 10, 2009

Janel Leppin: cello, zither
Anthony Pirog: acoustic guitar
(unscheduled guest): trumpet, flugelhorn

Thomas Helton: bass
Carol Morgan: trumpet

Janel Leppin brings a haunting lyricism to the cello.  With Anthony Pirog supplying a thorny set of harmonic voicings on the acoustic guitar the duo - later a trio with the addition of a guest trumpet player - worked through a set of attractive materials with an understated and deeply rooted musicianship.  Musicianship that carried into the second set as Thomas Helton and Carol Morgan displayed their impressive chops for free improvisation.  This made for an evening of creative music approached from several angles with ears firmly rooted in the moment of realization.

Janel Leppin and Thomas Helton were featured improvisers at the High Zero Festival (in 2008 and 2007 respectively) willing to contribute to a wide range of sonic textures.  Their contrasting personalities and honest approach to creative improvisation leaves the ears more curious with each encounter.

Within Leppin's long-standing duo work with Anthony Pirog her music gravitates toward a harmonically sophisticated and melodically centered sensibility that offers a lush take on a range of Americana influences.  The musical instincts of this duo left plenty of space and neatly measured out portions of ideas as the melodic core of their music worked its soft edges without feeling overly calculated or smooth.  

Thomas Helton is an active musician in the Houston area with a deep understanding of jazz traditions.  His musical chemistry with the formerly Houston-based Carol Morgan lead to an easy dialogue between creative cohorts.  The active listening between this pair led to an improvised set that allowed for space and groove to develop between the two players.  The Philadelphia music scene has gained an impressive talent with Morgan's recent relocation to that vibrant city.  One can hope that Helton's appearances on the East Coast will be frequent in the years ahead as his ability as a bass player and composer are a particular fascination for these ears.  

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