Thursday, November 04, 2010

Umbrella Music Festival - Day One: Swinging from Austere to Groove

Fifth Annual Umbrella Music Festival - Day One
November 3, 2010

First Set:
Xavier Charles Trio @ Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL
Xavier Charles: clarinet
Nate McBride: bass
Tim Daisy: drums

Second Set:
Marraffa/Braida Duo @ Preston-Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL
Edoardo Marraffa: tenor saxophone, sopranino saxophone
Alberto Braida: piano

Third Set:
Kurzmann/Falzone Duo @ Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL
Christof Kurzmann: electronics
James Falzone: clarinet

Fourth Set:
Agusti Fernandez @ Preston-Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL
Agusti Fernandez: piano

Fifth Set:
Joost Buis Ensemble @ Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL
Joost Buis: trombone
Josh Berman: cornet
Jorrit Dijkstra: alto saxophone
Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone
Dave Rempis: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone
Matt Schneider: guitar
Jason Roebke: bass
Mike Reed: drums
Charles Rumback: drums

The strong ties between the Chicago improvisers of the Umbrella Music organization and their fellow creative music travelers from Europe was on full display as the fifth annual Umbrella Music Festival got under way at the Chicago Cultural Center. The sympathetic vibrations shared across the Atlantic allowed for instant collaborations to form. The five sets of the evening followed an unusual contour from uncompromising, full length free improvisations of coarse textures leading into a groove steady, accessible set of pieces by Joost Buis.

French clarinetist Xavier Charles builds improvisation around the edges of his instrument. Around the edges of texture and perceptibility. With Chicago's Nate McBride and Tim Daisy on bass and drums (easily one of the more impressive rhythm sections I've discovered in my brief time in the windy city) he had a ready made trio made up of profoundly sympathetic ears. The trio explored a texture of grains and gestures that cut sharp slash marks across time with its restlessness. Drawing the ears into a territory of whispered contours.

The Italian duo of Edoardo Marraffa and Alberto Braida followed with a set of considerable force and fortissimo. Operating like skilled stone carvers, this pair left considerable shards of stone and rubble in their wake with a sound made up of muscle. Their ability to respond and react to one another allowed them to pull back from time to time and reveal the human tendons and connecting tissue that allow them to flex their brutality with a balance of sensitivity.

The duo of Austria's Christof Kurzmann on laptop with Chicago's James Falzone on clarinet offered up a timbral interplay between the electronic and acoustic. Each improviser showing restraint that barely hinted at the considerable potential lurking within their respective talents. It was a beautiful tour de force of phrasing woven against an intricate drone that settled toward a sense of pulse toward the end.

Spain's Agusti Fernandez's solo piano set was the highlight of the evening. Beginning exclusively within the innards of the piano with brilliantly subtle, quiet sounds. This performance built into a fantastic crescendo as Fernandez's physical relationship with the grand piano as a whole evolved toward a keyboard language of glissando and harmonic material that mirrored the quiet universe found within the instrument earlier in the performance. The continuity of gestures and the intensity of building such a large sound over a generous span of time gave this performance tremendous gravity.

The closing set from the Joost Buis Ensemble offered up charts and featured soloists from a great band. With material that ranged from whimsical materials hinting at Raymond Scott to raw, free improvisations poured into predetermined structures and spaces. Focal points shifted democratically to allow each individual force to emerge into the foreground within the natural ebb and flow of the compositions. The line between the notated and improvised material often blurred by a creative sense of form. It was a welcome dose of the Amsterdam sound that these ears have grown increasingly curious about.

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