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Double Short Take on Two Guelph Gigs: Indigo Trio and KAZE

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Robert Kerr introducing Indigo Trio, with Hamid Drake and Harrison Bankhead

There were a number of standout performances at this year’s Guelph Jazz Festival, but for me two gigs in particular really made something happen, small concerts by Indigo Trio and by KAZE. I’d like provisionally to map my own reactions, even at this slight remove in time, to those moments, because they have stayed with me, and will for a while. (These sets both took place last week – one on Thursday night, and one Saturday morning.) Both performances modeled and enacted improvisational listening practices, modes of attention not only to aesthetics – the practiced formal tactics of shaping sound into music – but also to the sociality of audition, to how human beings empathize with one another, sense each other’s embodied co-presences, at the level of texture, resonance and pulse. The kinds of immersive listening into which an audience is invited by both of these ensembles are not, for me, a way of losing yourself, of becoming absorbed into and overwhelmed by their music, but present instead opportunities and openings for intersubjective moments, as our ears focus and refocus on the interplay and divergences of line and shape that occur as each performance unfolds, live and spontaneously both before us and with us.
Indigo Trio, from the back of the room: Nicole Mitchell, Hamid Drake, Harrison Bankhead
Indigo Trio –Nicole Mitchell, flutes, Harrison Bankhead, bass, and Hamid Drake, drums – offered two extended extemporaneous suites Thursday night, September 5, in the re-purposed hall of St. George’s Anglican Church in Guelph. I have been avidly listening to them since their first album appeared, on Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf label, in 2007, a recording I think of their first performance as a trio in Montreal in 2005. As then, their music remains rich, warm, flexible, free, accessible and dynamic: a paradigm for collaborative co-creation. I don’t know which composition is which, but each suite gave the impression of morphing or evolving forms, particularly around the loping, deep grooves Harrison Bankhead set up on his big upright. I thought, as did a few others there that night, that we could hear traces of the firm, warm sound of Wilbur Ware or of Malachi Favors Maghostut in his playing, echoes of departed mentors and colleagues, but also of a Chicago sound-palette that imbued his playing with a powerful historical dimension. Harrison Bankhead’s predilection for danceable lines, for groove, coupled with Hamid Drake’s strong sense of rhythmic pockets – what I’d describe as his sanguine, organic feel – drew the audience into the trio’s playing, and kept them rapt: toe-tapping, hip-swaying and happy. Nicole Mitchell played a shattering solo on piccolo, but rather than disrupt the flow, it only intensified the room’s commitment to what was happening. Each improvised “suite” concluded with Nicole Mitchell singing, in a bell-like soprano, what seemed like Afro-futuristic lyrics – two song forms, the first of which I think was a hymn of praise to Gaia, while the second, concluding piece affirmed the entwining of strength of purpose and of the embrace of difference that shape Indigo Trio’s music:
When you find the truth you will realize
You’re a stranger in a strange land
But you’re not alone
You’ve got to stand strong
What I hear, here, is a call to community in difference, community of difference: strength among strangers, audience.
KAZE: Satoko Fujii, Natsuki Tamura, Christian Pruvost, Peter Orins
KAZE is a collaborative quartet that has been in existence since at least 2011, pairing the longstanding duo of Satoko Fujii on piano and Natsuki Tamura on trumpet with two members of the French MUZZIX (sounds like “musiques”) collective, trumpeter Christian Pruvost and percussionist Peter Orins. Nominally (on the programme) Satoko Fujii’s band, the group operates more as a collective, showcasing compositions and concepts from each of its four members. I had never heard them play, either live or on CD, before Saturday morning at the River Run Centre in Guelph, although they have already recorded two albums as an ensemble: Rafale (2011) and Tornado (2013), both released by Circum-Disc in collaboration with Fujii-Tamura’s label, Libra Records. I have to say that I was blown away by their collective virtuosity and by their kinetic interaction, from the first notes they played. The two-trumpet line, in some ways, hearkens back to Louis Armstrong and Joe Oliver, and there are echoes of the playfulness and smart-aleckry of early music, although there is little in their work, in my view, of the subversive. They play with sounds, the trumpeters ebulliently incorporating “little instruments” and percussive sound-makers into their arsenals of sound-sources, but the idea is never to undermine or interrupt: disruptions are creative, centrifugal, happily unruly, both provocative and strangely supportive. All four appear to celebrate and to uphold each other’s contributions to the collective: no cutting, no ego. At the same time, both trumpeters self-evidently have technique – extended technique – to spare. Tamura and Pruvost are masters of their instruments, and then some. And, well, if you like your trumpet by turns limpid and wicked, seductive and fierce, this is the music for you.  Satoko Fujii’s virtuoso piano formed an integral part of the ensemble, negotiating between polydirectional rhythms and entwined melodic lines, sometimes subtending the performance harmonically, sometimes offering percussive counterpoint. Her playing is dynamic, ever-present, but also open and responsive; she is never at a loss for something to add in, but also never crowds at her cohorts: a paragon of give and take, of response listening. Peter Orins’s drumming was, for me, a revelation: he has a way of propelling a performance forward, while striking each tympanum with an attack that somehow individuates and momentarily savours, pulse by pulse, the elastic beat-patterns he conjured. His style of improvising at the drumkit reminded me at times, if this makes listening sense, of Ronald Shannon Jackson’s definitive touch.
         The group played two or three extended suites – akin in structure, though not in idiom, to the Indigo Trio’s set – combining, I discovered afterward, most of the compositions featured on their recent disc. (I think they recombined “Wao,” “Tornado,” “Imokidesu” and “Triangle,” although I’m relying on memory here.) Each of their forays began with quiet hiss and suck from the horns, breath feeling its way into tone, gradually ramping toward more organized thematic statements or unisons, then negotiating a series of polyglot interchanges and exchanges toward the next composition way-point. The group operated as a living assemblage, an organism pursuing not so much coherence or closure as open-edged symbiosis, a generative, sustaining autopoeisis. Each piece did, of course, reach a tenuous end, but it felt that, even after the concert was done, KAZE’s generative soundscapes still kept roiling and resonating in our minds’ ears.
         For me, hearing both of these groups had an epochal aspect, an impact not unlike, say, hearing the Parker-Guy-Lytton trio, or Wayne Shorter’s recent quartet, or Charles Lloyd’s “New Quartet,” or one of David S. Ware’s quartets; they seemed to represent something of the power and possibility of distinctive new directions in creative improvised music. A greatness.


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