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Joe McPhee with the Deep Listening Band and Straylight

A low-key night in the Main Space at the Knit brought together Joe McPhee as featured artist with the Deep Listening Band and Straylight. The too short 80 minute set enveloped the audience with a mood that was penetrating. A mood that was inherent in the cohesion of the multiplicitous percussion instruments and the major players - Joe on sax and pocket trumpet, and Pauline Oliveros, from the Deep Listening Band, on accordion.

The blending of the sound of the instruments reached beyond expectations prompted by the first sight of the stage which was packed with electronic boards, perc set-ups, a piano and chairs. There was not a blast of sound at any point, only intensely beautiful, sculptured music, creating an inescapable environment. Surrounding, bathing, soothing. I went on a walk through the forest to the ocean. I dove into the ocean and was submerged. The didjeridu and the soprano sax embraced my senses, which, in turn, had been prepared by the foreplay of peeps and flutters from the percussion instruments, and crackling moments, emanating from the accordion. Joe’s solo on soprano sax emphasized the hugeness of a liquid world. His playing, interspersed with bowing on the cymbals, chordal strains on the electric guitar, everlasting tones on a muted trombone, had me swimming with the dolphins and the whales. The endangered species reigned here. Hearing them through the music impressed me with the endangered nature of the music itself. This improvised, highly sensitive music has to be heard more, played more, loved more.

The truth is that a bridge was constructed here between classical and jazz music. The audience has to know that the musicians know the history of their art. Sure, there was a predominant jazz rhythm that sneaked in intermittently- the kind that led you to toe-tapping. But for the most part the music was one huge tone poem which came out of the conscious imaginations of the collective of players. The idea for where they wanted to go was discussed on the way to the stage. They could not come up with a coherent set if each was not focused and really listening to the other(s) so that the musical dialogue could be invented. Oliveros’ virtuosity with the accordion reflected her honed study of the instrument...She created not only a variety of animal/woodsy sounds, but also ones with a humorous tinge. It is in the nature of the instrument combined with her classical/experimental music background that allowed her these freedoms of choice to seek new sounds. Joe’s continuous serenade with the sax, the unceasing arpeggiatons, all of the audible aspects of his musical genius, can take you nowhere but inside yourself. Right between the eyes. The crescendo that arose from the sax boosted by all the instruments in the band created a swell not unlike the swell of the waves in "La Mer", one of Debussy’s masterworks. I knew that afterwards I would come up for air on the back on the sounds; the bubbles were all around me. I finally broke the surface of the water. I was breathing air in the closing silence.

The second piece on this part of the program arose as totally percussive. That is what baffles me so much about improvised music: that it engenders experimentation with every instrument, not just increasing the variety of percussion instruments to diversify a band’s completeness. Even the plain ol’ brass horns, are played as if they were being turned inside out and stretched to make sounds that have never been made before. In this context, however, Joe and Pauline expand the capacities of their instruments within what the instruments can do, not from introducing an element from the outside to enhance the sound. This consistency allowed the remaining band members to freeflowingly do anything they wanted to: they had a backbone in Joe and Pauline. At one point, Joe did not move his fingers to move the valves on his pocket trumpet. He was squeezing out a tone that was central to what became a metaphor for the passage of the night into the wakefulness of the morning. The band’s unison collected Joe’s single note, expanded on it, ushered in a crescendo that broke into a sunrise. The conclusion. The beauty, the silence.

Here is where we go to be lost in our feelings through the music. Here is where we go to translate our passions into music that invites deep listening. Here is where we can go to find the sensations which we thought were lost. To this music. To this music.

(The Deep Listening Band is Pauline Oliveros on accordion; David Gamper on piano, perc, and electronics; Stuart Dempster, on trombone and didjeridu. Straylight is Geoff Gersh, on guitar and electronics; Charles Cohen, on Buchla; and Jason Finkelman on perc.)

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joe McPhee
  • Venue: The Knitting Factory
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