The Shadow & Light Band rose coincidentally out of the tragedy of September 11. Their recording on that date served to demonstrate the buoyancy that art-making can offer---- resilience, although reeling, to events which have ramifications beyond anticipation, as is the case now as we sit today on the controversial edge of a war in Iraq.
The band is made up of Joe Giardullo on reeds, Joe McPhee on reeds and brass, Michael Bisio on string bass and Tani Tabbal on drums. These four players have developed a means of mergence that once recognized is spectacular. Their delivery is generally not brash. It is uniquely gentle and soft, somewhat similar to the characters of the instrumentalists. But for the most part, this band’s members melted one instrumental line into another, interacted, blended, and often, without warning, created a powerful synchronicity. It just was. There was no way to anticipate the utter oneness of the four players.
Surely there were times when extremes were reached as in the example when Giardullo hit screaming, whining, crackling arpeggiated pitches on the alto and pressed out rapid forceful pointed ostinatos on the oboe. He also played the bass clarinet (standing right next to McPhee, playing alto clarinet) with great sensibility to the dual reed partnership. I could see in Giardullo’s face a determined passion. Giardullo’s solo on the soprano demonstrated a range of tension and stiffness and reaffirming high register peaks that in total were collected to evolve into a beautiful vibrato-ed tenderness.
Noticeable was Bisio’s incredibly supple fingering of the bass strings. No matter whether he attached rhythm or abstraction to his pitch pursuits, his playing was smoothly confident. Often he excitedly fanned the strings or dug into the strings when bowing; musically, the reason was clear why he chose to do so: to become the bridge for transition in the horn conversation. His one elongated solo was breathtaking: he scraped the strings, pulled them together with his fingers as he bowed, found depths that signified more than the sound, more like the sinews of the heart.
Tabbal. What a drummer. His forte is staying offbeat. Just when I thought he was carrying the band, he would be behind the horns or ahead of them---that all depended on how you think about it. Tabbal’s mallet/tom roll is inimitable; the bass drum did break the repetition enough to reset the continuity. His stick technique to the snare was dry, yet, was counteracted with brush strokes that moistened the timbre. The cymbals never crashed. They were damped but important to the texture. The way he stroked the edges of the hi-hats as they clapped together expressed a tangible sensuality. Tabbal allowed the drums to talk to themselves in an amazing call and response synthesis.
McPhee contributed in a solo his own tenderness complemented and exaggerated by a bravura, which characteristic the resounding strength and purity of tone in his playing of the tenor, he could not avoid exposing. How can tortuous squeezed twisted pitches turn into SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD? McPhee can do this. He does it all the time. This ability warms the heart. In this band situation, McPhee showed his invaluable respect for the remaining band members; his playing, although absolutely integral to the fullness of the overall sound, took place over there, not in the spotlight.
The crux of this concert shone through towards the end of the first set. The band had essentially come through without hitting any ostensible tap-my-foot grooves. There had been NO grooves, only sublime coincidences and intersections connecting one, two, three, or all four of the instruments. Any one of them at one time could have been launching into a mode different from that which another player could have been discovering. There was no marked pulse or rhythmic content. The band put forth a basic drive forward where the windows of following one another were open to a realm of possibilities that becomes the structure of the band. Each band member knew when to listen, when to play, when not to play and each felt & responded to the appropriate stresses, emotions, sensations coming from the music that was flowing. The band was strikingly reliant on feeling and emotions to steer itself no matter how objectified or seemingly unemotional the music was at any one point. This is one of the first times that the idea that all the musicians were playing on an equal footing rang with clarity.
And, as the second set set in, my observations, as stated above, were totally blown out of the water. The band’s tide turned around completely. There was so much rhythm, it was ridiculous. The atmosphere had changed. Nothing but complementary horn lines spoke: they were simultaneously strident and calm, sharp and round, high-pitched and deep, continuous and broken. The bass and drums kept pulse and stayed staunchly together. The drums pushed the pulse, the bass drum accented the drive. Giardullo’s repeated bass clarinet line led the move to exiting the music; standing directly in back of Giardullo, McPhee brought back the chorus several times. And the music faded out. Gone. Out. Pssst.
The Shadow & Light Band exposed an eternal truth: its titular truth. Without shadow, there is no light; and without light, there is no shadow. And however the light shines to cast the shadow and however the shadow is cast is a result of the position of the interruption between the shadow and light. To become conscious, to transcend the duality of the shadow and light and become the activity of what goes between, unifying the whole, is the key to carry on.