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The Last Night at the Meetinghouse

Codifying the performance of improvised music into another language as I am doing here is a very difficult task- - one that requires removing all, sometimes unknowable, obstacles especially of cliche-ridden descriptions that do not respect the creative nature of what was heard. In the long run, I do hope that I honor with words the music I hear. And induce those who read the words to find the music.

The concluding night of the Conway New Music Society’s Fifth Anniversary Concert Series reached unforeseen heights and was an incredible end to an incredible series.

The first performer was Borah Bergman, pianist. Without any introduction, Bergman sat at the piano and started playing. It did not take long to be absorbed in the content of his style. His left hand, he placed over his right, such that it was doing most of the work in the treble end of the keyboard. And his right stayed in the center. The chords and the single strings of notes he played were indistinguishable at times. His head hung low. I do not believe that there was anything that could have altered his focus. The energy in his fingers was continuously producing runs, chords, a treble constancy. There were instances where the notes came off so fast that Conlon Nancarro came to mind. When he changed from playing seemingly disordered groupings into playing a melody, the repeated trills carried within them an inherent rhythm; the sound became progressively stronger and bolder. The patterned repetitiousness was wavelike, with intersections of silence and/or traditional tune phrases occurring at the base of each wave. Just when it seemed like the resolution to the improvisation was imminent, Bergman started all over again--- rapidly firing fingers projecting him into his world. He ended the work with a swift swish of his hands parting the air in front of him in half.

His rendering of a "real composer’s" tune, Monk’s ROUND MIDNIGHT, was more Bergman than Monk. The melody moved steadily without zigzags. Bergman went off in clusters exhaustively while holding the tune with his right hand. The tune moved in and out of the flight of the chords until he finally played it gently, softly and then just stopped.

Bergman’s own SPIRIT SONG was a beautiful, prolonged chordal voyage that spoke of his longing for a life that could have been had he been a songwriter. The phrases he played were scattered, rumbling and then developed into a continuous tune however broken with silence and pounding in the bass keys. He played the tune that was the body of the piece three or four times. In his entire performance, Bergman did not use the pedals. The sostenuto was in his mind.

Following a short break, Ehlers turned the lights off in the hall and announced the last duo of Hamid Drake on drums and Sabir Mateen on reeds.

Drake took a closed, tight and rapid lead on the hi-hat with the brushes. Mateen contrastingly slowly constructed identifiable form on the clarinet. Drake granted increasing significance to the cymbals and drums. Mateen concentrated on blowing in the low register but then moved to the middle in flutters. Drake’s use of the toms grew: he had created the multi-rhythmic pattern he was aiming for with the instruments of his whole drum set. Mateen moved from high to low pitches in a linear theme. Drake up-stroked the hi-hat. Mateen leaned into his horn as he took it to a fantastic peak. There was a brush of the cymbals. The horn slowed down. The two players had come to an end in the same space.

Drake shook his rattles on the cymbals and then hit the tom; his foot pedaled the hi-hat. There was a hiss. Mateen had the flute in hand. Drake returned to playing the rattles, the ambiance was actually sweet. Mateen began with a flutter and then came out with a fluid melodic line; a lilting developed. Drake touched the snare and the bass with the rattles; then all the sound was made with his hands. The flute peaked. Then the two opened up: their inhibitions were dispelled. Drake still used his hands but then picked up the drumsticks; he was drawing on the skins of the drums. The tension that had been built up took me to a point internally screaming. Drake’s hands on the drums ushered Mateen to blow out of the clarinet a clear melody that reduced itself to two notes, at first fast-paced, then slow and longing. Drake sat out. When the drums came back in, the cymbals hissed again, then Drake moved his sticks from cymbals to drum and back again picking up the tempo, and increasing the rhythm to another climax. Mateen had the tenor. The two musicians were swinging, driving in a torrid grind for a long time. I don’t even remember when the piece stopped. I was somewhere else.

Mateen played a beautiful melody on the alto clarinet for the third improvisation. Drake accompanied with the brushes keeping the rhythm low key; then the mallets rumbled the drum heads. Mateen began to play single notes, then arpeggios, building to a screaming pitch. The brushes tempered the drums. I was deep in the music; there were no words to write. There was no verbal analogy to the place where these two musicians were taking me. Listening was easier and more satisfying. But now I have to tell: Mateen blew out an unbelievable tune whose clarity was remarkable. He was squeezing out high pitches to the point where there were no overtones. Drake was swaying, he was striking the drums to maintain the intensity. Then he played rather conventionally while Mateen was splitting tones to flutter into the original tune. Drake fluttered on the drums. They were both on a train that did not want to make any stops. Mateen’s body rocked back and forth as he blew; he was coming down. Drake’s brushes clutched the pace. Mateen blew air through his horn reed that had now an undertone. The train was finally at the station.

In the final piece, Drake began by singing as he played; his voice is beautiful and evokes tribal imagery. Mateen had the alto clarinet again. As the music continued, I was overwhelmed and thought that there is no meaning to this music, the essence is only where it comes from and how it sounds and how it is absorbed by the listener. The music totally vibrated the room. It built up in volume and tension and suspended me; I was completely undone again. This pair of musicians had pushed their musical envelope right off the edge. When the gig was over, there was remaining for me the excruciatingly gorgeous memory of the experience of the music.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Unknown
  • Venue: Meetinghouse Arena
  • City State Country: Amherst, MA
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