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International Society for Improvised Music (ISIM) 2007 Conference

Last December, 2007, I attended the conference of the International Society For Improvised Music at Northwestern University in Chicago. I was there to give a presentation entitled "Creativity, Self-Actualization and the Process of Musical Improvisation." As I was a participant in the conference it did not seem appropriate for me to review it. However, jazz writer/broadcaster Michael G. Nastos has given permission to reprint his impression of the event.

"The second annual conference for the International Society For Improvised Music took place over the weekend of Dec. 14-16 in Evanston, Illinois on the campus of Northwestern University. Events took place in the Indigo Lounge of the Orrington Hotel, Lutkin Hall and several rooms of the Music Administration Building.

"What was immediately evident is the growth curve of ISIM, in that presentations from the inaugural 2006 event grew from 40 to 90. Due to the vision and perseverance of founder and ISIM President Ed Sarath, Executive Director Sarah Weaver and Northwestern host Maud Hickey, along with a volunteer staff of music school students from Northwestern, the expanded program of offerings ran rather smoothly.

"This potpourri of demonstrations, workshops, panel discussions and live performances clearly indicated this is a music that refuses to stand still, is reaching for future horizons, and cannot be pigeonholed.

"The conference began with an inspiring keynote address from Northwestern's Dr. Bennett Reimer, talking about the confluence of intelligence, individualism and ideas with philosophy and psychology that makes this approach unique unto itself.

"Many times, some of the earlier appearances are less memorable over the course of thee days, but not that of British vocalist Viv Corringham, whose "Shadow Walks" proffered that not only do we remember those walks, but the surroundings of the walks echo, resonate, and remember us. Pianist Greg Burk and alto saxophonist Pekka Pylkkanen took snippets of the standard "Stella By Starlight" and turned them into extended discourse, listening to each other with acute clarity. Joe Giardullo's workshop followed, offering a polar opposite concept, emphasizing that you must listen more closely to yourself and the space, play less rather than more, and avoid a homogenous texture that turns mixed musical colors into brown.

"Use of the Apple laptop is becoming a staple in this music, as demonstrated by Pauline Oliveros throughout the conference. A ten-piece Deep Listening Genetic Orchestra explored the structured remote convergence of sound and space in the new P.C. age, composed by Doug Van Nort. Cellist April Guthrie and violist Cassia Streb played duets at the Indigo Lounge, and joined California based saxophonist/flutist Vinny Golia in a quintet setting of the composed and free improvised music Golia has championed for decades. James Ilgenfritz also played a witty combination of composed and improvised music, mainly on solo upright acoustic bass, but added vocals, electronics and sounds of the crackle box. The night's finale was provided by seminal figures to all, the Association For The Advancement of Creative Musicians Experimental Ensemble led by Douglas Ewart, featuring Nicole Margaret Mitchell, Mwata Bowden, Art "Turk" Burton and others.

"By Saturday morning snow was falling in Evanston, and Biakuye warmed up the MAB with their combination of minimalist Steve Reich influenced approaches and African polyrhythms. A four man Chicago Bass Ensemble directed by Lou Mallozzi stood in a straight line, then facing the four corners of the room playing purely improvised and counterpointed music. Then Minnesota composer Marc Jensen fronted a twenty-piece band of players who improvised on circadian rhythms based on a 24-hour life cycle of their typical day. "Patterns Of Living & Sounding" consisted of voices, horns, electronics and percussion, coalescing in a subdued musical depiction of what life collectively is. Then clarinetist James Falzone fronted a sextet, showcasing improvised and composed liturgies that he plays weekly at a local Chicago church.

"Following panel discussions by the AACM, and future directions as discussed by Rui Carvalho and Tom Buckner, Katchie Cartwright presented research based on her recent recording, investigating the multi-lingual and multi-cultural aspects of the music of John Cage. Victor Svornich broke down drummer Lenny White's jazz-fusion piece "Guernica," Dom Minasi and Michael Jefry Stevens played in the guitar-piano format, showing acute high level musicianship and empathy for each others styles, confluence and humor, while London based saxophonist Simon Rose presented an approach in introducing improvisation to special needs young people.

"Certainly some of the highlights of the conference followed, as the University of Michigan's Creative Arts Orchestra, an 18 piece student ensemble mentored by Ed Sarath, who was firmly nestled in the trumpet section, played the vibrant music of Oliver Lake, with Lake directing the band and playing his brand of powerhouse original music accented by his piquant, vibrant solos. That night, Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj and percussionist Michael Zerang preceded saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom and bassist Mark Dresser in a pair of duets that enlivened and invigorated the conferees and the public lucky enough to hear them.

"Sunday started slowly, as the snowstorm settled in. Andrea LaRose transcribed music of Frederic Rzewski and did a PowerPoint presentation of his improvisations based on the folkloric piece "Which Side Are You On?" LaRose meticulously detailed the dizzying time signature changes of his improvisation. Marina Peterson presented her research on the Tabadol Project, a State Department cultural exchange with Lebanon staged in February of '07. Then the true future was revealed in "Telematic Music," with Pauline Oliveros, Mark Dresser, Sarah Weaver and friends showing a demonstration of musics created simultaneously in three different cities through the Skink technology.

"A highlight for many was the appearance of pianist/drummer Art Lande and saxophonist/flutist Mark Miller, accompanied by Art's wife who danced, recited poetry, and offered bites of chocolate cheesecake on a plastic fork during the performance. Lande's music is a mix of serious musicianship, whimsy, irony, playfulness, spirituality and pure spontaniety a treat for all.

"The conference wound down with the large multi-electric and eclectic ensemble Backgammon directed by Chicagoan Stephen Syverud, the neo-classical folkish Elixir String Quartet, the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble performing "Petrified," and the witty young Chicago quintet Zing!, using an equal mix of modern hip composition and improvisation that, like most of this music, defies categorization.

"Some of the other musicians making appearances during the weekend were the Giants Of Gender, multi-instrumentalist Paul Scea, bassist Philip Fried, Turkish clarinetist Claudio Parodi, pianist Bill Neill and saxophonist Tom Gullion, pianist Charity Chan, violinist Stephen Nachmanovitch, Salil Sachdev playing the hang, pianists Denman Maroney and Anto Pett, trumpeter Dave Ballou, Andrew Bishop & Bottomed Out, flutist John Wubbenhorst, the Empty Cage Quartet, vocalist Katharina Von Rutte with Gayle Young, and guitarist Jefferson Pitcher.

"Of course, with demonstrations running simultaneously, and tight teardowns preceding immediate set-ups, things moved along very quickly.Any one person missed many other offerings, by definition. Still the conference was an unqualified success, appreciated by all in attendance, and bodes well for year #3. If you missed ISIM at Evanston, you missed something truly special."

Michael G. Nastos is past senior emeritus program host at WEMU, 89.1 FM in Ypsilanti, Michigan, longtime and current reviewer for the All Music Guide, Detroit correspondent for Cadence Magazine, former writer for Downbeat, founding member of SEMJA, the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, and is a current active member of ISIM.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
  • Press Release Date: December 14-16 2007
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