Luke Wyland/Tahni Holt with Eliza Larson (dancer)
The two of them were frozen in time swaying from side to side as the audience trickled into their seats. Luke Wyland’s accordion broke their silence while Eliza Larson’s body livened up. Her face remained shrouded by hair and obfuscated by body but for brief moments throughout the work, though her motion was expressive enough to give a sense of a personality wounded or defensive or liberated, and probably all those things. His music was choreographed in collaboration with Tahni Holt (not the dancer) and this too represents the diverse methods of improvised form. I don’t recall the music as well, other than its favor of ambience over melody, and that eventually the microphone and electronics were employed, rather than the solo accordion.
I do not know anything about this fellow’s personal lifestyle and the few interactions I’ve had with him, he’s a nice guy. So when I describe this brand of improvised electronics, it is to convey the experience, not to pass judgement. Consumer is a drug-addled attack on sonic sensibilities, in the vocabulary of House, Noise, and Ambient. If it were a rave, this dude would be the acid-bomb that fucked up everyone’s high — but that’s because they get high on dubstep. I like him because he plays with as much force as a drummer, but limited to his himself (he’s not destroying his gear). Electronic music needs to be expressed through the body, otherwise it’s a guy hitting buttons and knobs without feeling. Consumer (Matt Palenske) becomes the conduit for whatever sound his gear may conjure.
Cat Egan/Doug Theriault, with Celine Bouly
Theriault’s tabletop was sparse, lacking his electric guitar, something he is more known for than sample-based composition. There is no way he was creating all those sounds on the fly, but his mix was, while in collaboration with Cat Egan and Celine Bouly. We don’t know just how the dance was organized to the sound, but it didn’t need direct relationship to make sense, as it didn’t really correspond like a rhythmic dance would. Cat with Celine made for a story, as they drifted apart and back again without ever getting too close or too far apart (I don’t mean physically but obviously that is how it would be expressed). Refreshingly non-dramatic actually.
Rich Halley 5 (with Vinny Golia)
Rich Halley is a long-time CMG member and I believe old time organizer of the early years. Today he is a fairly well recognized avant-garde player. He is not a famous player — I first saw him years ago at The Tugboat among an audience of five — but is now getting recognition for continuing on while honing in his compositional style and technical prowess, over the course of decades. Playing with Vinny Golia (and I think Vinny mentioned later that he was shacked up with Rich for the weekend) must have been a treat for his usual quartet. It was a treat for me. When I watch Rich, I think, he’s one of the great players around. Then Vinny solos right after him and it’s somehow that difference you couldn’t hear between vinyl and CD, film and digital, that you couldn’t recognize until toggling between them (the A/B test). They dished up some hard-hitting modern jazz, together.
Thick in the Throat Honey (John and Claudia Savage)
I needed a break, to lay in the grass in the hot outdoors. My ears were cleansed by the white noise of North Portland and the dynamics of Portland International Raceway just down the road, reverberating with roaring engines. Then I went back inside to the air-conditioned warehouse. A husband and wife act: woman in black dress reading poetry over a bearded man’s flute. It was that scene on TV making fun of pretentious coffee shops with post-beatnik open mic’s. I giggled, having almost forgotten where I was. After getting my pictures, I finally attempted to really listen, but they finished before I could acclimate, and I feel like I missed out on some really good humor, surreal imagery, and candid speech. She was going for jokes, but I didn’t hear them, only laughter from the audience. If you just let the sounds kind of exist with you, it’s pleasant, and I could miss all the words and still be okay with it.
Battle Hymns and Gamble
I’ve always liked Battle Hymns and Gardens. Adding Mike Gamble (guitar) to their act, they temporarily changed the name. It’s a band consisting largely of the Blue Cranes group (bass, tenor and alto saxophones) but enjoys the free drumming of Tim Duroche. They compose songs, but it’s quite a bit more fluid than the pop-fusion stylings of the other band. As they’ve been doing this for about ten years, I would say the sophistication of the music, the dynamic and technique has evolved. It is storytelling, as each piece sounds like a jam, but when the ending comes, you know it was all in the plan. How do you describe it? It’s sax, bass, drums, and guitar telling stories.
Watching NYC-based guitarist Ava Mendoza work in collaboration several times already, her solo set gave me what I needed to understand her prowess. She is someone that could join corporate bands to get paid, by looking like the hipster in Justin Bieber or Kanye’s live band. She’s got the chords, scales, harmony, and technique to keep up, but her pride may be overwhelming the sell-out mentality. The work was there. Finger tapping, effect-laden textures, picking, strumming, and often she closed her eyes to feel it, proving the capacity to go blind. She herself is pleasing to the eye, but I would just as happily close them and drift along.
Vinny Golia Ensemble
The crowning performance of the finale day of Improvisation Summit of Portland was the Vinny Golia Ensemble. Working with some of the city’s academic players and young hopefuls, he brought something worthy of a concert appearance somewhere as a stand-alone event. I enjoyed observing his methods of conducting and composition. The element of chance is always at play. He used numbered cards to cue each part. One time, I saw him put out one card, then bashfully extend a non-verbal apology before putting out a different card, so he nearly threw off the course of the whole composition by relying on those cards. Okay, that’s a small point. His conducting style is confident and interesting to interpret. I didn’t get to watch much longer, as I needed to set up in the other stage for a video shoot.
“I’d Rather Not Talk About It”
Holland Andrews, with Chris Johnedis on drums, performed the conclusive duet of this festival. I thought his drumming was perfectly fluid and technical too, a solid player I’d like to see more of. Andrews is a focused and gifted musician, vocalist, and coming into her own as a composer. The piece they worked out was conceptual, its structure revealed in highs and lows; moods that are tense while quiet and beautiful while loud. I didn’t take photos because I was busy shooting video with Forrest Brennan. The artist will be approached to release the video to THRU. More to come on that.
Anything that wasn’t photographed or reviewed was something we could not get to or honestly convey in time. The real hope for next year would be a more creative response to this festival, better organized with the range of contributors. In addition to posting images, reviews, and possibly working out a release of audio and video with quick turnaround, I’d invite poems and illustrations. I wouldn’t call this piece here a shortcoming, but I can see so much more to journalism than this. And the organizers always make it easy and enjoyable to participate in, so why not keep covering it. Looking forward to the oncoming artistic direction of Mike Gamble and to the seventh annual Improvisation Summit of Portland.