In America, the most neglected music is not that of our own minority groups, but rather that of majority groups in the rest of the world. Afro-American idioms, salsa, reggae, and works by women composers receive ate least some space in the press, but we have a tendency to forget all about Asia, Africa, and a few other continents. So I’ve become an affirmative action critic, trying to improve the balance by focusing my recent attentions on a gamelan ensemble, a santur player, and some shakuhachi music. As a result, however, I’ve gotten way behind in reporting on new music activities around New York, so I will have to be brief about three recent concerts presented by Richard Teitelbaum, George Lewis, and William Hawley.
Teitelbaum’s program at the Kitchen probably shouldn’t have surprised me. I already knew that he was a fine synthesizer player, and that he was deeply involved with Japanese music, and that he likes rather loosely structured improvisatory forms. What I didn’t know was that lately these elements have been coming together in a more sensuous and accessible way. Unlike his soft, severe, ‘Threshold Music,’ which I reviewed a couple of years ago, his February 27 concert was so outgoing it was almost romantic and so dense in activity it was almost Ivesian.
2Blends’ features subtle exchanges between Reihi Sano’s shakuhachi phrases and Teitelbaum’s carefully tuned synthesizer sounds, but it soon opened up into a freer texture that included trombonist George Lewis and made use of a large sound vocabulary. ‘Shrine’ was an impressive synthesizer solo which, with the help of an echo device and a lot of fast keyboard work, built up extremely lush textures. But while so much recent electronic music uses only pretty sounds, Teitelbaum always kept some buzz or edge in the mix so that the result was never quite syrupy. There was also a good deal of brainwork involved in the way Teitelbaum knitted together radically different themes in ‘Shrine.’ Also on the program was music he created for a recent film called ‘Asparagus.’ George Lewis has been around New York for a couple of years, but I had never heard the music of this young trombonist myself until his February 25 concert at the Experimental Intermedia series. Between internationally known artists like Vinko Globakar and Stuart Dempster, and young virtuosos like Jim Fulkerson, Jon English, Garrett List, and Peter Zummo, the experimental trombone field is already rather crowded, but there will always be room for one more when someone like Lewis come along. He not only plays well, but he has an excellent ear, and he seems to understand improvisation from four or five different jazz and classical angles.
Lewis’s opening improvisation made particularly effective transitions between sections of conventional virtuoso playing, sections employing fresh combinations of trombone sounds and vocal sounds, and sections that grumbled and sputtered in highly personal ways. Later he accompanied himself with a collection of ingenious cassette tapes, most of which he had made on his own little synthesizer. He also hooked his horn up to a microphone and then bowed on the bell, which somehow produced the notes of an augmented seventh chord. Other lovely effects were produced by tapping the amplified bell with a mallet. His final Lyrical improvisation against organlike harmonies sometimes sounded more like youthful enthusiasm than like genuine lyricism, but in general Lewis struck me as a mature artist, and an extremely talented one.
William Hawley is another talented young musician. He studied at Cal Arts and now lives in New York, and his work is minimalist in the strict sense of the term. His program of chamber music at the Kitchen on February 21 included a vibraphone duet that restricted itself to one pitch, a piece for cello and piano that was all sustained fifths, and electronic work that repeated a single electronic sound over and over, a piano duet that slowly shifted back and forth between two chords, and a quintet that passed through sonorities at a snail’s pace of about one change every minute. The music was generally soft and sparse, and seemed to owe much to Morton Feldman, but it showed a degree of originality as well.
‘Sobetsu’ was Hawley’s longest and most recent offering, and probably the best. there were never more than two or three pitches at once, but they were sustained in lovely combinations of colors by the flutist, the violinist, the pianist, and the two vibraphonists. The chords changed periodically, and often somewhat surprisingly, as the music drifted through its long sequence in slow, unpredictable rhythms. ‘Seven Steps’ was similar except that the instrumentation here was two pianos, and the harmonic vocabulary was more limited. The fascinating thing about the prerecorded work ‘Wave (for Kyoto)’ was that I could never tell for sure whether its electronic sound was actually changing, or whether my ear was simply hearing it in different ways. The curious sonority moved from one side of the room to the other, over and over, in little whooshes. In ‘Lumina’ two vibraphonists played a single note throughout, but they played it with so many different mallets and touches that it came out in a lot of different ways. At least four different overtones emerged quite distinctly when the note was played with some of the harder mallets, and the quality of the sounds ranged from quite mellow to almost violent. Hawley’s Music for Cello and Piano seemed less successful. Both performers were quite skilled, but the two-note chords they were asked to play were so unchallenging for the pianist that they sounded almost simplistic there, and so challenging for the cellist that they always came out annoyingly imperfect on that instrument.
If a few more weeks could be squeezed into the month of March I would also write about David Tudor’s electronic score for Laser Concert even though, at least from a musical point of view, the work did not seem to meet the high standards of some of Tudor’s other works. It would be good too to devote space to the fascinating psychoacoustic theories of Henry Flynt and Christer Hennix, even though their prerecorded music did not have its intended effect on me. And someone should at least try to come to grips with ‘Blue’ Gene Tyrrany’s fresh approaches to improvisation, even though I doubt that anyone but him quite understands how they work. But lately there seems to be an even greater need to consider some of the fine music coming to us from other parts of the world.