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Tag: jazz improvisation

A Spare, Edgy, Incisive Jazz Poetry Album From Brilliant Violinist Sarah Bernstein

Sarah Bernstein has to be the most fearlessly protean violinist in any style of music. Just when you think you have her sussed, she completely flips the script. Beyond her brilliance as an improviser, she’s a master of eerie microtonal music. As a result, she’s constantly in demand, most recently this past weekend at Barbes as part of thereminist Pamelia Stickney’s hypnotically haunting quartet.

But Bernstein’s best music is her own. Her previous release, Propolis was a live benefit album for Planned Parenthood with an alternately stormy and squirrelly improvisational quartet including Alexis Marcelo on keys, Stuart Popejoy on bass and Nick Podgursky on drums. Her latest release, Crazy Lights Shining – streaming at Bandcamp – is with her Unearthish duo featuring percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, a return to the acerbic jazz poetry she was exploring a few years ago. Patti Smith’s adventures in ambient music are a good comparison; Jane LeCroy’s Ohmslice project with Bradford Reed on electronics is another. Bernstein’s playing the album release show on a great triplebill on May 30 at around 10 PM at Wonders of Nature; cover is $10. Similarly edgy, eclectic loopmusic violinist Laura Ortman opens solo at 8, followed by fearlessly relevant no wave-ish songwriter Emilie Lesbros.

“Come in to feel free, no fear,” Bernstein’s echoey, disemodied voice beckons as the album’s initial soundscape, For Plants gets underway. Takeishi’s playfully twinkling bells mingle with Bernstein’s shimmery ambience and resonant, emphatic vocalese.

Bernstein has never sung as storngly as she does here, particularly in the delicately dancing, sardonic Safe:

No one can find you
No one can eat you
You’re not alive
You are safe

Is that a balafon that Takeishi’s using for that rippling, plinking tone, or is that  Bernstein’s violin through a patch?

She subtly caches her microtones in the deceptively catchy, balletesque leaps and bound of Map or Meaningless Map:

…A calm enthusiasm should suffice
The fuzziness of an empty sleep
The rush to extrovert, sure thing!
Expressing can feel like living…

Bernstein’s uneasily echoey pizzicato blends with Takeishi’s rattles in the album’s title track, which could be the metaphorically-charged account of a suicide…or just an escape narrative. In the instrumental version of The Place, the two musicians build from a spare, slowly shifting mood piece to a slowly marching crescendo. A bit later in the vocal version, Bernstein sings rather than speaks: “There are war crimes and recipes and kisses remaining,” she muses.

The acerbically brief Drastic Times starts out as a snippy cut-and-paste piece:

Drastic times require tragic measures?
We live under a system (drastic)
…Like anyplace where thought control is under physical control
..Maybe that will change when the rest has exploded
Drastic time
Maybe that is something to look forward to!

Little Drops follows an allusively twisted narrative into chaos, in the same vein as Meaghan Burke’s most assaultive work. The album’s final cut is the kinetic Four Equals Two, its catchiest and seemingly most composed number, complete with a nifty little drum solo. Count this among the most intriguingly relevant albums of 2018.

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Rapturous Nightscapes From an Invisible Orchestra by Pamelia Stickney

Pamelia Stickney is arguably the world’s foremost theremin player. By any standard, she’s done more than anyone else alive to take the original electronic instrument to new places. While most musicians use the early Soviet-era contraption for horror-movie shivers or comedic whistles, Stickney plays melodies on it. At various points in her career, those have ranged from desolate deep-space tableaux to earthy symphonic extravaganzas. At her tantalizingly short set this past weekend at Barbes, she led her ironically titled Transcendental Dissonance Quartet through a similar, stylistically vast expanse of styles, from film noir themes to lowdown latin soul to elegant chamber jazz improvisation.

Stickney plays theremin as if she’s playing a magical, invisible, somewhat cranky bass. Standing perfectly still, her right hand controlling the volume, she bends her left hand at the elbow, expanding her fingers outward to hit the notes. She saves the instrument’s signature, quavery, creaky-door effects for when she really needs to make a point. This time, she opened with a low bass synth sound that George Clinton would undoubtedly love to have in his arsensal.

Meanwhile, Stuart Popejoy – playing piano instead of his usual bass here – delivered tersely incisive, moody variations on a stark, Lynchian theme while Danny Tunick’s vibraphone sprinkled stardust throughout the tableau, violinist Sarah Bernstein completing the picture with airy washes and spare, plaintive  countermelodies. They would stick with this eerie, surreal thousand-layer cake of textures throughout their roughly fifty minutes onstage while Stickney channeled the sound of massed voices, a cello (which she also plays, among many other instruments), and various kinds of brass. Her m.o. is simple: a theremin takes up a lot less space when you’re on tour.

Midway through the set, she moved to the piano for a slowly unfolding, hushed duet with Bernstein, who finallly got the chance to move through the magical microtones that have become her stock in trade over the last few years. Then the whoe group reconfigured for a final nightscape.

Stickney is back in New York this September, where she’s doing a week at the Stone with a series of ensembles. In the meantime, she’s back on her home turf in Vienna this week, with gigs on May 24 at the Ruprechtskirche at Ruprechtspl. 1 – where she’s playing cello alongside the carnivalesque Hans Tschiritsch & NoMaden – and then on May 25 with her Scrambolage trio with pianist Monika Lang and cellist Melissa Coleman at Roter Salon, Wipplingerstr. 2 at 8 PM; cover is 15€/10€ stud.  And for New Yorkers, Bernstein is playing the album release show for her most lyrically-driven album yet this May 30 at 9ish at Wonders of Nature.

Fearlessly Individualistic, Poignant Singer Sara Serpa Brings Her Catchy, Intimate New Album to Deep Brooklyn

That Sara Serpa’s voice is able to convey such a frequently harrowing depth of feeling is all the more remarkable considering that she doesn’t usually sing lyrics. But that doesn’t stop her music from addressing a wide range of relevant and sometimes controversial topics, from the disastrous effects of western imperialism in Africa, to philosopher Luce Iragaray’s radical proposals for how to eliminate sexist bias in language. Serpa’s latest album Close Up is due out momentarily, with three tracks streaming at her audio page. Serpa titled it after the Abbas Kiarostami film and the layers of meta created when non-actors played actors in a movie about themselves. She and her trio, who recorded it in a single June day last year, are playing the album release show on April 4 at around 8 at the Owl. Suggested donation is $10.

Lately Serpa has been exploring unorthodox lineups; here she’s joined by Ingrid Laubrock on tenor and soprano sax and Erik Friedlander on cello. Although he sometimes plays basslines here, the absence of drums and traditional chordal instrumentation enhance the music’s intimacy. In her liner notes, Serpa explains that the configuration creates “a vulnerability that sometimes verges on discomfort,” a consistent theme throughout her work, from Camera Obscura, her cult favorite noir jazz duo album with iconic pianist Ran Blake, to her role as a member of John Zorn’s Mycale vocal quartet.

Throughout the album, Serpa’s crystalline, starkly direct voice is calm yet often anything but serene. The opening cut, Object is as arresting as a canon for scat singing, soprano sax and cello could possibly be: Friedlander’s rhythmic riffs, Laubrock’s Balkanic trills and Serpa’s steady ba-do-ah keep the suspense going despite the catchiness of the melody.

Pássaros (Birds), with lyrics by her late Portuguese compatriot Ruy Bello, examines Messieanically and rhythmically how our feathered friends can turn trees into a forest of playful call-and-response. A catchy yet wary pavane, Sol Enganador has Friedlander plucking out a catchy, baroque-tinged backdrop for Serpa’s nebulous vocalese, Laubrock finally floating into the picture – then things get crazy!

The Future is a chillingly rhythmic duo piece for vocals and cello, Serpa drawing on Virginia Woolf as an update on the Sex Pistols; historical mashups have never been so apt. The next track, Listening is even more sparse, Serpa and Laubrock rising to the top of their ranges for austere harmonies as Friedlander holds down a sparse rhythm.

The trio develop Storm Coming from Laubrock’s terse, overtone-spiced intro to a series of hypnotic cloudbank phrases, in an Anna Thorvaldsottir vein. Then Serpa returns to neo-baroque for Woman, singing a text by Irigaray that “exposes the invisibility of motherhood, the lack of support women artists receive as mothers,” as she puts it. And she’s right: how many women artists do you know whose careers went on ice the moment the kid was born?

Quiet Riot is not a tribute to a headbanging one-hit-wonder rock band from the 80s, but a coyly bubbly, minimalist, briskly strolling exercise in counterpoint. The trio close with Cantar Ao Fim, whose intro Serpa came up with singing by herself in the mountains one evening: its starkly circling, distantly Andalucian modalities make a gorgeous coda. It’s rare to find three artists who can so seamlessly merge classical, jazz improvisation and new music.

Jazz Piano Icon Satoko Fujii Launches Her Ambitious 2018 Album-a-Month Project

What Wadada Leo Smith is to the trumpet, Satoko Fujii is to the piano: one of the most riveting improvisers to ever play the instrument. Like Smith, her themes can be epic and ambitious to the nth degree, yet her playing is meticulous and nuanced. Where a lot of musicians think in short phrases, Fujii thinks in paragraphs. Her most recent big band album, the harrowingly relevant Fukushima suite, topped the Best Albums of 2017 list here. Her latest project is to release an album a month this year to celebrate her sixtieth birthday. In person, beyond the sheer depth of her music, her indomitable joie de vivre, sense of wonder and daunting chops transcend preconceptions about age. The first release in the series is simply titled Satoko Fujii Solo.

Full disclosure: many of these albums seem to already be in the can. This first one was recorded live in concert in the fall of last year in Yawatahama, Japan. From the first magnificent, moody neoromantic chords of her eight-minute opening number, Inori, the way she distills them down to a simple, catchy three-chord riff and variations is a clinic in tunesmithing. Fujii is also a very site-specific pianist: she feels the room, figures out how long the reverb lasts,  then makes it an integral part of the music. She does that here with stabbing chords that build to a series of leaps and bounds. then a starlit outro. Chopin probably worked up a lot of his material this way.

This is a very otherworldly record, bristling with uneasy, insistently modal tangents. Don’t be fooled by the high drone that opens the second number, Geradeaus. That’s not a defect – that’s Fujii bowing and rustling around inside the piano. She finds a low pedal note, expands around it in an emphatic Keith Jarrett way, goes back inside and adjusts the timbre ever so slightly, then lightens a bit and dances around with uneasy chromatics. The few carefree flourishes turn out to be a red herring as this mood piece turns more savage and enigmatic.

As the twelve-minute Ninepin gets underway, Fujii juxtaposes muted gamelanesque taps on the strings…and what sounds like an electric sander on them. Slowly and methodically, she develops what could be a misterioso Indian wee-hours raga…but cuts off the pedal on each phrase suddenly – wherever this is going, we’re not there yet.  Some of it could be Satie, or Lennie Tristano, severity balanced against tongue-in-cheek humor.

The even longer Spring Storm is all about foreshadowing: stygian low torrents rise and then subside, give way to hints of a clearing, but that big black cloud is going to hang awhile! It’s Debussy’s garden in the hailstorm, but feeling the force of the elements row by row instead of the cloudburst simply shredding everything in its path.

In Gen Himmel, Fujii lets her Mompou-esque belltones linger, flits around under the lid, and cuts off phrases sharply, Intimations of gospel enter the picture, only to be elbowed out by funereal motives and restless close harmonies. The wryly titled Up Down Left Right begins as a funny study in how gremlins can pop up all over the keyboard, then morphs into twisted, bellicose quasi-boogie-woogie  Fujii closes the show by reinventing  Jimmy Giuffre’s Moonlight as a distantly menacing, saturnine elegy. “The stars settle slowly, in loneliness they lie,” Phil Ochs sang. Boy, do they ever.

Where does this rank in the immense Fujii catalog (over eighty albums)? Probably in the top ten, alongside her magical, mordant duo album with fellow pianist Myra Melford, for example.

Now where can you find this magical album…other than a Soundcloud page? Stay tuned!

A Lavish, Twisted, Trippy Album by One-Man Band D. Treut

One of the most strangely beguiling albums of recent months is multi-instrumentalist D.Treut’s solo release, some of which has made it to Bandcamp. Dave Treut is best known as a drummer with a long association with Brandon Seabrook, one of the jazz world’s most distinctive, assaultive guitarists and banjo players. But Treut – whose solo project is pronounced like the lead poisoning capital of the world – is also a talented multi-instrumentalist and singer. He’s just back from midwest tour, leading his group at around 10 on March 1 at C’Mon Everybody. Adventurous guitarist Xander Naylor plays at 9; cover is $12.

Treut plays all the instruments on his lavish nineteen-track collection: drums, bass, keys, guitar and sax. Stylistically, it’s all over the place, with classic soul, jazz, psychedelic rock and unhinged experimentation, often all in the same song. It gets weirder as it goes along. The first track, A Dream Is a Wish, is a haphazardly orchestrated epic with a long, woozy portamento keyboard solo at the center. It manages to stagger as much as it swings: imagine Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized big band on really good acid.

The second track, Absolution – Saints & Demons is a long psychedelic soul ballad with chugging organ and a neat little alto sax break: when Treut’s voice finally goes way up the scale, he takes you completely by surprise. Whirlwind Woman  – (Sarah’s Song) is a careening, slowly disassembling mashup of glamrock, soul and a little Hendrix. If Oneida weren’t so pretentious, they might sound something like this.

Treut stays in vintage soul mode for The Way the Cookie Krumbels – (Chloe’s Song), with Let It Be piano in tandem with stomping kickdrum and misty cymbals. Grammy Tappy is a funny, noodly guitar instrumental – truth in advertising. Treut follows that with Everything I Did I Did For Love, an even goofier EDM spoof.

Churchy organ comes to the forefront over the stomp in A Gift; then Treut takes a detour into wooly post-Velvets rock with Full Moon Insomnia. He strips the instrumentation down to loopy, swaying drums and bass for Where Others Have Gone, then balances sax squeal with bass growl in 78 Miles, the first crazed jazz track here.

Likewise, a staggered organ loop anchors somewhat calmer sax in Skip 5, catchy riffs percolating to the surface and then sinking back into the morass. Uptown Downtown is gritty no wave disco, while Times a River comes across as Public Image Ltd. covering Lady Madonna, maybe.

Joe’s Bounce is a misnomer: it’s more of a loopy Terry Riley-style theme, with a drum track that artfully blends shamble and precision. Circle could be described as sliced-and-diced Afrobeat at halfspeed; the Seabrook inflluence comes across most vividly in the simmering, keening, blippy Skip Funk 5.

There are hints of both distant, fragmented menace and new wave amidst call-and-response vocals in Dreamed a Wish On. She’Wanna’Doo is the catchiest and poppiest track here; the album winds up with a little over a minute worth of Body & Soul, just disembodied sax and vocals.

As with a lot of good psychedelia, the obvious question is whether or not you have to be high to appreciate this. Let’s say that couldn’t hurt. And for anybody who remembers late 90s/early zeros Lower East Side kitchen-sink legends Douce Gimlet, this is a real treat.

And it was also a treat to catch Treut turning in a standout performance with the Icebergs at Pete’s Candy Store this past evening. Hitting offbeats on the bells of his cymbals and making those off-kilter accents sound perfectly natural, he stepped into the big shoes left behind when David Rogers-Berry left the band and filled them. Drums are typically more of a big deal in a trio. That Treut held his own alongside Tom Abbs – one of the great cello rockers, who plucks out basslines and chords on his axe like he’s playing a guitar – and charismatic frontwoman Jane LeCroy, was an awful lot of fun to watch.

A Multimedia Extravaganza With Two Great Jazz Improvisers at Lincoln Center This November 15

Fans of first-class jazz improvisation are in for a treat on Weds Nov 15 at 7:30 PM when pianist Chris Pattishall and trumpeter Adam O’Farrill  team up to play a live score to the debut of visual artist Kambui’s new video project, Where Does the Time Go, at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd Street. The film stars Irungu Mutu and Jessica Allie. As with all the mostly-weekly free performances here, the earlier you get in, the better your chances of getting a seat.

Magical things could happen: these players are both tremendous improvisers. O’Farrill has a thoughtful approach to match his awe-inspiring chops and extended technique, and Pattishall makes flying without a net look easy. The pianist played a rapturous, largely improvised set this past spring at St. Paul’s Chapel downtown with his old North Carolina guitarist pal Rafiq Bhatia.

Pattishall has become one of the world’s foremost champions of Mary Lou Williams’ gospel-and-blues-inspired music, notably her Zodiac Suite. He opened solo with two segments, Aquarius and Pisces, first shifting from uneasy, nebulous low-register resonance to a sleek, low-key midtempo swing in the first movement. Likewise, he traced the arc of Pisces from a darkly restrained Chopinesque waltz toward Scott Joplin ragtime.

Then Bhatia joined him: the two hadn’t played a New York gig together in more than ten years. To dovetail with the concert series’ Debussy-inspired water-justice theme, Pattishall encouraged the crowd to pay close attention to subtle changes in sonority, and textures, and attack and decay. Those came into focus immediately with the first sepulchral, keening washes from Bhatia’s Telecaster and pedalboard as Pattishall colored them with bell-like phrases. As the piece built steam, Bhatia channeled Jerry Garcia in spiraling, exploratory mode, taking advantage of the space’s natural reverb. 

The guitarist then flipped the script, taking the music into enveloping Eno-esque territory, peppering the vast expanse with coy backward-masking riffs. Pattishall pulled the music toward triumphant title-theme cinematics, then Bhatia responded with watery juxtapositions, ripples over a dark undercurrent. Pattishall felt it take over the space and pulled back, doubling Bhatia’s enigmatically insistent chords before reaching toward epic grandeur once again.

The two reverted to echoey atmospherics and doppler effects, Pattishall on synth, letting the cloud drift off into terse, minimal icicle piano lines and a few final circling volleys of guitar arpeggios. It was music to get completely lost in.

You can watch the whole show here; the Lincoln Center gig will no doubt be completely different, but this will give you an idea of how Pattishall works in an intimate setting. 

Trippy Guitar Loopmusic from Xander Naylor

Xander Naylor played some of the most refreshingly unhinged guitar recorded in this century as a member of trumpeter Ben Syversen’s Cracked Vessel. Their lone album remains a high point in recent New York creative music, which is quite an achievement considering that Syversen is also a member of feral Balkan group Raya Brass Band.

Since the late zeros, Naylor has also pursued a solo career. His latest album, Arc, inspired by unnamed tragic losses, is completely different. It’s hypnotic, and loopy, and occasionally motorik, drawing on influences from mathrock to Zappa and Robert Fripp. Another theme is basically, “Look, ma, can you believe all the sounds I’ve got stashed away in my pedalboard?” It’s streaming at Bandcamp and available on limited edition cassette for just seven bucks; Naylor is playing the album release show tonight, Nov 3 at 8 PM at Greenpoint Gallery at 390 McGuinness Blvd. Take the G to Greenpoint Ave.

The opening traci, Pinball, is true to its tiltle: it’s a pinging guitar-and-bass instrumental with very subtle rhythmic shifts and a wryly funny ending. Bad For Glass is a tapping exercise that grows blippier as it goes along, then Naylor hits a pedal for an approximation of an acoustic piano.

The even shorter Hellespont also follows a trancey circle of loops, but it’s more spiky and vampy. Another miniature, Observing Silence layers deep-space atmospherics. By contrast, Appearances is another subtly shifting, loopy piece but sounds as if Naylor is playing a vintage resonator, at least before the remainder of his overdubs kick in.

Natural Born Relic comes across as a spoof of both EDM and early video game music. Glass House is Naylor messing around with belltones, while Ratchet is funny and squirrelly: why won’t this damn lid come off?

Elegy hints at gamelan music; then Naylor explores echo effects, skronky distortion and slow decays in How to Ward Off a Werewolf, the closest thing to Cracked Vessel’s ferocity here. He closes with the album’s most melodically interesting track, the atmospheric rainy-day tableau Dry Your Boots.

Playful, Entertaining Solo Cello Improvisation and an Album Release Show in Queens by Daniel Levin

There are plenty of cellists who can jam, but Daniel Levin is as fearless and sometimes devastatingly intense as an improviser can get. He has an irresistibly fun new  album of solo improvisation, Living, streaming at Bandcamp and an album release show coming up this Saturday night, Oct 28 on a killer twinbill with guitarmeister Brandon Seabrook‘s pummeling two-drum Die Trommel Fatale at Holo, 1090 Wyckoff Ave. in Ridgewood. The show starts at 8, the club’s web page is dead and nobody is saying publicly who’s playing when, but it doesn’t really matter. Seabrook and Levin cap it off with what could be a seriously volcanic duo set. Cover is $10; take the L to Halsey St.

The album’ first track, Assemblage, is a lot of fun.  Shivers, pops, a monkey barking, a motorcycle revving, a tree being felled with a saw and a wolf whistle or two finally lead to steps to a door.

Generator is full of squiggles, furtive squirreliness. a few microtonal variations that bounce off a low pedal note and a droll interlude that could be breakfast in a coffee shop.

Baksy-buku goes from whispers to screams, then back, with an animated one-sided conversation. Levin can mimic pretty much everything on his four strings without any electronic effects.

The Dragon, an eleven-minute, amusingly detailed epic, focuses on what could be the prep work for fire-breathing devastation. These tracks are all close-miked with plenty of reverb, so every flick of the bow or tap of the fingers on the body of the cello is picked up. Levin uses this trope everywhere, especially in Symbiotic, which rises toward the kind of frenetic sawing he’s capable of generating before the piece fades to spacious warps and blips.

The album winds up with the whispery, rustling Mountain of Butterflies. Levin’s relentless dedication to evincing unexpected sounds out of his axe ought to be heard beyond the audience of cellists and bass players trying to figure out how he does it. And it makes a good soundtrack for a haunted house.

Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa Brings Her Ambitious, Adventurous New Song Cycle to Brooklyn

Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa has been at the forefront of the most intriguing side of jazz improvisation for a long time. Her work has a consistent sense of purpose and often a narrative: unlike so many other well-intentioned free jazz types, her ensembles go places rather than just stumbling around in the dark. So it makes sense that her ambitious, upcoming show on Oct 12 at 8 PM at Roulette with a hefty twelve-piece orchestra would feature a new song cycle, Glorious Ravage, inspired by female explorers. $20 advance tix are still available and highly recommended.

Mezzacappa’a most recent New York show was at Downtown Music Gallery last month, leading an auspiciously low-register lineup withi Josh Sinton and Aaron Novik on bass clarinets and Jason Levis on drums, which transcended any kind of preconceptions about those instruments.

There were moments where she’d be bowing matte-black washes of sound while Novik growled along with her in the lows, but at those moments Sinton would be running judicious volleys of postbop much further up the scale. He did the same thing as a member of Amir ElSaffar’s large ensemble back in June at their album release show downtown, on both occasions infusing the music with a welcome energy and purist erudition.

In an about an hour, Mezzacappa led the quartet through three expansive numbers marked more by cohesive interplay than soloing. The group quickly flickered upward with a series of brief, flitting exchanges and found their footing. Levis provided a tersely floating swing most of the time, like an old Cadillac: you don’t hear the engine but you feel it. Meanwhile, Mezzacappa perambulated and did some elbowing, especially with Novik, who was essentially playing bad cop opposite Sinton’s matter-of-fact good cheer. There were also a few whispery moments, especially in the final, roughly twelve-minute piece, where the four echoed the ghostly exchanges that the night’s first act, the twin-bass duo of Thomas Helton and Michael Bisio had sent wafting through the space for minutes at a time. With all these low-register instruments, the night promised all sorts of darkness, but this was more of a clinic in how much further off their home turf these axes, and their players, could go. It portends well for for the Roulette gig.

In Her First New York Solo Show, Seungmin Cha Invents a Riveting, Brand New Kind of Music

It’s impossible to think of anyone other than Seungmin Cha who could make a tiny dinner bell sound more menacing than she did at her first-ever New York solo concert last weekend. Or for that matter, who could get as much sound as she did out of a single Korean daegeum flute, sometimes serene and verdant, other times acidic or even macabre.

“Can I check out your rig?” an interested concertgoer asked her before the show.

“Sure,” she replied. On the floor in front of her were a couple of large pedalboards’ worth of stompboxes, hardly limited to reverb, delay, disortion, chorus, flange and an envelope filter. Hardly what you would expect a virtuoso of a centuries-old folk instrument to be playing her axe through.

“This is a guitar rig,” the spectator observed. “Is that a volume pedal?” 

“It’s a total guitar rig,” Cha smiled. “That’s a distortion pedal. For my vocals.”

But this wasn’t a rock show. Instead, Cha invented a brand new kind of music right there on the spot. This particular blend of ancient Korean folk themes, western classical, jazz improvisation and the furthest reaches of the avant garde might have only existed for this one night.

She began by slowly making her way in a circle around the audience. It took her a good fifteen minutes, playing subtle, meticulously nuanced variations on a gentle Korean pastoral theme. On one hand, this might have been a welcoming gesture, a comfortably lulling interlude. More likely, Cha was getting a sense of the room’s acoustics for when she really cut loose.

Which she did, eventually. At one point, she was getting two separate overtones out of the flute, without relying on the electronics. As it turned out, she’d been talking shop with her special guest, clarinetist Ned Rothenberg, before the show and he’d shown her a couple of overtones. Which, maybe half an hour after learning them, she incorporated into the show. Can anybody say fearless?

As Cha built her first improvisational mini-epic of the night, a mist of microtones wafted through the space, sometimes light and tingling, sometimes mysteriously foggy. Slow, judicious bends and dips flowed through a mix that she eventually built to a dark deep-space pulse, the flute’s woody tone cutting through like a musical Hubble telescope somewhere beyond Pluto but unwilling to relent on its search for new planets. Yet when she sang a couple of resigned “my love’s gone over the hills” type ballads, her vocals made a contrast, low and calm – until she hit her pedal to raise the surrealism factor through the roof.

As it turns out, Cha can also be very funny. She began an improvisation inspired by a snakelike Alain Kirili sculpture on the floor in front of her with a sort of one-sided Q&A…then decided to pick it up and play it as if it was a flute. Grrrr!! This thing is evil!

Rothenberg joined her for a lively duet to close the show: he tried goosing her with a few riffs early on, and she goosed back, but it became clear that she wanted to take this in a more serious direction and he went with it, adding judicious, mostly midrange, confidently bubbling motives while Cha took a slow, similarly considered upward path. It was a playful way to close what had been an intense and sometimes harrowing journey up to that point. You’ll see this on the Best Concerts of 2017 page here later this year.

Cha flew back to her home turf in Seoul the next day, but a return to New York is in the works: watch this space.