Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jazz concert review: AntiGravity with Viv Corringham at Studio Z

Viv Corringham
When: Thursday, July 29, 2010 • Where: Studio Z Who: Dean Granros (guitar), Stephen Goldstein (laptops), Patrick O'Keefe (clarinets and soprano saxophone), Scott Fultz (tenor saxophone, Viv Corringham (voice)

The improvised music/free jazz group AntiGravity has been playing a bimonthly series at the recently refurbished Studio Z in St. Paul’s Lowertown, and more people should be showing up.

I’ve been to three concerts now, in May, July, and last night, and their music deserves a bigger audience. Improvised/free/whatever you call it is a hard sell but I’ve seen decent crowds at the Rogue Buddha, the Clown, Homewood Studios and Art of This Gallery and there’s no reason the same people shouldn’t be coming to Studio Z. Different people, too.

Unless they’re not hearing about it. Or unless the door to the building is locked when they get there. In July, we had to enter through a deli on the other end of the building that happened to be open late. Last night we were about to drive off when HH saw Patrick O’Keefe push the door open. Concerts start at 8 p.m. and apparently that’s the same time the door to the Northwestern Building (an artists’ cooperative) is locked

Maybe start at 7:30?

AntiGravity. L to R: Fultz, O'Keefe, guest Corringham, Goldstein, Granros.

The core AntiGravity group is Dean Granros on guitar, Jacqueline Ultan on cello, Stephen Goldstein on laptops (software synths, samplers, beats, textures), Patrick O’Keefe on clarinets and saxophone, and Scott Fultz on saxophones (also flute and occasionally stainless steel bowls). For the last two concerts they’ve brought in guests: in July it was multi-instrumentalist/instrument maker Douglas Ewart and last night it was British vocalist/sound artist Viv Corringham. Ultan was unable to attend.

Steve Goldstein
AntiGravity is a very musical group. I was talking with someone recently, a musician, who said his main problem with free jazz is he doesn’t like it when instruments make ugly sounds. It’s true that sometimes they do, depending on who’s playing them and what he or she wants to say. Some musicians push their instruments to the edge and over. You can follow or not. Personally I have found great rewards in music I couldn’t have sat through a few years back, because I have trained my ears to hear it, mainly by going to live performances.

But not all free jazz is aggressive or (as it's often called) "just noise." AntiGravity may seem like five musicians doing their own thing, whether it’s a saxophone squawk or a series of static bips or a dissonant chord, but then O’Keefe’s and Fultz’s horns will soar together on the same wings or Goldstein will lay down a trancelike beat or Ultan will bow her cello or Granros will play a single phrase of pure guitar poetry and it's beautiful.

Patrick O'Keefe
I’ve heard Corringham twice before. The first time, a performance with Milo Fine at Homewood Studios in 2009, was daunting. I was surprised by the sounds she was making, some of which seemed very strange to me. A few months later I heard her again, at the Black Dog with Didier Petit, and because I knew more of what to expect, I could listen with a more open mind. The Homewood performance had begun my ear training (aided and abetted by an email exchange with Fine); the Black Dog was the next lesson. At Studio Z, I crossed over. I get it now, or I get it enough that I can enjoy it.

Vocal free improvisation—at least, how Corringham does it; I haven’t heard anyone else attempt it—is not singing or scatting. It’s using the voice, lips, palate, tongue, teeth, diaphragm, nose, and breath as an instrument, occasionally with electronic manipulation. (She uses a Line 6 looper; Fultz uses a DigiTech Whammy pedal and a Boss DD-6 digital delay pedal; Granros plays electric guitar. O’Keefe is the only one who’s unplugged. Yet at one point he makes his bass clarinet sound exactly like a didgeridoo.)

Scott Fultz
With Corringham, anything goes: clicks, growls, chirps, panting, trills, kisses, whoops, grunts, squeals, mews, glissandos, chatter, speaking in tongues. We hear occasional hints of a rich mezzo-soprano and  vibrato. Her range seems limitless, as does her imagination. She can do what anyone around her can do, except for chords. (At least, I’ve never heard her sing chords, though she probably has the Tuvan throat-singing thing somewhere in her repertoire.) It’s fascinating to watch and to hear.

They perform two pieces, one long (over an hour) and one short. There’s so much variety and color in the first piece that it doesn’t seem that long. (For reference, Beethoven’s Ninth is over an hour long, with short breaks between movements.) When you listen to something as unpredictable as this, you can try to take in all the sounds at once; you can follow one person for a while, then another; you can do both. To me, improvised/free jazz is like an Impressionist painting: Stand back, view the whole thing, and it becomes coherent; get too close or focus on a single aspect and it falls apart. 

Dean Granros
I close my eyes and listen to everything, then open them to see what a particular musician is up to. There’s a nice stretch between Granros and Corringham where they anticipate and respond to each other, and a dialogue between Corringham’s vocalizations and Goldstein’s beats. A spontaneous duet between O’Keefe and Fultz. A time when everyone else is playing/vocalizing low tones against a groove from Goldstein and Granros adds random blats from his guitar. At one point, Goldstein’s beats sound like cicadas.

The second piece is all percussion, suggestion, and breath. A soft landing.


Listen to AntiGravity on their MySpace page. Even better, go see them live. I heard Goldstein say something about skipping August, then reconvening in September. I'll put the specifics on the calendar as soon as I know them.

Watch a video featuring Corringham with guitarist Dave Tucker.

Thanks to Scott Fultz for help with the electronics.

Photos by John Whiting.

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