The Spirit of Rasan Adabravi [TB#2] | November 2013, Chicago

The second formation set to cross the bridge (following the quintet that brought together Douglas R. Ewart, Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Joëlle Léandre, Bernard Santacruz, and Michael Zerang to perform across France) is a daring and atypical ensemble, using a diverse array of percussive instruments and/or approaches, that will journey to the crossroads of African, Black American, and European Music to explore and bend the relationship between jazz and “trance” experiences, through improvisation (and repetition). If improvisation must always meet requirements of amazement and renewal, and repetition must always meet requirements of diligence and transfixion, what will be born of their collision? Which magnetic force will cause their attraction?

It takes a quintet to answer this valuable question, thus came together Chicago-based musicians Joshua Abrams(bass, guimbri), Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone), and Avreeayl Ra (drums, percussion), and French musicians Aymeric Avice (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Benjamin Sanz (drums, percussion). The idea for the project originated in early 2012, when Avice and Sanz (who had worked together on entrancing forms of music) performed with Abrams’ Natural information Society in Paris. Then, Sanz and Abrams discovered they shared a common interest in Moroccan Gnawa music, and training in African musical techniques and instruments.

The Bridge gave them the platform to carry out this adventure. This transatlantic collective brings together five musicians who were all set on such a course, and whose different backgrounds (with Sun Ra and Christian Vander, with Bonnie Prince Billy et Jean-Louis, with André Minvielle and Nicole Mitchell, with Peter Brötzmann and The Roots, with Tortoise and David Murray…) and musical material will be collectively transformed and reinterpreted in new directions, to uncharted territories. Together, they form a structure with impressive rhythmic architecture, focused on rhythm and texture, and the planet motions: the combination of brass, strings, vibraphone, drum kits and percussion, creates a unique haven to perform enchanting improvised music.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Aymeric Avice, arriving from Paris, joins Benjamin Sanz, arriving from Kansas City, near a freeway off-ramp, just like in a spy movie. Destination Pinsel, the Mexican quarter. It’s Day of the Dead in Dvorak Park (1119 W. Cullerton St.). Dia de los Muertos say and dance feathered skeletons, green-cheeked skeletons monkeying with wandering souls. After wandering through the nocturnal ether of the street, the unusual procession retreats to an auditorium that doubles as a gymnasium and a temple, to drink hot chocolate and watch hip-hop dancers in the flesh. An altar bears the name: “The Spirit of Rasan Adabravi”. This was to be the name of the band to come, Avice and Sanz’s quintet with Jason Adasiewicz, Joshua Abrams and Avreeayl Ra.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

It all starts on the South Side, in the Dorchester Projects neighborhood. Contemporary artist Theaster Gates (who designs many of his life-sized or cultured “installations” right out of social life) and his Rebuild Foundation team have restored and reopened several living, people’s houses here, accessible to all and providing access to everything. Side by side, there’s the Listening House (6918 S. Dorchester Ave.) and the Archive House (6916 S. Dorchester Ave.), where hundreds of vinyl records and paper books wait to be probed, and where community members can enter and exit like a mill. Across the street is the Black Cinema House (6901 S. Dorchester Ave.), where the Experimental Sound Series screens documentary and fiction films, sometimes with live music when the film appears to be silent. Avice and Sanz perform “La Sirène des tropiques”, directed in 1927 by Henri Étiévant and Mario Nalpas (Luis Buñuel, assistant), in which a disarming Joséphine Baker overpowers, counterfeits and outwits (“signifyin'”) the clichés of colonialism, exoticism and sexism. Papitou the mermaid may have “two great friends: the sun and freedom”, but she’s bursting with an elusive life. The trumpeter and drummer don’t punctuate the action, its free, solar activity, they acknowledge it, echo it, diffract it. They offer musical panels to suggest other, implicit durations, other extensions to the sequences. A decalcomania-like breakdown. The second set is strictly musical, with Mwata Bowden on baritone sax and clarinet, and David Boykin on soprano sax and drums. After a joust of crushed rhythms, Sanz takes charge of the persistence and Boykin of the accents and accidents. Growths and outgrowths of wind instruments. The question then arises: is it possible to meet for the first time in such outpourings? Yes.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Private screening at the Black Cinema House to immerse yourself in “Regard/Play”, Jesse Atlas’s short film that rewinds in time. Getaway to Drag City’s Soccer Club Club (2923 N. Cicero Ave.) to attend the closing of Lisa Alvarado’s exhibition, with Natural Information Society and Bitchin Bajas separated by the artist’s banners and hangings. A trip to Constellation (3111 N. Western Ave.) to hear Karl Larson soar through Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories, an evasive piano composition. Stop off at Hungry Brain (2319 W. Belmont Ave.) to hear the new saxophone quartet of Ken Vandermark, Dave Rempis, Mars Williams and Nick Mazzarella. Curtain.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The first day of Avice and Sanz’s quintet with Adasiewicz, Abrams and Ra, and first an afternoon of palaver at the Franke Institute for the Humanities (1212 E. 57th St.), at the University of Chicago, where philosopher Arnold Davidson intends to get them talking on the theme of “improvisation and repetition”, which reflects the group’s stated ambition to examine the possible relationships between jazz and “trance music”. For if improvisation is supposed to respond to an imperative of astonishment and renewal, and if repetition is supposed to respond to an imperative of assiduity and meditation, what about their rapprochement? What magnetism would they have in common? Everyone answers, but Ra preaches and talks only of fulfillment. To act, to play, you have to let go of rationality and identity. And regain confidence. How did we stop really trusting each other? If we don’t, the matter is settled. We all know that an instrument is only ever a practicable path. That ease is acquired through practice. That everything depends on constant adjustment and fine-tuning. But to blossom… To know that creativity comes from a taste for difference, a taste for difference, and that it obeys only the law of change. As Davidson writes: “Opportunities for open-ended modification of the known is a good motto for this êthos of improvisation. Ra concludes: our music has already begun, in the course of this exchange, and the concerts will simply be a continuation of it, in other forms. See you at the November 7 slot. For the moment, it’s dark and it’s in the studio or hangar of radio station WNUR (1877 Campus Dr., Evanston), for the “Killin’ the Vibe” program, that Avice and Sanz chatter, tinkle and launch their rockets. Then they talk about cities, schools of magic and witchcraft.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Back to the Dorchester Projects district where, through the Rebuild Foundation, Avice and Sanz meet students from the South Shore Fine Arts School (1415 E. 70th St.) to finally get them to work on the music for the horror film they’re tinkering with: loose voices and screams in the dark, screeching on every surface, hissing and stridulating, cramping and convulsing, everything is a pretext for fright and laughter. No holds are barred, not even jamming to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and experiencing for yourself the joy of constantly shifting from one thing to another, from outburst to tightening. Improvisation and repetition, the program is full. Later, in the velvety wood of the Archive House dining room, community soup is served to the children and their families, while the trumpeter and drummer play their hearts out. They play “at home” (the spirit of John Coltrane hovers in the room), bouncing off their instruments, on the floor, ceiling and walls, on lips and bodies, welcoming all that comes and goes. In a perfect world, wouldn’t these be the kind of places and circumstances for music to be? The mood changes at the Whistler (2421 N. Milwaukee Ave.), a noisy cocktail bar served in scale models of Easter Island statues, where Avice and Sanz once again team up with Mwata Bowden and, on double bass, Harrison Bankhead and Jason Roebke. Together, they marry the majestic sway of things, sometimes streaked with roars, to the aerial platform of a voluptuousness.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One after another, Ari Brown (tenor and soprano saxophones), Fred Jackson (alto saxophone), Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Marquis Hill (trumpet) and Roebke appear at the DuSable Museum of African American History (740 E. 56th Pl.). A massively empty museum. In the dressing rooms, meanwhile, Brown re-explains pentatonic modes and George Russell’s Lydian chromatic concept of tonal organization to Stein. Stories to dream about. When the time comes, in the late afternoon, in the midnight blue of a room lined with stars, the ripple effect is immediate: while Sanz feasts, and Roebke tricks, the collective improvisation progresses through large flankings of voices that attach themselves to each other (Ari Brown’s tightening a noose around one of his solos), plays with disconcerting ease the springs of counterpoint or polyphony, and from junction to junction, accomplishes the fluctuations.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Second day of Avice and Sanz’s quintet with Adasiewicz, Abrams and Ra, and premiere at the Umbrella Music Festival Chicago, accustomed to welcoming every year, under the chandeliers and domes of the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St.), squadrons of European improvisers of all generations: “European Jazz meets Chicago”. Watershed, with Denis Fournier, Bernard Santacruz, Hanah John Taylor, Nicole Mitchell and Tomeka Reid, had shared this stage a year earlier to the day, as had the East-West Collective of Didier Petit, Sylvain Kassap, Larry Ochs, Miya Masaoka and Xu Feng-Xia in June 2013. And on April 26, 2013, we organized The Bridge’s launch concert with Fred Jackson, Stéphane Payen, Edward Perraud and Frank Rosaly. After a few moments of hesitation on the threshold of what’s to come, the quintet embarks on the land of hammering, and at first it’s good to be raging in the world thus created. But what happens when an established figure or set of figures, their manifest framework, has gone through enough states, undergone enough twists? Does improvisation become repetitive? We need to get out of the way, find other points of support, a way out, a parade or silence. Too many rhythmic weathervanes. Despite the best efforts of some, the quintet sinks into the darker and darker night of variations and exceeds the time limit.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Adasiewicz-free quintet leads the motionless round in the classroom of double bassist Scott Mason, chair of the “Jazz & Contemporary Music Studies” department at Roosevelt University (430 S. Michigan Ave), in a bloated downtown building. At the far end of the corridor or gut, Avice on the horns, Abrams on the gills, Ra on the outcrops, Sanz on the kalimba delicately lift the skin of the rhythms. The birth of intoxication. Spirits are calmed. Ra speaks again: Chicago is unique because of the possibilities it offers, because music can still be experienced as a “social thing”. Everywhere, conservatories are replacing the environment, whereas the environment is the real school. So don’t wait. Play. Play at every turn. Go beyond your thoughts and reach regions beyond logic, where intuition proves more useful than intention. This is exactly what the muscular Tarbaby trio (Orrin Evans, Eric Revis, Nasheet Waits) will be doing this evening at Constellation, stripping away the aluminum of jazz.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Break. Quick reception at Listening House, with Robert Irving III, Douglas R. Ewart, Khari B., Lou Malozzi, and the likes. At Constellation, Amina Claudine Myers power-washes gospel music history, past, present and future.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Day three of Avice and Sanz’s quintet with Adasiewicz, Abrams and Ra. On the highway to Milwaukee and the Woodland Pattern Bookcenter (720 E. Locust St.), an independent bookstore and cultural center, we drive separately so that all the instruments fit. There’s decidedly little talk of the initial aims, of an ambiguous absence of direction (vision? confidence?). Perhaps everything has been said, communicated, indirectly, by Ra, who doesn’t take any formalities seriously: intuition and intention become muddled in Rasan Adabravi’s chameleon-like mind. Everything is played out or must be played out. Sanz improvises as a timpanist, while Ra cuts all the mooring strings and screens their interactions. New assault. The pressure is constant. There’s no backing down from the music. If there is to be any rapprochement with what we take to be “trance” phenomena, it will be frontal and frictional. It’s a real headache and a real pleasure, which starts again in the second set (the second drum set having been completed): Ra plays the blaster, under Sanz’s escort. Abrams’ double bass is a torch, and the lines and strokes of this barrage can be read in its strings of smoke. Vibraphone gibes thanks to Adasiewicz, unbeatable. From ambush, Avice looks into the eyes of this cyclone, sometimes teasing and ranting into his trumpet and/or flugelhorn. A new assault, and this time, it passes. Time doesn’t flow at the same speed inside or outside such music. By the way, the streets of Milwaukee are deserted now.

Monday, November 11, 2013

After a visit to the wonder-pleated hot-air balloon house of painter Gina Litherland and polytechnician Hal Rammel, organizer of the “Alternating Current Live” sessions at Woodland Pattern Bookcenter, and after several false starts to pick up pebbles sown along the way by Sanz, back to Chicago between snow hawks, all the way to DePaul University’s Recital Hall (804 W. Belden Ave.). The Adasiewicz-less quintet is part of a multi-part program put together by drummer Dana Hall, director of the School of Music: “Combos”. First Avice, Abrams, Ra and Sanz sound the charge of their quartet (on trial: finding and re-finding rhythms, obtuse), and then answer the students’ questions (The logic in all this? Improvised music is a layered construction, with an open sense of time that doesn’t correspond to metric division, to divisions, Abrams patiently explains – and Ra, ever galvanized, goes back to trust, intuition, imagination, the force field or flow of energies, of emotional and spiritual communication that disconnects reason: “You have to turn that off!”). Then the students perform in front of the quartet in several studious subsets, to which are added Ra on Frank Foster’s Simone, Avice and Sanz on Joe Lovano’s Forth Worth. For those who still doubt it, these “free” improvisers know the “repertoire”. They know what they’re talking about. Next up. Hall, the “professor”, in a state of poetic fury, shreds his canopied drums with his own band, Polyglot, of which Abrams is a member, along with trumpeter Russ Johnson and alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella. Finally, the quartet recapitulates, with a special guest: Fred Jackson, still a student at DePaul, able to hear the calls secretly made, by Avice in particular, to identify what flows, coils and uncoils among so much abundance. Ra: “When it’s right, it’s a spontaneous composition, not just playing. Around midnight, on the Rosemary’s Baby-esque belvedere floor of Beat Kitchen (2100 W. Belmont Ave. ), the band Extraordinary Popular Delusions (Mars Williams on saxophones, Jim Baker on keyboards, Brian Sandstrom on strings, Steve Hunt on percussion: there are dozens for the four men, Hal Russell’s former NRG Ensemble team, and their surprise guests: Avice and Sanz in tune with the fervor – but no audience) go wild as they have every Monday night for ages, and shrivel up anything that doesn’t move. For Avice and Sanz, these encounters and sidelines may well have been the most conclusive. That’s part of the adventure.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Whistler is as noisy as ever, but the musicians are out in force against the tide: Avice, Sanz, Stein, Dave Rempis on saxophones, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and Michael Zerang on drums all let loose immediately. So we know that improvised music can be structured by the energy it releases. In which case, is the unleashing of energy a chaining to the power, to the powers (of the game) that are invoked? The drummers, once Sanz has loosened his rhythms and plugged into Zerang and its trapeze of cymbals, snare and notched drums, deflect the flow like rudders. Melodies sometimes escape, like found objects or pockets of air. Like gashes.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Adasiewicz-free quintet lingers in the luxurious salons of the Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago), before the screening of “L’Âge d’or”, directed in 1930 by Luis Buñuel (Salvador Dali, co-screenwriter). We proceed – and the choice could not be more judicious in the face of such a film – to the opposite of the screening at the “Black Cinema House”: as few interventions as permitted, and preferably the least fractious; the musicians, on both sides of the screen, even seem to stand aside, shrinking and fading in the face of the work’s virulence, cruelty and apparent amorality, its ode to free and crazy love and its deadly doses of black humor. They don’t turn it into a “show”. Avice chews his sounds. Sanz treads on its surfaces. Ra, cottony, crumples his skins and metals. Abrams (also a composer of film scores, such as Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz’s documentary “The Interrupters”) is almost languid. The improvisation is as dry as a river in summer. They play the nec plus ultra superbly. And break up.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

It’s almost over (although Avice and Sanz still have to experience the mugginess of Houston, Texas, and its alligators, in the coming days). David Boykin (clarinet), Katie Young (bassoon), Keefe Jackson (tenor saxophone), Fred Lonberg-Holm (effects pedals – for lack of a working guitar) and Matt Lux (electric bass) are still there, at the Comfort Station (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.), a small house in the center of Logan Square, which served as a shelter for the city’s streetcar drivers at the turn of the last century before being converted a few years ago into an artistic all-purpose venue. A few wooden benches, a few bedside lamps, the sound of traffic all around. And plenty of darkies assembled tonight (bassoon, tenor, bass, interference) to dredge up the music channel. And fire it too. Thought does indeed move at different speeds, embodied by different musicians. A golem may be rising. There’s the hint of a brightening. David Boykin’s clarinet.

Alexandre Pierrepont