New-music champion and concert promoter Bonnie Wright opened the 2014 season of her long-running series Fresh Sound on Sunday 24 with Clocked Out, a piano/percussion duo featuring Erik Griswold and Vanessa Tomlinson, who performed before a standing-room-only audience of attentive and enthusiastic supporters.
Tomlinson excelled on myriad instruments, from vibraphone and triangles to a range of drums and cymbals, while Griswold made the most of a battered upright piano. The duo performed Griswold’s "Time Crystals," a massive, 13-movement suite that referenced minimalism in general (and Steve Reich in particular), as well as Balinese Gamelan music and free improvisation. Opening the title piece with a repeated figure in unison, Tomlinson’s vibraphone and Griswold’s lattice-work gradually expanded with ornaments before dissolving into a softer focus.
Especially intriguing was the pairing that featured Tomlinson on toy piano, which resonated nicely against the bare-bones harmonic schemata of Griswold’s construct. Griswold’s upright was lightly "prepared" (bits of paper stuffed between the strings of some of the bass notes), which gave the third movement, "Ambient Pressure," an eerie quality, highlighted by malleted cymbal washes and buzzing arpeggios. "Interstitial Defect" hinted at an almost lullaby dynamic, and whether she was using mallets, brushes or sticks, Tomlinson proved to be a sensitive accompanist, with an orchestral touch and compositional input.
"X-Ray Diffraction" was the highlight for me. It sounded like John Cage’s idea of an arena-rock anthem, with semi-regular beats and loud dynamics, and a give-and-take that reminded me of Keith Jarrett and Paul Motian for a minute.
The concert concluded with another piano/toy-piano piece, "Entangled," which conjured call-and-response, echoing into a gently fading melodic vaporization. Very creative stuff.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.