Multi-instrumentalist Peter Kuhn is reemerging into the free improvising music scene after a long hiatus, and the fact that he is doing so in San Diego is a delightful coincidence we should all be grateful for.
On Nov. 1, Kuhn brought a group of top Southern California improvisers (and one New Yorker) under the aegis of Dependent Origination into the intimate confines of the Taoist Sanctuary on Park Boulevard for an evening of bracing, spiritually advised music.
Dependent Origination is comprised of Kuhn on clarinet, bass clarinet, alto and tenor saxophones; Dave Sewelson (from Brooklyn) on baritone and sopranino saxophones; Dan Clucas on cornet; Scott Walton on double bass and the remarkable Alex Cline on drums.
Walton began “Anaphylactic Shock” alone, with false harmonics and rubbery glissandi, until he was enjoined by Cline’s shimmering cymbals. On one side of the stage, the grungy smears of Clucas reached out to the long tones of Kuhn and Sewelson on the other side, and somehow, a melody coalesced -- complete with dissonant underpinnings -- just as though it were conceived beforehand. It was not.
The music came in crashing cycles, ranging from cacophonous crescendos to pianissimo hushes that birthed acidic squealing from Kuhn and buzzing bumblebee triplets from Clucas. Driving this shifting metric landscape was the astonishing Cline, who is one of the world’s most accomplished drummers. Cline permeates an irresistible forward motion, and he is constantly stirring the kettle, regardless of volume.
Each member of the ensemble received ample opportunities to shine, either in solo or duo contexts – and everyone assumed responsibility for the extension and expansion of melodic themes and rhythmic grooves. It was only though close listening to each other that the wide arc of dynamics could have happened, and that narrative was relentlessly sharpened as the evening progressed.
“Redemption,” began with Sewelson’s plaintive, warbled sopranino sobs over Walton’s growling whole notes, and once Clucas entered the fray with inebriated vibrato, the tension ratcheted into a higher gear. Out of nowhere, Kuhn’s muscular tenor started quoting “Summertime,” which opened a door for a Cline essay that ranged from mountain-trembling exuberance to soft-rustling before you knew what hit you. All of a sudden, the twin-riffing on Kuhn’s bass clarinet and Sewelson’s baritone locked into an R&B-inspired discourse that downshifted into a loping-the-mule squeal-a-thon. From that gutbucket morass, somehow, the band organized a loose unison that climaxed on a dime.
Legendary saxophonist Wayne Shorter recently declared that, to him, jazz means “I dare you.” Dependent Origination calls that bet and raises it exponentially.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.