New music champion Bonnie Wright opened the fall season of her concert series, Fresh Sound, on the last night of a sweltering September with an equally torrid duet/trio extravaganza. The evening featured saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tom Rainey (both operating out of New York City) and hometown contrabass master Mark Dresser, who joined the pair on the second set.
If there was any doubt beforehand that a saxophone/drum duet could sustain interest over the course of an evening, that notion was immediately dispelled the moment these two intrepid improvisers took the stage at Bread & Salt, the converted industrial warehouse on Julian Avenue in Logan Heights.
Laubrock began on tenor saxophone, displaying a huge, warm sound that reminded me of a free-improvising Dexter Gordon, as Rainey decorated the soundscape environment with the wonderfully obsessive sound of one drumstick clicking against the other in an urgent Morse code. From there, the duo wandered freely, responding to each other with a degree of deep communication that I found breathtaking. As Laubrock stuttered around a single tone, Rainey answered with a panoply of groove options, ranging from bombshell violence to the tiny clicks provided by knitting needles. His own drum solo began with the sound of his fingers rubbing across each skin surface, embracing near silence, as Laubrock switched to soprano, upon which she hissed and growled, building a delicious tension before branching out into an excellent distillation of the Steve Lacy/ Wayne Shorter continuum, toggling long melodically diffuse information against aggressively declarative chirps and blatts.
Back on tenor, Laubrock continued with a breathy romanticism, carving melodic curlicues into the warm fall night as Rainey ratcheted the tension with a hissing hi-hat workout, eventually goading the saxophonist into a stunning exposition of overtones and multiphonics as the energy constantly ebbed and flowed. The degree of empathy and intuition between these two musicians seemed unbearably intimate but joyful in the extreme.
The second set added Dresser, who volleyed a single note with Laubrock as Rainey utilized the sound of a squeezed plastic water bottle -- a prime example of making music out what would otherwise be an annoying noise. Laubrock unleashed a stream of cascading melodies while Rainey pretended he was nervously dropping bundles of sticks and Dresser activated two-handed independent tapped hammer-ons, dividing the string for unusual sonic effects. Laubrock and Dresser each blended overtones and harmonics into a whirring stew, while Rainey countered with a funereal New Orleans parade shuffle.
As an encore, the trio really redefined the divide between “sound” and “music,” making the case that those distinctions may be completely arbitrary or, at least, only in the ear of the listener. Laubrock channeled waves of breath and air through the chamber of her horn, adding the sound of pads popping and growling vocalizations as Dresser pulled deep groaning strokes on his bow and Rainey vacillated between the barely audible and explosive volleys.
It was a glorious moment in which the rigid confines of melody/harmony/rhythm reorganized into a different hierarchy -- an agreement forged between listener and performer, with everyone emerging victorious.