New York trumpet virtuoso Peter Evans dropped into town this week and was able to assemble a dynamic group composed of bassist Mark Dresser, drummer and vibraphonist Kjell Nordeson and percussionist Steve Schick for an inspiring, all-improvised set at UC San Diego's the Loft on Dec. 7.
Evans began pushing tiny whimpers out of a piccolo trumpet, offset by Dresser's creaky overtones and the click-clack sonata of the twin drummers. The trumpeter turned up the heat with an increasingly violent series of rhythmic sputtering synched to the roiling barrage of Nordeson and Schick on a jagged metric grid. Dresser surfaced with bow as drumstick, striking the strings in concert with Schick's guira scrapes against his huge concert bass drum.
Schick is an internationally famous contemporary-classical percussionist, and it was fascinating to hear him navigate the twisting currents of free improvising -- but like all free improvisations, success is contingent on the ability to listen and respond in the moment, and all four of these cats were on equal footing in those terms. Nordeson, Schick and Dresser consistently upped the ante with dynamics that rose and fell like the trunk of a barrel-chested smoker for Evans, who responded on the Bb trumpet with blistering velocity, multiphonics and circular breathing.
Dresser's independent two-handed tapping defied all tonal expectations for the bass, and when Nordeson switched to vibraphone, a new melodic component emerged, sounding roughly like Milt Jackson on amphetamines. In a moment of pointed silence, Schick rubbed both palms in circular motion across the bass-drum head, with the visual effect of a man smoothing a table cloth and the sonic effect of fine sandpaper on wood.
There was the constant free-market bartering of ideas that nurtured and inspired wild moments of timbre manipulation, like when Evans buried the microphone into the bell of his trumpet and proceeded to dazzle with a looped-percussion sound produced by rapid flutter-tonguing. Similar close-miking strategies elicited a tortuous whining grind that sounded like Minnie Mouse with her tail caught in the garbage disposal. All in all, this four-way exchange made for one of 2014's most thrilling concerts.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.