Vicky Chow's Fresh Sound San Diego Debut

Chow turns in kinetic performance.

New York City pianist Vicky Chow rolled into town last week, performing with her normal associates in the Bang On A Can Ensemble and taking advantage of the opportunity to play her first solo concert in San Diego as a part of new-music champion Bonnie Wright’s ongoing "Fresh Sound" concert series. In a special arrangement with Dizzy’s producer Chuck Perrin, the concert was held at San Diego Jet Ski Rentals in Pacific Beach.

Chow began with a composition “Vick(i/y)” by her friend Andy Akiho, which utilized the “prepared” piano concept as effectively as I’ve ever witnessed. After inserting eight dimes in between the strings that comprise a B minor scale, she stood behind the open instrument and began harp-like glissandi before settling down to tease the gamelan textures inherent in the piece alongside more traditional harmonic motifs. She often flirted at the edges of dynamics and tonality as well as toggling between brutality and tenderness. It was a very strong start.

Next up was an insanely virtuosic spin through an arrangement for solo piano of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Chow’s performance represented a brilliant synthesis of Stravinsky’s kaleidoscopic themes which rushed by the listener like scenes viewed through the window of a high-speed train. It was a monstrous, mind-boggling performance, exhilarating in every possible way.

Somewhat less amazing was the closer, Steve Reich’s “Piano Counterpoint,” originally scored for multiple instruments, which utilized up to five pre-recorded tracks triggered by a foot pedal to control the degree and frequency of Reich’s trademarked layering.

Reich can be experienced as mesmerizing effusion or fidgety impatience, and I’m usually inclined toward the latter, but Chow’s commitment to the piece allowed me to appreciate the beauty without triggering an OCD breakdown.

Another standout evening in the "Fresh Sound" tradition.

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.

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