Can I Get a Witness?

Forging ahead with Vinny Golia and Nathan Hubbard

We all know the cliché: “If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Sound transmission is a two-way proposition that requires a witness, so the answer is no. There is a corollary proposition in art: is it possible in a vacuum?

These questions came to mind at Bread & Salt, the Logan Heights venue on Saturday night (Oct. 15), when a concert of momentous implications took place before a tiny gathering of witnesses as multi-instrumental giant Vinny Golia and San Diego drummer Nathan Hubbard explored a single improvisation for more than 90 minutes in the high-ceilinged industrial warehouse.

Golia began the evening with soft sighs on an Eastern European overtone flute as Hubbard responded with delicate strokes on several small cymbals while Golia switched to the alto flute, creating rich sonorities over some fascinating primal grooves from the drummer. Golia unleashed a fairly constant volley of ideas that layered well against the strain of Hubbard’s “talking drums,” and in the course of one short drum solo, the reedman switched to the G soprano saxophone for a deliriously expansive essay that seemed to channel both ‘Trane and Evan Parker while Hubbard reacted in an obstreperous, Rashied Ali cycle of churning polyrhythms. There was an amazing degree of ebb and flow between the two as the music took them from scream to whisper and every gradient in between.

Hubbard created a riff on three suspended gongs and some discrete electronics that actually reminded me of early Weather Report as he struck with mallet in one hand and wire bush in the other, evolving into another rhapsodic drum solo while Golia picked up the alto saxophone to embrace whimpers, multiphonics and boppish phrasing out of the Jimmy Lyons playbook.

All hell broke loose when Golia turned to his huge contrabass saxophone for an essay that sounded like it could have been the product of a union between Pepper Adams and a foghorn, perhaps. Hubbard responded with choruses of aggressive staccato as the kinetic energy in the room ratcheted to an ecstatic degree. Suddenly, Golia switched gears and horns again, this time choosing the tiny soprillo saxophone, crafting dense waves of high-pitched content, each one cresting in the wake of the preceding cycle punctuated by the freedom-coded missives of Hubbard.

Next the reedman went for the Eb clarinet, activating warbled vibrato while the ever creative Hubbard demonstrated his ability to generate more music from the sides and edges of his drum-set than most players can from their entire kit. Golia brought it all home with a short novella on the larger Bb clarinet, upon which he chose to whinny and wail with concerted abandon until somehow, each player dialed the intensity down to a final diminuendo, drawing to a close one of the most consistently joyful evenings I have experienced in quite some time.

It was magical, from start to finish, a fact that remains true despite the relative paucity of witnesses.  

 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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