Two Places at Once

Musicians in San Diego and New York used technology to transcend geography on April 10

The collaboration between UC San Diego and creative musicians around the globe known as Telematics (or Translocational Concerts) may have reached a zenith on April 10, when a group featuring Mark Dresser on bass, Nicole Mitchell on flute, Stephanie Richards on trumpet and Michael Dessen on trombone gathered in San Diego to interact, in real time, with players from Stony Brook University in New York. Representing the East Coast was Marty Ehrlich on reeds, Min Xiao-Fen on pipa, Ray Anderson on trombone, Denman Maroney on “hyper-piano” and Satoshi Takeshi on drums, while Sarah Weaver conducted.

I somehow managed to head the wrong direction on the I-5, causing me to arrive late for Dresser’s opening composition, “Tidings and Sediments,” but from the other side of the door, it sounded decidedly gorgeous.

I made it inside to catch the rest of the show in its full sonic and visual glory. Over the years I’ve seen at least a half dozen of these events -- and I have to say, this one really resonated with me.

Next up was a Nicole Mitchell piece, listed in the program as “Untitled,” although she may have decided on “Let’s Just Keep This Between Us.” Like most of Mitchell’s efforts, it was quirky, sensual and open to massive input from everyone involved, including an unlikely quartet of pipa (a kind of Chinese lute), drums and trombones that grew into a feast of ecstatic dissonance and brilliant statements from the round robin of improvisers. The only thing that could have made it better would have been more Nicole Mitchell. Throughout the concert, Stephanie Richards left an indelible impression -- her tone limber and personal, and her ideas deftly executed.

Likewise, Takeishi demonstrated a singular approach to the drum kit, delineated by a laser focus on listening and honing the moment. Dresser was Dresser, which is to say, perhaps the finest bassist on the planet, and the raging trombone duo of Anderson and Dessen had me suppressing moans and screams -- but just barely. Maroney and Ehrlich seemed to surface at odd intervals, or maybe it was just impossible to track everything with equal attention, but each of them could have carried the concert individually.

Weaver’s “Sustainable Balance” began with Mitchell purring quavering multiphonics into her flute, joined by Ehrlich’s piercing clarinet in hovering orbits before yielding to Fen’s audacious string scraping, which reminded me of John McLaughlin playing Derek Bailey’s banjo for a moment before changing again to a collage of slowly dissolving harmonies and joyful dissonances.

A feast for the ears and the eyes, this performance raised the bar on the continually evolving art of Telematics. Let’s see if they can top this.

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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