PACA Scores a Hit with Halvorson/Crump Duo
Experimental music wake-up call
Under the "big tent" leadership of Mark Tannenbaum, and spearheaded by the sharp ears of producer Rick Lopez, PACA again brought two outstanding NYC new music creators to Erie for a performance on Sept. 25.
Guitarist Mary Halvorson and upright bassist Stephan Crump performed two sets of challenging, coherent, strange but accessible, often gorgeous, and utterly original music of a kind we don't often hear in Erie. (Maybe they don't hear that much of it in NYC either, but both Crump and Halvorson are much in-demand side-persons there: Crump works with Vijay Iyer; Halvorson with a bunch of people including Michael Formacek, Jon Irabagon, Mark Ribot, etc., Their names keep popping when I look at lists of who's playing around town in The New Yorker and the New York Times arts sections.)
What they brought here:
Halvorson plays with a deep rock-oriented groove, but you sometimes have to listen for it. What you hear first is the clarity of her original harmonic approach, sometimes simple and straightforward, but more often complex, but crystal clear in intent. All of the tunes the duo played were originals, many by Halvorson. Melodies were sometimes vamp-like, sometimes more complex compositions. Forms included improvisational space along with jointly worked out composed sections. This music had been thought out and carefully worked on over time.
Crump's lines added rhythmic punch and melodic warmth, a nice compliment to Halvorson's abstract, original clarity. Both used extended techniques (that is, finding sounds not classically employed on their instruments -- tapping, stroking, strumming unusual parts of the strings, finding odd harmonics, etc.) but always with musical intent, not just to show they could do it..
A good bit of what they played was from their recently released album, "Secret Keeper." or "Super 8" (I'm not quite sure which),. The CD includes some excerpts from their sessions developing the material presented in Secret Keeper. Worth a listen.
Is it jazz?
Yes, but who cares? It's extraordinary, gorgeous, exciting music. It opens new doors inviting listeners and players alike to try it out.
We like to categorize our music, and probably need to get creative about this as well. "Avant garde" sounds vaguely French and kind of mid-20th century. Not a great fit. "Contemporary" would seem accurate in that it's up-to-the-minute in combining fresh sounds and concepts, except that word has been coopted in jazz and genre-naming circles by more commercially-oriented "smooth" jazz.
Halvorson uses the word "experimental", and that may be the best fit for now.
A beautiful lesson in creative sounds.
I heard some murmurs about a possible return engagement. Lets hope it happens. Thanks to Rick and PACA.
by Dick Thompson
September 29, 2016