September 2005

Composers Workshop
July 28, 2005Gibsone Jessup GalleryToronto
"Group Process — 21st Century Style"
by David Fujino

No one was prepared for it.

It was about 8 o'clock, and we sat waiting in the calm space of the art gallery, facing the silent array of horns, laptop computer, and rhythm section instruments.

Then we heard the musicians' faint and gathering dialogue in the courtyard, and when they suddenly erupted into the art gallery at full volume, some with cymbals and small bells, the horns aggressive and calling out, we understood — we were the performance.

Certainly we were there to hear music — and we heard exciting music above and beyond conventional parameters — but from the first peep, this 7-man compositional and improvisational 'machine' pulled us into its uncompromising and deep commitment to creativity, and the gallery filled with intense and living complex sound.

Tenor player Simeon Alev stood out, because he played as part of the ensemble. As the press release says, he's "Playing against type for a lead instrumentalist ...." Alev solos with notable heart and intelligence — but his music is really about the other person as he stands at an intersection, ever focusing the group's looming sound streams.

There were many cries heard throughout, and in this evening's performance, the human cry and the Great City co-existed to frame each other; and as drummer Kevin Brow fully participated in defining this group sound ("You Got the Sweet Tooth, I Got the Meat Tooth"), he consistently delivered satisfying deep grooves, and exploded with fresh ideas.

The highly watchable Peter Lutek plays baritone sax as if it were a soprano sax. Calm and precise, he executes, and sometimes tears the ground out from under our feet ("Why"). Lutek's expertise embraces various musical systems such as those of Anthony Braxton, Steve Reich, and the legendary Freddie Stone, and he's clearly interested in compositional worlds rather than a series of improvised solo-solo-solo routines.

Amidst all this inventive musical clamor, trombonist Tom Richards shouts — with his trombone, and with his voice — using his acute sense of irony to guide his careful defrocking of the sentimentality in a composition.

Scott Peterson on double bass is an edgy and powerfully expressive player, always on the move, as he enthusiastically contributes to the driving dialogue and grounds the time, but, as in life, performance-oriented music must still be navigated and the team of pianist Greg de Denus on electric piano and the subtly expressive guitar of Elie Katzin provide an ever-vigilant clear sense of direction.

On Katzin's composition, "You Got the Sweet Tooth, I Got the Meat Tooth", Greg de Denus and Katzin eventually find themselves awash in an electronic haze, slowly playing the aching melody from "In A Silent Way" (by Joe Zawinul) which morphs its way into the other world sounds of a Theremin (compare the theme music from Rod Serling's TV show, "The Twilight Zone") duplicated on the guitar.

The Workshop's music is shifting and emotionally charging, and as tall city winds drift in to stir life's machine, Alev's sopranino sax rides the subtle atmospheric shifts of "Synergy", where life's heartbeat is ever present in the ever-climbing and ever-seeking bass line.

The Composers Workshop is foremostly distinguished by its remarkable honesty and courage: honesty because they deliver musically forceful all-out fortissimos (some of the loudest I've experienced this year); and courage, because they let life's danger and thunder and ugliness come right out in their music.

And, most importantly, the Composers Workshop 'sounded the mystery', which means they can hear and play on a high level of consciousness as musicians. Which means they're at the effective crossroads of what we call classical music-new music meets jazz improvised music, and they're trying to connect layers of intent, in all four directions at once.

Which finally means they put on a deep tribal vibe. Rejoicing and playing with heart. Which means that even their horns' dissonance has been bell-like.

Which equals music in my mind.

What an evening well spent.

Peter Lutek — baritone sax and alto-contra clarinet
Greg de Denus — electric piano
Tom Richards — trombone and euphonium
Scott Peterson — double bass
Simeon Alev — tenor saxophone
Kevin Brow — drums
Elie Katzin — electric guitar
We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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