October 2006

Jesse Stewart + Trio Tarana
October 7, 2006The Music GalleryToronto
Give the Drummer Some
by David Fujino
By simply placing a cymbal on top of a crossed leg, percussionist Jesse Stewart began his solo set with "Hand Blade (for David Mott)".

As Stewart's tapping hands and fingertips accelerated and decelerated into swiftly changing rhythmical sound patterns, bright tones rang out freely from the cymbal. The richest sounds were at the cymbal's edges; at the centre were gongs. Stewart's hands then slowed down and circled and recircled over the cymbal in pacifying gestures which eventually dulled out the sound...

Jesse next moved on to his found objects. In the case of the piece, "Different Strokes", the seven wooden canoe paddles on the floor were played like the reeds in a rather large thumb piano. By striking the handle ends with small mallets, Stewart drew out deep, hollow, rolling sounds that made you think 'marimba', or 'big bass thumb piano'.

Of course, this was more than a novelty act, and Jesse Stewart's stated intention was to explore the sound possibilities in found objects of metal, water, and stone.

So far, sounds good.

But there has to be more than technical facility and instrumental gamesmanship to hold one's attention — and perhaps, ironically, the most involving, allusive piece, was also one of the shortest.

"Junctures" directly appealed to the imagination. An 'environmental' piece, it sounded like taped electronic music, but it was not.

Jesse Stewart
Long stone drill core samples were laid out in rows on a table. The cores were broken in different places. Jesse rolled a small core held in each hand over the cracks, and high electronic pitches and low register rumblings wobbled in the air like other-worldly waveforms. "Junctures" had a clear character and immediate, involving drama.

Right from the start, percussionist Ravish Momin of Trio Tarana made his musical intentions clear.

The leader said that in recent years he's wanted to express his Hindu identity as well as that of being an American in his music, and in this spirit, he'd offer his interpretations of Afghan folk songs, a Japanese taiko drumming piece, and Hindu chants.

True to his word, Trio Tarana thoroughly imbued their selections with the scales and emotional colour of Hindu and mid-Eastern music — so much so that, in a piece for Japanese shakuhachi flute and taiko drum from Sado island, the original tune largely disappeared in the translation.

The other pieces in the programme received a more fitting treatment — "Tara", for instance, which reached high levels of ritualistic intensity when Tanya Kalmanovitch kept repeating and repeating a violin figure; or a light skipping raga with brisk responses between viola and oud that developed into a heart-felt duet as the drums fell silent.

While the melodic duties were taken up by Brandon Terzic's dry vibrant oud and the lamenting violin and viola of Tanya Kalmanovitch, it was Ravish Momin's constant in-motion drumming, oddly enough, that took a back seat this evening.

Ravish Momin
Perhaps it was the low-mic'ing of the drums, or the fact that Ravish's soft hand drum approach to the jazz kit — a bare left hand, and a brush in the right — made it difficult to fully hear and appreciate his rhythmic statements, with the result that his audible contribution was limited to embroidering the unrelenting sound thrust of the two string players.

But Ravish's vitality stood out when he imprinted his intricately emphatic Hindi-styled vocalizations upon the cross-talk and the inward, soulfully worrying vibe of his two band mates. (The Japanese piece, to mention it again, was enlivened, both by Ravish's accenting voice and by the exciting slides and angular phrase endings of Kalmanovitch's violin.)

A minor quibble

Featuring two percussionists on the same bill was an imaginative bit of programming from the Music Gallery, but to see the event described in the brochure as part of the "Jazz Avant" series? I don't think so.

Not to be peevish, but what these ears heard was a solo set with New Music and (almost) New Age implications; and a second set that brimmed over with World Music (folk?) sonorities.

The set order

Jesse Stewart (Guelph)
cymbal, stones, canoe paddles, drum kit, vibraphone, shaker

Trio Tarana (NY)
Ravish Momin — drum kit and shaker
Tanya Kalmanovitch — violin and viola
Brandon Terzic — oud

We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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