What a pleasure to have hosted Joshua Abrams, Frank Rosaly and Lisa Alvarado, Josh’s wife, the last two days, culminating in a wonderful, intimate concert in the cavernous FAC Concert Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 26.
When things go awry, it is certainly easier for producers who deal with improvisers to solve problems. When it was discovered that Bezanson Recital Hall was double-booked with a UMass Music Department concert, the Solos & Duos Series picked up stakes and moved (audience and performers alike) to the Concert Hall stage. With stage curtains drawn, and 80 of us on risers in a semi-circle around the musicians, the space was trance-formed into a deep listening room. When Frank Rosaly missed his flight (the drummer was at O’Hare, his plane was at Midway), and was on stand-by for the last flight out of Chicago that would get him to Amherst on time, Josh and I brainstormed about possible substitutes (Susie Ibarra, Cooper-Moore, Luther Gray). Thankfully, Frank made the flight, but that roll-with-the punch mentality made the potential crisis feel more like an opportunity.
It takes a village to entertain visiting artists. The night before the concert, Marty Ehrlich, the great reed player and Hampshire College professor, had dinner with Josh and Lisa before Josh led Marty’s music improvisation class. It was a rich two hours, and included a wonderful demonstration and lesson by Josh on the guimbri, the three-stringed animal hide bass traditionally used by the Gnawa of North Africa in healing ceremonies, a masterful duo improvisation between Marty (alto sax, clarinet) and Josh (bass), and the student ensemble performing with Josh as featured soloist. In response to a student’s question, they also listened to and dissected, Abrams’ piece, “Neb Nimaj Nero”, released on “Cipher” (Delmark, 2003). In stark contrast to much jazz pedagogy, this class had an open, creative-friendly feel. A good percentage of the students were in attendance for the concert.
Josh and Lisa’s trip to Northampton during the day yielded a sizable purchase at Feeding Tube Records and a chance hang with music luminaries, Byron Colley and Thurston Moore. A visit to Hungry Ghost Bakery, where Kieran Lally, official cook of the Solos & Duos Series, works, resulted in a healthy bread exchange.
The concert was a revelation. Abrams pieces on bass, including a tribute to his late mentor Fred Anderson and a composition of the great South African bassist, Johnny Dyani, had convincing blues sections and intricate rhythmic patterns, but by and large featured open, pan-tonal playing. The pieces played on guimbri, which few among us had heard before, featured Lisa on harmonium and resulted in endless, galloping, ever-evolving Saharan grooves. Rosaly’s drumming was busy but never over-powering, adding pulse and drive to an already intense situation. Rosaly, who I’ve heard on recordings with Aram Shelton, Dave Rempis and others, was an eye-opening experience. The bare bones kit he played was transformed by a parade of forks, rattles and gongs, into a tasty sound factory. Every scrape of the drum head, every dampened smack of a cymbal seemed essential, adding color and momentum to our collective ride.
Joshua Abrams and Frank Rosaly, calling themselves “Natural Information Society”, not only gave us a deeply moving evening of improvised music, but gave us every confidence that jazz has lost none of its voracious appetite for new instruments and traditions in its quest to transform human consciousness.