Archive for the “Saxophone” Category

The San Francisco Bay Area’s underground music scene will come together this coming July in an annual celebration of its tremendous range of styles, its love of improvisation, and its collective obsession with new and unusual timbres and techniques.  It’s the 11th Annual Outsound New Music Summit!  All events will take place at the San Francisco Community Music Center at 544 Capp Street near 20th Street in the Mission District, and tickets can be ordered online from Brown Paper Tickets or purchased at the door.

The ever-popular Touch the Gear Expo kicks off the Summit on Sunday July 15, 7-10 pm.  It’s designed especially for anyone who’s longed for a closer look at an experimental musician’s gear on stage, and for the opportunity to mess with it.  25-30 sound artists will be there to demonstrate everything from oscillators to planks of wood with strings attached and answer questions.  Visitors of all ages have free rein to make sound and experience how these set-ups work, and best of all, it’s free.

The second Summit night is also free, and this time the composers take over.  In the Tuesday night Composers’ Symposium (July 17, 7-10 pm), John Shiurba, Christina Stanley, Benjamin Ethan Tinker, and Matthew Goodheart will all discuss how they navigate modern compositional techniques, while combining them with improvisation and their own individual forms of experimentation. The public is invited to talk freely with the composers and ask them questions.

Performances begin at 8:00 pm on Wednesday, July 18th with the first of four themed concerts – Sonic Poetry.  This night is curated by Outsound Board members Amar Chaudhary and Robert Anbian, who’ve recruited three leading poets to collaborate with Bay Area improvising musicians to create new word and sound compositions.  Words are by Ronald Sauer, rAmu Aki, and Carla Harryman, with music by Jacob Felix Heule, Jordan Glenn, Karl Evangelista, Jon Raskin, and Gino Robair.

The Tuesday night Composers’ Symposium prepares everyone for the second performance evening on Thursday, July 19th – The Composer’s Muse.  Christina Stanley, Matthew Goodheart, and John Shiurba will all premiere new works running the gamut from graphic scores for string quartet, to prepared piano with sonified metal percussion, to a major work for large ensemble celebrating the newspaper.

Thwack, Bome, Chime on Friday night, July 20th, curated by Outsound Board member Pete Martin, will feature the world of percussion in all its coloristic and dynamic glory.  David Douglas will combine percussion instruments with custom-built delays, loopers, samplers, and other effects to create The Walls Are White With Flame, a series of highly spatialized sound sculptures.  In Seems An Eternity, Benjamin Ethan Tinker will assemble three percussion trios of metal and skin percussion to explore the same musical material in canon.  And finally the San Francisco percussion ensemble Falkortet will show off its versatility combining traditional percussion, hand drums, and electronics with influences from Indonesian music, Brazilian music, Jazz, minimalism, and rock.

The final day of the Outsound Summit, July 21st, will be a big one starting with a 2-4 pm Harmolodics workshop led by Dave Bryant.  Dave will share material from his years of Harmolodic Theory performance and study with Ornette Coleman, plus his own compositional and improvisational techniques developed on his own and with his ensembles.  The 8 pm final concert, Fire and Energy, curated by Outsound founder Rent Romus, will feature Dave Bryant with his Trio, along with Jack Wright, the Vinny Golia Sextet, and Tony Passarell’s Thin Air Orchestra.

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“The composer’s job is to create a context for music-making to reflect the emerging consciousness.”  Hafez Modirzadeh

ETHEL performs music of Hafez Modirzadeh
By Cornelius Dufallo
Also published on Urban Modes

Hafez.jpgHafez Modirzadeh, a visionary saxophonist, theorist and composer, has been developing his own style of inter-cultural improvisation for three decades. His mentors and collaborators have included Ornette Coleman, some of the founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and the great Iranian violinist, Mahmoud Zoufonoun.  ETHEL first encountered Modirzadeh in 2007, and the two parties felt an immediate artistic sympathy.

Since that time, Modirzadeh has created a body of work for saxophone, flutes, karna, string quartet, trumpet, santur, tombak, daf, and voice. On July 23, 2011 nine musicians came together to perform this music at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA. The lineup included ETHEL, Mili Bermejo (Mexican Argentinian jazz vocalist), Amir ElSaffar (Iraqi – American trumpeter), Faraz Minooei (Iranian santur player), Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh (Iranian percussionist), and the composer himself on saxophone and Karna. The unforgettable event, which Modirzadeh entitled In Convergence Liberation, was met with enthusiasm from a large audience, and all nine artists spent the following two days together at Open Path Studios in San Jose, recording the music for a forthcoming CD.

Matching-SpiritModirzadeh’s work combines fascinating musical and philosophical concepts. “Composting” (a specific type of improvisational dialogue based on pre-existing written material), “matching-spirit” (a process of group improvisation using shared interval structures), “intoning” (a technique of improvising within a unison, playing with the higher partials of the overtone series), “tetramodes” (a carefully calibrated microtonal system based on a synthesis of ancient and modern approaches to intervallic relationships), and  “Makam X”  (an overarching and inter-cultural musical system of various partials of the harmonic series) were some of the techniques that the nine musicians shared and practiced together. Rhythmic meters of 17/4 (5+5+7) –inspired by Persian poetry — were the foundation for improvisations that defied cultural boundaries. Persian modal systems, Iraqi maqam, Andalusian musical traditions, aspects of Indonesian gamelan, and references to western classical composers from the past three centuries were all called upon in this collaboration.

In 2009 Modirzadeh described his musical aesthetic this way: “It begins with a few ideas sounded together, each one in an incomplete fashion, as if light were peering through traditions’ tattered curtains.”  More recently he has started to speak of a “Convergence Liberation Principle,” which is directly inspired by the gathering at Tahrir Square, which he considers “the most concrete and brilliant example”  of Convergence Liberation. Musically speaking, the concept is connected to a dual approach of honing individual style, while also transcending all cultural distinctions. The strategies that we used to translate these concepts into sound were mostly intuitive. We each drew from our own years of discipline in our respective traditions, but we also abandoned that discipline to make ourselves totally vulnerable. The process was mysterious, but we could all clearly feel a deep connection to our nature as social animals. For a few days we rejected the concepts of right and wrong; instead, we created a group dynamic based entirely on trust.
Members of the Convergence Liberation Band
(From left: Cornelius Dufallo, Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh, Mary Rowell, Dorothy Lawson, Ralph Farris,  Amir ElSaffar, Hafez Modirzadeh)

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Here’s the first in a series of interviews with composers who are premiering new works at the 10th Annual Outsound New Music Summit in San Francisco on Friday, July 22nd.  The Friday night concert, entitled The Art of Composition, starts at 8 pm at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets, and you can also buy them at the door.  Listeners who don’t want to wait that long can get up close and personal with the composers, and learn about their creative process, at a free Monday night panel discussion at 7 pm on July 18th.

Andrew Raffo Dewar (b.1975 Rosario, Argentina) is an Assistant Professor in New College at the University of Alabama.  He’s a composer, improviser, soprano saxophonist and ethnomusicologist. He’s studied and/or performed with Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon, Alvin Lucier, and Milo Fine. He has also had a long involvement with Indonesian traditional and experimental music. His work has been performed by the Flux Quartet, the Koto Phase ensemble and Sekar Anu. As an improviser and performer Andrew has shared the stage with a plethora of musicians worldwide, both the celebrated and the little-known.

As a member of his own Interactions Quartet, Andrew will premiere “Strata” (2011), dedicated to Eduardo Serón and inspired by the Argentine artist’s 2008 series of paintings, “La Libertad Es Redonda” (“Freedom is Round”).  His description tells us that “Through a combination of improvisation and notation, performers negotiate several “layers” of written material, mixing and matching components that are eventually assembled into nested counterpoint.”

S21:  You’re traveling quite a distance to premiere your piece at the Outsound Summit but it’s certainly not the first time you’ve been here.  How did you become associated with the San Francisco Bay Area new music community?

I lived in Oakland for roughly two years (2000-2002) before heading off to graduate school at Wesleyan University in Connecticut to study with people like Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier. My first exposure to the Bay Area community was, if I remember correctly, a two-day workshop with legendary bassist/composer Alan Silva organized by Damon Smith at pianist Scott Looney’s performance space in West Oakland in 2000, which was an excellent experience.  After that, I worked regularly — I think it was weekly — in a “guided improvisation” workshop ensemble at Looney’s organized by clarinetist Jacob Lindsay and guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante, and separate improvisation sessions with violist/composer Jorge Boehringer, which were both situations where I had the opportunity to play with many great Bay Area folks, like trumpeter Liz Albee and many others, which was wonderful. Around that time I was walking by guitarist/composer John Shiurba’s house with my horn, and he happened to be outside watering his garden. He asked me what kind of music I played, and I think the combination of the perplexed look on my face and my inability to answer his question easily is why we connected that day — he invited me in to chat, and when I saw a framed photo of Anthony Braxton on his mantle (whose work I’ve appreciated since my late teens, and who I’ve had the great opportunity to study and perform with) I knew I was “home.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Ornette Coleman photo by Jimmy Katz

Fort Worth-born Ornette Coleman will perform November 18th, 2010 8pm at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall with his son Denardo Coleman on drums, Tony Falanga on acoustic bass, and Al MacDowell on electric bass. I can’t think of a genre of music that hasn’t been influenced by Coleman and his recorded legacy. He had a profound impact on musicians as diverse as Leonard Bernstein, John Zorn, and Jerry Garcia and at the age of 80, Coleman continues to disregard geographical, political and cultural boundaries in a relentless search to build upon his palette of sound.

A recent interview with Ornette Coleman conducted by bassist, singer, producer Jeremiah Hosea can be heard for no cost at It’s an unusually personal and far reaching conversation that you won’t hear anywhere else. Hosea has been instrumental of promoting the work of several exciting rock, jazz, and avant-garde musicians in NYC, and I had been meaning for awhile to direct Sequenza21’s readers to his site.

Thanks to Houston’s Dave Dove for the news tip.

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Columbia’s own Southern Exposure New Music Series and xMUSE (University of South Carolina’s Experimental Music Studio, directed by Reginald Bain) combine forces once again to present an evening of genre-bending music and technology. The Saturday, February 27th, 7:30 p.m concert features Odd Appetite, the New York based duo of performers/composers Ha-Yang Kim (cello) and Nathan Davis (percussion) in works for musically interactive computer software, spatial speaker configurations, amplified triangles, microtonal bells, drums, tuned aluminum pipes, and a de-tuned and amplified cello with stomp boxes and electronic effects, all played with dazzling virtuosity and passion. In addition to music by Davis and Kim, Odd Appetite will also perform Radiohead‘s “Like Spinning Plates” in an arrangement that uses electronic loopers, wine glasses, and whirly tubes.

The concert also features Lois V. Vierk‘s Go Guitars for five electric guitars, influenced by traditional Japanese court music, and Reginald Bain‘s Jovian Images, inspired by NASA photographs of planets and performed by renowned saxophone virtuoso Susan Fancher. Admission is free (USC School of Music Recital Hall, 813 Assembly St.), but early seating recommended.

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hersch1There was a fair amount of buzz a couple years ago (including here at s21), when composer Michael Hersch‘s enormous piano canvas The Vanishing Pavilions was released on CD. What the New York Times has written about Hersch’s work in general seems to apply quite well to this two-hour-plus piece: “If the symmetries and proportions of Mr. Hersch’s music evoke the grounded fixity of architecture, its dynamism and spontaneous evolution are those of the natural world. Its somber eloquence sings of truths that are personal yet not confessional… Within the sober palette, the expressive power and range are vast.

Turns out that this evening-length piece was only the first part of a trilogy of evening-length works — or rather, a “tet-trilogy”… The second part, Last Autumn, is a duo, and it exists in two versions: one for horn and ‘cello, the other for saxophone and cello. The horn/cello version was premiered in Philadelphia back in October last year, at the able hands of hornist (and Hersch’s brother) Jamie Hersch and cellist Daniel Gaisford. About that premiere, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns wrote:

“As great as [The Vanishing Pavilions] is, Last Autumn eclipses it. In the airier, more distilled Autumn, whose emotional riches defy the harmonic limitations of the instruments, the music exploits the instruments in every imaginable way. …Idea and sound were inextricably one, and more viscerally exciting for it. … Long, vigorous applause indicated that Hersch’s more personal and demanding works are no longer appreciated by only a few.”

And now the saxophone and ‘cello version of Last Autumn is getting its premiere this Saturday, Feb 27 at 8pm in Merkin Hall here in NYC. Once again Gaisford is cellist, joined this time by saxophonist Gary Louie.

I had a chance to ask Hersch some questions about the work, the trilogy as a whole, and his motivations. I was also able to get a few questions to Louie, about what it feels like to be involved in a piece of this scope:


S21: Michael, being a composer myself I know better than to ask you about why these enormous musical expanses have become necessary in your work. Still, even when following what we can’t help feel is the absolutely right path this music is leading us, short (Webern) or long (Wagner, Morton Feldman, Andrew Violette, David Toub, you), was there ever a moment where you had to look at the sheer size of these visions and think “is this crazy or what”?

Michael Hersch: When I first began to compose, many of the works I wrote were quite long. Most of these earliest efforts however are now withdrawn, including my undergraduate recital work which consisted of a single program-length piece (a work for trumpet and strings).  As I progressed through my twenties I felt that I should try and broaden, or in this case contract, the canvasses which I was working with. While there are a few works still in my catalog from those years, most of the pieces I wrote during this period I also am not satisfied with. It wasn’t until my thirties that I felt able to begin to naturally express myself in works of varying lengths – especially in pieces under thirty minutes. It was at this point however that I decided to begin work on The Vanishing Pavilions, which seemed a natural outgrowth of what I had done before. I also recognized that beginning this project was a decision that would necessarily have deep implications on how and what I would write for the foreseeable future. I certainly knew that a work of this scale would have little chance of ever being programmed. That said, most anything a composer writes in our age suffers this reality. If their were performers who could play this particular work or its later siblings, they would have to commit vast amounts of time and energy to learning a piece that they rarely, if ever, would be asked to perform. For The Vanishing Pavilions, my intention was to write, premiere and record the work myself. For Last Autumn, I was remarkably fortunate to have found performers beyond myself willing to commit the necessary time to the piece. It has been a surreal experience to witness the kind of selflessness they have brought to the task of learning the music.

You asked if I thought it crazy to write music on this scale. There is certainly precedent for composers embarking on journeys like this in the past. In my case, I think I felt at a certain point that due to life’s uncertainty, my time was best spent following what seems that absolutely right path you mentioned.

S21: Do you see the piece as an evening-length work from the outset, or does it only become apparent after starting the composition?

MH: I knew that the three works of this cycle would be in the neighborhood of 3 hours each from the outset. Writing each piece has been a slow, deliberate, years-long process, with unexpected turns along the way. The Vanishing Pavilions took over four years to write, Last Autumn three years. When I complete the last work in the cycle, the entire undertaking will have taken some ten years.

S21: Certainly unique among ‘epic’ compositions has to be that the whole almost-three hours of Last Autumn is a duo for two solo melodic instruments. Was there ever a temptation along the way to add another voice or two to the mix?

MH: When I decided to write the work, I knew that the specific performers I was writing for were capable of remarkable things on their respective instruments. The cellist, Daniel Gaisford, is able to solidly convey the resources of a cello, viola and violin, creating if called upon the illusion of a string trio.  In saxophonist Gary Louie, I knew I essentially had access to a quartet made up of horn, saxophone, clarinet and oboe. In the case of my brother Jamie, I knew he was capable of creating the illusion at different times of a bass trombone, tenor trombone, horn and trumpet. Ultimately, in both cases I felt I was writing for not a duo of two melodic instruments, but in fact a septet.

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