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Heard Out

Reviews of live performance


  Michael J. Schumacher/Shadows & Light 

  (Merkin Concert Hall) 


March 13, 2003
   review by Kurt Gottschalk
  2003-03-21

I arrived 10 minutes late to find Schumacher and company already performing. Asking an usher what time they began, I was told "Officially 8 o'clock, but they've been playing since 7:30."

The group, Schumacher on piano and computer, Tim Barnes on percussion, Kato Hideki on bass and Toshio Kajiwara on turntables and electronics, were playing Schumacher's "Room Piece," or more specifically "Room Piece New York 2003," the latest in the series of site-specific, multi-channel sound constructions Schumacher has been exploring for close to 10 years. If the intention was to create the room's presence before it was infiltrated with audience, I reckoned, I should pay attention to the room.

I stood in the lobby, the doors open so I could hear the music, and waited for a slightly-later-than-I old girlfriend to arrive. Without too serious of overtones, we'd agreed to go to a concert in the room where we'd first met about three years before during a concert where Joe McPhee had also played. A few nights later, I introduced myself to her at yet another Joe McPhee concert, a private show in an artist's studio. I was one of two people able to find wine during the intermission that night, and shared my plastic cup with her. In the colonialist way couples can have, we always thought of McPhee as ours.

Also in the room, in all of the above rooms in fact, was crotchety Squid's Ear critic Soup Dujour, who on the more recent of the nights at Merkin handed my ex a review for the magazine, scrawled on the back of a flyer (an approach to writing I often use myself). Thinking it was a note for her, she smiled and furrowed her brow, reading his take on a recent White Out gig as we scrambled for our seats, seeking to avoid yet another person who'd shared all of the room experiences.

I remembered Dujour being in the room upstairs from the concert hall the first night I met the woman who was now my ex. She came over to us at the reception. I didn't have the nerve to speak to her, and he pushed her away with his social frankness. I thought about how three years seems both forever and flighting. I thought about how we wouldn't have met if the woman we rushed to avoid on this night hadn't invited her to that second concert three years ago. I thought about how, after 10 years in New York City, there can be so many past and unspoken stories in a dark room, as we all sit facing the same direction.

I thought of all of this because I was under the impression that I was to be aware of the room I was in, that the music wasn't a performance so much as the soundtrack to a shared experience, albeit an experience that wouldn't have happened were it not for the soundtrack itself. Had the performance began 15 minutes late (as per the avant audience's social contract) rather than 30 minutes early, I thought, I would have read the program notes so thoughtfully provided at concerts uptown. I might then have been instructed on the relationship the music was to have with the room, I thought, and perhaps to the audience, to myself, as well. I wouldn't have felt lost, I told myself, although I shouldn't feel lost because after all the performance had begun early; it wasn't like missing the beginning of a movie. It was the artist's intention that I miss the beginning. Still, with a little more information going into the concert, I would probably have been less likely to be scribbling thoughts about Merkin concerts past on the back of a flyer for another Merkin concert (left in the lobby more than three months before the show it advertised!).

I reflected on my changing musical tastes over the last few years, perhaps as a way to return my concentration to the thoughtful, actually quite interesting music being performed. It was interesting, I considered, that three years ago, when last I saw McPhee at Merkin, I would probably have had little interest in the music to which I was supposed, was trying, to listen to. Interesting that my ex, who's not been around to follow me on more recent excursions into electronics and noise, was more excited about the McPhee show, which of course brings us back to the beginning of why we were there, although McPhee wouldn't play until the end.

Had I been able to read a program, had I not felt as if I had missed the beginning of something I was supposed to miss the beginning of, I would likely have been more attentive to what the group was doing. I wondered if that might, in fact, run counter to what the composer had in mind, or if it even mattered. I focused. There was actually quite a bit of information being imparted from the stage, and from speakers placed around the room. "This was not the wallpaper ambience of Lucier's "I Am Sitting in a Room," I wrote on the back of the three-months-early flyer. (I was pleased later, when I had the opportunity to read the program, to see that Schumacher expressly says that he does not consider this ambient music, although he offered little guidance in how it should be received or in fact what one should do while listening.) Electronics gurgled. Hideki's bass droned and Schumacher played bright (if occasional) chords over the surprisingly sprightly soundscape. Barnes' tympani was ebullient and Kajiwara's electronics loosely wove the elements together.

The group played about 90 minutes, half of which I witnessed and only a fraction did I pay close attention to. I wondered how much attention I was supposed to have paid. I wondered how, or even if, I'd be able to review the performance.

Between sets, Dujour approached us, and handed me a note, a review he'd already written of the performance. His reviews are short. He's smart that way. Here's what he wrote:



"A 6 hr concept condensed into 90 minutes - with all the sublimities + pitfalls of electro-acoustic music - all the clicks, rasps, gurgles, buzzes, birdsong + groans - with, as usual, an almost complete lack of differentiation between voices w/the exception of Schumacher's piano + on occasion T.B.'s percussion (for the most part to low in the mix) - an - a - melodic one (long) movement symphony w/computer as conductor."

- sd

Soup trusts me, or relies on me, to clean up his reviews a bit. After handing it to me, he said "Put 'It lulled me' at the end."

In reviewing Shadows & Light's record for All About Jazz last year, I described it as beautiful music which, for me, would forever be inextricably linked to the World Trade Center attacks (the album was recorded upstate on September 11, 2001, and with full knowledge, according to the liner notes. of the events transpiring 100 miles south of their studio). As such, I don't play the record often and couldn't say if they performed the same material on this night (why should they, and for that matter how could they?). The music they played at Merkin had the resonance, the depth of spirit I recall from the record, but with an added joyousness. It's 18 months and two days later, and even if we're on the brink of another mass murder (this time at the other end of the barrel but no less horrific for that fact), we were all, in that room, at that moment, alive. McPhee sang and spat through his flugelhorn. Joe Giardullo humbly punctuated on bass clarinet. Mike Bisio balanced the two with his bass and drummer Tani Tabbal, who often can seem misplaced if not altogether outclassed, kept light and airy rhythms moving underneath. Giardullo also created remarkable soprano sax overtones, dueting wonderfully with McPhee (also on soprano) and nearly matching Roscoe Mitchell's dexterity on the instrument, then vamping beautifully on oboe (an instrument he'd be wise to exploit more in this cluttered world of saxophonists doubling on bass clarinet).

In contrast to Schumacher's surround sound, this quartet played without amplification, offering instead their honest acoustics. If their record was the shadows, this was the light.

After the show, my ex and I went to a diner. I had spinach pie and she had a vodka.





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