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Music by Improvisers at Roulette

You can dance if you want to… especially if you are in the Momenta Quartet! We’ll be pulling out all the stops at our next concert on Thursday, October 17th at 8pm on Tom Buckner’s Interpretations series at Roulette (Brooklyn, NY). Ours is the second set on a double feature that also includes composer/improviser Gene Coleman and his N_JP Ensemble.

The theme behind this concert is particularly close to my heart: Music by Improvisers. The program may defy your expectations since there is no (intentional!) improvisation in this concert. Instead we are exploring the various ways in which the spirit of improvisation manifests itself in the fully notated scores by composers who are active improvisers.

Gordon Beeferman and Stephanie Griffin perform with Other Life Forms- photo by John Gurrin

To make this even more exciting, we have chosen composer/improvisers from four very different stylistic backgrounds – Gordon Beeferman from the New York avant-jazz scene, jazz and world music legend Yusef Lateef, master world music percussionist Adam Rudolph and our crazy, experimental self-professed “Brazilian madman” Arthur Kampela. For me personally this is a very special program, because I have performed as an improviser myself in bands with three of these composers: Gordon Beeferman’s quirky Other Life Forms (OLF), Adam Rudolph’s inspirational Go Organic Orchestra and Arthur Kampela’s AK Band, in which we play his original avant-garde sambas and bossa novas with Arthur singing and playing guitar.

Momenta opens it set with Gordon Beeferman’s Quadrille, a collaborative work with choreographer Stephanie Sleeper for the Momenta Quartet with the composer himself on piano, in which all of us will be dancing with our instruments.

Our set will conclude with another dangerous dance – Arthur Kampela’s Uma Faca Só Lâmina (A Knife All Blade, 1998) which took us about 3 years to learn, and for which he waited 14 years to hear. While we may be in our chairs for this whole piece, Arthur’s music is by nature deeply physical and incorporates (in the true sense of the word) a wide range of extended techniques that engender their own kind of choreography as we negotiate our parts from one wild gesture to the next. There’s some choreography involved in staying together, too…

Arthur Kamepla- photo by John Gurrin

You can watch a video of Arthur, Gordon and I talking about the influence of improvisation in their pieces on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5FyLkPscJU

Since Adam and Yusef were not available when we made this video, I will close with a few words about each of their pieces. Adam and Yusef are close friends and collaborators, and both come from a jazz and world music background.

Adam’s piece, Morphic Resonance (2013) is his first fully through-composed piece of music. We are honored to be giving its World Premiere at Roulette on October 17th. Its first movement juxtaposes two ideas: the outer sections evoke Western Modernism/Expressionism with its emphatic rhythms and leaping dissonances, and the middle section plays with African style poly-rhythms in pizzicato. The second movement features a free and deeply expressive Eastern-inflected violin melody over a pentatonic and gently polyrhythmic tapestry, and the vibrant third movement is built around the African concept of a “signal rhythm.” In this case, the pattern is one bar each of 5/8, 7/8 and 9/8 against 7 dotted quarters. The piece draws to a close with a return to the lyricism of the second movement, this time a soulful duo between viola and violin over a gentle drone.

After so many years playing in Adam’s Go Organic Orchestra (we just made our second record, Sonic Mandala, and it is INCREDIBLE, by the way), it is a real thrill for me to be playing his first through-composed score. I recognize many of the elements of his quartet from what we use in an improvisational context in Go Organic, and the entire first movement used to be a staple of the Go Organic Orchestra repertoire.

Adam Rudolph and the Go Organic Orchestra- C. Daniel Dawson

Last April, Adam organized a 92nd birthday concert for Yusef Lateef at Roulette, at which Momenta premiered Yusef’s String Quartet No. 2. Out of all the pieces on our Interpretations program, this is the one that sounds most like “jazz.” There is a lot of freedom in its structure – almost as if a great improviser was playing with the material as he wrote it down, freely elaborating on the ideas and letting them determine the direction of the piece as it unfolds. The material itself is modal, and there are gorgeous jazz harmonies and passages in rhythmic unison that evoke a big band horn section.

As classical musicians, we are accustomed to rehearsing with composers, often getting detailed feedback from them about how we can get closer to their intentions. Yusef lives in Amherst, Massachusetts and was not available for rehearsal before the world premiere last Spring. Surprisingly, he did not want to hear it in the dress either. He wanted us to play his music soulfully and come up with our own deeply personal approach to what he wrote. Although all the pitches and rhythms are notated precisely and there are some dynamic and tempo indications, there are so many interpretive decisions left entirely to the performers. So, in this piece, the challenge is to get something seemingly simple off the page and make it sound like we made it up ourselves. We might feel like that is where Yusef’s vision as an improviser leads us, but really, isn’t that what we should be doing with the music of all the composers in our repertoire?

-Stephanie Griffin