Last night the Capp Street Concert Hall of the Community Music Center hosted the final concert of the 13th Annual Outsound New Music Summit. The full title of the program was Improvisations - improvisers exploring the language of the unknown. The evening had three sets, and the opening group could not have done a better job of setting the tone established by the title of the overall agenda.
That group was Obstreperous Doves, led by bassist Bill Noertker (seen above left with two of his colleagues, thanks to PeterBKaars.com). The description in the program prepared the curious listener for what would ensue:
Though the dove is traditionally a symbol of peace, the quest for peaceful coexistence is not necessarily passive. In the democracy of the group improvisation, obstreperousness is valued. In music it is possible to assert one’s own voice and to simultaneously listen to and value the voices of one’s fellow human beings. This is the ethos of the Obstreperous Doves. Each member of this ethnically diverse, cross-generational ensemble brings their own wide range of musical experiences. All are composers, improvisers, bandleaders, and sidepersons. All have played a variety of situations and genres. All are able to draw from their wealth of experience to engage each other in improvised musical conversation.
What emerged from this ethos was a flowing assertion of stimulatingly brash superpositions, all attenuated by voices keenly aware of both the part and the whole.
To this end Noertker’s “voice” was joined by those of Christina Stanley, a vocalizing violinist whose instrument was connected to electronic gear, electric guitarist Karl Evangelista, and two percussionists, Dave Mihaly on a relatively conventional drum set and Nava Dunkleman commanding a table of objects to be struck, stroked, or simply allowed to reverberate. The wide diversity of sonorities elicited by this ensemble was perfect for Noertker’s ethos. Through both audibility and visibility, one could track each individual voice while allowing simultaneity to integrate those contributing voices into a vibrant engine of democracy.
This was not the pseudo-democracy of Fox News, in which only the loudest voice in the room is allowed to register. Rather, it was yet another step along that long trail of jamming that probably dates back to pre-notational days when people with different instruments happened to be in the same place at the same time and has advanced boldly through just about every era of jazz history. Indeed, it was the antithesis of Fox in that the voices could be as convincing and compelling in soft dynamics as in loud ones.
To be fair, however, obstreperousness has always been part of that journey. It is just as evident in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms as it is in the sessions of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Charles Mingus. Nevertheless, the stimulating pleasures of Obstreperous Doves provided a comforting reminder that the journey is still very much in progress.