Tuesday, 7/12/11

by musicclipoftheday

John Luther Adams, Inuksuit (excerpt)
New York (Park Avenue Armory), 2/20/11

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Scored for a flexible ensemble of between nine and ninety-nine percussionists, “Inuksuit” is intended for outdoor performance, and it had its première on a mountainside in Banff, Canada, in 2009. Adams at first resisted the idea of taking the piece indoors, because the interaction with nature was integral to his conception. After inspecting the Armory, though, he grasped its possibilities; the space is more a man-made canyon than a concert hall. He settled on a corps of seventy-six musicians, including five piccolo players. Arrays of drums, gongs, cymbals, bells, and numerous smaller instruments were set up on the main floor of the Drill Hall; atop catwalks on all sides; and in the hallways that connect to smaller rooms at the front of the building. In any rendition of “Inuksuit,” the performers are given four or five pages of music—the notation imitates the shapes of the Inuit markers—which they execute at their own pace. Musicians with portable instruments are instructed to move about freely. Prearranged signals prompt a move from one page to the next. The result is a composition that on the microcosmic level seems spontaneous, even chaotic, but that gathers itself into a grand, almost symphonic structure.

At 4 P.M. on a Sunday, thirteen hundred people assembled in the Drill Hall to hear the piece, variously standing, sitting, or lying on the floor. First came an awakening murmur: one group of performers exhaled through horns and cones; others rubbed stones together and made whistling sounds by whirling tubes. Then one member of the ensemble—Schick, perched above the entrance to the Drill Hall—delivered a call on a conch shell. With that commanding, shofar-like tone, the sound started to swell: tom-toms and bass drums thudded, cymbals and tam-tams crashed, sirens wailed, bells clanged. It was an engulfing, complexly layered noise, one that seemed almost to force the listeners into motion, and the crowd fanned out through the arena.


It is tricky to write about an event such as this. Because both ensemble and audience were in motion, no two perceptions of the performance were the same, and no definitive record of it can exist. Furthermore, anyone who ventures to declare in a public forum that “Inuksuit” was one of the most rapturous experiences of his listening life—that is how I felt, and I wasn’t the only one—might be suspected of harboring hippie-dippie tendencies. The work is not explicitly political, nor is it the formal expression of an individual sensibility, although John Luther Adams certainly deserved the ecstatic and prolonged ovation that greeted him when he acknowledged the crowd from the center of the Drill Hall. In the end, several young couples seemed to deliver the most incisive commentary when, amid the obliterating tidal wave of sound, they began making out.

—Alex Ross, New Yorker, 3/14/11


Happy Birthday, Suzanne!

As I mentioned on this date last year, the first time my wife Suzanne and I went out together (September 1974, Chicago’s Jazz Showcase), we saw the man who put the sui in sui generis.

Sun Ra, Space Is the Place (1974), excerpt

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speaking of birthdays

How often do you get to say “Happy 100th Birthday”?

Well, here’s your chance.

As I learned the other day from WKCR-FM’s Phil Schaap, who’s been encouraging folks to send this guy a birthday card (I mailed mine yesterday), the oldest performing jazz musician, trumpeter Lionel Ferbos, who plays at New Orleans’ Palm Court Jazz Cafe, turns 100 on July 17th. Birthday greetings can be mailed (remember mail?) to 5543 Press Dr., New Orleans, LA 70126.