Concerto for nine instruments, Op.24
Plus improvised set from Dave Douglas, Susie Ibarra and Mark Dresser concluding with Ornette Colemans Lonely Woman
Dave Douglas (trumpet)
Susie Ibarra (percussion)
Mark Dresser (double bass)
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
Reviewed by: Rob Witts
Reviewed: 8 April, 2006
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke's, Old Street, London
A unique space, at once archaic and futuristic, LSO St Luke’s makes a good venue for music similarly difficult to pigeonhole; like this concert, the last date in a UK tour by BCMG and a trio of adventurous improvisers, in which free improvisation rubbed shoulders with twentieth-century classics.
The link between them was a new piece from New York-based trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas commissioned by BCMG. Blue Latitudes enacted the adventurous South Pacific voyages of James Cook as a clash of musical methodologies between the fixed ensemble and the more loosely guided interpolations of Douglas, Susie Ibarra and Mark Dresser. Adventurous in style, the work’s reference points ranged from Gil Evans’s harmonies to Webernian colour, and it was animated by a constant sense of surprise and discovery. The programme yielded such useful ideas as a first encounter between Cook and the islanders played out as a teasing percussion duel, and ‘Sailing on Ice’ in which the ensemble mimicked the otherworldly sounds of the ice floe. However, it was the sense of formal exploration that made the piece so satisfying, with Douglas’s trumpet supplying moments of transcendental beauty.
Douglas had chosen the other works played and their influence on his music was not hard to hear. The BCMG players under Peter Rundel gave a rapt, lyrical account of Webern’s Op.24 – at eight minutes it is one of the composer’s more grandiose statements – in which clarity of structure was enhanced by musical gesture.
Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto occupies territory all its own; Richard Steinitz has only recently shown how profoundly Ligeti’s modernism was influenced by the nightmarish experiences of his youth. This is music in which every sound has the strangeness of the new, from the luminous chords of the first section to the sinister mechanical scurrying of the third. It was brilliantly played here.
To close the concert, the trio of Douglas, Ibarra and Dresser abandoned the dots altogether and improvised freely with spellbinding rapport. Here Mark Dresser’s astonishingly advanced technique came into its own, his bass an orchestra of timbres and tones. He and Ibarra (her drum-kit augmented by Indonesian tuned percussion) shared a perfect, crystalline duet, rapt and meditative, to which Douglas added snarls and smears. For an encore, Douglas blew straight and hard on what he described as “another twentieth-century classic”, Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”. This was an outstanding concert in concept and execution, and proof that there is life in the Third Stream yet.