Why has freely improvised music resisted commercialization for four decades? One reason is the tradition of unexpected, ad-hoc groupings of musicians at festivals, gigs, and jam sessions.
When strangers meet to make every aspect of music—melody, harmony, tempo, timbre, dynamics, and rhythm—in the moment, amazing music can happen. Conversely, bad things can happen, too: Some groups retreat into a slow, tentative tempo or fail to listen, busily filling the space with nervous streams of notes without a single shared silence. To my ears, freely improvised music poses the greatest risk for failure and yields the greatest sonic rewards.
This year's Seattle Improvised Music Festival (SIMF, for short) offers several intriguing ad-hoc groupings. Opening night (Fri Feb 9) conjoins the Baltimore-based circuit-bending team of Bonnie Jones and Andy Hayleck with two Seattle electronicians, Jaime Potter and the discreet Jason E. Anderson. The following night, Kyle Bruckmann, who plays perhaps the rarest instrument in freely improvised music, the oboe, has a solo set (Sat Feb 10). This inventive oboist laces his music with chirps, sputtering steam-valve-like breaths, and varying skeins of hiss. I'm also looking forward to Nate Wooley (Fri Feb 16); the NY trumpeter transforms what textbooks call "extended techniques"–buzzing, pinhole embouchure, unusual mutes, huffing into the mouthpiece, etc.—into the basic materials of music. On the final night, percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani teams up with two local favorites, alto saxophone fire-breather Wally Shoup and rowdy guitar saboteur Bill Horist (Sat Feb 17). Take a risk and give some unpredictable music a listen.
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 9
EARLY MUSIC GUILD
EMG stages Claudio Monteverdi's late-in-life masterpiece, the Baroque opera L'incoronazione di Poppea. Pre-concert lecture at 6:30 pm. Also Sat Feb 10, Fri Feb 16, and Sat Feb 17. Intiman Playhouse, 201 Mercer St, 325-7066, 7:30 pm, $35—$100.
One of the first avant musicians to perform and tour in China, Rea detailed his misadventures with oily bureaucrats and crooked managers in one of the best memoirs written by a musician, Live at the Forbidden City (iUniverse Books). Here, he reads from his book and presents an audio survey of 20th-century Chinese music. Floating Leaves Teahouse, 2213 NW Market St, 529-4268, 7:30 pm, free.
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 10
Last fall, I marveled at Moore's orchestra of gongs, chimes, cymbals, and bells. A thoughtful composer and improviser, Moore radiated grace when an electrical short shrouded the entire venue in darkness; while the staff scrambled for flashlights, he continued as if nothing were amiss. The first set features Moore in a trio with two compadres from the Animist Orchestra, Esther Sugai and Mike Shannon. For the second set, Moore goes solo, tapping, brushing, and otherwise exploring his instruments. Seattle Drum School, 12510 15th Ave NE, 364-8815, 7 pm, $5.
This outsized, rowdy flagship ensemble of the Monktail Creative Music Concern makes free jazz fun. Saxophones, trumpets, clarinets, guitars, and at least a drummer or two stomp through everything from manic surf tunes to disheveled freak-outs of "Pop Goes the Weasel" that would have made Frank Zappa smile. Fun and funky Dirrty Dawg Brass Band opens. Blue Moon Tavern, 712 NE 45th St, 675-9116, 10 pm, free.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 11
My nominee for sleeper gig of the week. Östersjö, a Swedish virtuoso specializing in pieces scored for electric guitar and live electronics, proffers a program that includes Natasha Barrett's Where Shadows Do for Bodies Stand and a new, untitled work by Richard Karpen as well as pieces by Viking Eggeling, Kent Olofsson, and Michele Tadini. I'm keen to hear Östersjö plow through the mammoth wall of sound erected by Paul Dolden's epic Physics of Seduction (Invocation #1). Brechemin Auditorium, UW campus, 685-8384, 2 pm, free.
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 14
Ryan Hare discusses his recent music under the rubric "Fighting the Imaginary Fight: Impulse and Irrationality in Music," which somehow seems appropriate for Valentine's Day. Violinist Eric Rynes performs Hare's short "Educe/Evoke" for solo violin. Jack Straw Productions, 4261 Roosevelt Way NE, 634-0919, 7:30 pm, free.
Vibraphonist Tom Collier and pianist Marc Seales play classic love songs. Brechemin Auditorium, UW campus, 685-8384, 7:30 pm, $5.
EMERSON STRING QUARTET
Want to immortalize your name in music? Commission music from a great composer and pay the going rate (these days, it's $1,000 per minute). The ESQ sallies through all three of Beethoven's expansive and thrilling "Razumovsky" quartets, so named after the suave Russian ambassador. Meany Hall, UW campus, 543-4880, 8 pm, $35.