SIMF #16 – 2001

The 16th Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place on June 23-24 and 27-28, 2001, at the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and I-Spy. It was co-organized by Henry Hughes, Peter Monaghan, and Dennis Rea.

“The 2001 festival presented the most impressive lineup of international, national, and local improvisers up to that time…” (Dennis Rea)

Participating artists:

Hans Burgener, violin (Switzerland; Burgener/Phillips/Schütz); John Butcher, saxophone (UK; Butcher/Falconer/Kelley/Kim); Jesse Canterbury, clarinets (Radding Qt.); Nels Cline, guitar (Los Angeles; Cline/Makihara/Shoup); Elizabeth Falconer, koto (Butcher/Falconer/Kelley/Kim); FRODE GJERSTAD TRIO (Norway; Gjerstad, Nillsen-Love, Storesund); Frode Gjerstad, sax (Norway; Gjerstad Trio); Eyvind Kang, viola (Kang/Martine); Greg Kelley, trumpet (Boston; Butcher/Falconer/Kelley/Kim); Jin Hi Kim, komungo (Korea/Bay Area; Butcher/Falconer/Kelley/Kim); Toshi Makihara, drums (Philadelphia; Cline/Makihara/Shoup); Tucker Martine, electronics (Kang/Martine); Paal Nillsen-Love, drums (Norway; Gjerstad Trio); Bob Ostertag, electronics (Bay Area); Barre Phillips, bass (France; Burgener/Phillips/Schütz); Reuben Radding, bass; Bob Rees, drums (Radding Qt.); REUBEN RADDING’S SPECIAL QUARTET (Canterbury/Radding/Rees/Sinibaldi); Martin Schütz, cello (Switzerland; Burgener/Phillips/Schütz); Wally Shoup, sax (Cline/Makihara/Shoup); Greg Sinibaldi, reeds (Radding Qt.); Øyvind Storesund, bass (Norway; Gjerstad Trio)

Saturday, June 23 (SAM)
Solo – Bob Ostertag
Trio – Frode Gjerstad Trio w/ Paal Nillsen-Love, Øyvind Storesund

Sunday, June 24 (SAM)
Lecture – Jin Hi Kim
Quartet – John Butcher, Elizabeth Falconer, Greg Kelley, Jin Hi Kim

Wednesday, June 27 (SAAM)
Barre Phillips, Hans Burgener, Martin Schütz String Trio
Reuben Radding’s Special Quartet w/ Greg Sinibaldi, Jesse Canterbury & Bob Rees

Thursday, June 28 (I-Spy)
Trio – Nels Cline, Toshi Makihara, Wally Shoup
Duo – Eyvind Kang, Tucker Martine

Preview by R.M. Campbell, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 14, 2001:

Seattle Improvised Music Festival draws talent from near and far

The Seattle Improvised Music Festival may not possess the audience of the Seattle International Film Festival, but it has substance and longevity. Its 16th season opens June 23 at the Seattle Art Museum.

During the first few years, according to Dennis Rea, one of this year’s organizers, the festival was pretty much a private affair among musicians who have a fondness for improvised music. Then, in 1988, there was sufficient interest and activity to mount something for the public.

“We were surprised at the amount of attention we got for our initial encounter,” Rea said. And the festival has continued at a steady pace since then.

This year there are four concerts, at both branches of the Seattle Art Museum as well as at I-Spy. More than a dozen musicians will be playing, including performers from San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Norway, Korea, United Kingdom, France, Switzerland and Japan. Even Seattle.

In keeping with the improvised aesthetics of the festival, it is not surprising to learn there is no official mission statement.

“What the festival recognizes is that there is a scarcity of venues for this kind of music,” Rea said, “but plenty of musicians who want to play it and an audience that wants to hear it. In the past, improvised music was somewhat of a fringe activity. That is less so now.”

The festival keeps an open mind, Rea said. Thus, musicians who might find themselves mostly involved in art music will rub up against those in jazz and rock.

“We are more interested in interesting music than labels,” Rea said. “We see a lot of musicians coming out of classical tradition or jazz, also electronic music and rock and world music. The chance to make spontaneous music is what draws people together.”

For those who think improvised music making is just so much doodling is wrong, Rea said.

“That is a misconception. You can’t create music without structure, which is the base on which the music making is formulated. Free improvisation is not necessarily forbidding or abstract, euphonious or melodious. It can be all of the above. What is important is that the musicians do not proceed from a set game plan.”

In some cases, he added, the musicians involved have a long history of working together, so they have a shared vocabulary on which to build. When people have never performed together, the risks are greater.

“But that can be also very exciting — when it clicks,” Rea said.

In the festival’s earlier years, the musicians were mostly local.

“Now, we want to bring people who are exemplars in their field,” Rea said. “Even pioneers. This is not only for the audience but the musicians on stage.”

Thus, this summer the musicians are coming from everywhere.

Bob Ostertag, who plays the opening concert at 8 p.m. June 23 at SAM, is an electronic improviser and composer from San Francisco. He has performed with Anthony Braxton and John Zorn. In 1992, the Kronos Quartet commissioned a piece by Ostertag on the theme of AIDS, “All the Rage.” On the same program is the noted Norwegian jazz musician Frode Gjerstad and his trio.

On June 24 at 7:30 p.m., also at the Seattle Art Museum, are Jon Hi Kim, John Butcher, Greg Kelley and Elizabeth Falconer. Kim, from Korea, is known for her virtuosity on the komungo, a Korean zither. She has performed with the Kronos Quartet, Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, the American Composers Orchestra and Xenakis Ensemble. She also has played with musicians from Japan, Africa, Australia and India. Saxophonist Butcher is from the United Kingdom and played with a number of noted musicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Kelley is a trumpeter from Boston and is deeply involved in the Boston/New York new music scene. Falconer, a koto player of substantial renown, has a long list of important collaborators. She lives in Seattle and directs the Taka Koto Ensemble.

The Burgener-Phillips-Schütz String Trio, formed in 1991, has performed on several continents and mingles several genres. Its members are American and European. On June 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the trio will be joined by Reuben Radding’s Special Trio from Seattle.

The closing concert at 9 p.m. on June 28, at I-Spy (1921 Fifth Ave., alley entrance), will feature a number of musicians: Nels Cline, Toshi Markihara and Wally Shoup as well as the Eyvind Kang and Tucker Martine Duo.

Rea, who has played the guitar for 30 years, has always preferred the “musical adventuresome. The appeal of improvised music is the risk appeal. It’s a tightrope walk.”

Preview by Kreg Hasegawa in The Stranger, June 21, 2001:

Form of Formlessness

Sweating for the Improvised Music Festival

Last year I sat perspiring in Odd Fellows Hall for the opening night of the Seattle Improvised Music Festival. The windows were shut. The air was hot and suffocating and beads of sweat rolled down my forehead. John Butcher stood in the middle of the room, held his saxophone to his lips, and produced a stuttering series of clucks and clicks. Big deal, I thought, irritably. Then he sputtered a series of notes, with notes on top of these played simultaneously. I was astounded. My physical environment slipped away in the shining face of virtuosity. At one point in the evening, Gino Robair took the end of his drumstick and ran it down his cymbal, making the metal shriek. Butcher duplicated the noise a breath later.

Improvised music as a form has never been prominent. Its public birth can be vaguely traced back to the ’60s, when jazz took that fatal turn into the “free.” The projects of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Thelonius Monk, and John Coltrane (to name only a handful) turned jazz on its head by focusing on the texture of sounds over melody. Time signatures became protean. The structure of the composition became secondary to the structure of the moment. This was the next logical step for jazz to take. Bebop (via Charlie Parker) had exploded the chord structure, and free jazz broke down the time signature. Wynton Marsalis opined that free jazz was “pretentious” and all but called Cecil Taylor an Uncle Tom. What, I wonder, would he say about improvisational music, which distills this movement even further, and in some cases disregards structure completely? A form that pulls from rock, electronica, hiphop, or classical just as much as jazz?

Despite Marsalis’ backlash, and despite improvised music’s amorphous quality, Seattle has an insatiable appetite for the form. Every Monday, SIL2K hosts a night of experimental music, albeit with mixed results. ConWorks has commissioned a wide variety of creative music from Amy Denio, Evyind Kang, Reuben Radding, and many others. Earshot Jazz’s monthly Voice and Vision series is devoted to free jazz. And this, the 16th Seattle Improvised Music Festival (SIMF), is the longest-running festival of its type in the United States.

SIMF started off as a cram-packed, one-night stand of improvisational bravado, and has since flourished into the four-day festival that’s staring you in the eye. Though last year’s program included more acts, this year’s bill is more taut. It’s leaner, and each night hosts at least one titan improviser.

The opening night, for instance, features two sets of completely different styles. Bob Ostertag performs sampled compositions. On Sooner or Later, his material is a field recording of a boy’s angry voice as he digs a grave for his father, who was killed by El Salvador’s National Guard. The recording is played first without manipulation, and then it is torn apart and put back together again. One section sounds like a funeral march, and another like any breezy summer day. Following Ostertag is the Frode Gjerstad Trio, which has a sinewy melody and bouncy rhythm, pleasantly reminiscent of the Ornette Coleman Trio Golden Circle recordings. Gjerstad and Wally Shoup’s trio (featuring the guitar monster Nels Cline) are the festival’s two free jazz acts.

The most anticipated performer, however, is Barre Phillips’ string trio. Barre Phillips likes to lead his group into places where it becomes lost, leaving it up to the creativity of the ensemble to find its way out. At times the ensemble is spooky, as Hans Burgener will bow high-pitched warnings on his violin that make the hair stand up on my arms. Then Phillips will take a solo with an unadulterated sense of pleasure, throttling the thick strings in melodic joy.

The improvement of this year’s festival is the paring down of bill. Last year’s festival had just as many not-to-be-missed shows, but an equal number of lousy acts to make it hit or miss. Barre Phillips and most of the featured 2001 SIMF performers (including John Butcher) are players of the highest caliber. This is not easy music. But the performers will present the shining face of virtuosity to you, and there is the deepest pleasure in that.