SIMF #17 – 2002

The 17th Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place on June 27-30, 2002. The first three nights were at On The Boards Studio Theater and the Sunday show was at Polestar Music Gallery. It was co-organized by Henry Hughes, Peter Monaghan, Dennis Rea, and Wally Shoup.

“[The 17th festival] was held at On The Boards Studio Theater and the newly opened Polestar Music Gallery, the first performance space in Seattle devoted entirely to improvised and experimental music. The festival was again very international in scope, with artists from the U.K., Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands in addition to players from Seattle and throughout the U.S. Featured performers included The Electrics (Axel Dorner, Sture Ericson, Raymond Strid & John Edwards); Shock Exchange (Carolyn Kraabel & John Edwards); Gebhard Ullmann Clarinet Trio (with Juergen Kupke & Theo Nabicht); Phil Durrant & Mark Sanders; John Voigt, Wally Shoup, Dan O’Brien & Bob Rees; Luc Houtkamp; Stuart Dempster, Michael Bisio & Greg Campbell; Carla Kihlstedt & Shahzad Ismaily; rebreather (Christopher DeLaurenti & Alex Keller); and the Bill Horist/Dennis Rea/Doug Theriault guitar trio.” (Dennis Rea)

Participating artists:

Michael Bisio, contrabass (Bisio/Campbell/Dempster/Houtkamp); Greg Campbell, percussion (Bisio/Campbell/Dempster/Houtkamp); Christopher DeLaurenti, electronics (rebreather); Stuart Dempster, trombone (Bisio/Campbell/Dempster/Houtkamp); Axel Dörner, trumpet (Germany; Electrics); Phil Durrant, drums (UK; Durant/Sanders); John Edwards, contrabass (UK; Electrics, Shock Exchange); THE ELECTRICS (Dörner, Edwards, Ericson, Strid); Sture Ericson, saxophones/bass clarinet (Denmark; Electrics); GEBHARD ULLMANN TRIO (Germany; Kupke, Nabicht, Ullmann); Bill Horist, guitar (Horist/Rea/Theriault); Luc Houtkamp, sax (Netherlands; Bisio/Campbell/Dempster/Houtkamp); Shahzad Ismaily, electronics (Bay Area); Alex Keller, electronics (rebreather); Carla Kihlstedt, violin (Bay Area); Carolyn Kraabel, alto sax (UK; Shock Exchange); Juergen Kupke, clarinet (Germany; Ullmann Trio); Theo Nabicht, clarinet (Germany; Ullmann Trio); Dan O’Brien, bass (O’Brien/Rees/Shoup/Voigt); Dennis Rea, guitar (Horist/Rea/Theriault); Bob Rees, drums (O’Brien/Rees/Shoup/Voigt); Mark Sanders, electronics (UK; Durant/Sanders); SHOCK EXCHANGE (UK; Edwards, Kraabel); Wally Shoup, sax (O’Brien/Rees/Shoup/Voigt); Raymond Strid, drums (Sweden; Electrics); Doug Theriault, guitar (Portland; Horist/Rea/Theriault); Gebhard Ullmann, clarinet (Germany; Ullmann Trio); John Voigt, bass (Boston; O’Brien/Rees/Shoup/Voigt)

Thursday, June 27 (On the Boards)
Trio – Bill Horist, Dennis Rea, Doug Theriault
Quartet – The Electrics (Axel Dorner, John Edwards, Sture Ericson, Raymond Strid)
Trio – Gebhard Ullmann Clarinet Trio w/ Juergen Kupke, Theo Nabicht

Friday, June 28 (On the Boards)
Quartet – Dan O’Brien, Bob Rees, Wally Shoup, Jon Voigt
Duo – Phil Durrant, Mark Sanders

Saturday, June 29 (On the Boards)
Solo – Luc Houtkamp, tenor sax (Netherlands)
Duo – Shock Exchange (John Edwards, Carolyn Kraabel)
Trio – Michael Bisio, Greg Campbell, Stuart Dempster + Houtkamp

Sunday, June 30 (Polestar)
Duo – rebreather (DeLaurenti, Keller)
Duo – Shahzad Ismaily, Carla Kihlstedt
Quartet – rebreather + Ismaily, Kihlstedt (according to rebreather’s Alex Keller)

“The consensus is that, musically, the 2002 Seattle Improvised Music Festival was the finest to date; performances were invariably inspiring, and the festival’s quality and organization got high marks from musicians, attendees, and the press. However, despite ample press and promotional efforts, we were disappointed to find it only half as well attended as the previous year. We’re still trying to analyze why this was: the economic downturn, absence of “marquee” performers, time of year (the longest, sunniest days of June), and a generally flat and apathetic current Seattle music scene all doubtless contributed.

Because it’s likely that the timing of our event worked against us in terms of attendance, we’re exploring the idea of holding the next festival in February to coincide with Vancouver’s Time Flies Improvised Music Meeting, an annual event that invites 8-10 leading international improvisers to play in various combinations. That way we could take advantage of the presence of great players without having to incur the expense of international travel costs, and also exploit the late-winter “cabin fever” syndrome in Seattle. Historically, turnout for events like ours has been better that time of year.

We also intend for the next festival to have a renewed focus on emerging local players, in addition to a few national/international ringers. A very promising young generation of improvisers has become active in Seattle recently that we think is worthy of wider attention. We will also be adding a younger member to our graying organizing committee in an effort to be as inclusive as possible – while still upholding a high musical standard, of course.” (Dennis Rea, email Sept. 13, 2002)

Preview by R.M. Campbell, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 20, 2002:

Musicians bring talent and open minds to improv festival

Improvised music is almost a lost art. Some organists try their hand at it, but not as many as one might think, and a few 21st-century guitarists. Some 20th-century experimental music — for instance, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage – calls for limited improvisation. Many jazz musicians are still adept at it.

Improvisation, in the 18th century, was considered an essential part of a musician’s baggage. Even then there were those who thought the art was dying, and J.S. Bach was keeping it alive singlehandedly. However, Handel was skilled at it, as were Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Franz Liszt, deep into the 19th century. They were not the only ones, and their abilities would amaze us now.

However, in the main, the skill of creating music spontaneously is a specialized field. Next weekend — Thursday through June 30 — a number of those specialists will congregate here for the 17th annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival.

The first few years of the Seattle Improvised Music Festival were rather quiet, more akin to a family event than a public one. But in 1988, the festival went public and has been going strong ever since.

“We are pleased at the attention we are getting, especially last year,” said guitarist Dennis Rea, long active in the festival and a co-organizer this summer. “Our audience is growing.”

This summer marks an important milestone for the festival, with its alliance with the Vancouver Jazz Festival, which, Rea said, many consider to be the best jazz festival in North America. Certainly the festival, held June 21-30, is among the largest with 400 concerts and 40 venues. The new association has been a work in progress for the past two years.

While the Vancouver Jazz Festival has a wide embrace, said Rea, the Seattle Improvised Music Festival has a more narrow focus.

“The best way to describe our festival is to call its music-making non-idiomatic improvisation, not tied to any genre. We seek diversity in all forms — music to gender. We look for women musicians because in the past the field has been so dominated by men.”

This kind of open mind is typical of the festival. Musicians who might consider themselves usually within the classical music scene will rub shoulders with those in jazz and rock and, for lack of a better term, world music.

“What interests us is interesting music and interesting musicians,” said Rea.

Musicians are coming from Denmark, Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom and The Netherlands, as well as Boston, New York, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

Three groups open the festival Thursday night at the Studio Theater of the Behnke Center for Contemporary Performance on lower Queen Anne: The Electrics, from Europe; Gebhard Ullman Clarinet Trio, from Germany, and the Bill Horist, Dennis Rea and Doug Theriault Guitar Trio, from Seattle and Portland.

The Electrics was formed in 2000 by Axel Dörner, trumpet, and Sture Ericson, reeds, and quickly joined by Raymond Strid, drums. Bassist John Edwards will play with them in Seattle.

Their music — an exploration of free-jazz and free-improvisation — has been described as “electrifying rhythmic drive and tension … (with) a broad spectrum of sounds and energies.”

The Ullmann Clarinet Trio (two bass clarinets and one B-flat) is eclectic in its sources: gospel and showtunes, serialism and jazz, even Kurt Weill. “I always had a large musical interest in the trio format,” said Gebhard Ullmann, “since it is an open concept.”

The musicians who comprise the Horist/Rea/Theriault Trio are regarded as adventuresome and wide-ranging in style and interests.

On June 28 at the Behnke Center, four well-known musicians — Wally Shoup, John Voigt, Dan O’Brien and Bob Rees – will join forces for the first time. Phil Durrant and Mark Sanders are a London electronics and percussion duo.

Saxophonist Luc Houtkamp, from Holland, opens the June 29 concert at the Behnke Center. He has played throughout a good share of the world with leading musicians. Shock Exchange is also on the bill. This duo from London combines Edwards, also playing with the Electrics, and saxophonist Caroline Kraabel, born in Seattle and a resident of London for nearly 25 years. The last group appearing June 29 is from Seattle: the well-known Stuart Dempster and Michael Bisio and University of Washington graduate student Greg Campbell.

Closing night, June 30 at the Polestar Music Gallery on 18th Avenue, is the only night in which there are no Europeans playing. Calra Kihlstedt and Shahzad Ismaily, from San Francisco and New York, open the proceedings. Kihlstedt is a violinist and singer with the Oakland-based art-rock band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and the founding member of the Tin Hat Trio. Ismaily is a drummer and specialist in electronic music. For this Seattle appearance, he will utilize software to process Kihlstedt’s violin improvisations.

Closing the festival is the group rebreather, composed of two Seattle musicians: Christopher DeLaurenti and Alex Keller. DeLaurenti is a talented composer, critic and radio-show host active in the electronic music scene. Keller is also deeply involved in electronic music. Their concert will be improvised from “sabotaged consumer electronics, homebrew circuits and obsolete devices.”

Preview by Paul de Barros, Seattle Times, June 21, 2002 (excerpt):

Festival lineups will keep the region jumping

After years of “irrational exuberance,” the summer-festival bubble finally burst this year, just like the dot-com market. Two major, Northwest summer celebrations — WOMAD USA and the Mount Hood Jazz Festival — have vanished from the 2002 calendar, the former with a firm promise to return next year, the latter with only vague assurances.

Does this mean there’s no summer fun for jazz and roots music fans? Not hardly. The Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Winthrop Blues Festival and Jazz Port Townsend are still going strong, offering a cornucopia of cacophony.

The Vancouver Festival (no longer called “du Maurier,” as the tobacco sponsor phases out) highlights the new, European club jazzers who have been sweeping Scandinavia and England. These young musicians — such as Bugge Wesseltoft, Esbjörn Svensson and Nils Petter Molvaer — mix ambient and electronica beats with jazz improv strategies. Svensson (of the trio E.S.T., also coming to Jazz Alley on July 1) and Wesseltoft are worth checking out.

Trust Vancouver to keep in touch with international trends. And trust the Seattle Improvised Music Festival, which continues a great run of international booking, to dip into the Vancouver lineup for some stellar acts, including clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann and trumpet wizard Axel Dörner. So, get on your horse and check out some summer sounds. Even if the scene’s a little less “irrational,” there should be no lack of exuberance. Here’s a roundup of what’s on deck:

June 27-30: Seattle Improvised Music Festival , On the Boards, 100 W. Roy St., and Polestar Music Gallery, 1412 18th Ave. For years, SIMF was a local, mix-and-match bash of free improvisers, but in the past couple of years the fest has blossomed into a full-fledged international celebration. Highlights: The Electrics, Gebhard Ullmann Clarinet Trio, Bill Horist/Dennis Rea/Doug Theriault Guitar Trio, June 27; John Voigt/Wally Shoup/Dan O’Brien/Bob Reese, Lunge, June 28; Luc Houtkamp, Shock Exchange, Michael Bisio/Greg Campbell/Stuart Dempster, June 29; Carla Kihlstedt & Shahzad Ismaily, rebreather, June 30.

Review by Paul de Barros, Seattle Times, June 29, 2002:

A mostly satisfying improv aural odyssey

A three-hour triple bill and an enthusiastic full house gave a ferocious launch to the Seattle Improvised Music Festival (SIMF) Thursday at On the Boards Studio Theater.

Now in its 17th year, this idealistic, specialized event is dedicated to the often abstract and iconoclastic music created on the spot by musicians who have spent their careers trying to dance gracefully with the improvised moment. Sometimes, such risky spontaneity and freedom leads to transportive moments of rare beauty that surprise even the performers. At others, the results are merely dull, ripe with avant-garde cliché.

Thursday night, the program leaned decidedly toward the plus side of the creative ledger. Most astonishing was a brilliant European quartet, the Electrics, featuring the technically innovative German trumpeter Axel Dörner, Swedish reed player Sture Ericson, English bassist John Edwards and Swedish drummer Raymond Strid.

The Electrics’ name is mostly, but not entirely, facetious, since it is an acoustic band that manages to produce uncannily electronic sounds. Metaphorically, the effect of the group was electric, for sure.

Starting and ending in a swinging, hard-core, free-jazz mode, the Electrics navigated a dramatic, emotionally convincing path through ceremonial gongs, chattering wails, fluttery conversations and agile solos. Their set climaxed with a massive orchestral segment that suggested a steamship cruising into a harbor late at night, complete with foghorns and buoy bells.

The Gebhard Ullmann Clarinet Trio – two bass clarinets and a garden-variety B-flat – also offered an eventful odyssey, though in a much more chipper, chatty mood, as befits their bubbly instrument of choice. Though not as luminous as on their exhilarating new album, “Translucent Tones” (Leo), the trio demonstrated a smart and succinct sense of form, starting each piece with a theme, developing solo, duo and trio variations, then wrapping things up with aplomb. Their broadly woody, piping tones — and the blends they achieved, moving fast or slow – were a profound pleasure.

The evening’s least-satisfying performance came from a Northwest electric guitar trio (Seattleites Bill Horist and Dennis Rea and Portlander Doug Theriault). Sitting down, surrounded by masses of wires, pedals and toys to prod new sounds from their instruments, the musicians found many areas of sonic sympathy, but rarely much narrative or food for thought.

The Seattle Improvised Music Festival continues tonight at On the Boards, with Dutch saxophonist Luc Houtkamp, the British duo Shock Exchange and the Michael Bisio/Greg Campbell/Stuart Dempster trio.

Review by Bill White, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 30, 2002:

Jazz players pay their respects to freedom

After 17 years, the Seattle Improvised Music Festival has earned a place beside the Earshot Jazz Festival as the other most important event on Seattle’s annual jazz calendar.

This year, more than 25 improvisers from around the world gathered at On the Boards and the Polestar Music Gallery for four nights of spontaneous composition. Thursday’s festivities began with three of the Northwest’s most creative guitarists combining their unique approaches to this most overplayed of modern instruments.

Bill Horist, beside a table laden with unusual tools, appeared to be performing guitar surgery. Doug Theriault was more conventional, having not totally abandoned the concept of chords and picking. Dennis Rea, with his long, sustained lines, provided the music’s dynamic thread. The trio never stayed in the same place for long, the result being that a 15-minute improvisation might actually be a montage of more than 30 separate motifs.

Rea brought the effects-heavy set to a harmonic resolution with a surprisingly lush progression of standard jazz voicings. The Electrics followed with a breathless flurry of energetic expression moving into passages of such stillness that one could feel the musicians reshaping the air. A multinational group featuring Germany’s Axel Dorner (trumpet), Denmark’s Sture Ericson (saxophones, bass clarinet), London’s John Edwards (bass) and Sweden’s Raymond Strid (drums), the Electrics eschewed the ping-ponging that often limits American free-jazz ensembles.

These Europeans have a broader ear, and don’t feel the need to respond literally to every phrase played by their band mates. The first night ended with the squawk-talk bird sing of the Gebhard Ullmann Clarinet Trio. From conversations to conspiracies to arguments, the trio resembled, at times, the witches from “MacBeth,” conjuring strange sounds against a fiery red curtain. Confined to a monochromatic approach that trapped the music within discernible scales, the trio’s most interesting moments happened in their pursuit of unusual counterpoints.

Friday night brought one of the world’s most inventively alive bass players to Seattle. Boston’s John Voigt has done everything from transforming his instrument into a conduit for readings of the Kabbalah to wringing from its neck the scream of an electrocuted pickle. The quartet, with Wally Shoup (alto saxophone), Dan O’Brien (second bass) and Bob Rees (drums), played mainstream free jazz in a way that fulfilled Ornette Coleman’s directive that no musician play a subservient role. Each player had his own range, leaving full room for the others to improvise. Shoup, taking advantage of the open spaces, offered luminous displays of his musical vocabulary, while Voigt and O’Brien’s polite battles resembled the playground competitions of excited young boys.

Also on Friday’s bill was the less stimulating team of Phil Durrant and Mark Sanders, a drum and electronics duo that created a rather lifeless crossplay between man and machine. The electronics were all in the speakers and the drums in the air, creating a contrast between acoustic and processed sound that went beyond the equipment.

Luc Houtkamp opened Saturday’s program with a display of studiously acquired blowing techniques. The Dutch saxophonist structured a series of recurring motifs, beginning with a funeral elegy based on taps, into a solid piece of musical architecture. His tenor playing was both tonal and rhythmic, using circular breathing to manipulate multiple harmonics.

Shock Exchange, with John Edwards (bass) and Caroline Kraabel (alto saxophone), followed with a frolicking set of improvisation full of erotic nuances. Without a fraction of Houtkamp’s technique, Kraabel proved a more spontaneous player. She had a pretty style of alternately sung and played notes. Edwards did not play academically, but as one in love with his instrument. The duo’s symbiotic affinities resulted in an intimately recreational expression of musical joy.

A local trio consisting of Stuart Dempster (trombone, digeridoo), Michael Bisio (bass) and Greg Campbell (drums) closed out the night with a mantra-laced set of new-age improvisation. They were joined midset by Houtkamp, whose contribution did not significantly differ from his solo work. Yesterday, the festival moved to Capitol Hill’s Polestar Music Gallery, where Seattle’s “rebreather” performed with the violin/electronics duo of Carla Kihlstedt and Shahzed Ismaily.

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