SIMF #25 – 2010

The 25th Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place in multiple venues over two weekends, February 11-14 and 18-20, 2010. It was co-presented by Seattle Improvised Music and Nonsequitur with funding assistance from 4Culture and Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. Curators were Gust Burns, Paul Hoskin, Wilson Shook, Wally Shoup, and Tyler Wilcox.

Participating artists:

Gust Burns, piano; Fred Chalenor, bass (Portland) [included on poster but did not play]; Chris Cochrane, electric guitar (Brooklyn); Chris Corsano, drums (New England); Jaime Fennelly, electronics (Waldron Island); Evan Gallagher, keyboards (NYC); Bill Horist, electric guitar; Paul Hoskin, contrabass clarinet; Jeph Jerman, drums/percussion/objects (Cottonwood, AZ); Michael Johnsen, homemade electronics/bowed saw (Pennsylvania); Leonel Kaplan, trumpet (Argentina); Mark Kaylor, drums (Portland) [no record of when he played]; Fred Lonberg-Holm, cello (Chicago); Jeffrey McGrath, trumpet; Paul Neidhardt, percussion (Baltimore); Robert Pedersen, electronics (Vancouver, BC); Kelvin Pittman, saxophones (Portland) [not included on poster]; Greg Powers, trombone/tuba; Mara Sedlins, viola; Wilson Shook, sax; Wally Shoup, sax; Birgit Ulher, trumpet (Germany); Rachael Wadham, electronics (Vancouver, BC); Tyler Wilcox, sax; Jack Wright, sax (Pennsylvania); C. Spencer Yeh, violin/voice/electronics (Cincinnati)

“After conferring with both Kaylor and Pittman, we collectively dimly remember something like Kaylor got sick and cancelled and Pittman came up as his “sub.”  (quite a sub.)” (Gust Burns, private email)

Thursday, February 11 (Skinner Auditorium)
Curated by Gust Burns, Wilson Shook & Tyler Wilcox
Duo – Gust Burns, Fred Lonberg-Holm
Remaining line-up currently unknown.

Friday, February 12 (Good Shepherd Center Chapel)
Curated by Gust Burns, Wilson Shook & Tyler Wilcox
Trio – Jaime Fennelly, Leonel Kaplan, Birgit Ulher
Duo – Mara Sedlins, Rachael Wadham
Duo – Paul Hoskin, Fred Lonberg-Holm
Duo – Gust Burns, Jack Wright

Saturday, February 13 (Chapel)
Curated by Gust Burns, Wilson Shook & Tyler Wilcox
Quartet – Paul Neidhardt, Robert Pedersen, Wilson Shook, Jack Wright
Quartet – Gust Burns, Birgit Ulher, Rachael Wadham, Tyler Wilcox (Recording of this Quartet)
Quartet – Gust Burns, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Paul Neidhardt, Tyler Wilcox
Large Group – All of the above (Recording of the Large Group)

Sunday, February 14 (Gallery 1412)
Curated by Gust Burns, Wilson Shook & Tyler Wilcox
Exact line-up currently unknown.

Thursday, February 18 (Sunset Tavern)
Curated by Wally Shoup
Quartet – Chris Corsano, Bill Horist, Wally Shoup, C. Spencer Yeh

Friday, February 19 (Chapel)
Curated by Gust Burns, Wilson Shook & Tyler Wilcox
Duo – Michael Johnsen, Kelvin Pittman
Trio – Gust Burns, Mara Sedlins, Tyler Wilcox
Quintet – Gust Burns, Michael Johnsen, Kelvin Pittman, Mara Sedlins, Tyler Wilcox (Recording of the quintet)

(A Spiral Cage blog review)

Saturday, February 20 (Chapel)
Curated by Paul Hoskin
Trio – Jeffrey McGrath, Jeph Jerman, Greg Powers
Duo – Evan Gallagher, Greg Powers
Duo – Chris Cochrane, Jeffrey McGrath
Trio – Chris Cochrane, Evan Gallagher, Jeph Jerman
Sextet – Chris Cochrane, Evan Gallagher, Paul Hoskin, Jeph Jerman, Jeffrey McGrath, Greg Powers

Recordings of final night by Rob Angus:

(6:06) Jeph Jerman, drums / Jeffrey McGrath, trumpet / Greg Powers, tuba

(10:50) Evan Gallagher, piano / Greg Powers, trombone

(8:13) Chris Cochrane, guitar / Jeffrey McGrath, trumpet

(17:24) Chris Cochrane, guitar / Evan Gallagher, organ / Jeph Jerman, drums

(12:09) Chris Cochrane, guitar / Evan Gallagher, keyboards / Paul Hoskin, contrabass clarinet / Jeph Jerman, percussion/objects / Jeffrey McGrath, trumpet / Greg Powers, trombone/tuba – #1.1

(16:38) Chris Cochrane, guitar / Evan Gallagher, keyboards / Paul Hoskin, contrabass clarinet / Jeph Jerman, percussion/objects / Jeffrey McGrath, trumpet / Greg Powers, trombone/tuba – #1.2

(15:39) Chris Cochrane, guitar / Evan Gallagher, keyboards / Paul Hoskin, contrabass clarinet / Jeph Jerman, percussion/objects / Jeffrey McGrath, trumpet / Greg Powers, trombone/tuba – #2

(4:16) Chris Cochrane, guitar / Evan Gallagher, keyboards / Paul Hoskin, contrabass clarinet / Jeph Jerman, percussion/objects / Jeffrey McGrath, trumpet / Greg Powers, trombone/tuba – #3

Preview by Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times, Feburary 11, 2011:

Be ready for surprises at the Seattle Improvised Music Festival

We can’t tell you exactly what it’s going to be like — because, hey, it’s all improvised!

But the 25th Anniversary Seattle Improvised Music Festival (SIMF) does promise to be an international affair.

And if that quarter-century mark makes you think “venerable” and therefore comfortable, be forewarned. A quick tour of the performers’ web sites and MySpace pages suggests the sounds these folks will make land right on the border between music and noise.

The festival describes itself as “an annual meeting place for improvisers at the forefront of the music
from around the world.

“This year, festival founder Paul Hoskin helps curate some of the shows, along with former festival organizer Wally Shoup and current Seattle Improvised Music director Gust Burns, who’s been running things since 2001.

Starting tonight, performers from Germany; Argentina; New York City; Vancouver, B.C.; Seattle; and other locales will be playing in four Seattle venues: Skinner Auditorium, 1245 10th Ave. E. (Thursday); Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. (Friday-Saturday and Feb. 19-20); Gallery 1412, 1412 18th Ave. (Sunday); and the Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave. N.W. (Feb. 18). Ticket prices

SIMF #24 – 2009

The 24th Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place over two weekends on February 13-15 and 20-22, 2009, presented by Seattle Improvised Music and Nonsequitur with support from 4Culture, Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, and Goethe Institute. Friday and Saturday evening concerts were held at Good Shepherd Center Chapel in Wallingford; Sunday concerts and workshops were held at Gallery 1412 on Capitol Hill. The festival was curated by Gust Burns and Tyler Wilcox.

Participating artists:

Gust Burns, piano; Mark Collins, bass; Michel Doneda, saxophone (Paris); Andrew Drury, percussion (Brooklyn); Kai Fagaschinski, clarinet (Berlin); Greg Kelley, trumpet (Boston); Lê Quan Ninh, percussion (Paris); Tari Nelson-Zagar, violin; Kelvin Pittman, sax; Mara Sedlins, viola; Christine Sehnaoui, alto sax (Paris); Wilson Shook, alto sax; Wally Shoup, sax; Doug Theriault, guitar (Portland); Michael Thieke, clarinet (Berlin); Rachel Thompson, violin (Richmond, VA); Liz Tonne, voice (Boston); Jonathan Zorn, bass (Richmond, VA)

Friday, February 13
Trio – Greg Kelley, Kelvin Pittman, Doug Theriault
Solo – Christine Sehnaoui
Quintet – Gust Burns, Mark Collins, Greg Kelley, Mara Sedlins, Wilson Shook
Solo – Andrew Drury
Solo – Liz Tonne
Large Ensemble

(Spiral Cage blog review)

Saturday, February 14
Solo – Greg Kelley
Duo – Christine Sehnaoui, Liz Tonne duo
Solo – Kelvin Pittman
Trio – Andrew Drury, Greg Kelley, Wally Shoup
Solo – Doug Theriault
Large Ensemble

(Spiral Cage blog review)

Sunday, February 15
Panel discussion
Duo – Andrew Dury, Kelvin Pittman
Quartet – Gust Burns, Greg Kelley, Christine Sehnaoui, Doug Theriault
Large Ensemble

(Spiral Cage blog review)

Friday, February 20
Duo – Kai Fagaschinski, Michael Thieke
Duo – Rachel Thompson, Jonathan Zorn
Duo – Michel Doneda, Lê Quan Ninh

(Spiral Cage blog review)

Saturday, February 21
Solo – Lê Quan Ninh
Trio – Michel Doneda, Andrew Drury, Tari Nelson-Zagar
Trio – Gust Burns, Lê Quan Ninh, Michael Thieke
Solo – Michel Doneda
Sextet – Michel Doneda, Kai Fagaschinski, Lê Quan Ninh, Michael Thieke, Rachel Thompson, Jonathan Zorn

(Spiral Cage blog review)

Sunday, February 22
Duo – Michael Thieke, Jonathan Zorn duo
Quartet – Wilson Shook, Michael Thieke, Tyler Wilcox, Jonathan Zorn
Duo – Kai Fagaschinski, Rachel Thompson
Quartet – Gust Burns, Kai Fagaschinski, Mara Sedlins, Rachel Thompson
Large Ensemble

(Spiral Cage blog review)

Preview by Hugo Kugiya in Seattle Times, February 13, 2009:

Improvised music is made for listening

While all jazz is improvised music, not all improvised music is jazz. And that is about as good a place to start a discussion about the experimental art form collectively called “improvised music.”

Starting tonight and continuing for two consecutive weekends, the Seattle Improvised Music Festival will feature a dozen musicians in various combinations, performing one of the most-difficult-to-describe forms of modern music. There are several saxophone players (Wilson Shook, Wally Shoup, Kelvin Pittman), keyboard players (Gust Burns and Jonathan Zorn — not to be confused with avant-garde composer John Zorn), a trumpet player (Greg Kelley), even a singer (Liz Tonne) — many of whom perform with sophisticated, electronic effects.

“I see it as a tangled core of different strands of music that developed out of jazz and free jazz in the ’60s and ’70s,” said Burns, director of the festival, whose history goes back 24 years.

“It’s also heavily experimental, electronic music that has nothing to do with jazz. It doesn’t have swing; it doesn’t have a groove. Then, there’s a post-rock, post-Sonic Youth spirit, noise music. It’s kind of a tangled mess that has an improvisational and experimental core.”

That is about as practical a definition that exists for what audiences will hear at the Chapel Performance Space in Wallingford’s Good Shepherd Center, where the Friday and Saturday concerts — including tonight’s — will take place. The Sunday concerts will be at Gallery 1412 on Capitol Hill.The musicians are a mix of local performers and musicians from the Northeast and from Europe, where, Burns said, funding for avant-garde music tends to be more generous.

“Improvised music is not music for entertainment per se,” said Burns, 30. “It can be entertaining, but it’s not going to a club and dancing. It demands actual listening. It’s just like going to an art gallery, or contemporary art show.

“You have to try to wipe clean your preconceptions of what it should be and just let it speak to you the way that it wants to. Instead of asking, ‘Where is that ride cymbal?’ or ‘Where is the frontman? … ‘ It’s not
about that. It’s about listening to the sounds.”

Improvised music, by definition, is not for everyday consumption, and the opportunities to hear a comprehensive repertoire are limited. The Seattle Improvised Music Festival, which features both solo and ensemble performances, also includes two Saturday workshops and two Sunday panel discussions, all taking place at Gallery 1412.

“If there’s a defining characteristic of the music,” explained Burns, “it’s that there’s an interest in
sound and how the sound is structured and what the sound means, rather than in the notes. Implicit
in that … is sound as a physical phenomenon, a shift away from harmony and melody, to texture
and timbre and space.”

Burns grew up in Seattle listening to grunge and hip-hop. In high school he learned jazz piano while listening to punk rock. He studied jazz piano in college while honing an interest in noise music, which utilizes unconventional elements like dissonance, atonality and cacophony. Most of the overlap between improvised music and jazz is perhaps found in the musicianship.

“We might be doing different things musically,” Burns said. “But there’s often a lot of camaraderie with musicians because of what we’re doing with our instruments. A jazz bassist might hear a bass player who is not a jazz player, but he’s just a phenomenal instrumentalist. Maybe he’s not swinging, but he’s an incredible bass player.”

Review by Bill White, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 19, 2009:


A festival of improvised music can be as turbulent as a wind tunnel filled with panicking birds or as boring as watching snow melt.

Last weekend, 11 musicians performed in 12 configurations over the first two nights of the 24th Annual Seattle Improvised Festival, filling the Chapel Performance Space with sounds of festivity, serenity, anxiety, ennui and joy.

Greg Kelley (trumpet), Doug Theriault (laptop) and Kelvin Pittman (saxophone) established the tone with an opening set Friday that sounded like electrons dancing to the inflation of balloons. The audience listened acutely to the subtlest sonic shifts as Kelley and Pittman blew air into their brass and reed instruments while Theriault drew metal machine tones from his laptop. Aside from two short notes that leapt out of the saxophone and two sustained notes on the trumpet, the performance was all breath and buzz. But the trio rewarded deep listening with auditory revelations such as the difference between a muted and an unmuted trumpet even when no note was being played.

Those returning Saturday night were treated to solo sets from each of these musicians, with Kelley in particular displaying a broader range. His improvisation, based on a single note, included a fascinating passage in which he harmonized the tones originating from inside and outside the horn. Although the musical content over the weekend was minimal, Kelley and the other performers took more care with tonal manipulation than do most conventional musicians.

A quintet led by Gust Burns was Friday’s centerpiece. Placing dowels of various lengths and widths on different parts of the piano’s soundboard, either on or between the strings, Burns created a series of primary tones around which the horns and strings scampered like mice. The piece slowly intensified with a growing sense of unease as the silence between passages increased, and the question of whether the music would conclude or continue created an anxiety of expectation versus fulfillment.

The large ensemble performance that concluded the evening was an extension of the quintet’s effort. The 11 musicians improvising on such a minimal scale were challenged by the scarcity of free space in the aurally dense field. French-Lebanese saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui, who had captivated the audience with an earlier solo performance in which she trapped air inside the horn and let it out in gusts and gurgles that climaxed in an array of stacked notes that approached and receded in various tonal combinations, was less impressive in the large group context. Vocalist Liz Tonne, who earlier had offered a frightening display of technique by simulating a barnyard of neighing and crackling creatures inside her voice box, managed on occasion to rise above the din.

On Saturday, Tonne and Shenaoiu performed a duet that was a classic example of the art of spontaneous composition. It began as a struggle between the fleshly and the ethereal, Shenaoiu’s Caliban contrasting with Tonne’s Ariel. Eventually, when the bestial grunts and celestial birdsongs found an alliance in the purgatorial middle ground, the interweaving sounds unlocked new possibilities, with each musician inhabiting a unique place in the other’s musical vocabulary.

Alto saxophonist Wally Shoup broke the silence that reigned over much of the weekend with an old-school set of fiery extroversion. The physical energy was a contrast to the lighter, more cerebral sounds that had come before. Drummer Andrew Drury and trumpeter Kelley provided able support, but it might have been more interesting to hear Shoup enter their world rather than they his.

Expect something completely different this weekend, when violin and electronics duo Rachel
Thompson and Jonathan Zorn, and The International Nothing, a clarinet duo from Berlin, join Burns and others Friday and Saturday at the Chapel and a final blow-out Sunday at Gallery 1412 on Capitol Hill.

Zorn and Thompson have been together for over five years, creating a group instrument from
Thompson’s violin and Zorn’s electro-acoustic use of double bass, voice, modular synthesizer and self-designed computer instruments.

The International Nothing is a clarinet duo that, having improvised for some time in quiet and noise-based styles, began to look beyond the delicate pleasures of the conventional duo. In 2002, they began focusing on a pipe-organ style, blending the clarinets into the sound of one or using multiphonics to multiply the voices.

Several unnamed guests also are slated to appear this weekend, including a French percussionist who has been a major organizer and participant on the European improvisational front since 1986.

Music runs from 7 to 10 each night, with six improvisations per program, each running about 20 minutes.

SIMF #23 – 2008

The 23rd Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place over two weekends on February 8-10 and 15-17, 2008, presented by Seattle Improvised Music and Nonsequitur. Friday and Saturday evening concerts were held at Good Shepherd Center Chapel in Wallingford; Sunday concerts and workshops were held at Gallery 1412 on Capitol Hill. The festival was curated by Gust Burns. In addition to the evening concerts, there were workshops given by Gregory Reynolds on Feb. 9 and Wade Matthews on Feb. 16.

Participating artists:

Tetuzi Akiyama, electric guitar (Tokyo); Liz Allbee, trumpet (Oakland); Jeffrey Allport, percussion (Vancouver, BC); Gust Burns, piano; Greg Campbell, percussion; Mark Collins, contrabass; Lesli Dalaba, trumpet; Christopher DeLaurenti, homemades; Jean-Paul Jenkins, electronics (Portland); Jason Kahn, percussion/electronics (Switzerland); Wade Matthews, electronics/field recordings (Madrid); Gregory Reynolds, alto sax (NYC); Stéphane Rives, soprano sax (Paris); Jonathan Sielaff, bass clarinet (Portland); Greg Sinibaldi, woodwinds; Jozef van Wissem, lute (Brooklyn); Tyler Wilcox, soprano sax

Friday, February 8
Solo – Gregory Reynolds
Trio – Jeffrey Allport, JP Jenkins, Jozef van Wissem
Duo – Tetuzi Akiyama, Jozef van Wissem

Saturday, February 9
Workshop – Gregory Reynolds
Duo – Tetuzi Akiyama, Jeffrey Allport
Trio – Tetuzi Akiyama, Mark Collins, JP Jenkins
Solo – Jason Kahn

Sunday, February 10
Duo – Jeffrey Allport, Gregory Reynolds
Trio – JP Jenkins, Jason Kahn, Gregory Reynolds
Duo – Gust Burns, Jason Kahn

Friday, February 15
Duo – Liz Allbee, Christopher DeLaurenti
Trio – Liz Allbee, Wade Matthews, Greg Sinibaldi
Solo – Stéphane Rives

Saturday, February 16
Workshop – Wade Matthews
Duo – Gust Burns, Stéphane Rives
Trio – Liz Allbee, Jonathan Sielaff, Tyler Wilcox
Duo – Wade Matthews, Stéphane Rives

Sunday, February 17
Trio – Greg Campbell, Lesli Dalaba, Wade Matthews
Solo – Liz Allbee
Quartet – Christopher DeLaurenti, Wade Matthews, Stéphane Rives, Tyler Wilcox

Preview by Paul de Barros in Seattle Times, February 8, 2008:

Get your February fill of fantastic, fun festivals – Jazz etc.

There are two festivals coming up you should know about — the Seattle Improvised Music Festival and the Portland Jazz Festival.

Even though it doesn’t start until next weekend, if you’re interested in the Portland spree, get your tickets now. It’s a blockbuster that may well sell out.

The first weekend alone features both Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, two giants of the avant-garde; that’s a bit like having retrospectives of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline on the same exhibition.

Portland’s first three nights also include pianist Myra Melford’s Be Bread (with trumpeter Cuong Vu), the SF Jazz Collective (with Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas and Miguel Zenón), the Bad Plus, pianists Tord Gustavsen and Bill Charlap, the Classical Jazz Quartet (with Kenny Barron and Stefon Harris), the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, saxophonist Tim Berne and bassist Glenn Moore. And that’s just the first weekend.

The festival starts at noon Feb. 15 (with Coleman playing at 7:30 that night) and continues through Feb. 24. The bulk of the programming is on the weekends.

Radio station KPLU-FM is offering a train/hotel/ticket package both weekends.

Apart from its top-tier programming, PDX is just flat-out fun. Almost everything takes place within walking distance downtown.

Supported by the city and downtown hotels (to give a boost to usually flagging winter business), the festival showcases not only Portland’s excellent theaters and clubs, but gives patrons a chance to stroll the Pearl District, drop in on Powell’s Books or have a gourmet meal between shows.

There are also plenty of free and educational events, among them onstage interviews with Coleman, Taylor and Melford and a panel discussion on “The Shape of Jazz to Come.” (Full disclosure: I’m pleased to be a panelist and interviewer.)

Closer to home, the Seattle Improvised Music Festival, now in its 23rd year, starts tonight.

SIMF takes a look at — or rather, a listen to — music created in the moment, but also music created at the edges, approaching sound the way a postmodern visual artist might broach the material world.

The 2008 edition brings musicians from Germany, Japan, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Canada, France and, of course, the U.S. Concerts take place at 8 p.m. today-Sunday and Feb. 15-17 at the Chapel Performance Space and at Gallery 1412.

What would a piece sound like if it were really, really slow, with lots of space between the sounds — a sort of Butoh dance for the ears?

That’s part of the investigation between Japanese guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama and Dutch Renaissance lute player Jozef van Wissem on their album “Hymn For a Fallen Angel.”

If you like Morton Feldman, you’ll love these guys, who use microtones and overtones to gently create an often-humorous sense of anticipation in their sparse, call-and-answer narratives.

And at the other end of the spectrum: What if sound just didn’t stop, but became a sort of wavering, gradually shifting spatial entity as well as one existing through time? American synthesizer player and visual artist Jason Kahn, now based in Zurich, explores that and other notions on his album “Fields.”

Akiyama and Kahn both play this weekend, with each other and with other artists.

The entire SIMF roster includes festival artistic director Gust Burns (piano), Gregory Reynolds (alto saxophone), Jean Paul Jenkins (guitar), Jeffrey Allport (percussion), Mark Collins (bass), Chris DeLaurenti (phonographs, electronics), Liz Allbee (trumpet, electronics), Wade Matthews (woodwinds, synthesizers), Greg Sinibaldi (reeds), Stéphane Rives (saxophone), Jonathan Sielaff (clarinet, banjo), Greg Campbell (drums), Tyler Wilcox (reeds, electronics) and Lesli Dalaba (trumpet).

SIMF #22 – 2007

The 22nd Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place over two weekends, February 9 – 10 and 16 – 17, 2007. It was presented by Seattle Improvised Music and Nonsequitur with support from 4Culture, and curated by Gust Burns, Bob Gallup, and Jonathan Sielaff. Public workshops were held on Saturday afternoons. All events took place at Gallery 1412.

Participating artists:

Jeffrey Allport, percussion (Vancouver, BC); Jason E. Anderson, electronics; Kyle Bruckmann, oboe (Bay Area); Gust Burns, piano; Jesse Canterbury, clarinets; Andy Hayleck, percussion/laptop (Baltimore); Bill Horist, electric guitar; Bonnie Jones, electronics (Baltimore); Tatsuya Nakatani, percussion (Japan/NYC); Andrea Neumann, piano guts (Berlin); Jaime Potter, electronics; Wally Shoup, sax; Jonathan Sielaff, clarinets/saw (Portland); Chris Stover, trombone; Noriaki Watanabe, recording (Japan); Nate Wooley, trumpet (Jersey City, NJ)

Friday, February 9
Quartet – Jason Anderson, Andy Hayleck, Bonnie Jones, Jaime Potter
Trio – Kyle Bruckmann, Jesse Canterbury, Christ Stover
Trio – Kyle Bruckmann, Andy Hayleck, Jonathan Sielaff

(Spiral Cage blog review)

Saturday, February 10
Workshop – Kyle Bruckmann
Trio – Kyle Bruckmann, Bonnie Jones, Jaime Potter
Solo – Kyle Bruckmann
Duo – Andy Hayleck, Bonnie Jones

(Spiral Cage blog review)

Friday, February 16
Trio – Jeffrey Allport, Jason Anderson, Nate Wooley
Solo – Tatsuya Nakatani
Solo – Nate Wooley
Quartet – Jeffrey Allport, Gust Burns, Andrea Neumann, Nate Wooley

(Spiral Cage blog review)

Saturday, February 17
Workshop – Tatsuya Nakatani, Andrea Neumann, Nate Wooley
Solo – Andrea Neumann
Trio – Tatsuya Nakatani, Andrea Neumann, Nate Wooley
Trio – Bill Horist, Wally Shoup, Nate Wooley

(Spiral Cage blog review)

SIMF #21 – 2006

The 21st Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place on February 8-12, 2006 at Gallery 1412. It was curated by Gust Burns, Angelina Baldoz, and Bob Gallup. Set lists for specific dates are not currently available.

Participating artists:

Angelina Baldoz, trumpet; Mike Bullock, bass/electronics (Boston); Gust Burns, piano; JP Carter, trumpet/electronics (Vancouver, BC); Jessica Catron, cello (Los Angeles; Tights Band); Adam Diller, clarinet; Doublends Vert (Diller, Lewandowski, Swafford); Phillip Greenlief, reeds (Bay Area); Dave Hirvonen, guitar/electronics (Portland); Dave Kendall, laptop (Los Angeles; Tights Band); Andrew Lafkas, bass (NYC); Annie Lewandowski, accordion; Manuel Mota, electric guitar (Lisbon); Vic Rawlings, cello/electronics (Boston); Ernesto Rodrigues, violin (Lisbon); David Rothbaum, electronics (Los Angeles; Tights Band); Jonathan Seilaff, clarinets/electronics (Portland); Leif Sundstrom, electronics/turntable (Portland); Tom Swafford, violin/viola; TIGHTS BAND (Los Angeles: Catron, Kendall, Rothbaum); Theresa Wong, cello (Bay Area)

The Burns/Hirvonen/Rawlings/Rodrigues set on Feb. 8 was released on a CD on the Creative Sources label in Lisbon. Two other sets featuring Ernesto Rodrigues are also available for streaming on BandCamp:

(27:29) Vic Rawlings, cello/electronics / Ernesto Rodrigues, viola / Jonathan Sielaff, bass clarinet / Leif Sundstrom, electronics

(30:08) Gust Burns, piano / Manuel Mota, electric guitar /Ernesto Rodrigues, viola / Jonathan Sielaff, bass clarinet

Preview by Paul de Barros in Seattle Times, February 10, 2006:

Improv Music Festival ends Sunday – Jazz etc.

Ever so slowly, Chris Cogburn ceremonially scraped the edge of a cymbal across the head of his snare drum, creating a resonant, otherworldly roar.

Gust Burns pulled his fists, hand over hand, down a swizzle stick inserted vertically between the strings of his piano, creating a sound like the one a crystal glass makes when you rub a wet finger around the rim.

Jonathan Sielaff blew his clarinet into a drum, creating an echo chamber for the low pitch.

That was the scene a couple of weeks ago at Gallery 1412, where the free-improvising Burns/Cogburn/Sielaff trio gave a sort of preview of the 21st edition of the Seattle Improvised Music Festival.

The internationally respected festival kicked off Wednesday with three trio performances and continues through Sunday, with a total of 19 performances over five days. All performances are at Gallery 1412, at 1412 18th Ave., Seattle.

Festival organizers Burns and trumpeter Angelina Baldoz have reached out to several U.S. cities, as well as Vancouver, B.C., and Lisbon, Portugal, to ensembles that play together regularly, as opposed to the sometimes mix-‘n’-match approach of years past.

The 2006 festival bands share an interest in “post-minimalism,” a search for what comes after the quiet (often pretty) music that explores the texture and quality of sound itself, a trend that has swept many free-improv communities.

Of particular interest are Ernesto Rodrigues (viola) and Manuel Mota (electric guitar), from Lisbon, whose music is said to reference everything from post-serialism to Delta blues.

Burns, 27, is from Tacoma, and has a versatile background that takes in jazz, contemporary classical music and hip-hop.

Free-improv can be abstract and demanding, so an audience of 15 to 20 is considered just fine at the gallery, though festival shows — a nice way to get an introduction to this music — often draw 50-100 listeners.

Sometimes it helps to hear the musicians themselves talk about how the music is made.

“When I lived in Oakland,” said Cogburn, originally from Springfield, Ore., sitting in the
gallery one afternoon with Burns and Sielaff, “I lived with Marshall Trammell, the free-jazz
drummer. When I first heard him, I thought he didn’t know what he was doing. After a few
months, I remember walking to work, and he was playing and I heard a phrase that I recognized,
in the middle of all this tumultuous sound and I went, like, ‘Oh, that’s a pattern that he plays, that
has its own logic and its own sense of time and its own integrity. That’s the first time I ‘heard’ ‘out’
music. After that, I couldn’t do anything else.”

Seattle Improvised Music, which presents the festival, has finally received official nonprofit status, so it can now solicit grants and tax-deductible donations. The change comes just in time. This is the last year the festival will enjoy the support of a generous private donor.

Seattle Improvised Music is a separate entity from Gallery 1412, an artists’ cooperative.

Coming up at 8 o’clock tonight is a duo with Portland guitarist David Hirvonen and Sielaff, followed by a Burns solo set and the Tights Band, from Los Angeles, featuring Jessica Catron (cello), David Rothbaum (laptop) and David Kendall (analog synthesizer).

At noon Saturday, Boston cellist Vic Rawlings offers a free workshop, followed by performances all day Saturday and Sunday.

SIMF #20 – 2005

The 20th Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place February 9-13, 2005 at Gallery 1412 (ex-Polestar Music Gallery). It was organized by Gust Burns, Angelina Baldoz, and Nathan Levine.

Participating Artists:

Linda Gayle Aubrey, electronics (Boston; Beach Party); BEACH PARTY (Aubrey, Cogburn, Eubanks); Jesse Canterbury, clarinet (Gutcanes Trio); Chris Cogburn, percussion (Austin; Beach Party); Arrington de Dionyso, clarinets (Olympia); Tim DuRoche, drums (Portland); Lisle Ellis, bass (Bay Area; What We Live); Bryan Eubanks, sax/electronics (Portland); Jaime Fennely, electronics (Brooklyn; Manpack Variant); Beth Fleenor, clarinet (Kamigakari); FLOSS (Mills, Seman, Ostrowski); GUTCANES TRIO (Canterbury, Levine, Schoenbeck); Paul Hoskin, reeds; Jeff Huston, electronics (Kamikagari); KAMIGAKARI (Fleenor, Oi); Lê Quan Ninh, percussion (France), Nathan Levine, bass (Gutcanes Trio); MANPACK VARIANT (Brooklyn; Fennely, Peck); Cristin Miller, voice (Murderous Copulation of Birds); Izaak Mills, sax (Floss); MURDEROUS COPULATION OF BIRDS (Miller, Reynolds); NA (Japan/Seattle; Nomura, Watanabe, Yamada); Kazu Nomura, guitar (Japan/Seattle; Na); Larry Ochs, sax (Bay Area; What We Live); Mark Oi, guitar (Kamikagari); Marc Ostrowski, drums (Floss); Chris Peck, electronics (Brooklyn; Manpack Variant); Gregory Reynolds, sax (Murderous Copulation of Birds); Donald Robinson, drums (Bay Area; What We Live); Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon (Los Angeles; Gutcanes Trio); John Seman, bass (Floss); Karen Stackpole, gongs (Bay Area); Noriaki Watanabe, keyboards (Japan/Seattle; Na); WHAT WE LIVE (Bay Area; Ellis, Ochs, Robinson); Shinsuke Yamada, drums/sampler (Japan/Seattle; Na)

Wednesday, February 9

Paul Hoskin, solo reeds (Clallam Bay)
Tim DuRoche, solo drums (Portland)
Karen Stackpole, solo gongs/percussion (Bay Area)

Thursday, February 10

Manpack Variant (Brooklyn) – Jaime Fennely, electronics; Chris Peck, electronics
Arrington de Dionyso, solo clarinets, etc. (Olympia)
Floss (Seattle) – Izaak Mills, saxophone; John Seman, bass; Marc Ostrowski, drums

Friday, February 11

What We Live (Bay Area) – Lisle Ellis, bass; Larry Ochs, saxophone; Donald Robinson, drums/percussion
Na (Seattle) – Kazu Nomura, Noriaki Watanabe, Shinsuke Yamada

Saturday, February 12

1 PM: Improvised Music Workshop led by Gust Burns, Chris Cogburn, and others

Beach Party – Linda Gayle Aubrey, electronics (Boston); Chris Cogburn, percussion (Austin); Bryan Eubanks, sax/electronics (Portland)
Murderous Copulation of Birds (Seattle) – Cristin Miller, voice; Gregory Reynolds, alto sax
Gutcanes Trio – Sarah Shoenbeck, bassoon (Los Angeles); Nathan Levine, bass (Seattle); Jesse Canterbury, clarinet (Seattle)

Sunday, February 13

3 PM: Roundtable Discussion
Lê Quan Ninh, solo percussion (France)
Kamigakari (Seattle) – Beth Fleenor, clarinet; Jeff Huston, Mark Oi, guitar (this set can be heard on BandCamp):

SIMF #19 – 2004

The 19th Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place February 11-22, 2004, at Consolidated Works, Cornish College of the Arts, Lo-Fi, Velocity Dance Center, Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), and Jack Straw Productions. This festival was curated by Gust Burns, Angelina Baldoz, Annie Lewandowsky, and Adam Weiss.

“After 10-plus years in a primary organizing role, I’ve decided that I need to step back and open up a little more room in my life, so I’ll be overseeing its transition to some folks with fresh ideas and energy. For the 2004 edition, the prime mover will be the superb pianist Gust Burns and a cadre of people we’ll be assembling to help him carry the festival forward. Henry Hughes disengaged from the festival to focus on Polestar last year, and Wally [Shoup] and I will be taking more of an advisory role from here on in.

Gust joined us on the organizing committee last year, and through his myriad activities as an organizer of improvised music events in Seattle has proven himself a worthy steward of the tradition. Gust has been the force behind the Sound of the Brush, Open Music Workshop, and Prospectiva Plural series over the past few years and has probably instigated more improvised music performances than anyone else in town during that period. I’m confident that the festival will be in good hands under he and his co-organizers (thus far including Annie Lewandowski), and Wally and I will always be available to steer them through any difficulties and share the resources we have. Gust and the Open Music Workshop people have begun the process of forming a nonprofit…” (Dennis Rea, email July 31, 2003)

Participating artists:

Jason Anderson, electronics/guitar (BNSF); Angelina Baldoz, trumpet; Michael Bisio, bass (Bisio/Hession/Shoup); BNSF (Anderson, Crane, Diller); Matt Crane, drums (BNSF); Adam Diller, woodwinds/percussion (BNSF); Tim DuRoche, drums (Portland); Bryan Eubanks, sax (Portland; pd/pm); Tara Flandreau, viola (Thingsome Q); Ivar Grydeland, guitar (Norway); Ron Heglin, trombone/bass (Bay Area; Heglin/Perkis); Paul Hession, drums (UK; Bisio/Hession/Shoup); Joane Hétu, sax/vox (Montreal; Les Poules); Mark Kaylor, drums (Portland; pd/pm); Kathleen Keogh, dance (Portland; pd/pm); Diane Labrosse, electronics (Montreal; Les Poules); Annie Lewandowski, accordion/saw (Lewandowski/Müller-Graf); Janice McKeachern, guitar (Portland; pd/pm); Sean Meehan, snare drum (NYC); Eveline Müller-Graf, percussion (Lewandowski/Müller-Graf); Tari Nelson-Zagar, violin (Thingsome Q); Pauline Oliveros, accordion/electronics; Danielle Palardy Roger, percussion (Montreal; Les Poules); PD/PM (Portland; Eubanks, Kaylor, Keogh, McKeachern, Pittman, Sundstrom); Tim Perkis, electronics (Bay Area; Heglin/Perkis); Kelvin Pittman, sax (Portland); pd/pm); LES POULES (Montreal; Hétu, Labrosse, Palardy Roger); William Roper, tuba (Los Angeles); Paul Rucker, cello (Thingsome Q); Wally Shoup, sax (Bisio/Hession/Shoup); Leif Sundstrom, electronics (Portland; pd/pm); Tom Swafford, violin (Thingsome Q); THINGSOME Q (Flandreau, Nelson-Zagar, Rucker, Swafford); Dave Tucker, guitar (London); Adam Weiss, sax; Ingar Zach, drums (Norway)

Wednesday, February 11 (Consolidated Works)
Pre-Festival Kick-off Party

Thursday, February 12 (PONCHO Theater at Cornish College)
Pauline Oliveros

Friday, February 13 (Cornish College)
Pauline Oliveros workshop

Friday, February 13 (Low-Fi Gallery)
Duo – Dave Tucker, William Roper (watch video here)
Duo – Angelina Baldoz, Sean Meehan
Trio – Burlington Northern Santa Fe (Anderson, Crane, Diller)

Saturday, February 14 (Velocity Dance Center)
Duo – Ivar Grydeland, Ingar Zach
Duo – Eveline Müller-Graf, Annie Lewandowski

Sunday, February 15 (CoCA)
Meeting of Improvisers – featuring festival performers from the past weekend and invited Seattle musicians.
Watch video here of ad hoc set by Matt Crane, Dave Tucker, Ingar Grydeland, and unknown bassist (Ron Heglin?).

Thursday, February 19 (Consolidated Works)
Trio – Michael Bisio, Paul Hession, Wally Shoup
Duo – Ron Heglin, Tim Perkis

Friday, February 20 (Lo-Fi)
Adam Weiss Ensemble

Saturday, February 21 (Jack Straw)
Improvised Music Workshop – Facilitated by festival participants and Seattle musicians.

Saturday, February 21 (Consolidated Works)
Les Poules
Thingsome Q

Sunday, February 22 (CoCA)
Meeting of Improvisers – featuring festival performers from the past weekend and invited Seattle musicians.

Review by Cristin Miller, Signal to Noise, Number 34, June 1, 2004 (excerpt):

The 19th annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place this winter over two week-ends in February. This year brought a turning point for the festival, as the long-term organizers turned over the reins to musicians newly very active in the scene, all of whom are directly or indirectly affiliated with Open Music Workshop. Open Music Workshop (or OMW) is a relatively young entity, less than two years old, but has constituted something like a second wave in the improvised music scene in Seattle. This shift in leadership was reflected in the shape of the festival this year, which cast a wider net and included a broader range of approaches to music making.

The next weekend I also managed to catch Les Poules (Montréal) at Consolodated Works, a large warehouse-like art gallery and performance space. Les Poules have been playing together for over a decade, and every passing minute of their long history and musical intimacy. Joane Hétu (vocals, alto sax) staked out a minimalist territory of voiceless fricatives and static noises, which she mined over the course of the performance. Diane Labrosse (electronics) explored a similarly focused territory, while Danielle Palardy Roger’s percussion poured out speech-like with orchestrally various gestures accumulating over time into a complex field. A drama of highly attuned listening slowly emerged full of simultaneous starts, frequent finishing of each others’ sentences, and sudden collective laughter. Occasionally, certain silences were allowed to move with grace to the center of the circle.

SIMF #18 – 2003

The 18th Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place on February 14-15, 21-22, 2003, at Polestar Music Gallery and Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA). It was staged in February to coincide with Vancouver’s Time Flies Improvised Music Meeting, with which the Seattle festival shared international performers. The organizers were Gust Burns, Henry Hughes, Peter Monaghan, Dennis Rea, and Wally Shoup.

“This year’s festival exceeded all expectations and can only be termed a runaway success. We had capacity crowds on all four nights, many memorable performances, and highly appreciative audiences and musicians. After last year’s disappointing turnout, it seems that some of the changes we introduced this year – moving the festival to February, holding it on weekends only, and staging it in more realistically sized venues – paid off nicely. We actually had to turn folks away on two nights as we simply ran out of room. We also held receptions after all four concerts that allowed the musicians and audience members to mingle and heightened the sense of community. Audiences seemed noticeably more diverse than in years past, possibly because we made a concerted effort to have better representation of women and the younger generation of improvisers on this year’s bill.” (Dennis Rea, email Feb. 23, 2003)

Participating artists:

Brent Arnold, cello (Arnold/Brogan/Keeble/Swanson); ARTKOAMIA (Dempster, Ishida, Paquette, Smith); Travis Baker, bass (Vancouver, BC; Baker/Hay/Schoenbeck); Jeb Bishop, trombone (Chicago; Bishop/Lovens/Mahall/Müller); Dave Brogan, drums (Arnold/Brogan/Keeble/Swanson); Gust Burns, piano (Burns/Campbell/Reynolds); Greg Campbell, percussion (Burns/Campbell/Reynolds); Jesse Canterbury, clarinets (Canterbury/Nelson-Zagar); Stuart Dempster, trombone (Artkoamia); Tom Djll, trumpet (Bay Area; Djll/Rainey/Wright); Emily Hay, flute/voice (Los Angeles; Baker/Hay/Schoenbeck); Renko Ishida Dempster, live painting (Artkoamia); Zeke Keeble, drums (Arnold/Brogan/Keeble/Swanson); Peggy Lee, cello (Vancouver; Lee/Smaworth); Paul Lovens, drums (Germany; Bishop/Lovens/Mahall/Müller); Rudi Mahall, bass clarinet (Germany; Bishop/Lovens/Mahall/Müller); Torsten Müller, bass (Vancouver; Bishop/Lovens/Mahall/Müller); Tari Nelson-Zagar, violin (Canterbury/Nelson-Zagar); Virginia Paquette, live painting (Artkoamia); Bhob Rainey, saxophones (Boston; Djll/Rainey/Wright); Gregory Reynolds, sax (Burns/Campbell/Reynolds); Ron Samworth, guitar (Vancouver; Lee/Samworth); Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon (Los Angeles; Baker/Hay/Schoenbeck); Bill Smith, clarinet (Artkoamia); Troy Swanson, homemades (Arnold/Brogan/Keeble/Swanson); Jack Wright, saxophones (Boulder; Djll/Rainey/Wright)

Friday, February 14 (Polestar)
Duo – Jesse Canterbury, Tari Nelson-Zagar
Quartet – Troy Swanson w/ Brent Arnold, Dave Brogan & Zeke Keeble

Saturday, February 15 (Polestar)
Trio – Travis Baker, Emily Hay, Sara Schoenbeck
Quartet – Jeb Bishop, Paul Lovens, Rudi Mahall, Torsten Müller

Friday, February 21 (CoCA)
Duo – Peggy Lee & Ron Samworth
Trio – Gust Burns, Greg Campbell, Gregory Reynolds

Saturday, February 22 (Polestar)
Trio – Tom Djll, Bhob Rainey, Jack Wright
Quartet – Artkoamia

Henry Hughes remembers:

“Tom Djll, Bhob Rainey and Jack Wright…put three chairs down on the floor in front of the Polestar stage and played just a stupendous, uncompromising set of that confounding, always threatening to be a little too constipated stuff that Tom and Bhob would never relent from. As with much of the very best of that music, plenty of resplendent diarrhea resulted, spewing out despite those three tight sphincters!

It stands out for me in part because the packed house, made up of very few of the usual suspects…was easily among the most engaged we ever had in that little space. And for that music! The give and take was what everybody involved hopes every gig might be. The musicians were so pumped they didn’t touch the floor as they walked out.

Later that night at the Ranch where Jack was staying, he was still ebullient as could be. If memory serves, he was smiling and whistling as he wandered around the place talking to people. You know it’s been a decent night when a Jack Wright has no complaints!

Same year, the Lovens et al set was another barn-burner with a great audience. Rudi Mahall was a revelation on bass clarinet, an instrument that for the first time in my life appeared to be little more than a toy in a player’s hands. (I probably need to revisit some Dolphy film.) Still no idea how the bell stayed on the damn horn. Jeb Bishop was fantastic, too.

Lovens had insisted to his compatriots in the green room that, with such a house, there would be no quiet explorations of the noodling variety to start the show. They were gonna hit hard and never look back. The reason I know this is because he told me so afterwards – complete with laughing his ass off in self-satisfied fashion that his 1000-decibel snare shot that launched the set had had me ducking, hard, as I walked down the aisle after the introduction.”

Preview by Paul de Barros, Seattle Times, Feb. 14, 2003:

All this jazz is freely improvised

Seattle’s improv festival has a jaunty new name – the Seattle Festival of Freely Improvised Music – and a new February time slot (it used to be in June).

With its dancing, capricious feel, the adverb “freely” is a nice new touch that conveys the rebelliousness and impulsiveness of the event.

Organized by five musicians and activists – Wally Shoup, Peter Monaghan, Henry Hughes, Dennis Rea and Gust Burns – the 18-year-old festival is devoted to unscripted music, created entirely in the moment. An offshoot of ’60s avant-garde jazz, free-improv has developed its own world of masters and apprentices, venues, disc labels and critics, particularly in Europe and Canada.

The festival begins at 8 tonight at the Polestar Music Gallery, 1412 18th Ave., Seattle, with clarinetist Jesse Canterbury, violinist Tari Nelson-Zagar and a quartet led by electronic musician Troy Swanson.

At 8 p.m. tomorrow, a quartet featuring three German powerhouses – Paul Lovens (drums), Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet) and Torsten Müller (bass) – and Chicago trombonist Jeb Bishop plays the same venue. Travis Baker (bass), Emily Hay (flute) and Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon) open.

Müller, 45, is a compelling, muscular bassist with an unusual background. Born in Germany, he grew up after the age of 2 in a small, isolated town north of Montreal, then returned to Germany as a teenager, where he studied anthropology and became a well-known figure on the German and English improv scenes.

Two years ago, Müller moved to Vancouver, B.C., where he found he fit right in with that city’s active experimental circles. “In the back of my mind,” he said in a phone interview from Vancouver, “I always wanted to come back and live in North America. I always felt this was my home — the mountains, the ocean, great people, great food. Fortunately, my wife is Canadian, so when our kids grew up, we came back. Originally, it had nothing to do with the music. My plan was to live here and play in Europe. I haven’t gone back to Europe once in the whole two years!”

Players like Müller spend years perfecting individualistic, extended vocabularies on their instruments, such as bowing with unusual objects or activating the strings in unusual ways or combinations. Their playing often leads to mental and emotional states – and timbres and textures – that straight-ahead music rarely can touch. Because free-improv traditionally has been friendly to amateurs, however, the genre sometimes is portrayed as a loosey-goosey game “anyone” can play, or simply a dog-and-pony show of eccentricities.

Müller, primarily self-taught, decries amateurism and is adamant that all great music, whether it be free-improv, jazz or classical, possesses the same qualities. “I’m definitely old school and disciplinarian,” he said. “This is an art that you have to work at with a lot of dedication and deliberation. If you’re really conscientious, you do the weeding out before you play. ”

Free-improvisers often are accused of playing only for each other, but Müller says he feels a distinct obligation to provide the audience with an engaging, dramatic narrative. “If you’re doing what you do really well,” he says, “then part of that will be the projective part, the entertaining part, no matter how abstract the music. Real quality presents itself, even to the less-informed listener. You feel the urgency and immediacy, the emotionality and the sweat that goes in there.”

The festival continues next Friday at the Center on Contemporary Art with Lee and Ron Samworth, plus Burns, Greg Campbell and Gregory Reynolds. Next Saturday, Tom Djill, Bhob Rainey and Jack Wright share the bill with William O. Smith and Stuart Dempster.

Review of the first two nights by Bill White in the Seattle PI, Feb. 18, 2003:

Creative sparks fly at improv music fest

The 18th Seattle Festival of Freely Improvised Music opened to standing room only crowds last weekend at the Polestar Music Gallery.

Friday night’s concert began with an astounding set from two Seattle improvisers, Jesse Canterbury (clarinet) and Tari Nelson-Zagar (violin). Testing their instruments’ possibilities, the duo explored musical relationships that were at once harmonious and discordant.

At one point, the violin maintained a drone while the clarinet hit related and unrelated pitches. One of their most exciting passages occurred when Canterbury and Nelson-Zagar went tobogganing down an avalanche of musical invention at different tempos.

Seattle’s Troy Swanson closed the evening with the unveiling of a new ensemble featuring Brent Arnold, Dave Brogan and Zeke Keeble. Swanson, who designs his own instruments, works in the Harry Partch tradition of neo-primitivism, filtered through modern industrial music and drumming circles.

His ensemble, a combination of percussion, electronics and strings, was a groove-oriented unit in which the players complemented, rather than challenged, each other. Their trancelike suspensions of time bridged mid-20th-century avant-garde with post-Grateful Dead jam bands.

Saturday’s performance began with the trio of Emily Hay (flute, vocals), Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon), both from Los Angeles, and Vancouver, B.C.’s Travis Baker (bass). Against tonalities ranging from the guttural to the lyrical, Hay ripped sounds of terror from a throat transformed into a wind instrument.

Baker and Schoenbeck often were relegated to support players, which prevented the music from transcending Hay’s ecstatically damned wail. The oppressed negativity of her tortured mantras limited the expressive range of the music. Schoenbeck, however, made a startling case for the harmonic possibilities of the bassoon in free improvisation.

The opening weekend closed with a fiery set of energy music from a quartet epitomizing the free-jazz philosophies of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy. Germans Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet), Paul Lovens (percussion) and Torsten Müller (bass) were joined by Chicago’s Jeb Bishop (trombone).

All four pushed their instruments beyond conventional ranges to the degree that it was often difficult to differentiate the trombone from the bowed bass. Each musician played entirely free of the others, never for a moment relaxing into a support position. In contrast to the neo-classical intellectualism of today’s homegrown improvisers, this music was as primal and physical as rock ‘n’ roll freed from the 12-bar confines of its blues origins.

After a standing ovation, the crowd demanded a well-deserved encore. Unlike the encores that are built into pop music’s prepackaged formulas, this was as spontaneous as the music itself.

The festival continues next weekend with music from Canada’s Peggy Lee (cello) and Ron Samworth (guitar), the saxophone and trumpet trio of Tom Djll (Bay Area), Bhob Rainey (Boston) and Jack Wright (Boulder), and several local musicians, including ARTKOAMIA, a music and art collective performing visual and musical improvisations.

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.

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.