Monday, April 19, 2010

Part two

There was an article in the Post-Gazette previewing the ElSaffar/Modirzadeh show, where ElSaffar mentioned that most of the suites that he and Modirzadeh composed are written out and don't rely as much on improvisation. So I went in to the Warhol show thinking about that and trying to separate the written from the spontaneous. A lot of it did seem mapped out and similar to what I remember specifically from the album. (I listened to a lot when reviewing it, but I don't know it inside out. Something like this takes a long time to wrap your head around.)

A remarkable thing about the opening notes of ElSaffar's "Copper Suite" is how you can really feel the vibrations between the notes that he and Modirzadeh play. It was almost like when you're tuning a guitar and playing two strings together: the farther you get from the correct pitch on one of the strings, the more the sound vibrates. First they played long pitches like that, then they started echoing each other. Alex Cline was rolling all over his drum kit and it was loud and relatively free, but it never got bombastic, never to that feverish point that a lot of free drummers hit. Mark Dresser was plucking his bass strings really harshly. It sounded like he was really clenching his fingers on them.

When Modirzadeh took what seemed like a solo, he stopped fingering the pads of his saxophone and just grabbed the bell of his tenor sax, letting his mouth bend the pitches of the notes. Earlier in the piece, he started playing the upper pads of the sax with both of his hands, whereas normally the right hand handles the lower pads. It's all part of reworking these instruments to incorporate scales and pitches that they weren't built to play.

Modirzadeh's "Radif-E-Kayhan" bears some Ornette Coleman influence, but to really imagine that comparison accurately you almost have to take Ornette's ideas and utilize a different set of scales and tones to play them. About five minutes into the piece, Dresser started playing a blues riff of sorts, to which Cline responded with some press rolls and fills to kept it from getting too complacent. ElSaffar wailed and peeped before it shifted back to a rubato tempo and then on to a 4/4 tempo. When ElSaffar started playing with a Harmon mute, the band took on the spectre of the Miles Davis' famed Plugged Nickel performances. This was equally as spacey. A passing phrase almost sounding like a disembodied quote from "Hot House" in there too.

All four of those guys were incredible. The two leaders of course made their instruments do things that no one has really done before, in terms of playing foreign musics on them. Dresser was great, holding down the helm or going off on his own tear. Cline did a lot but made it seem like a piece of cake. You could tell he was really listening to everyone by what and how he played.

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