Tuesday, September 18, 2007
The From Between Trio is a collaboration of three musicians from three continents: Michael Doneda (France), on soprano and sopranino sax, Tatsuya Nakatani (Japan) on percussion, and Jack Wright (US) on alto and soprano sax. The group demonstrates an extraordinary sense of three minds working as one.
Although I sat in the front row for the view, the moment they began their first set I lowered my eyes away from the performers. I diverted my gaze because I wanted to absorb only the sound and not get caught up in its production. What they do would inaccurately be described as "free jazz," from my experience of it. And I didn't get the sense either that they are playing to serve their own self expression. In the way that a field recordist can document small sounds and subsequently amplify the audio, magnifying the details beyond what is normally audible, the trio created a type of soundscape of layered events approximating a natural environment. They create an ambiance of hissing, fizzing, scraping and rattling. Appropriate to this immersive experience, no particular player is a featured soloist at any one time.
Their first set lasted an hour, although it felt half that long, and it was the one most resembling the forces of nature. The second short set, before the break was about 18 minutes, and was more celestial, leaving more space among the parts. The last set was only about 15 minutes and the only part of the evening when the playing was a bit more aggressive, and perhaps urban.
When I wanted to examine how it was all being done, they were fascinating to watch. Of course, drummers tend to dominate one's attention because of the variety of movement necessary just to make a noise. However, Nakatani is a different type of percussionist altogether. He specializes in resonating his instruments not always by striking, but often by bowing, rubbing and vibrating them. At one point, he placed a small cymbal on the surface of his snare and lowered his face to blow through the hole in its center, resulting in a rich alto sax-like tone. He even got more than one note from it. For Nakatani, a snare isn't just a drum, it's a resonating surface to place a cymbal, a wood block, and a small bowl - all at the same time. Nakatani has lots of bowls, at least a dozen, which he tapped with tiny metal sticks. As he performed, bowls, cymbals, and even his tom tom, fell over at one time or another, sounding not unlike the style of his playing, which seems to be a series of orchestrated wabi sabi accidents. Only rarely did he simply take a stick and strike a drum.
Doneda and Wright, the two wind players, have a repertoire of personal approaches toward their instruments. Doneda coaxed animal rasps from his sopranino, as well as modulated wind noise, and sometimes the sound of a broken tape player in fast-forward. Wright sat with his mouthpiece turned on its side so he could mute the bell of his alto with his leg. His soprano, when muted, emulated a bassoon, shortwave radio, or the chanting of the Koran. It would seem destined that these three would meet and match their talents as a trio. Each of them has played with dozens of others over the years, but together they have an extraordinary way of orchestrating intuitive sound-making.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
We have all had a moment alone, while looking out the window of a train, bus, or restaurant, caught in a state of in-between-ness, remembering the past, anticipating the future, but locked in a present where time has shut down, waiting, alone with one's memories, the only reality being the stagnant present.
At the center of every cherished moment is a kernel of failure. At the heart of every incidence of beauty is the reflection of death. Paul Buchanan is a master of recreating these liminal moments when submerged thoughts break the surface of consciousness. When he sings in "A Walk Across The Rooftops," "I am in love, I am in love with you," it's not banal, it's startling and uncomfortable.
These amazing tracks, now over 20 years old, still sound contemporary, with minimal drums, atmospheric field recordings, synthesizer, stark piano, and fretless bass. Although delicious, one should not overindulge on The Blue Nile. It's best to savor them when you have an interrupted span of time, and sink into their deep meditative spaces. You cannot immediately resume your normal pace after listening to this band. It will take a period of adjustment to come back. So, don't overdo it.
Here's an excerpt from Flags And Fences, a documentary featuring The Blue Nile's 1990 tour of the US. 1990 never looked so nostalgic. Don't miss the scenes of the WTC, and a billboard advertising Goodfellas.