jazz and improvised music

SUMMER JAZZ: MIke Nock & Laurence Pike with special support by alon ilsar & Sandy Evans
FEBRUARY 4, Sound Lounge, Seymour Centre

Duet: Alon Ilsar drum kit, air sticks  Sandy Evans saxophones (8pm)

One of many wonderful things about art is that it can incorporate current technology to the point of appearing or sounding like the magical or extra-terrestrial  and it can tap into the tools and techniques of the ages to call up the deepest feelings of the race. To some the first experience of the didgeridoo was as startling as the sounds issuing from, say the Fairlight synthesiser. Yes, it activated samples rather than combining forests of sine waves. I throw the second example in in because I was the music editor of Electronics Today and Hi Fi and Music and worked alongside the son of the owner of the publishing company, who with a close friend was creating the very contraption that would be bought by Stevie Wonder and many others. The magazines were published down near Rushcutters Bay in Sydney. Golden days, oh yes.

I advance these commonplace thoughts because I have just heard a concert in SIMA's Summer  Jazz series, in which the now long established saxophone duetted  with Alon Ilsar's virtually invisible drums and "air sticks"  A vibrating reed within the saxophone activates a series of standing waves. Everyone knows that. But how to explain the magic of Ilsar's gear. Incidentally, he used to play the actual drums with my late son, and he did likewise with Sandy on this night. As to how the air sticks draw drum strikes and patterns from the air –in fact, the authentic sounds of snare, cymbals et al.  Well, forget my pathetic explanation, which I've suddenly abandoned. The program before me refers to Ilsar's innovative sampling technology and mastery of his custom gestural controller. That will do.

As it happens, the first duet did not include any percussion sounds. While Sandy responded brilliantly Alon Ilsar swayed and conducted gracefully, calling up several atmospheres that embraced the pair on stage. Sometimes they stood (and swayed) before a dark smooth curtain, which was sometimes disturbed gently by turning eddies and slow moving winds. There was sometimes murmuring in there, and with a click on one of the two controls (like hand grenades that fit snugly in his hands) Alon sent one of these nebulous articulations down to a region about four octaves below.
I was startled by the recollection this started of a memorable phrase from a radio show called "Behind The Creeking Door" that we listened to way back in the 1940s. Here is the phrase: "The dark cloak of impending doom". I can't match that.
There followed an agitated duet in which Sandy produced whipping twisting squealing sounds that were often remarkably similar to electronic productions.

Duet: Laurence Pike, drums sampler  Mike Nock, piano keyboards (9pm)

The main act of the evening had much to equal. It did more than that. This was the well-established duet  of the truly great pianist Mike Nock and brilliant young drummer Laurence Pike. Pike's presence was not strongly felt for a while because Nock had taken off like a startled deer, racing and retarding, bass and treble conversing then running independently. While the patterns, the cascades, harmonic and jagged atonal runs were often racing, the underlying pulse was often slow and meditative. Sometimes it sounded as if Nock was playing a written concerto, powerful and meditative by turns and sometimes seemingly simultaneously. I have heard Mike often reach a level of transport or abandon, but this was exceptional. Soon enough Pike found the right wormholes from which to draw the perfect commentary of sharp sweet pings and the ringing of fragile bells like little tunnels of crystal.
There were times when I - and another with whom I conferred felt that this was the best music I had heard (them too) and times when I at least thought perhaps this has gone on too long. But not for long. Free form thunder or ethereal reaches of snowy adrenalin sat us straight in our seats. At times, especially at the end, Nock shifted to his electric keyboard and that is how it ended: in a luminous peace.

There are several more Saturdays to come. Google SIMA or get yourself a program. It is clear that any young musician entering what might broadly be defined as jazz will find many areas still to explore.