Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New and "Precarious" Sounds: Zeitgeist Meets Accordion

© Andrea Canter

I think what appeals to me most about jazz, and more generally what is often dubbed “experimental music,” is witnessing the act of creation on stage. That creative act might be as subtle as a minor alteration of a well-known melody such that it evokes a slightly different feeling; or it might be as dramatic as spontaneous improvisation where there was no pre-determined key, mood, harmony or communication plan, yielding one surprise after another.

“Experimental music” is based on this art of surprise, be it through-composed or fully improvised; it seems to be a label applied to a broad spectrum of music that otherwise defies (and rejects) labeling. Local ensemble Zeitgeist has helped define the undefinable over the past 30 years through performing, collaborating and promoting new compositions, often with guest artists who bring unlimited artistic possibilities to the intimate soundspace of Studio Z in St. Paul’s Lowertown. This week, that special guest is Guy Klucevsek, a New York-based wizard of accordion and composition.

What we’ll hear at Studio Z will be a concert of Klucevsek’s works, most composed quite recently, some never before performed live. And generally none were originally written for Zeitgeist’s varying combinations of reeds (Pat O’Keefe on clarinet and bass clarinet), percussion (Heather Barringer and Patty Cudd on drum set, marimba, vibes, xylophone and, often, menageries of objects), and piano (Shannon Wettstein). Notes co-director Barringer, “it can be a challenge to have three keyboards executing a unison line…we create a new, unique sound. Life is precarious!” But for Klucevsek, whose resume includes Dave Douglas’s Charms of the Night Sky, John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Mary Ellen Childs and his own Accordion Tribe, the opportunity to transform music typically written for solo or duo (accordion and/or piano) to “fit” Zeitgeist was not so much a challenge as an invitation to stretch a little. “I’m not a jazz improviser although we use similar vocabulary,” he said. “Zeigeist improvises in a different way than what I typically do.”

Klucevsek is in town all week to rehearse and adjust his compositions for this collaboration. A piece he re-arranged for vibes and marimba doesn’t sound right at tonight’s rehearsal—it really needs two marimbas! A few trials later, the piece now boasts one marimba and four hands, Heather taking the high notes, partner Patty Cudd taking the low end. Moving on to another piece, clarinetist Pat O’Keefe asks Guy if there is any leeway for improvisation off the composed scale. “It’s a jazz thing,” notes Guy. “It’s OK if you play notes that make sense.” Another piece, “Winged Prayer,” needed less modification from the original which Klucevsek wrote shortly after 9/11 for the Philadelphia-based counterpart to Zeitgeist, Relache. “It was written for seven instruments, so it’s similar to the range of Zeitgeist.”

I don’t want to give away the surprises; there will be plenty, both from within the compositions themselves and from the inevitable unplanned interactions that occur among creative musicians on stage. But keep in mind the title of the concert— “Hammers, Horns, Skins ‘n Squeezebox,” and the descriptor on Zeitgeist’s website—“twisted tangos, barnstorming boogies and other irreverent music-making.”

“I don’t think of it as a challenge,” says Klucevsek of the arrangements for this project. “I do it because it’s fun.” Adds Barringer, “Good, old fashioned fun.”

I’m not sure about the “old fashioned” part. But fun, for sure.

Tickets for “Hammers, Horns, Skins ‘n Squeezebox” are available at the door ($10) or from Zeitgeist’s website. Shows at 7:30 pm, May 12-14, at Studio Z, 275 E. 4th Street, St Paul, across from the Farmer’s Market and kitty-corner to the Black Dog Café, in the middle of Lowertown’s New Music (and light rail) corridor! Thanks to Zeitgeist and Guy Klucevsek for opening their rehearsal to me and my camera.

Photos: All from rehearsal on May 9, 2011 at Studio Z, top to bottom, Zeitgeist with Guy Klucevsek; Guy Klucevsek; Heather Barringer and Patty Cudd on marimba; Pat O'Keefe and Shannon Wettstein (all photos by Andrea Canter)