Arriving at the Casa on the late side after blowing a tire 6 blocks away, there was still a good wait in the completely packed room before the show got under way. Not this reviewer’s typical live music choice, but these people are heavy weights; so there were high expectations that something special was going to happen. Especially from Derome, who’s music I simultaneously love and dislike. The man is a monster on alto sax, one of the few who can conjure actual magic out of an instrument typically employed to allow warbling divas time for cocaine breaks. Yet he is not satisfied warping minds with this talent, and spends equal time exploring the realms of unpredictability and experimentation in the world of contemporary improvisation. So depending on what combo he’s playing with, he’s just as likely to bust out with the most killer and (tear jerking) bop-instructed sax wailing, or screech and bleat for 45 minutes whilst blowing into a variety of cereal box whistles and re-purposed flappy objects.
The trio started their set with fifteen minutes of playing with everything at their disposal. Unlike Frith and Derome, Chan kept her explorations within the mechanical limitations of her instrument. Frith mostly used his electric guitar as a sound table to excite using towels, knitting needles, chains, shoe polishing brushes, etc, while Derome took the express lane through his tickle trunk. Most of the first set was exploratory, but I found Chan to be the only one working away at conjuring plausible inventions.
Thirty five minutes later when the set was over, I contemplated leaving, but the excellent deal on Tennessee whiskey next door and the great Howling Wolf track that the DJ was playing kept me inside, so I detoured back for the second set. This time the trio took a different tack, honing their collective energy towards something approaching and even hovering above the threshold of beauty. There were moments of calm, with Chan weaving crystalline webs of tones around the droning strings and winds (mostly via e-bow and bass flute, respectively). The set ended after a long meditative passage. The room was quiet, no one clapped, the musicians were still. Then Derome whipped out a toy flute and played a ridiculous but perfectly appropriate ditty. Chan and Frith soon joined in for some more intense jamming. Again they stopped, no clapping, more music. The performance ended with much applause.
On the way home I yearned to listen to something earthy, feeling a little hollowed from the stretching my ears had undergone – which usually happens to me after listening to contemporary improv of the European school (rather than, say, African via “jazz” evolutions). At the same time, I felt like my soul had been given a big booster shot because the music those three played was the exact antithesis of sad sack language wars, Line Beauchamp, tar sands, 10 dollar tacos and all of the other lies of life.