Press: Upstream unleashed fireworks

By STEPHEN PEDERSEN | Concert Review | Halifax Chronicle Herald

A Love Upstream Nonet’s opening concert of the 20th anniversary concert weekend at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery Friday night blew our minds as it blasted our ears.

High energy and amplified instrumental fireworks attained hurricane strength in first whipping up small, localized, perfect storms of musical imagery and then fusing them together in explosive episodes of massive musical mayhem.

The program ranged in styles from Steve Tittle’s completely composed and notated The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, played by a saxophone quartet, to a demonic, orchestral, one-page improv called Internal Combustion.

Composer-conductor Jeff Reilly created his Internal Combustion on the spot, looking like a cross between Paganini and Svengali as he stood brandishing his arms in front of the semi-circle of players.

The musicians reacted to his sometimes feverish gestures and signals, his body writhing and twisting, his arms tracing arabesques, his fingers flickering and his whole frame occasionally aiming deadly karate punches with terrific force at the orchestra, to get rafter-rattling accents.

The one-page score, the same for each player, indicated 10 musical gestures, each identified by a hand signal. Technically, this kind of music-making is called “a conduction” because it allows the conductor to improvise with the given musical materials and instrumentation.

The rest was all musical know-how triggered by imagination and adrenalin.

Paul Cram’s Out Of The Ashes featured wailing, squealing solos from the reeds, buoyed by an enormous sound coming from Lukas Pearse’s double bass, astonishing in its power and richness. The sound enveloped the ensemble in a huge bear hug.

Drummer Dave Burton combined with Pearse, now playing jazz pizzicato, in a driving African rhythm. Pianist Tim Crofts produced one of his trademark improvised solos, all elbows, forearms, fists and agile fingers spraying the soundscape with showers of treble notes. Remarkably, Crofts sustained the power and energy of the solo with unflagging, jet-speed fluency.

Pearse’s contribution, called Dissociation, a musical exploration of the psychological phenomenon of withdrawal, alternated organized harmonic-melodic passages with stretches of chaotic disintegration to represent the descent of the mind into its own world.

Bob Bauer’s Home Again 2, begun in Moscow as he waited to get back to Canada, showed its musical roots in minimalist Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, as well as the sentimental 19th century parlour song Home Sweet Home.

The piece inventively explored repetitive minimalist phrasing with solo improvisations.

Don Palmer’s Fragments, an angular duet with him on soprano sax and Reilly on bass clarinet, was like two dancers circling each other and reacting with continuously varying melodic and bop-influenced jazz rhythms. It was continuously fascinating.